Free Will – Same Mistakes

I remember thinking around 16-17 how I had all the information I needed for enlightenment. And in a sense I was right, I knew all of the things about self awareness, about consciousness, about our state of minds and probably also non duality(1)that might of been more like 18-19 etc etc.

I also knew that it didn’t really matter that I had all this information. Life is not about collecting information. That’s really easy, especially now a days with Wikipedia the internet, etc etc. Life is the painful process of turning that information into knowledge and turning that knowledge into wisdom.

The thing is, that process is messy. You misinterpret information, you let cognitive biases get the better of you, you let more primitive feelings from your reptilian or mammalian brain influence your decisions etc.

All the while we have this sort of narrator, the one who thinks they are calling the shots, giving reasoning and “logic” for decisions while in fact, there is no one behind the curtain. And at first that’s depressing and leads to all sorts of bad reactions, and so most of the time we go with not talking about the lack of free will, that it’s dangerous to talk about it in those ways.

Now this is the part of the post where I tell you what part of the post this is supposed to be and what it is instead. But I think I’m going to end it with a song 🙂

I make the same mistakes
Feels like I never learn
Always give way too much
For little in return

I haven’t changed a bit
I’m still not over it
I make the same mistakes
I make the same mistakes
I…
I never did grow up
Feels like I never will
My friends are all adults
I’m still a teenage girl

I haven’t changed a bit
I’m still not over it
I make the same mistakes
I make the same mistakes
I…

My friends are all a drag
They think I’m such a flake
They want to go to bed
I want to stay up late
Walking the streets alone
Thinking of you ’til dawn
I make the same mistakes
I make the same mistakes
I…

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 that might of been more like 18-19

Maybe we should be more compassionate

At the end of April I posted on Facebook that I was worried we were losing compassion for folks during the pandemic. That people will need to allocate their risk budget and make tough decisions.

I feel like this has become more and more challenging. This isn’t to say there aren’t people who are doing really stupid stuff like going on a pub crawl after getting tested. But for most people, many of these decisions aren’t so easy. It seems some of the judgement is directed at people who are socioeconomically more vulnerable. Those who can’t take days off, who need to take public transit, who can’t get curb side pickup etc.

Some of it is also directed at people who we don’t understand, people who are afraid of the vaccines for example. While it’s easy to scoff and look down or to want to just say fuck it, I think we should try (as much as one can given everyone’s energy is quite depleted with everything going on) to be compassionate. To understand where it’s coming from. We might uncover something. We may not be able to convince them to change their minds, but maybe we can start by understanding.

“Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”

Dalai Lama

It’s easy (or easier at least) to point to others and to tell others to be more compassionate. Dealing with our own lack of compassion…. that’s always tougher. We always have reasons. They hurt us, they made bad decisions, they are unworthy of our compassion because of their privilege, wealth, status.

I’ve been trying recently to let go of some of that frustration and anger towards others who wronged me in the past.

One thing that’s helped is to detach the compassion from the “being right” part of it. They were perhaps hurtful, they were perhaps wrong, they are perhaps unaware of their incompetence, but none of those things mean they are not worthy of compassion.

To the contrary, it may mean they are even more worthy of compassion, for, like all of us, they are in pain. Be it pain from past events, circumstances, attachment, loss or even more common in pain from the existential need for “more” that it seems our genes has given our species. This insatiable appetite which makes every moment feel lacking if it’s not somehow “better” than the previous ones.

I don’t think I’ve succeeded yet…. And perhaps I never will…. But sometimes I catch myself, and I try to be more compassionate.

Linear Solutions to Exponential Problems

Humanity is facing many problems, immediately there’s COVID, longer (but not that long) term there’s Climate Change.

“Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.”

Probably not Einstein, but it sounds smarter if I say it’s Einstein

Ontario has decided to reopen, even if the projections are bad. It seems we keep closing and reopening and hoping that we can keep things under control. It’s easy to shit on the the people making these decisions, but regardless I plan on doing it here.

The challenge we have with COVID is the same as climate change. It’s that our linear thinking, that if we close down X or we lower Y doesn’t match up to the exponential world.

An easy way to visualize this is with regards to speed in relation to deaths in car accidents. Kinetic energy is equal to ½mv² with the v² being the important part here. So take a look at the chart below.

Basically, a small change in speed, causes a huge fucken change in probability of death. Now before you think this is just because of some correlation between humans dying and some magic speed. Spoiler it’s basically the same as just x²

By now you’ve probably surmised that COVID and climate change are exponential problems.

And while I’d love to try my best to surmise why humans are bad at it, many people have done it far better than I ever could.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function”

Al Bartlett

There’s a good video, it’s long and not the best produced one, but it’s by Al Barlett and he does a really good job of explaining why we’re fucked.

His main focus is overpopulation, but even if you just stick that lens and not carbon emissions is pretty easy to see that population growth and it’s inability to keep going up will mean massive changes for how we live. We take for granted now that we can have children, as many as we want really, but that’s going to change, and it’s going to change quickly.

The same will happen with climate change and the same is happening with COVID. It’s nothing and then all at once.

At least from our limited ability to perceive the “nothing” that becomes this “all at once”

Time is Standing Still

I feel as though time has no meaning anymore, just waiting for the days to pass. It’s a bit ridiculous in a sense because so many things are the same. I still work, I still play games, I still cook, I still eat, I still learn, so many things are the same.

And yet, it’s not is it? I feel at times just like I’m waiting. Waiting to invite friends over, waiting to reconnect with friends and other I haven’t connected with as much. I sometimes often think about all the wasted time. I could learn more, I could exercise more, I could work more. And yes, I know it’s a trope by now that you need to be kind to yourself because of the pandemic. But still… It at times just feels like an excuse. And I say this for myself, I’m not saying that it’s not a total clusterfuck for so many people. But we don’t have kids, we don’t have any family who are sick, we only know a few people who are on the frontline / essential. This thing should just wash of our backs no?

And yes, there are a few bigger things at play. The world is literally in a state of chaos, the US is tearing itself apart and that won’t be good for anybody, especially not a country that relies heavily on the US such as Canada. But I have a hard time shaking that feeling of needing to be more and do more. Thankfully mediation is helping, I’m using Waking Up and I quite enjoy it. If you want to care less about the fact that time is standing still…. it’s worth a try.

I hope you’re doing okay

Odds are we haven’t talked much. This year has been a bit weird for that. It at times felt like the lack of in person activities just stuck and transferred itself to online. That or just virtual meeting fatigue.

Regardless of how often we have or haven’t interacted, I’ve been thinking a lot about others and how they are doing thru this crazy year. Part of it is because of my focus on Buddhism (without belief) and meditation.

All that say is that even if I haven’t reached out, know that I care for you, I miss you, and I hope we’ll be able to meet again in 2021.

Death has a way of putting things in perspective

In the last few years 3 people I knew who were my age died. Twice of cancer and one suicide. I’m still at an age where any death is tragic and death has a way of putting things in perspective.

I remember having a close call with someone very close to me who was suicidal. Those times really helped me put things in perspective.

I’ve always been good under pressure (which confuses folks because of the anxiety) and I remember a time working at VIP when some site went down and we may of caused data loss. I remember telling a coworker who felt anxious that they didn’t need to worry because no one died and no one will die from pageviews missing, even if it goes into the 100s of thousands of pageviews. I’m lucky in that I’m in a field where the chance of my mistake causing death is minimal and I feel for those who day in and day out have to accept that the consequences of their actions may be death.

Death also minimizes everything else. Being frustrated with a friend, a lover, a relationships (of any type) that broke down, all these things seem, unimportant. Why hold on to that pain? Why hold on to that resentment and anger when things are so fragile? Why choose to stay hurt and to not move forward when we’re a heartbeat away from nothingness?

I’ve been guilty of this, In the past and even now. So why is it that it’s so hard to let go and to make amends? Not only with others but with ourselves.

To radically accept what happened and see it for what it is. A lifeless memory from the past that shouldn’t take precedence on the living moment.

I know some folks will, rightfully, point out that there is a reason for this pain, that it’s purpose is to teach us a lesson. It’s there so we don’t just keep putting our hand on a hot stove or keep engaging in patterns that harm us. I think that’s distinct from accepting the past (or the present) and to make amends with it. It’s not that you forget what happened. It’s that you accept what happened and become at peace with it and the people involved.

Since death is the only certainty…

Editor’s note: I actually wrote this in like March or something and somehow never posted it

I’m currently reading Buddhism without beliefs which is basically what mindfullness has become. There is one difference, while mindfullness usually only incorporates the practices of meditation under a different name, Buddhism without beliefs advocates for a bit more introspection added. But it does this without any of the dubious religion-y aspects of Buddhism.

One of the things they recommend to meditate on was this question:

“Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?”.

At first, it feels quite Nihilistic. But it’s in a way just a re-framing of “Will it matter in 3 months”. Where as anything that won’t matter in 3 months isn’t worth ruminating about. (TED talk)

After a while, this sense of liberation comes in. In that, So many things become trivialities that we don’t need to bother with or worry about.

Accept and Affirm When Things are Bad. Only Then Can You Truly Make Them Better

A former colleague talked about his experience applying for jobs:

I wrote a bit about this on Twitter, but thought it could be a useful post. You can see my original reply and the conversation on Twitter.

I think that this forced universal positivity will kill your ability to reflect and improve. Too many leaders (and I have been guilty of this in the past) believe that we can fix all problems with encouragement. I myself haven’t fully moved past this.

I think it relates to accepting things for what they are and to the Buddhist Noble Truths. It’s much easier to diagnose overly optimistic / forced positivity in others. Once in a while, when I’m doing it I catch myself. But most often it’s in retrospect or it’s when I see someone else do it. When I catch it in myself or in others I try to refocus the conversation. Step back and re-read our shared goals. What’s our vision and mission? If that’s the case, are we truly achieving it? Am I, or are we deluding ourselves with vanity or proxy metrics?

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their true names.”

Maybe Confucius or something

Lying to yourself and others that things are great seems like a good strategy. I mean, if we’re positive about it, it’ll be easier to climb over this actual obstacle. We won’t despair, we’ll keep marching on and eventually we’ll get there, right?

But if we don’t see things for what they are, if we don’t find the truth and tell the truth, we’re postponing the pain and suffering. And not just postponing but increasing it. When we’re finally forced to come to terms with the outcomes we’ve helped create, the pain of having wasted all this time and energy in the wrong path is crushing.

We can only build good relationships with neighbours by calling things by their name.

Paraphrased from Angela Merkel

That being said, that’s not a free pass to just shit on everything you see. Some use radical candour as radical honesty, but the key part is to care. Radical candour, the book, talks about caring personally and challenging directly. I think, in many cases, you can’t care personally. You can care about the mission of your organization, if you deeply care about a mission and challenge directly…. You can perhaps shorten the amount of time spent lost in the wilderness.

I say and write all these things like I know what I’m doing. that I’m able to at all times act in the way I wish I could, as some sort of Aristotle or Buddha, asking questions to people and helping them come to the realization of the truth themselves.

But as a human, I exist in the real world, I’m right at times, wrong at times. The real world is messy and unclear. We don’t have a scorecard at the end that tells us if we optimized for the outcomes we aimed to achieve.

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Shakespeare

The First Noble Truth

In Buddhism, the first noble truth is that “all existence is dukkha” with dukkha usually being translated to suffering. But can also be understood as being incapable of being satisfied. That while there is the “common” suffering of old age, illness and death, there’s also this yearning or craving for more that we can’t satisfy.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

We keep having these expectations and these hopes. We expect that this new shiny thing will bring us happiness, a new game, a new car, a new “thing”, a new relationship, a promotion, a bigger house, a vacation, etc…

But it never does. We’re always wandering and craving for these impermanent things and transitory states that are ephemeral. We continually grasp at the shadow of happiness, and are left disappointed.

Books are too damn long (Seeing Like a State)

I’m reading (actually listening) to Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed because everyone keeps raving about it, and while it is an interesting book and it does a good job at setting the premise, and is great at showing the hubris behind believing one can mast complex systems (as opposed to complicated systems) it has the same problem most books have, which is that it’s needlessly long.

Now, of course, this was exacerbated by the fact that I was listening to it in the car and it’s not really easy to skip ahead.

But still it has the same problems I find in many books, it takes a chapter to repeat over and over the same point. Yes with varying anecdotes and the like, but it’s the same thing. And it’s not like there is more “proof” in the extra pages in each chapter, it’s just repetition of data points and examples.

I feel like most books could be cut by 80% but then have links to supporting evidence and supporting examples.

I loved the part about the architecture disasters of trying to instill order by Le Corbusier vs the embracing of complex systems of interdependence by Jane Jacobs.

But it just belaboured the point. It went on and on about the visuals from the sky metaphors and just kept repeating itself. I got it, your premise is that this is bad and this is why. Giving me 3 more anecdotes about how it was bad in other circumstances is not actually giving me real evidence of this, so I’m not going to change my perception of the truthiness of what you’re saying based on you repeating it 4 times with 4 different examples. That’s not actually giving me real evidence, it’s just showing me more cherry-picked examples to prove your point.

What it should do, it give the premise, give an example to understand context and get a sense of the ramifications of the premise and then, if you have any, link to supporting evidence in the annexes. No one needs to read the same thing 4 times.

I suspect part of the problem is that, if this was a 50 page book instead of a 500 page book, people wouldn’t pay $15 for it. One thing I like about Sam Harris(1)note that this is not an endorsement of Sam Harris, I disagree with some of his opinions is that his books are “short”(2)relatively speaking, around 100 pages for Lying (Which is an interesting read about how you should just tell the truth) and Free Will((I’d suggest also reading the critical review by Daniel Dennett and Harris response). Taking away your thoughts on the content and the arguments in the book, I much prefer this method of reading and understanding someone’s thoughts vs the traditional model of a book.

I suspect there are reasons (be it just that the system is set out that way, that people won’t pay for content in different forms, this is a proven form, etc) But I feel like there needs to be something that’s a bit longer than Blinkist, but shorter than a 16 hour audio book / 500 pages of repetitive text.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 note that this is not an endorsement of Sam Harris, I disagree with some of his opinions
2 relatively speaking