Daily, snackable writings to spur changes in thinking.
Building a blueprint for a better brain by tinkering with the code.
A Chess app forthcoming from Tinkered Thinking featuring a variant of chess that bridges all skill levels! Stay Tuned.
The Tinkered Mind
A meditation app is forthcoming. Stay Tuned.
November 28th, 2022
Apparently humans can pay attention to 3 things simultaneously, max. Perhaps some can pay attention to 4 and some can only pay attention to 1 or 2. Whatever the individual differences, it seems common that most people can pay attention to more than one thing. While writing this very sentence I am also aware of the music, and if there was a child bandying about the room, I’d also be semi-aware of that child’s position and movement in space. Any combination of things can fill these separate roles. A sailor can be both aware of the state of their own boat and the state of the other boats on the race course.
These overlapping and subsumed sets of context form our ability for awareness. It’s one thing to have your attention focused on your own actions, it’s quite another to be aware of those actions within a larger context. Many people are not. Angry people, for example. They are so intoxicated by the state of anger that every iota of focus and attention is subsumed within that primary mode of action. The ability to host multiple sets of increasingly sized contexts collapses to a single one, creating a complete inability to self-discriminate on a moment to moment basis.
This is the sort of area where a mindfulness practice can be particularly useful. Mindfulness, in some sense, creates an expansion of context. Where anger collapses all contexts into one unwise perspective, mindfulness exercises the mind’s ability to entertain -simultaneously- the present moment in different contexts of varying sizes and perspectives.
The angry person who can invoke an instance of mindfulness isn’t just angry. They also gain the ability to see themselves as angry. This is incredibly powerful because the lack of immersion creates an ability for self-reference that allows for editing on the fly. The angry person can then have the novel thought of “oh, I’m angry, is anger the best course of action in this instance?” Often the answer is no, and the mindful person can then choose a wiser course of action.
But this subtle shift is dependent on the ability to host multiple contexts of varying sizes and degrees, and often they are larger contexts that subsume the force.
Awareness is really an awareness of the primary context. And greater awareness is the opposite of context-collapse: it’s the ability toe be aware of greater and larger spheres of context.
November 27th, 2022
Lucilius was walking through a foreign town, the dust from the main unpaved boulevard coating his feet in a thin skin of dust. He was tired and hungry, and smiling from his long journey.
He sat himself up against the side wall of a local general store to rest and took pleasure in the sweet air as he breathed it.
The owner of the general store and the man’s daughter walked out onto the front porch of the building with two bowls of food and pannikins of water. The man sat with his back to Lucilius, and the little girl watched him from big brown eyes as she spooned the delicious porridge to herself and sipped the water. But she was full before her father, and after watching Lucilius she asked her father if she could give the rest of her meal and the water to the strange man sitting against their store.
The owner of the store turned to look at Lucilius. Lucilius smiled humbly, averting his eyes, fully aware of the scourge of opinion that was commonly laid upon his sort of person.
The man nodded to his daughter and the little girl hopped down from the porch and approached Lucilius, handing him her bowl of unfinished food and the pannikins of water.
Lucilius nodded deeply accepting the two. It comprised one of the most delicious meals he ever had. Lucilius had dinned in palaces, hosted by kings, and once a kind himself with all manner of luxury available at his beck and call, but none of it stood the trial of comparison agains this simple meal handed to him by the young child, daughter of the owner of the general store in this poor town. Each bite, Lucilius savored, and the water to finish it with tastes like a kind of clean liquid gold. The likes of which Lucilius felt he’d never tasted despite having tasted the world’s best wines.
He nodded to the man and his young daughter and thanked them. The man smiled gravely at Lucilius, and just that moment a neighbor rain up the short stairs of the general store and shared words with the owner. His face grew worried, panicked even.
The owner called to his daughter and commanded her to stay at the store. He needed to leave for a few minutes, and as he swiveled to leave he saw Lucilius once more.
“Watch over my daughter.”
Lucilius nodded and the man ran off with his neighbor toward some worry in the village. Lucilius smiled and rested against the store’s wall.
But as he sat, he noticed more and more of the villagers headed in the same direction the owner had fled. And as they amassed the young girl grew anxious, and her whispers of “Daddy” grew and grew until the girl was and audible mess.
“Come child,” Lucilius said. “We will go see and make sure your father is well.”
He took the young girl’s hand and the two walked calmly in the direction of the rushing villagers.
They found a crowd. A crowd growing and growing angry.
Lucilius slipped left and right through the thing gaps in the crowd, the small child snaking the path behind him, until they arrived at the front of the mess, beside the store owner.
“My sister,” the distressed man barely gasped, barely cognizant of Lucilius standing next to him.
The front ranks of the crowd were incensed, their raging eyes bulging, their voices near a screech, all directed at the sobbing woman on the ground before them. Also of them, of the crowd, this close held stones held high, ready to be thrown.
“My sister…” gasped the crest fallen owner of the store…
Lucilius looked to his left and to his right. The crowd was clearly crazed over something they’d learned, something the young woman had done. And quickly, he took the hand of the small girl and threaded her hand into her father’s and stepped forward before the crowd and approached the young sobbing woman. He kneeled before her, and smiled flatly, humbly before her tear struck face.
“All will be well my dear. Give me a moment with these silly people.”
Then he stood and turned and looked at the crowd and called from within him the strength of a voice deep and loud enough to rattle in around all of them.
“Only those who have never done any wrong may harm this woman and cast the first stone.”
The crowd grew silent, their fists grasping stones still held high.
“I am from a far away land,” Lucilius bellowed. “And I have one gift in life: I can see all that you have done wrong just by staring in your face. I will determine who is worthy to punish this woman before you.”
The crowd grew meek at his words and Lucilius approached them, and carefully, diligently looked into each and every one of their faces, moving full across the entire front line, looking past them at every accuser standing. After some time, after he had looked into each of their faces, Lucilius stood back.
“Only one of you is worthy to punish this woman. The rest of you have committed wrongs equal or greater and you mock yourselves to stand here above this woman, condemning her, for you are no better.”
Some petulant onlooker then shouted “Well who is it? Who is going to punish that wretched woman!”
Lucilius smiled and then kneeled, until he was the same height as the girl who had fed him. The store owner’s daughter. He motioned for her to come closer.
“You my sweet child are the only one who’s wrongs are small enough to punish this woman. I’m sorry but you must choose your weapon.”
The little girl was downcast at the prospect, but she turned and looked at the stones her fellow villagers had set down before themselves. She went to the first, but it was too heavy, and she could not pick it up. And the same with the second - it was too heavy for her to comfortably life. She returned to Lucilius distressed and nervous…
“They are all too heavy, the stones people have brought.”
“My child, the punishment is yours to decide, for you are blameless. Your weapon may be whatever you wish.”
The girl held Lucilius’ gaze steadily, and then she looked down, curious. She knelt down and picked up a tiny pebble.
“This,” she said.
Lucilius nodded, approvingly and he motioned to the store owner’s sister who still cowered on the ground, watching the strange turn of events.
The little girl approached the woman, her family, and smiled before limply tossing the tiny pebble at her. It landed softly against the woman’s garments, and the woman, teared up with her smile and sat up and reached out for the little girl who ran into her embrace. The two beg an to cry at their union and Lucilius turned to face the crowd.
“And what punishment do all of you deserve for your presumption? Your false superiority? Your sense of hollow morality? Would you rather the fates punish you with the gifts of a child or something more equal to the weight of your faults?”
Lucilius surveyed them all, their downcast faces.
“I am but a wandering traveller, guilty like all of you, trapped by the whims of life frozen in a past I can only right by my actions in the present.”
He watched them all, the crowd now bowed to his words.
“You partake in the punishment you deliver. Cast a stone, but only if you expect to be injured yourself. Forgive, and feel the sweet relief of a horrible thing lifted from all of us.”
November 26th, 2022
A crucial setback can make it very tempting to throw up hands and give up. All is lost, it seems. Take for instance a game of chess. Losing a critical piece unexpectedly can easily make it feel like there’s no point continuing with the game. With such a disadvantage, an opponent just needs to trade pieces off the board until the endgame magnifies the advantage, and then it’s just a squeeze of time till the end.
However, giving up misses out on two critical aspects where the underdog can gain enormous benefit.
The first is simply the unexpected turn of events. I played a game of chess this evening, lost a rook early on, figured I was done for, but managed to trap and triple fork a queen and take her. A few dozen moves later, I’d won the game. All after thinking I was guaranteed to lose.
The second, and more important benefit of raging against defeat in disadvantage is the chance to exercise perseverance in precisely the sort of situation when it’s most needed. This is a crucial opportunity: it keeps the door open for all future long shots at turning things around. But it also extends the opportunity to learn. The urge to give up is really just an urge to relax, and stop putting in effort. In some respects we are always gunning for the chance to rest and relax, and the potential of imminent defeat is a great excuse to kick back and relax - why keep up the fight when it’s hopeless? Isn’t it smarter to cut losses and move on? Certainly for some things, yes. But when the risk is minimal and the time investment required is negligible, keeping at it till the bitter end exercises a rare muscle of relentlessness - a muscle that can easily become the most important one in certain dire circumstances. If the default is to always give up the moment things less than excellent, the ability to persevere will be weak when it’s needed.
Impending defeat is simply an idea - never a certainty and it’s an idea of it’s inevitability that we use to fool ourselves.
November 25th, 2022
It is possible to solve for all sides of a Rubik’s Cube simultaneously, but this is by far the most difficult way to figure it out. What is easier and more common is to solve for one side first, and then build on that success. But as every kid knows, there’s an obvious conundrum: Any attempt to solve another side of the Rubik’s Cube will ruin the solved side.
Personal change can be just like this. Success in one aspect of life can require messing with the success of another area. This might be the rule for progress in general. Coding for example often requires refactoring and rebuilding old code to account for new features and new needs. Or take something like painting and art. It can feel great to draw a perfect hand, but if it’s in the wrong place relative to the rest of the body, then it must be erased and redrawn.
My old painting mentor had a catch phrase for just this sort of situation:
Murder your darlings.
Much of this process can feel unfair, and make is seem like everything is part of a tradeoff. But this is a conclusion based on a short term perspective.
If the lessons of solving one side of the Rubik’s Cube can be remembered and imported to the other dimensions (literally in the case of a cube), then the appearance of initial progress isn’t ruined, it is reformed. This is about an evolution of thinking as knowledge is improved. In order to solve a second side of the Rubik’s Cube, the method for solving the first side must be reinvented to account for the second side. The results of initial success need to be recreated with a larger context.
That same statement works well with personal change: Optimizing for one area of life often requires deconstruction and reconstruction in relation to a larger context that now includes optimizations or just plan old life changes in another area.
When it comes to a Rubik’s cube, the patterns required to make more and more progress become more and more complex and this carries over to life in general. Very few people are firing on all cylinders when it comes to all areas of life. Often people resort to a trade off: one or several areas of life are effectively ignored and sacrificed in order to make sure other areas of life are well attended to. The thinking for improvements across the board has to become more and more integrated, and created, and as a result it can look more complex, but the results often look simple and smooth. Optimizations in areas like health can make improvements in other areas of life easier, for example.
The lesson of the Rubik’s Cube is simple and twofold:
One is simply don’t give up. It can be a nervous affair to realize that initial success must be effectively destroyed in order to make further progress.
The second is that many things that we think are tradeoffs can be reformatted into relationships that seem magical: like having your cake and eating it too.
It’s just like the final moves of a Rubik’s Cube when everything suddenly… falls into place.
November 24th, 2022
This is an experimental post. The idea is to find a new name for the meditation app. Currently the name is The Tinkered Mind, but this is too clunky on the tongue, too long, and it’s also past-tense, which doesn’t feel right for a meditation app that ultimately describes a continuous process through time.
The branding for the app is centered around an image of a mind with gears in it, and some of the gears are floating out. Meditation also has the connotation of maintenance, like a mechanic, and training, like lifting weights for the mind.
The three major meditation apps out there are HeadSpace, Calm, and Waking Up. Headspace as a name is very solid in terms of how it sounds and rolls off the tongue. But it is a noun, as opposed to a verb which indicates more of a process, which is more desirable. Waking Up hits that note of being an active verb but it’s not nearly as smooth as Headspace. Calm is simple and sort of hits all the notes, but it does describe a state as opposed to a process.
A Lucilius Parable was written about an advanced meditation app that functions through a Brain-Machine-Interface and that parables was called Headway which was a cheeky poke at Headspace, and this is a possible candidate, but it feels like a rip-off of Headspace which isn’t nearly as a good.
The vibe that I’d like is perhaps captured by the image of a person doing maintenance on their motorcycle in a zen garden. It related to a slow, subtle shift in the nature of thought over a great deal of time.
Someone just gave be the idea of cognition as related to cogs on a gear. Cog is a word root is pretty ugly but in terms of etymology it has a very elegant double meaning.
Another fan of Tinkered Thinking recommended Shift but of course such a name was scooped up long ago.
Perhaps something to do with paradigm? After all, meditation is a slow shift in paradigm.
Given the momentum score that is probably the most valuable innovation of the app, something like KeepTrack also feels like it’s in the right direction, though it sounds most like a calendar, habit tracking app…
Well this was a worthwhile experiment, but not a particularly productive one. But that’s the thing with writing. They are attempts to discover something. Hence the fact that Essay is French for ‘try’.