I like to think.
I don’t pretend to be a great thinker, nor do I assume correctness in how or what I think. To me, it is just thinking. One beauty of the human mind is our power to question, simulate, predict, create, develop and change without ever having to make a physical move. The power of imagination is a resource that leads to a new world. Not just an imaginary world, but the physical material world in which we live and operate. Every invention, every product, every organisation and war has been brought about through a combination of thoughts, concepts and theories that have materialised in our reality. I don’t think this is too difficult to understand yet at the same time, how come so many are unwilling to think differently and feel powerless in their ability to do differently?
The world is complex. So complex that we as humans are unable to understand all the linkages between components and how changing one node will create a shift in every other node in the system as well as have structural effects on the links. Some of these changes are large, some small, but all have an effect on everything else. As humans we tend to think that we know a lot and it is true that each day our collective knowledge increases. However, we also seem to limit the amount of what we don’t know which is perhaps a dangerous position to take as, every time in history we position ourselves as knowing, within some period of time, what we know grows to make what we knew obsolete. Now, we know better. Again, it is perhaps easy to see that knowing is always limited. It can grow, but can never be complete.
What we know and do can have impacts we may see as insignificant today, but create massive ramifications on our lives in the future. I think, a few examples will quickly come to mind but the history of smoking or fossil fuel usage should provide a bit of evidence. Inversely, what we think as an enormous breakthrough at the time, may wither into little more than a passing fad. So, the world is too complex to fully comprehend yet we keep trying to fix it by knowing more of something we can never have complete knowledge in and then make our actions based on this limited information, complicating it further and increasing the chances of unexpected events. It seems this will be an endless journey and perhaps busy work as one correction leads on to new errors. This process may leave us feeling ineffective as we continue to chase a goal that is impossible to reach.
I think part of the reason we often feel helpless is that the system we have built is enormous, interconnected and constantly shifting. The knot we have created as a global society is in itself a massively complex system to understand and to fully understand something, objectivity is needed. Yet, we are part of this society in which we operate and invested in certain actions and outcomes, even though those outcomes may conflict with other desires we hold. As they say: ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too’. I want to be an individual and belong to a group, Be nationalistic and support peace. Have more than the neighbour whilst encouraging equality. Perhaps our desires are incompatible or at the very least, we could entertain this possibility by using that amazingly capable skill of the human brain: simulation.
Thinking differently is a challenge. Humans generally want to be part of a group and being part of any particular group relies on thinking, rituals, traditions, actions and beliefs that are aligned with that of the group; group culture. Breaking ranks sets off cultural alarm bells and the culture police shift into top gear to bring order to their domain by expelling the divergent. And, based on their judgement, the outcast can be ostracised, ridiculed and targeted with various forms of prejudice. Essentially, being or thinking differently is risky as it can effectively be performing social suicide. When everything one holds dear depends on conformity to a certain culture and their acceptance, being different is difficult.
Even when we aren’t bound by group think, thinking differently is still challenging as it means going into an unknown and the unknown is scary. Fear stops us from a lot, even when we know it shouldn’t. You can tell a child not to be scared of the dark and that monsters aren’t real but, that massive simulation computer in the head will get to work, even without express permission. Imagined beasts hiding under the bed waiting to hear a parent’s footstep retreat down the hall before they make an appearance may be amusing to an adult, but is very real to the child. Remember, our thinking creates our world? A child’s thoughts made a real heart beat faster, created real sweat on tiny palms and very real tears on cheeks. Even if there is no monster to see it, fear has an effect.
You see, the simulator is always running, day and night and if we don’t give it something to do, it will do what it does based on what it knows. And because it would rather think itself right than wrong, it will avoid any areas that it is uncomfortable with (often the unknown) by creating fear when those areas are approached. Fear is natural. It keeps us alive in many practical ways. However, not being able to mentally simulate a process due to fear, how does that help us? Fear to think alternatively seems silly, doesn’t it?
If we are presented with a problem and we know how to fix it, is it really a problem at all? Let’s ‘pretend’ I am overweight. This is my problem. What do I know about it? Pretty soon (based on what I know) I would come to the conclusion that I should change my eating habits and exercise a bit more. Problem solved. Well no it isn’t, as I am yet to actually perform any action based on my thinking. If I think (assuming my solution is correct) and act inline with my solution, the process will lead to weight loss. However, another problem arises. Knowing what to do and doing what is known are separate mechanisms. I ‘may’ love cake, or perhaps I hate exercise, or both. This means that the solution to my problem may be located in a region I am unwilling to walk. I think this is why TV shopping makes so much money. They offer ‘solutions’ to people so that they can avoid the aspects where they experience pain or fear. In my case, giving up cake or going for a jog. When the piece of promise equipment doesn’t work, we can blame it for not being good enough and look to purchase a ‘better’ one. But to actually solve the problem, we have to get to the root of the problem itself, not avoid it.
What are we willing to suffer to solve our problems may be a decent question to ask at this point. For me personally, it seems that I am quite willing to put my body through pain and stress at a gym, yet unwilling to deny myself a piece of chocolate (or an entire block). We all have these areas that we are willing to suffer for and others that we will not go near. This seems natural. But, what if the solution to our problem lays in an area that we are unwilling to suffer yet it is imperative that we solve the issue? As an example, it seems that we have a few global environmental issues on our hands. Whether man-made or natural, changes in the climate will have drastic effects on the way in which we live and likely, even our survival as a species. I am no expert, but it would appear whatever the solution is, it lays in an area that would mean we would all have to completely restructure the way in which we operate as a society at government, industrial and community levels. The problem is, our society and the cultures held within (which we all created and are all a part of) are both uncomfortable with change and attached to current processes. The solutions probably lays in a cultural no go zone.
Change is movement, and movement requires energy (force) this force applies pressure (stress) and things move and affect other things which in turn, affect more. With our massive brains, we have been able to harness and direct energy ourselves. This gives us the ability to direct change without relying on nature to do it for us. This is great except, we don’t fully understand all of this complex universe in which we live and how our direction of energy is going to knock-on to other nodes in the system. So, we limit it to what we do know because what we don’t know we can’t factor and, it is generally scary to think about as it is enormous and the unknown contradicts our clever image of ourselves. Due to this, we end up using our hard-earned energy maintaining what we know or developing where we feel comfortable with change. This means that the society we have created with all of our collective thoughts over however many millennia has a built in system to protect it from change, even though, because it lays within a much larger system that influences it, change is inevitable and has been proven in countless ways, right down to our very own DNA.
Perhaps we just aren’t willing to ask questions. Society can’t ask questions of itself, yet each human component that makes it up can investigate (using the mental simulator) independently, discover and make small changes that could in fact become enormous changes down the line. But doing so would eventually require thoughts and actions that lay outside of the groups norms and, we know how much we don’t want to leave the group. We would much rather leave the thinking up to the smart people with high IQ’s and degrees that are qualified to do the quality thinking for us. This seems like a decent process yet they too, with all of their intelligence are consistently caught in the same trap as the rest of us. Remember the smoking and the fossil fuel examples? Expert scientists may have made and developed the goods, expert business leaders and marketers sold them, but we consumed them and therefore we must all take responsibility. This is a system after all. Without a market, every product fails.
In a training session recently, one of my students got an adjustable desk and we talked about it a little. This is the kind that goes up and down at a touch of a button to avoid or alleviate back pain. These seem to be a good idea and perhaps every office worker should have one as standard but, that is a different matter. Another member of the group had had one for a while already and I asked how often he used it. He replied not so often, but he adjusted it whenever he felt pain in his back. We tend to only shift our position when we are in pain, under pressure, uncomfortable or suffering. If we know this is the case, we can mentally simulate potential physical, psychological and emotional pain areas without any risk. Wouldn’t we then have a chance to move the proverbial desk before the pain starts?
Talking about risk, the risk assessment of a situation is something we take very seriously but very few understand. I recommend reading up a little if you haven’t already as it is great to have even a basic understanding of human thinking biases. Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ will give a very good view of the matter but perhaps you can find something better. In general though, the human mind is always looking for certainty. Security. We want a sturdy roof over head, a partner we can trust, a stable job, guaranteed returns, safe streets, positive feedback, and social acceptance. And, we are willing to do anything to get it, even if the price is the security of another. As long as we and what we see as ours is safe.
But this quest for security should raise a question: does the treasure exist at all? Thinking about this a little and applying my severely limited knowledge of the universe, I think the answer is a definite maybe. Everything is moving, no matter how slightly. Each individual atom has a storm of action inside and we know that there are much smaller particles again in the form of quarks. But, this doesn’t mean that they are even the smallest of course as tomorrow we may discover more or perhaps we already have. Anyway, all of these tiny components make up all the other components and none of the parts, whether big or small, are perfectly still. Going back to the unknowable interconnected universe in which we live, every movement has an affect on other parts and so on and so forth. Even if the initial movement was never witnessed, i.e. the big bang (is that a thing still?), every other part has been affected by it and will be seemingly affected forever. Therefore, no matter how secure a position is made, in reality, there are innumerable forces always acting to shift it. Which means every position for everything is always experiencing a level of risk.
Ok, back to the ‘real’ world for a moment. What does this mean for us, not as particles of matter but as humans? Our security is a dependent. By this I mean that our security depends on assurances of other people, systems and circumstances of which we have no control. No matter how safe our vehicles are and carefully we drive, if someone in the oncoming lane swerves to hit us, there is not much that can be done. Think about that while driving next time. Scary isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how much money one amasses in a bank, a computer glitch or an unscrupulous banker could empty it. No matter how strong a building, there is always a meteorite out there stronger. These events are very unlikely of course and maybe not even relevant, but there are scores of people who have lost, are losing and will lose their jobs to innovations in technology. No matter how good they are at their job, or how much they are liked in the workplace. Maybe that example is closer to home.
No certainty yet, so why then the maybe? Do you see the pattern above? In each case the same event takes place. A loss event. Life, money, home, job. Things that we identify with. (Loss of life might be the ultimate discovery in security but may not be worth the investment) Well, for humans our certainty doesn’t depend on being able to predict what will happen, how it will happen or any aspect of it. It depends on how secure we feel. Perception of security shouldn’t be mistaken for security itself and when someone offers security, question it thoroughly as it is very, very unlikely that one can actually deliver on the promise. If we don’t fear the loss of something, there is no risk in losing it. This doesn’t mean not caring at all, if anything, quite the opposite.
Ever heard of happiness being in the now or be grateful for what you have? How can we live in the present or be grateful if we are continually chasing the future security for the very things we are meant to be enjoying and being thankful for as they are now? Not what they may or may not be or whether they are even there, damaged, destroyed or stolen tomorrow. As the saying goes: we don’t know what we’ve got til its gone. This again suggests we will not move o pay attention until in pain. When we are unattached we can see it clearly, hold it as it is and love it for what it is and, if we must, let it go cleanly having experienced it fully and being thankful for it. But this is not the way we generally work, if something we experience brings joy, we want to stretch it further, protect it, possess it. And when we think it is ours, we will hide it away, cover it up, save it. We become collectors. Even of people we say we care about. And if someone shows a little too much interest in what we hold, we will defend it, attack them and stake claim to what is ‘rightfully’ ours. Yet an uncomfortable question often remains unasked or ignored: These things we claim as ours, did we ever own them at all?
The things we enjoy we protect and the things that bring pain we avoid. We are encouraged to do what we want, but what we want seems to follow the trend lines of the group with which we identify. I asked students from different companies and fields what is their definition of success. The answers were both interesting and expected. At first each was unwilling to answer and all gave their first answer as: ‘success is personal and unique’. Very uniform. For each I asked a followup question: What are your indicators of success, how do you know you are successful? Each took a moment to think and came back with the first indicator being how they feel with their performance of the task and the following results. They went on to add things like feedback, reward, promotion, recognition, respect, advancement. And for each, to continually feel successful, progress in these areas would need to be made.
I know this isn’t a very in-depth study and I don’t think it will satisfy rigorous scientific evaluation for methodology, but it was quite uniform in response. What I find interesting is that the first indicator was an internal evaluation of the self in respect to process and result, all the rest were external. If our indicators for success rely on the opinions and judgments of others our definition of success is a lot less individual than we seem to think. On top of that, requiring progress means a need for continual evaluation and advancement. More can always be added. It may be called feedback for a reason, the monster is insatiable. I then asked another question, if you feel successful yet all the external indicators say otherwise, are you successful? Again interesting results. All said that they would and it doesn’t matter what others may think. I am doubtful but will take it at face value for now. How about you?
If our pay desire depends on meeting a boss, company or client expectation but to do so, we would have to perform our work in a less than personally successful manner, what would we do? Is it possible that our best work or the necessary work gets deferred to the will of an external indicator or to the cultural norms of a business? Do we begin to focus on what will get us noticed or a pay rise and promotion (the indicators of success) rather than the best work we can do? Are we able to fully question a system on which we depend for our income, social status, family security and the roof overhead or do we justify our behaviour because of them? We are back to the problem about questioning society. We can’t be objective because we are invested in particular outcomes. And when it comes to success, the indicators are often uniformly dictated and rated by the culture and society of the time. Even our own feelings of success may be learned and therefore not ‘ours’. This means we will bend to its will because to do different will likely bring discomfort and feelings of failure from the societal standpoint.
So our personal feelings of success seem to be largely influenced by how our group judges success and we know that groups don’t shift quickly. When we apply this to innovation and development, the value of something is more about the perception of value than real-world value. Most new products are geared toward the avoidance of pain and discomfort or marketing of them rather than the understanding or healing of the pain itself. The entertainment industry comes to mind where massive amounts of money are generated but the value added to society may be negligible. This of course can be argued but you may have heard the quote asking: “What if the cure for cancer is trapped inside the mind of someone who can’t afford an education? Instead, What if the cure was trapped inside the mind of someone highly educated but spends their hours throwing a digital candy pig at an angry viking farmer? Seems silly again, doesn’t it?
I read somewhere that there were over 300,000 App companies and obviously many, many more developers within. With reportedly 2% of the companies making 50% of the profits, perhaps the market was a little saturated. Especially since one might question the differentiation between the apps and value of said differentiation when there were millions of apps already created that satisfy very similar needs. At my gym, there are people that have different approaches to exercise. Some stretch a lot, some do cardio, some lift heavy weights, some use machines, some split their body part training days, some interval train and probably many other variations. Some of them, thankfully less than earlier it appears, only work their upper body with heavy weights. These people invest all of their time and energy (resources) into a section of their body that returns limited benefits in the practical world. Others however, apply many methods to all body parts and often randomise the training in order to never get too comfortable. I am not sure, but without going too deeply into this here, one approach has a narrow view and application and one broadens potential body usage and perhaps offers wider practical benefits. My point might be that perhaps these highly educated app developers could spread their skills a little broader than currently. Perhaps we would micro pay for that.
The problem with this of course goes back to the issues at work. If a programmer is looking for security in their life and it appears that in most societies that security comes from material gains, one must invest where the market is willing to pay. I have always found it curious that people often expect clean air and water, reasonably priced food, education, social security etc. as a human right but will pay enormous amounts for entertainment activities. But, that is where the money is. So, many of the world’s highly trained, technical minds are working at solving the problem of what to do while waiting for the bus while others work at creating systems for marketing and delivering the entertaining activity to the user. To be fair, not all companies and programmers are doing this, but you may get the general idea of where it is headed.
Education is one of the most important tools we have to improve this world yet, in many ways we seem to be sliding backwards and the stability we seek (may not exist) is getting further and further out of minds reach. Many hands make light work, unless those hands are doing the wrong things. Education systems seem to aim more towards creating workers than creating change and institution focus points are often outdated by the time they reach the job market. Successful school results mostly depend on a good memory recall ability (yet there was no class in memory skill development) and conformity to the institution. Creative, curious children go in, programmed machines often come out. But this doesn’t matter too much of course because by slowing the shifting of traditional industry, we don’t need many creative thinkers. What we can do is sell the idea that the past was better and the culture and values it had are superior to others we have not yet developed. That way, people will fight to hold onto a golden past while pretending to be looking for a better future. History repeats, doesn’t it? Perhaps this is more by design than natural law. In humans for example, history doesn’t repeat in nature, your DNA is unique and will never appear again. Even if you are an identical twin.
To be fair, it isn’t the fault of the institution or any individual teacher within. These institutions are ours, we created them. After many years as a business English trainer, the amount of time I heard ‘My English isn’t very good because my high school teacher was terrible’ is near uncountable or, ‘we weren’t taught to be confident’. I wonder though, did any of the students learn? Because, if one did, the teacher isn’t the problem. Perhaps the teacher should consider their teaching style and accessibility issues, however what about the responsibility of the student? Are we looking to be entertained or are we looking to discover something new and valuable? Are we looking to understand the structure of what we learn or just trying to past tomorrow’s scheduled test?
My first year of university I went into a macroeconomics lecture with 300 or so other students. The lecturer was from central Africa and had a very strong accent. I have to admit, I understood very little of what was said and afterwards overheard that other students had problems catching it also. Lecture two came and I entered the same lecture hall with about 200 students and with a lot of struggle, I understood a little more but still missed a great deal. Week three, 150 students remained and we were all getting quite comfortable with the accent. She was spectacular. Her examples were real-world and practical, the information was brilliant and her presentation was enjoyable, funny, colourful and engaging. Near the end of the course, she was called away for a week or so to give a talk to the UN on the economic issues confronting Africa at the time. 150 students went on to take her microeconomics class also. Another 150 students missed out. And they never realised it.
Brilliance can be hidden within a terrible presentation and nonsense can hold gravity with a brilliant delivery. Judging a book by its cover comes to mind here. We can severely damage the quality of our information pool if we discount what is poorly packaged and inflate the value of the attractive. In many cases when we look back at where we have come from, it was the information obtained in adversity and struggle that we value the most. This may be a bias of course as information is information, regardless of the effort taken to obtain it. If good information comes easily, be grateful. But also don’t be afraid to do a little work. Self-study, investigate and ask questions. I don’t think we can expect everything of value to be handed to us in a neat little package with a pretty ribbon wrapped around and tied into a bow. In fact, perhaps we should question when information does come perfectly packaged and easily digestible. As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
I have been tapping away at the keyboard for awhile and am mildly impressed that you have made it this far. You may be thinking damn, I got a little bit into it and was thinking to stop but kept going. Though soon, once I had invested all of this time, I had to finish reading otherwise it would be a waste of what I have already invested. Don’t worry, I have watched many terrible shows for several seasons because of this mental bias and many large investment projects have reached completion and met a failure that could be easily seen at the halfway point. You may also be thinking that I am some self-righteous so and so and has no qualification or right to comment on any of the areas covered thus far. You are right of course, yet here we are. Should we continue a little farther?
Being right seems to be imperative to our feelings of self-worth. But being right is quite an exclusive club. There are a few equations and a few known natural laws that are correct. To be a truth, it has to be unbreakable and singular. Which means it can’t be true now, but not tomorrow. If truly truth, it always was and always will be true. It is perfect and perfection can’t change as it isn’t time dependent, it is an absolute. In humans though, we have a limited concept of truth that ignores the data we don’t yet know. At some point, someone might have believed that the world is flat. Believing something doesn’t make it true. Otherwise, I should still be able to run as fast as when I was young(er).
We all say that we want to know the truth yet simultaneously are rather unwilling to investigate and question our own beliefs. But why? It is obvious maybe: we don’t want to be wrong. Why would we question our position, an uncomfortable act in itself, only to prove ourselves incorrect in something we have potentially been acting upon as if true our entire lives? This process will lead to certain pain. It makes far more sense to ignore the possibility, denounce detractors and cover our eyes, ears and any other hole questions and contradictions may leak in. The problem is, once the question is raised, innocence is lost. One must then actively work to not explore the possibility of being wrong which is a choice to remain ignorant. The funny thing with this choice is of course that once the question is raised can one truly continue to believe without a shadow of doubt? Or, will that niggling feeling always remain in the back of the mind. What if I’m wrong? When it comes to beliefs, not many believe so strongly it seems that they are willing to rigorously test their belief until they prove it right. But then, what if we ARE right?
To me it seems that there is a lot of conflict going on. Lots of people claiming right and wrong and everything in between. I don’t think anyone can be right if they have to argue as once right is truly found, it can’t be argued. Once seen, the truth cannot be unseen. This is not the Matrix. Or is it? Before teaching to fight for what one believes in, the first lesson should be to question whether the belief is valid and actually worth fighting for. A few more questions aimed this way and a lot of prejudice and violence would not eventuate and a lot of discovery would be made. Remove the societal programming and we can discover who we are rather than the labels with which we identify.
I do think that there is a solution to the problems we face and have always faced. This society we live in is ours and each unit within has the power to affect it. I don’t mean that we could affect it, I mean that we are affecting it. Constantly. Each movement we make, every word we speak has an effect on the world and everything it contains. It ripples and flows through all eventually. We even affect the atmosphere surrounding the world and send probes into deep space that have an effect on some other world. All of these systems, hospitals, governments, innovations, wars, businesses, schools, charities, space programs and families, have been created from our thinking. But not just ours. The collective thoughts over the space of many millennia that have combined and transformed, reproduced and mutated. A massive movement of thought. And the beauty is, it is ours. We can direct it, harness it and release it. We can choose how we use it and where we take it. We decide how we evolve. And if we choose to, we can do better.
This is what I call the endless conversation. We are all a part of it, affect it and influenced by it. Our words and actions add to the conversation, our art pushes known boundaries and science provides technologies that inspire others to join in and create new conversation streams. Some threads of the conversation funnel through a complicated process into simple solutions that become tools to simplify other parts of a different conversation string. Active or passive, we place pressure on each strand, pulling this way and that with some looking to develop and move across strings and some, holding onto the threads of the conversations that they know and with which they feel safe. There are an immeasurable number of strings of infinite length with endless possibilities. Pathways that I see as eternally leading towards the same point; truth. Whatever that is.
This is why I think.
I am not trying to convince you of anything as I hope you are free of all influence and authority including mine, but perhaps you will find something here useful. Maybe a single word, a phrase or the beginnings of an idea that will spark your creativity. I imagine you being curious, objective, unattached and willing to think for yourself without prejudice. I picture you as free, an individual that discovers your gifts with the integrity to grow, create and simplify this world into a better place. I hope you are compassionate towards others and offer a hand to those in need, those that may not yet have learned what you have learned. And forgive and move on from those who are unwilling or not ready to take your hand. I hope you learn from them also, as value can be found in the most unlikely of places. At times you may hold an incorrect position, discover it, acknowledge it, learn from it, let it go and move onward. There is so much in this life to enjoy, there is no need to hold on to what is gone. You will face many challenges and challengers but this is nature in its element as pressure produces change and there is beauty in the uncommon, the different, the variation. There is beauty in everything if you pay attention. And we are all unique. All beautiful. Become aware of your environment as there is intelligence within and it holds lessons on simplicity, function and structure. You will not fit in with everyone so accept this but know you will always have your place and leave a mark as every movement you make, each string you vibrate, will forever travel along the networks of the universe. Energy cannot be made or destroyed, only transformed. All that is, always was and will always be. Only the arrangement of the energy changes, like the notes of music. You are this energy, discover it for yourself, use it as you choose, move what you will.
For my unborn daughter, Your journey has started, the ripple has begun, the first strings pulled, your effects felt. You have already moved me to be my best for You and are now and forever a part of the universe. I look forward to meeting you, learning with you, adventuring, journeying and discovering together. I look forward to the discussion, listening to your music and seeing what piece you will play in the endless conversation.