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The Tinkered Mind
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September 11th, 2019
The best way to find out if you’re right about something is to try and prove yourself wrong.
The hesitating assumption here is that if you prove yourself wrong, then you’ll be left with nothing.
But this is not the case:
If you can falsify your idea, then it paves the way for a better idea.
We are often reluctant to do this though. We get attached to our ideas, our theories, our own personal story of how the world works. There’s some kind of emotional attachment present that breeds a fondness, the likes of which we are timid to betray. We can see this same sort of thing play out similarly in human relationships: we often continue to love someone despite being a victim of their lies.
Bad or incorrect ideas play us for the same fool.
Does this have more to do with some kind of intrinsic manipulation on the part of the idea or the liar, or does it have more to do with our own reluctance to update our view of the world?
And to be sure, a thorough and honest update of the world demands that we behave differently in response and take different actions that take into account the inaccuracy of previously cherished ideas, beliefs and theories.
We would benefit greatly from creating a practice of celebrating falsification.
Every time an idea is thoroughly falsified, we no longer risk wasting time exploring an unproductive avenue.
While the capacity of the imagination is an infinite blessing, it is also the source of this curse of attachment to the unrealistic.
Modern society is protective and cushy to a degree that we can harbor wildly unrealistic and unproductive ideas without incurring damage nor injury.
Compare this with a hypothetical that incorporates the animal world:
Let’s say we have a deer that cherishes a belief that all other animals are kind and loving and only want to be friends.
Many people have imaginative aspirations that this is how things should be, and some probably believe that this actually is how things are. But people are generally so far removed from the animal world that the full consequences of such a belief are never witnessed.
When a hungry wolf comes across our overly-idealistic deer, our deer would either have to compromise it’s ideals quickly, or it would have it’s cherished belief forcibly falsified by the jaws of that hungry wolf.
The protective aura of our modern environment has an upside and a downside in this instance. The upside is that we don’t need threat of death to weed out bad ideas – we are capable of updating our beliefs without dying. The downside is that death is very efficient at weeding out bad ideas and bad ideas are slower to leave our minds and lives of practice. Natural selection has engineered skittish and suspicious deer that assume something looking like a wolf is never in the mood to be friendly. Modern society has removed the wolf and in so doing allows us to imagine –falsely- things like wolves being friendly to deer.
As with many other things in our modern environment, our progress depends on the creation of an artificial hardship. In this case, we must go against the intuitive grain and use the intellect to challenge that warm fuzzy feeling we have when we think of our cherished idea, theory or belief.
Ruthlessly attempting to falsify our beliefs is the only way we merge the substance of our imagination and the brick and mortar consequences of reality.
Pause, and meditate for a moment on what this means in terms of what it means to be alive. Are we really living with our head in the clouds? Preoccupied with some sort of imaginary idea of how the world works? Are we not missing out on the real stuff of life in this situation?
The difficult and perhaps painful act of aggressively trying to falsify our beliefs inevitably brings us closer to reality, and ultimately enables us to live a more authentic life.
Unfortunately, for many people, one touch of this falsification process swings the pendulum too far, and dreamy optimists become unrealistically pessimistic and simultaneously claim to be cold-hard realists.
But the cynical pessimist is not much different than the dreamy optimist. Both are governed by an emotional attachment to some idea of the world.
Only the one who can continue tinkering and testing reality with new and updated ideas has that emotional pendulum properly calibrated – that is: vibrating in the center.
For such an individual, optimism exists on a much longer timeline, and the setbacks that could cause emotional upset in the daily grind are of little matter. Such setbacks, and falsifications – inevitably, are rungs on a ladder towards a better understanding. And such setback can even become positive emotional fuel. The instance of falsification is proof that updating is occurring, that the imagination’s overlap with reality is increasing, even if it feels as though the absolute bounds of what is possible are shrinking.
It’s not the absolute size of the imagination that matters, but its range of flexibility while acting within the physical laws of reality.
Finally, note that updating our idea of the world only occurs through falsification. If our idea succeeds, then no updating has really occurred. What we thought was possible turned out to be possible. In such a case, our idea of reality hasn’t actually improved. It’s simply been used to make something happen.
This episode references Episode 498: Artificial Hardship