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”

Angsty songs & maybe we should change schools as kids

There are many songs that just scream teenage angst, and I feel like Lazy Eye by Silver Sun Pickups is one of them. And I don’t mean angsty in a bad or derogatory way, just in a, this captures the feelings well. Even the music video feels like exactly what as a 15 year old you think 18 year olds do.

It often felt like during my school years I was just waiting for time to pass by. To finally finish school to go to the fun parts of life. It’s interesting in a way how we portray schools. I wanted to change schools and I think many people often are stuck in shitty situations at school. Bullying, boredom, bad teachers, etc etc. But the common answer is that you need to suffer thru it. I think it has a perverse effect later in life where people don’t leave bad jobs or bad relationships because well, all they know is that they need to suffer thru this.

In reality, if you’re in a bad situation like a bad job, a bad relationship, toxic friendships, etc. you should just leave it. You don’t need to stay and suffer. I worry we’re often teaching kids they need to suffer thru things. Oh sure there’s a certain amount of “grit” that you need. You shouldn’t just drop everything once you face a simple challenge, but it almost feels like it builds in learned hopelessness. Like the elephant that could rip out the stake holding him down but doesn’t because he “learned” that he was powerless at a young age.

In a way, right now feels like that. We’re helpless in that (most of us anyway) can’t impact COVID 19. We can’t work on vaccine distribution or fixing the clusterfuck that is federal and provincial co-operation(1)or lack thereof. Sure we can do our part in staying on the couch. But it’s not the same.

And so in a way, the “learned helplessness” is not always a bad thing. If we reframe it as “acceptance”, well that changes everything doesn’t it? We need to accept the current circumstances and our ability (or lack thereof) to influence it.

So like most things:

“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

Niels Bohr

In the meantime we can listen to angsty songs about waiting for the real world to begin (again):

[Verse 1]
I’ve been waiting
I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life
But it’s not quite right
And this ‘real’
It’s impossible if possible at whose blind word?
So clear but so unheard

[Verse 2]
I’ve been waiting
I’ve been waiting for this silence all night long
It’s just a matter of time
To appear sad
With the same ‘ol decent lazy eye fixed to rest on you
Aim free and so untrue

[Chorus]
Everyone’s so intimately rearranged
Everyone’s so focused clearly with such shine
Everyone’s so intimately rearranged
Everyone’s so focused clearly with such shine

Locked and loaded
Still the same ol’ decent lazy eye straight through your gaze
That’s why I said I relate
I said we relate, it’s so fun to relate

[Bridge]
It’s the room, the sun and the sky
The room, the sun and the sky

[Guitar Solo]

[Outro]
I’ve been waiting
I’ve been waiting for this moment…

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 or lack thereof

The Illusion of Choice (in video games)

I remember playing the first Walking Dead game from TellTale games. I never liked zombie games, but it was incredible. Your choice really seemed to matter. The story itself was all changed by them. I think it’s only when playing the Wolf Among Us that cracks started to show. Maybe it’s because the story of the Walking Dead is so poignant and powerful (It’s one of the most moving in any video game ever), but at the time I didn’t see thru the illusion.

I just finished playing Life is Strange 2 (Life is Strange rivals the Walking Dead and I really recommend you play it) and the first episode felt too transparent. The impact of choices seemed to be non-existent. It felt too much like determinism.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the world itself is pretty deterministic(ish) so how can one expect free will in a game that’s inside a deterministic world, but it still just felt useless. All the choice, they wouldn’t really change the story, at least ot in any meaningful way.

Perhaps part of the problem is expectations. These games sell themselves as “Story Driven” and “Decisions matter” but really, it’s the same thing as most RPGs since forever ago. Ya you make some decisions, but you know when playing Mass Effect that you won’t end up on a remote island running a bar at the end. You’ll be saving the world galaxy one way or another.

Anyways, tl;dr play Walking dead and Life is Strange, they are good stories even if free will is an illusion, but other such games aren’t necessarily worth it.

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.

Google kinda sucks

Recently I’ve been more and more impressed by just how bad Google’s products are. It reminds me of Microsoft in the late 90s. They have a solution for everything, it’s terrible, but people still use it because of the network effect.

I’ll go in detail in later posts but basically, google calendar hasn’t been updated in… ever? Google keeps being able to fuck up doing a messaging application. Android Auto? It’s amazing when it works…. Which is about half the time… Google maps? It was revolutionary when it came out, remember mapquest? But now, when I left to go pick up my prescription today it offered me to go to an address I haven’t gone to in almost a year and won’t be going back to.

There seems to be 2 general problems, one is usability and the other is shitty machine learning. Like I said I’ll have a few rants on them individually, but it’s so interesting to me how Google became what it was fighting (the big large monopolistic tech companies). I guess history just repeating itself.

The problem with washrooms

The pandemic and the lock-downs have highlighted a great many problems. One unexpected one of places being closed is the lack of public washrooms. I don’t think Ottawa has a single public washroom that one can just go to. Before it was pretty easy, I could stop at any Tim’s, or a random restaurant and just use the washroom. But now, it’s not possible and that’s problematic when you drink way too much water in a day.

Of course this problem hasn’t just appeared so to say. It’s been a problem for many people before, but much like many things with the pandemic it’s shown folks I think a side of some of the challenges of people who are less socioeconomically advantaged. I can walk into any restaurant and ask to sue the washroom without anyone ever saying no. I “look” like a customer. But the challenge with the lack of public washroom has been present for folks who live on the streets. It’s just brought to light something others have already been dealing with.

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.