Thoughts on morning routine and grounding in discipline

There are times when I wake when I am at once tempted to be anxious, and I say “No, thank you,” although that is how I sometimes may have an inkling feel upon waking, and I am also tempted to be hopeful, and I say “No, thank you,” for that is its own temptation toward control beyond my natural constraints—to imagine all of today going just as I please, when it is only in this moment that I enact agency.

Each of them, both anxiety and hope, may lead into another, and they may place me out further ahead than I should like to be—for here I am, and it is better to follow my cultivated routine with discipline than to be buffeted by emotion and impulsive thinking.

Everyday Constraints Made Beautiful

@aaraalto posed the question well, “How can I make my constraints beautiful?”

When I first read that, I saw that he was not just referring to constraints in the context of his design work, he was translating that question from his design work into a question of everyday life.

I believe there are a variety of freedoms in life.

Many Freedoms, and The First and Last Freedom, a September post on Raw Bloggin’ It

It seems to me that the primary freedom includes: 1) to accept immutable constraints and let go of reflexive resistance to them, and 2) to accept responsibility for the ones we can control, crafting them in our everyday lives.

Unlimited Creativity

When I think of the behavioral change I am asking of myself, it’s clearly unfeasible without systems and methods of trying (and refining) various designs of those systems.

Everyone has the experience of having a goal that didn’t gain traction.

Sometimes, we might say that the goal wasn’t well-enough defined, and that’s the cause for a failure to launch. Other times, the situation has a mix of causes. We might add to ‘lack of definition’ a ‘lack of external reinforcement’. There is also one of my favorite challenges, the ‘constraints of being human’.

A person can truly only do so much with their body. Not to be crass, but it is worth considering the universal analogy here between computer limits and everyday human limits: just as we can draw some knowable limits of computer operation in principle (for example, desktop computers rarely go beyond 3Ghz speed, or 3 billion cycles per second), we can also draw some knowable limits of human operation in principle (for example, wildfire firefighters may consume 8,000 calories a day and still lose weight, or more generally, we never have more than 24 hrs in a day and probably less than 100 years to a lifespan).

These useful measures may dictate the possibility space of certain physical variables of the system—this computer’s maximum performance is such and such calculations per whatever unit of time and it will start to break down after ~3.672e+17 cycles*, this mammal heart’s maximum performance is generally beat 1 billion times—but they do not limit the character of the programs that might be run with that computer processor or the kinds of things that a person might do with their allotted heartbeats.

I would like to affirm that we probably are capable of quite a lot more in our everyday lives, and in a way that is inwardly peaceful and radiant in that same respect, by networking our heartbeats with systems that carry our intentions out beyond the limits of those heartbeats. Possible solutions, as I see it, will make good use of modern computational prowess yet will humbly be designed in a way that also makes good of modern cognitive prowess—particularly with our capacity to induce flow states.

The by-design cultivation of flow states toward purposes of highly complex problem solving and resilience building activities are two practically novel industries that may be ascendant in the very near future, catalyzed by AR technologies and advances in architecture (spurred not only by pandemic toss-up of work environments, but also advances in living building technologies).

How do I propose to do this? To start with the simplest experiments, find what is effective, and iterate.

Would you like to be part of an experiment in cultivating peace while making way for unprecedented human creativity? It can be as simple as trying this out to solve just one nagging everyday problem for yourself. Perhaps you often neglect to floss. This can help. Perhaps you want to write a book. This can help, this system I am developing to augment our intentions and make for a rich life everyday.

Just like with computers and how they can be useful in so many ways, the tool I am proposing to help us set conditions for the kind of deep work we are after here (wonderfully selfless (or expanded self) moments of creativity, timeless, effortless, and rich experiences) this same tool can be adapted to a great variety of purposes. It is rooted in first principles, and the general purpose interactive forms of it enable us to do a lot of things that would not otherwise be possible. Like evolving our routines over time.

That’s all for now.

* 3.672e+17 cycles = 367,200,000,000,000,000 cycles; calculated by assuming a well-cooled CPU chip that runs a busy average 3.4 billion cycles per second for 30 years; compare with 1,000,000,000 heartbeats over 78.93 years)

What freedoms do we afford?

There is a multiplicity of importances in daily life.

A young son may find it important to lunch, because his stomach is growling and he might not be able to help but focus his attention there, because his physiology practically demands it, much like his father has experienced in the past; and yet for his father now, the matter of lunch and even a growling stomach has so long been a familiar importance that it now might seem less important, less attention-grabbing, transitioned toward a sort of background as unconscious ritual—as with drivers carried away in conversation remaining mostly effective on the road—and in this way, the father’s lunch preparation might be carried out in the absence of much attention, in the absence of much momentary importance to him. As with the conversationalist driver, the father may operate as though he delegated the action of lunch to his subconscious, and in this way, he may afford himself greater freedoms for other matters, to converse with his son for example.

Here I am not interested in what freedoms we “can” afford, in the sense that we must pay for them and then how do I consider the limitations thereof, rather, I am interested in what freedoms we do afford ourselves.

Let’s take the driver for example again. This time, they are not driving with anyone, they are alone. What freedoms do they afford themselves? Are they practically satisfied with the channels on the radio, or silence but for road-noise, or perhaps they even think to talk with themselves? Another driver might think, I have my phone right here, so why don’t I call someone and speak with them? And another driver still might take driving rather seriously, so they disallow any distraction from their driving whatsoever. The thought of any one of these modes of driving as possible, as options that are available, this is our affordance of a freedom to ourselves.

Now when we consider the apparently important affairs of the world, do we afford ourselves the freedom to consider them freely with a disinterested attitude of observation? Or are we finding ourselves rather automatically constrained to perceptions, to importances that others have enunciated for us—through the radio, through our phones, through conversations and reading?

There is a kind of humility we require, one that sprouts naturally from the insight that none of the expressions we can offer one another, none of the systems of expression we use to communicate, none of these affords us a universally applicable and ultimately durable way of understanding, if only because we cannot have meaningful expressions and systems of expression which do not rest on presuppositions outside themselves. This humility is critical, particularly in times where we may easily fall prey to whirlwinds of false certainty, and it affords us as much a deeply rooted peace as it may afford us an ultimate anxiety that can sometimes attend glimpses and understandings of ineradicable uncertainty and freedom.

One trouble of today is that, while we are apparently out of practice in being disinterested, we seem to yield so much control to infrastructures in our environment that pipe apparent importances to us from external systems that are indeed interested in capturing our attention, but with scarcely a hint of doing so with our best interest at heart.

We’ll need to learn to embody systems of our own that may insulate us from the buffeting forces at play in our cultural wasteland, and as they insulate us and gate our exposures intentionally, serve us in invigorating our own craft of cultivating importances, of cultivating what we notice as possible, of cultivating our freedoms.

As it has been said, swimming alone at sea is not the kind of freedom that you actually want.

We want constraint, constraint that we imbued with intention, that the constraint may give rise to freedom.

Do we afford ourselves the freedom of ultimate humility?

Do we afford ourselves unknowing?

We must, for we can only ever know by way of unknowing curiosity.

In this way, the affordances might change in our favor.

Trying Everything

There is the saying, “chase two rabbits, catch none”.

I’d like to call “bullshit!”

Civilization does not have this same limitation. Our ability to coordinate means that multiple people can chase multiple rabbits, and that’s without technology.

It’s also a different story if you have systems for chasing multiple rabbits. It’s not hard to imagine some technology that enables you to do this effectively as one mere man with only two legs. There are already drones designed to follow mountain bikers and snowboarders without any human control. They avoid obstacles and keep the camera aimed fashionably. Why not use a swarm of drones to follow a whole set of rabbits?

We need to be experimenting like hell right now.

When it comes to potentially helpful developments, the key ‘next steps’ regarding our most challenging global problems, we need to be chasing hundreds, maybe hundreds of thousands of rabbits, knowing that most of them won’t necessarily work out for everyone. This is OK. We still need to try.

We don’t need to solve every problem. We do need to avoid catastrophic systemic collapse. There is a difference.

What do we consider catastrophic? I reckon it’s a spectrum. There’s talk of war. Nuclear catastrophe certainly is not off the table, regardless of war. Famine—I’d say that’s already here too. Water is a major concern, of course. So who knows what will come, but we do need to ensure access to shelter, water, and food regardless, no? We should ensure our capability to do this no matter what.

There’s plenty of work to be done in that.

We need the vision and discipline to make it possible.

Consider adaptive interventions designed with SMARTs—sequential, multiple assignment randomized trials. To quote the Penn State Methodology Center, SMART designs allow researchers (in the medical context):

  • to help patients who do not respond to initial treatment,
  • to respond if the effectiveness of an intervention wanes over time due to changes in the patient’s situation or response,
  • to prioritize when the patient possesses comorbid conditions (e.g., depression and alcoholism),
  • to address relapses (as are common when treating substance use),
  • to decrease burden and/or cost of the intervention when a patient is stable, and
  • to respond when patients do not adhere to a treatment.

This seems electrifyingly useful in non-medical contexts, no?

Could the deployment of adaptive interventions be one of the key disciplines of the 21st century? I think so.

Liberty in times of mass manipulation

How long shall we endure the vines of manipulation growing round our house? One day, they were only sprouts, but now they seem to have coated the walls and made their way to the roof, some now choking off the light of windows entirely, and others making their way through cracks in the foundation. There is something to be done about this of course, but it is certainly not so easy as letting the house fall to rot.

File:Stoa of Attalos at the Ancient Agora of Athens 3.jpg - Wikimedia  Commons

With great power comes great responsibility, so they say, and what greater power is there than liberty? What greater power is there than that first and last freedom of the mind, giving due course billions, trillions of times over in everyday affairs for the common good? Perhaps there is no greater. It is knowledge that we have eked from life and given form in technologies, patterns of society, coordination, and so on; of course this would not be possible without minds that are attentive and serious.

If it is not prohibited by the laws of nature, it can be done. Do we suppose that our doing well in life is prohibited by the laws of nature? Do we suppose that virtue is ultimately and always muted by the process of time in mundane and dulled minds, a cynical view of people that would take away their promise? Absolutely not, though some people do believe this. Why should we?

We see goodness in people of all stations, all colors and creeds, so why should we assume that we are not capable of rising to the challenge—together?

And it is a challenge to be met together. Wars are won by coordinated and consistent service of a common purpose, and so it is with this—if I may sound very 21st century American for a moment—with this war on decay, on the besiegers of our minds. Fears, doubts, uncertainties, these are enough alone in their natural way; but today we have those who amplify these debilitating maladies, and they do so with tireless machines.

We should ensure we understand this environment, and cultivate that inner citadel that we are always within a breath of peace. We may not always find it from without. In this season, we must nurture and let it spring forth, that we may be beacons of peace for others.

Let us use our liberties to this end.

A brief note on parasocial relations

Imagine being approached on the street by a stranger, someone who has read everything you ever wrote online, seen every photo and video, and so on; this is someone you’ve never met before, who seems to believe that you’re both old friends.

23 Photos That Prove Beatles Fans Were Doing The Absolute Most In The '60s

There’s a vast disparity between the information they have about you — and the information you have about them.

I know at least one person who experienced this once, and that was when they decided that they would never bother with social media again.

There is great promise in being public on the internet. There is also peril, because as you can imagine, just how many people out of billions might find you fascinating — perhaps many millions — and with some of them, you might never know just how fascinated they are until they show up on your doorstep during a psychotic break.

Tim Ferriss’ recent post on reasons not to become famous describes strange behavior worse than this. He also emphasizes, there is a lot of good to the public life he’s led; but the article focuses mostly on the negative:

  • Stalkers.
  • Death threats.
  • Harassment of family members and loved ones.
  • Dating woes.
  • Extortion attempts.
  • Desperation messages and pleas for help.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Impersonation, identity theft, etc.
  • Attack and clickbait media.
  • “Friends” with ulterior motives.
  • Invasions of privacy.

Let’s focus on one of the patterns, the aforementioned presumption of familiarity.

The term ‘parasocial relationship‘ describes this kind of dynamic, where a person assumes unwarranted familiarity with a public figure — whether online, on TV, or what-have-you.

The term was coined in the late 50s. Recall the screaming crowds around The Beatles? [note: Yes, I know The Beatles came along in the 60s.] The fainting and gesticulations may not make sense to us at a glance, but imagine being a youth and finding The Beatles as a glimmering hope in an otherwise dismal media landscape. You see them on TV only sometimes — you certainly can’t watch hundreds of hours of on-demand video about them. It’s no wonder you might freak out on sight.

There’s something wonderful about this, but of course, without the checks and balances of polite society, it can be a major issue. Now, as we wade deeper into a tumultuous phase for civilization, and American life (at least) seems more isolated than ever, it seems we are creating the conditions for the amplification of some negative patterns associated with this dynamic.

Is it possible to address this out front? Let’s say you are a rising star on the internet. Is it possible to address parasocial relationships, explicitly exploring the topic with your audience, encouraging them to cultivate in-person, face-to-face relations in their lives? Absolutely.

Imagine a new generation of public figures, working together to methodically amplify and affirm the cultivation of in-person relationships among their audiences and the communities of which they are apart.

Imagine the social media world augmenting, not replacing, the social lives of our youth. Right now it seems that too many are interacting almost exclusively through mediated experiences, rather than in-person. Does this not make us more fragile as a society? (Consider how social media use can give way to risk aversion. We need risk takers!)

I only have so much time to make this note today, but I would like to emphasize that I think this is possible explicit address of this social dynamic can be done, and I think it can be a net pro-social development.

Peace through understanding.

Do we really want to be so attached to one-sided relationships like this? Upon reflection, of course not. Yet we may not understand that this is what is happening, particularly in social isolation.

This is one of the terrains we must navigate today, together.

Dreams of War & Peace in Times of VUCA & FUD

VUCA: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity

FUD: fear, uncertainty, doubt

I woke from a terrible dream this morning, a massacre.

My alarm clock was a grenade blast.

Not long before bed last night, I was reading about the various “nightmare scenarios” that are being considered by experts regarding the upcoming election. I’ve also been reading, here and there, about the various pseudo-organizations now wreaking havoc on society, or apparently preparing to do so: the Boogaloos, the Critical Race Theorists, and — of course — the President and recent revelations of his withheld knowledge related to the virus.

I awoke in my comfortable bed, not with the feeling of relief that, “Thank goodness I’m here and that was only a dream,” rather, I had all the residue of just witnessing mass murder, helplessly. (I began to run at the shooter from behind when he turned away, yet he turned around toward me again, still firing an actual fully-automatic — not an “assault rifle” — so I had to jump behind a brick wall. His ammunition ran out and he lay on the ground, so I once again ran toward him, intent on kicking his face in, only to find him grinning as he pulled the pin of a grenade.)

I haven’t had such dreams in quite a while. That is, not that I know of at least. Since quitting smoking, I’m apparently remembering them better.

They say ‘bad is stronger than good’; I think that may be, but only by default, not by necessity.

The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events, major life events (e.g., trauma), close relationship outcomes, social network patterns, interpersonal interactions, and learning processes. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. Various explanations such as diagnosticity and salience help explain some findings, but the greater power of bad events is still found when such variables are controlled. Hardly any exceptions (indicating greater power of good) can be found. Taken together, these findings suggest that bad is stronger than good, as a general principle across a broad range of psychological phenomena.

from Bad Is Stronger Than Good

Indeed I think that acknowledging this dynamic may feed our fires of the good.

A few years ago, there was a young man in the US who planned to shoot his classmates. He had a kill list. He had acquired his weapons. He had ensured that his sister was to stay home that day.

He turned himself in.

There was something in him to prevent it.

We don’t hear this story though. We certainly don’t hear it often.

The Wars Waged on Our Besieged Minds

It’s like Brandolini’s Law, the bullshit asymmetry principle: “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”

We also might say “The amount of energy needed to inspire positivity is an order of magnitude bigger than to inspire negativity.”

What apparently captures our attention, day after day, in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world is fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

This comes from outside ourselves, in some sense, sure; and yet we often learn to internalize it, to amplify it.

Some, like the shooters committing atrocities, the memetic sorceror’s apprentices pumping the internet with thoughts of a new “civil war”, and the various totalitarians in sheep’s clothing, they seem to internalize the fear, uncertainty, and doubt to an extremist degree — or at least set the conditions, wittingly or otherwise, so that others prone to extremism are encouraged to do so — and in an effort to control these things, generate wicked machinations that seem to further accelerate our decline.

Their methods are simplistic and ineffectual if their aim is for better days.

Yet the impulse to control, to make sense, is there.

And what ideas are on hand? A media environment of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

It’s no wonder the most media-addicted nation in the world also produces the most mass shooters.

Dreams of Peace, Given Form in Reality

We need to provide alternatives to the fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

We need our people to see that something better is not only possible, but developing.

And unlike spreading FUD, this takes work.

It takes creativity.

It takes grit.

Yet we can build a world of peace.

We can bridge our dreams of better days to the reality of the everyday.

As we have grown more isolated, we must amplify and repeat and revise and evolve these dreams of peace, these options of betterment for our youth.

Perhaps we can pass through these straits after all.

The despair must be transmuted.

Open-ended activism and dead-end activism

Dead-end activist thought has been a long-rising tide in America. Now it seems there is something of a rogue wave crashing upon us.

To pierce the veil here proves difficult if not practically impossible to many. One reason is that the social dynamics involved are infused with repellent defenses, such as the dead-end idea that, if one questions these affairs, then one is an inherent part of the problem that such thought is supposed to address.

The fact of the matter is, anyone interested in the preservation and continual betterment of the republic, and the culture that underpins it, is duty-bound to question these developments and share the action of their inquiry.

To assume that the only solution is to destroy the whole thing and then rebuild is wildly ill-conceived and neglects the actual patterns of social development, not to mention the way that such destructive efforts have tended to play out in the past.

What do I mean by dead-end activist thought?

I am referring to activist thought that is easy to replicate, through what I call dead-end activism, where many who are exposed to such thought through media and events are practically compelled to repeat and spread its message, and yet it does not inspire any further creative thought on part of its audience.

I am referring to dogma without rigor, particularly those ideas that naturally lead to injustice, masquerading as the natural embodiment of justice.

I am referring to activist thought that is effectively totalitarian in that, for example, it provides what are supposed to be the right answers for its own ill-posed questions and then addresses its assessment as settled, as a sound basis for vigorous political action at scale.

This is no way to go if we want an open society, because it homogenizes the actual living moral landscape towards coherence with a dead-end worldview, often now in the seductive name of opening up and unleashing the true potential of humanity.

We should be profoundly, actively suspicious of supposed solutions to social problems, especially those that we actually don’t understand, and especially when they are put forward as absolute.

If we are unable to question the ideas underpinning transformations in society, we are unable to control the transformations in society. Today we see an uncontrolled, runaway transformation of many areas of society, done in the name of justice and truth, which nonetheless compel adherents to refuse earnest inquiry into how they are actually supposed to carry out our search for justice and truth.

We see that people, as they encounter these forms of dead-end activism, often become active in promulgating it, even inflicting it upon others, without question. This is the creation of millions of kangaroo courts, the practically viral spread of a judge-jury-and-executioner mentality at the very same time as we need open discussion more than ever.

It might be presumed that I am talking about developments on the far-left, and I am, but it should be noted and emphasized that the very same developments are at play on the far-right, and in the center, and so forth. The compass of political postures does not adequately describe the issue. What we are actually talking about is something of a hyper- echo chamber effect, one where people are continually affirming, confirming their beliefs without question, assured by the infrastructures of thought that others have provided them so they can be convinced that they are acting righteously, all-the-while shutting down what critical faculties they have in favor of the path of least resistance, as most of humanity has always done.

Troubling common ground

From the inside, it must be very uncomfortable to acknowledge the similarities among the camps, so I reckon that they don’t; whether it is the ‘QAnon’ crowd with their wicked soteriology, or the anti-racist social justice warriors, they are convinced that they see the truth that others do not, and they are prepared to let it play out without questioning the foundations of these developments.

Open-ended activism

It only makes sense that, if we want an open society, our activism that seeks to bring about its furtherance should reflect the very same. This is akin to “be the change you wish to see.”

Yet so many so-called activists now refuse open dialogue.

There are now many who believe that, to even bring up certain topics in discussion is an affront to their program for justice. This should alarm us, because it is fundamentally destructive to personal and cultural integrity to assume that anything is off the table for discussion. When the list of disallowed topics grows, who is there to disagree?

While it may sound far-fetched, we are setting the precedent for political disappearing and other wretched tools we have seen the righteous evils of the world deploy in the past.

This is not without precedent.

Let us not go the way of those who failed to reckon with these ugly potentials we hold.

We must be willing to discuss what matters to us, and to not refuse the attempts of others to do the same. To dissolve this egalitarian ethic of open inquiry is to dissolve our capacity to create the world we actually want.

Any activist today, and any activist tomorrow, should be wary of absolutist postures for this very reason, and many others. Let us take stock of our beliefs, and, if they are not explicit, let us make them explicit in good-hearted, neighborly conversation, without condemnation, for our personal inquiries may be fruitful personally, yet it is the fruit of civilization we should like to be available to all.

Above all, let us be willing to change, for this is the way of all existence, and when we presume that we need not change, we set ourselves as brittle, and lay the conditions for us to break.

Many Freedoms, and The First and Last Freedom

What does freedom mean to me?

I believe there are a variety of freedoms in life.

Sometimes it can be useful to think of them as degrees of freedom. For example, the way that my life is right now, I am free to buy a car and drive it. There are degrees of freedom here though. Practically speaking, I can’t buy just any car. Some cars are museum pieces, not for sale, and others would be wildly impractical (demolition derby cars are not for a night on the town), and other cars are simply not in my budget.

Most people are familiar with financial constraints, one of many governing factors in their everyday degrees of freedom. Some people I know might avoid taking dates to a fancy restaurant, due to the cost, while others might be thinking, “Maybe we should sell one of the art pieces in order to finance our nephew’s tuition.” Now let’s consider these constraints in terms of currency.

Why is it called currency? It can be useful to think of currency as currents, see?

Like the currents of streams and rivers, currency has an effect because it flows. It is dynamic. With access to more currency, we can see how one might generate more power. They could buy more houses, which they could rent to more people, and they might generate more profit that way, for example. It’s similar with water flows and the generation of electricity. Since the early days of electrical transmission, Niagara Falls has powered factories in multiple countries. On the other hand, if one can only access a small creek to generate power, it might light a house, but that would be all. (Note that we talk about ‘electrical current’ as well.)

I would like to explore a freedom that is primary to financial currency however. There are very financially poor people who “have” a lot of it, and there are very financially rich people who “have” practically none of it. What is it?

The most important channeling of currency ever known: perception.

Attention is the most precious resource. Except perhaps in meditation, we channel our attention with the flows of perception. This is why I am so interested in developing tools for people to cultivate their everyday perception, of their freedoms, of their constraints.

We might imagine a world in which there are only several people, and practically all the natural resources of the world are somehow depleted. Time is short. Still their attention would carry on a bit longer, and if they are to die of resource exhaustion, certainly the attention they might share amongst eachother would be the most important form of currency flowing.

This is also the case in a world of abundance, for it is our perception that sets our engineering of otoher currencies, whether liquified energy or ideas.

We now live in a world where we are besieged everyday by technologies designed to capture our attention. This is how the manipulation of perception plays out over time. With many engineered moments of attention, we find our unspoken and unacknowledged modes of perception transformed, and we often don’t realize it.

Let’s invert.

Let’s use our attention to amplify our degrees of freedom. Let’s learn to cultivate our own technologies of perception, so that we are less the unwitting harvested fruits of the attention economy but the thoughtful planters of a rich and abundant world of the mind, one in which we cultivate the perception and practical competence necessary to address our world’s grand challenges.