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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

RELATIVE WORTH

March 1st, 2021

There is nothing more delicious than a morsel of food after days without eating. Likewise there is no money more proud than that given in thanks by a poor man. As a species we don’t calibrate to a universal baseline. We are relative, comparing our success to the neighbour, and the dulled taste of that cake to something in the past that was inevitably better.

The brain is outfitted with all sorts of mechanisms that create this trend to constantly ratchet things up. The most extreme example of this is addiction, which becomes all consuming and completely unsatisfying. The pursuit of such extremes result in a diverging of effect. While the poor man is extremely proud of his ability to give a gift, the rich man waves it off and calls it nothing.

This presents a problem for fundamental aspects of living like happiness, peace of mind and fulfillment. The chase for better is born of a fear that the best is in the past. But this assumes that we cannot achieve the same level of good, just in a different time and a different circumstance. What’s often needed is a return to a personal baseline. Sugar eaten every day ceases to be sweet, but a month without any sugar and everything starts tasting a bit sweet, and then when finally a treat is reintroduced it can even be too much - sickly sweet since the recipe is likely tailored to those who are inured to the taste.

It’s a platitude to claim that happiness lies in the refusal to chase pleasures, but this is too polar, not to mention, unrealistic. Happiness lies, not in total denial of the search for pleasure nor a gorging on pleasure, but mindful calibration away from both extremes. It’s not moderation in the usual daily sense, but it is in the long term. Each extreme, whether it be reckless indulging or total abstinence, neither hold what they promise, but when the two are paired and thoughtfully pitted against one another, we can get the best of both worlds without falling into the trap each presents.


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Podcast Ep. 1051: Relative Worth

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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: SERIF'S SIGN

February 28th, 2021

 

The flooded cleft of the nib closed as it’s pressure on the page lessened and lifted, leaving a perfect winnowed curve.  A final serif.  Lucilius returned the pen to the ornate holder where his ink well was enshrined in carved wood.  He closed the metal cap to protect the ink, and then looked over his work.

 

The page was a perfection of design.  He bent down close to the paper, as he would while writing and looked at each and every letter.  There were no mistakes.  

 

He sat until the page was dry, having long known the look of ink in its different stages on the page.  Knowing the bleed of this particular mixture - his own in fact, perfected over the years of his apprenticeship.

 

The sheen and shade settled and Lucilius picked up the document.  He opened the heavy wooden door to his tiny room and left down the quiet hall, the footfalls on stone echoing lightly.

 

He brought the page to the master’s quarters, but the man was outside his own study, pacing, agitated.  He did not notice Lucilius until he was but a step away, with the sheet of paper proffered.  The man glanced quickly at Lucilius’ face, taking the paper.  And for a moment, the man’s agitation was gone, his pacing cured.  His eyes were enveloped in an old process, scanning, the forms and shapes.  But all too quickly he handed the sheet back and started pacing again.

 

Confused, Lucilius just waited, wondering.  The man took a few more steps before seeing Lucilius unmoved.

 

“You have passed, you will receive your first batch of work tomorrow along with your first pay.”

 

Lucilius was overjoyed, having long awaited this moment.  But something still didn’t sit right with him.  Perhaps it was the quick, cursory words, the fact that the long awaited moment had none of the celebration and pomp that Lucilius had been lead to expect and dream of.  Or perhaps it was simply that the man before him seemed so worried.

 

“Is everything ok?”

 

The man stopped, as though realizing again Lucilius had still not left.  “Johannes.. the fiend, he’s done it.”

 

“Who?”

 

The man was silent a moment.  “An old friend," he said softly.

 

“What has he done?”

 

The man nodded toward his study, and Lucilius followed, walking into the luxurious room where on the desk there was a book.  It was somehow different, Lucilius could see instantly, but for a moment he could not figure it out.  He leaned in to the open page, looking at the letters, somehow strange, somehow inhuman.  Lucilius’s skilled eye could see known of the subtle marks of ink doubled up where serifs branched, where letter limbs crossed and joined. It’s perfection was deeply unsettling for Lucilius.  Somehow it seemed to represent everything he had been striving for, and yet the result was ugly, horrid and an offence.

 

He turned to the master scribe who now stood at his side.

 

“What is this?”

 

“Devil’s work, Johannes has made his press. He thinks he will strip us of our pride but this can never achieve what we do.”  Though the man spoke quietly he was shaking with anger.

 

“A press?” Lucilius asked.

 

The man merely shook his head.

 

And all at once it occurred to Lucilius. His sense of disgust fuelled by so many years of work, so many pained hours of imperfection and striving, to do what could now be done in an instant.  He had known what that book meant the moment he’d seen it.  What he’d taken for ugly repulsed him only because it made a joke of this life’s work now culminated.  He’d been wrong.  But it was no matter, Lucilius knew.  He smiled lightly, and the Master scribe’s brow furrowed in confused disgust.

 

 

Months later, Lucilius squinted up at the bright sun.  His pay had long run out and the journey had been long, but he was pleased, grateful to live during such an exciting time.  The cold air felt fresh in his lungs as he picked up his small pack to make the final trek into the new city.  It was there after much asking that he finally found what he was looking for.  When he entered his eyes adjusted to fill with the sight of a contraption he’d never seen, as though collaged from so many things he’d seen built over the years, but this one, a machine being fed paper.  Someone paused from the work and asked about him.

 

“I’m here to help with your press,” Lucilius said, knowing he stood on the precipice of the future, knowing what torrent would soon flood the world by way of a new idea that had finally taken as it’s genius the spread of other ideas.


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Podcast Ep. 1050: A Lucilius Parable: Serif's Sign

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Tinkered Thinking


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IMPORTANT CONTRADICTIONS

February 27th, 2021

A fascinating aspect of the brain is how the two halves are connected. Give it some thought and it might seem a bit strange that the brain is divided. What is that all about? Why isn’t there just one brain as opposed to two seemingly identical halves?

The two halves communicate primarily through a window called the Corpus Callosum, and the way they primarily communicate is through inhibition. Perhaps the best way to imagine this inhibition is to think of yourself as part of a two person team, and each of you on this team has trained for two different parts of the game you both play. Now, when playing the game a circumstance arises that is your specialty, and by now taking the lead you inhibit your team mates participation so that you can do what you do best. This is a rough analogy of how each hemisphere attempts to make the best contribution to what’s going on.

The two halves as detailed by Iain McGilchrist, are actually in conflict with one another, and for good reason: each one has a different perspective on what’s going on, and depending on what’s most important, the relevant hemisphere exhibits a bit more influence.

One important contradiction is the tension between humility and conviction. Achieving a big goal requires an often unrealistic optimism that it can be accomplished. But at the same time, a humility about the current state of progress is essential in order to make the next best step over and over until that mountain of a goal is achieved. This sort of tightrope walk is exactly the kind of dichotomy that the brain’s division is set up to handle, as long as one hemisphere isn’t primarily dominate with an outsized influence.

While the cause and effect here is likely not perfect, we can see how this would work in analogy: too much humility and nothing grand ever gets accomplished. Too much vision and we spend all our time in the clouds, never addressing the cold hard facts of reality. We can all likely think of specific people who fall into either category, but strangely, the people who are repeatedly successful fall into both categories.

Balance is achieved through tension in the same way gravity pulls us to fall off the tight rope both on the left and the right sides as we walk.

Harmony isn’t the absence of forces, but a combination of them.


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Podcast Ep. 1049: Important Contradictions

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Tinkered Thinking


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COMMUNAL PRIORS

February 26th, 2021

 

While we’re often reluctant to change our mind about anything, it can still be a private affair.  Sitting, thinking quietly, and suddenly, a mind can decide that a new opinion on a topic makes more sense.  No fanfare necessary.  

 

A group on the other hand - a group of people cannot silently change their mind.   For a group to have a new opinion on a topic, a vast amount of communication has to take place, which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that someone would have to share that new opinion.  Sharing an opinion that is different from the group is risky business.  There’s no telling how the group will react to the new idea, and because of this, the fear of being ostracized is at play.  This isn’t an issue when we silently change our own mind.  There is no prying eye of another that might judge our change in opinion.  But in a group the risk of harsh judgement creates a psychological pressure to keep unconventional opinions to yourself.

 

This fundamental difference in the psychology between solitary opinion change and opinion change on a group level means that one is fundamentally hindered.  An individual, with far less friction for updating understanding can figure out the truth of a matter far faster than a group.

 

We each function on a set of priors, or fundamental ideas about the world.  These are indivisible in their simplicity.  An easy example is gravity, and our priors about how gravity functions are so deeply embedded in our sense of space and motion that we barely ever think about the fact that some mysterious force is constantly pulling each of us toward the ground.  It’s easy to imagine the smile of a first-time astronaut when they finally experience zero-G.  There’s little doubt that people have to adjust to the absence of gravity in space.  And this adjustment is a sort of updating of one’s priors.

 

As a group, we have often relied on special sources of “truth” in order to calibrate opinion.  Needless to say these special sources have always been varied and, of course, often in conflict with one another.  Totalitarian governments try to accomplish the same through state propaganda.  When trust in such sources is lost, opinion fractures and wobbles, giving rise to mob mentalities.  These structures of thought are more than willing to turn on their own individuals, which perversely makes the opinion more stable.  That is, until the opinion as it informs behavior, leads to it’s own destruction by leading the group in an unwise direction.

 


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Podcast Ep. 1048: Communal Priors

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Tinkered Thinking


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AUTO-SOLVE

February 25th, 2021

Dreams occupy an odd space.  On the whole we don’t think or talk about them too much.  And yet it’s something everyone does.  And unlike much of the other mundane things that we share, dreams can have the emotional resonance and visual spectacle of any hit show that everyone talks about.  Hit shows, of course, usually make a bit more sense.  Usually.

 

It’s a perennial lamentation that we need to sleep.  As though it’s wasted time that could otherwise be put to better use.  But this is much like a marketing executive coming across a tig welder and saying “I have no need for this.”  Just because it’s use is not immediately obvious does not mean that something is not useful.

 

What is sleep, or rather the conscious and semi-conscious parts of it are simply improperly utilized?

 

Now, with the world of lucid dreaming where a person gains conscious awareness in their dreams, the potential fun and utility is huge, but it requires a fair bit of practice and training to get the hang of.  That being said, there is a far more useful and accessible angle on all of this talk of sleep and dreams.

 

It’s best encapsulated in the recommendation to “sleep on it.”  Often the morning brings fresh insight.  But this can be consciously directed nearly every night.

 

If by simply thinking about a problem in life that needs to be solved while drifting off to sleep and consciously asking to work on the issue while sleeping, and to dream about it, and to remember in the morning, the ability to make leaps of progress is frankly incredible.

 

After hearing a casual description recently, I decided to try and implement this regarding a set of problems that involve an unrelated project.  Suddenly issues that have been sticking points for months had seemingly obvious solutions.  And this has happened enough times and with enough conscious regularity that it doesn’t seem unwise to link correlation and causation here.

 

Edison often used used a similar trick.  Whenever he was stuck on an issue, he would hold a heavy ball bearing in one hand and let himself doze off for a nap while he thought about the issue.  Once he fell asleep, his hand would relax, drop the ball bearing and the clatter would wake him up, and with it, he’d have the solution to his issue.

 

We can do something like this every night, if only we try to consciously use our brain as a tool that can chew on a problem on a kind of creative autopilot.


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Podcast Ep. 1047: Auto-Solve

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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.