Affective Presence

“Throughout the day, one experiences emotional “blips” as Elfenbein puts it—blips of annoyance or excitement or sadness. The question is, “Can you regulate yourself so those blips don’t infect other people?” she asks. “Can you smooth over the noise in your life so other people aren’t affected by it?”

This “smoothing over”—or emotional regulation—could take the form of finding the positive in a bad situation, which can be healthy. But it could also take the form of suppressing one’s own emotions just to keep other people comfortable, which is less so.”

—Julie Beck. “The Personality Trait That Makes People Feel Comfortable Around You.” The Atlantic. January 8, 2019.

Changing Reality Tunnels

Open Question: How does one cultivate the skill of evaluating our world view, assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and changing it when our situation changes?

“Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don’t even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.”

—Robert Anton Wilson

“Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in — the one that we think is reality.”

—Alan Kay

Yesterday’s The Cost of the Club discussion starting me thinking about reality tunnels. Reality tunnels can shape not only how we view the world but also how we view ourselves, and vice versa.

If you identify with a political party, then how you view the world is shaped by this identification. It may be impossible to see the limitation of the field of view because you do not have a point of comparison.

Like depth perception, you have to have a slightly different frame of reference in order to see into three dimensions. Without a second frame, it can be difficult to judge certain qualities in our environment, such as distance.

And, we can extend this analogy. Add in space and time as proxies for our geography and our historical moment and we can try to adopt different frames of reference to look at our own and other times. This gives us increased flexibility in outlook, and perhaps, we can cultivate a sense of their strengths and limitations.

For example, in the current moment, we like to imagine that the mind is like a computer, subject to programming. Before computers, minds were compared to locomotives, houses, gardens, sponges and so forth. All of them provide some insight into how to think about our minds, but none of them are true. All of them have limitations.

Whatever else it is like, the mind is like a filter, taking in all the overwhelming information of our sense experience and trying to narrow it down to some desirable essence that helps us to live. This essence can change depending on our circumstances. The needs of civilians living in a town torn apart by civil war are different from the needs of military prisoners of war living in captivity. Princesses need a different way of interpreting the world than does the cook preparing her meals, even though they both ostensibly live in the same environment.

The ability to adapt to our environment and cultivate mental models that help us to survive in them is a great gift. But, it is also a great gift to be aware of their limitations and learn to be able to change them at will, when circumstances change.

How does one improve this skill? It’s a good question. I’m thinking that a good place to start might be with Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson. It seems to be part of a larger question of: how do create an environment for yourself and others that is conducive to human flourishing? The ideas of Extropianism and their principles, particularly the other books in their recommended books near the bottom of the page might be a useful place to start.

How Not to Be Stupid

“…stupidity is the cost of intelligence operating in a complex environment…

[Stupidity:] overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information…

When it comes to overloading our cognitive brains, the seven factors are: being outside of your circle of competence, stress, rushing or urgency, fixation on an outcome, information overload, and being in the presence of an “authority.” Acting alone any of these are powerful enough, but together they dramatically increase the odds you are unaware that you’ve been cognitively compromised.

…if these factors are present, don’t make any important decisions.”

Interview with Adam Robertson in “How Not to Be Stupid.Farnam Street. January 2, 2019.

Change Your Perspective: Goals & Time Frames

[Roughly paraphrasing because I don’t have the book in front of me] take your ten year life plan and ask, Why can’t I do this in six months? -Peter Thiel

Tim Ferris, “Tools for Titans.” New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

The point of the exercise of imagining a time frame twenty times shorter is to see if you aren’t imposing artificial constraints on yourself. And why stop there? Also, why not go the other direction?

Imagine you had a ten year life plan and two hundred years to implement it. Or, what about a single day? Approaching a problem with incredibly short or long time frames eventually collapses into the fact that not all limits are artificially created by our sense of the possible and sometimes having more time increases our creative potential rather than just having the rate of work expand to fill the allotted time.

In the real world, there are always limits. We just rarely have an accurate sense of those limits and are really good at claiming something is impossible. The former U.S. Navy Seal David Goggins describes it as the 40% rule, i.e., when you think you have reached your physical limit, you have only tapped 40% of your physical potential. It’s seems likely true of our assessment of the possible for everything.

We live in a culture that values productivity, “Getting Things Done,” “time management” and so forth. When asked what we want, we respond like Samuel Gompers, we want, “More.” But, we rarely think about the costs in terms of time.

A Wait But Why article by Tim Urban that gives a graphic representation of a ninety year life in different units of time: years, months, and weeks gives us a useful reference point. It helps you look at what you have done, what you plan to do, and the time you have and then ask the very important question: “Are you making the most of your weeks?” Peter Drucker famously said: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Appropriately given how we just started 2019, Tim Urban invites us to narrow down our scope and look to the week rather than the six month, year or ten year plan. Adopt new week’s resolutions and choose smaller, incremental goals. Evolution requires iteration. Increase the rate of iteration, and you will often increase the rate of evolution. But, if you keep doing the same things you aren’t evolving, you’re in stasis.

So, by all means, ask yourself if the major project you plan on working on for the next ten years can be done in six months. But, also ask yourself whether, in the context of a ninety year life span, it should be done at all or whether it might be worth narrowing down your scope to a more manageable week and smaller goals. A lot can be done in a week, and we can often string weeks together to make something more interesting than a top down plan concocted years ago by our former selves.

Not Here to Dance

“The one thing I would say to any girl who is reading this right now is this: You can’t lose your fire. You can’t let anybody take your fire away from you. If you have big dreams, the fire is the only thing that will get you there.

Talent alone will not do it. Patience will not do it. You’re going to be tested and pushed to the limits of what you can take. You’re going to have to work just as hard as the men to get to the top of your sport, but for a lot less money. You’re going to cry. You’re going to throw up. You’re going to ache… every single player showed up on time and gave 100%. Every single day. No excuses, no complaints. No one could afford to complain. I would come home at night and I was so sore and exhausted that I would pass out on my bed at seven o’clock with my homework scattered everywhere.

These are the moments that nobody sees. But you can’t lose the fire.”

—Ada Hegerberg, “Not Here to Dance.” The Players’ Tribune. December 16, 2018.