Why Meditate?

I love thinking. I’ve also spent years trying to do it less.

Why?

Seasoned meditators often advise against progress.

‘Just sit’

‘No goals’

They’re right too – at their skill level. That’s wrong for beginners though. Beginners need to put in time and make mistakes. This requires motivation. Motivation comes from a reason.

There’s deep things to say about meditation, but this post has none of that. For experienced meditators, it’s a little wrong too.

Instead, it’s the reason to get started – the ‘why’.

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Why Travel?

I got back from Oman recently (verdict: it’s ok). I’ve travelled a lot, but recently I’ve being weighing the benefits.

I’ve realised the best part about the journey (more so than the destination) is the effect it has on my thinking. New countries provide surprises. Stuff you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. But the mind changes beyond this.

I think because:

Different Input:

We’re less in control of ‘I’ than we think. Going to multiple new counties in succession helped me realise this. Different input = Different output.

Different People:

You share beliefs with friends. Being around different people provides distance from these ideas, allowing you to reassess them.

Change in routine:

I find this un-automating of decisions leaves the mind scrambling. In the scramble, neurons wire together in interesting ways.

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How To Make Study Easy

I love learning, but I’m also kinda lazy.

So I’ve always preferred stuff packaged as simple as possible. I’ve trudged through dense stuff too – not for fun, but because I’ll be glad I did afterwards. I don’t want to forget it, so I furrow my brows extra hard. Sometimes I don’t grasp it though. ‘Shit maybe I am an idiot’ – It’s all very stressful.

I’ve realised much of this stress is optional.

The densest textbook is made up of squiggles. Some squiggles are harder to learn than others, but none contain inherent stress – we’re the one who makes it stressful. They stress us out because we’re scared we’ll forget them.

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The Vocabulary Of Emotion

The colour spectrum is made up of lots of intervals.

Apparently, English speakers slice this continuum up differently than Tagalog speakers. This is because words, like ‘blue’, categorise the spectrum. This isn’t about colour though, we impose linguistic frames on everything – including feelings.

‘Happy, sad, jealous’

In Turkish, ‘huzun’ refers to a gloomy feeling in which things will gradually get worse. In Portuguese, ‘saudade’ means a bittersweet nostalgia, memories both fond and painful because they’ve past. In German, ‘torschlusspanik’ literally translates to ‘gate closing panic’ – a sense that opportunities are fading. (More examples here)

If we knew every such word from every language, we’d be able to explain feelings in new ways. Still though, there’s only so much vocabulary.

Thoughts prompt emotions and emotions prompt thoughts. If I think about a sad memory it’ll make me feel sad. If I feel sad it’ll make more sad memories. They both create oxygen for each other.

Still, words are just a frame, they’re aren’t the actual feelings themselves. I dunno if it’s 100% of the story, but feelings are inseparable from physical feelings – butterflies in the stomach, a pit in the stomach, warm fuzzies in the chest. Emotions can only transpire in a body.

What’s happens when the words are subtracted?

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Rethinking Planning

Plans are important. To author our lives instead of being a pinball, we need to project into the future. Problem is, it’s often overdone.

Much human behaviour is an attempt to tame the mind. Wether it’s meditating, cleaning incessantly or working 50 hour weeks. Planning has therapeutic too – a sense of direction creates mental order.

A common assumption is that success is simply the execution of a superior plan. The domino’s are carefully placed and the lead is simply flicked. A man with a plan flicks a persuasive switch too.

But design is often an illusion.

Superior planning matters, but to become better decision-makers we need to overcome to-do list addiction. We need to overcome the domino myth.

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The Qualified Self

It’s a race against the clock.

Bill wants to get to the finish line, but there’s a wall in the way – a big one. Going around isn’t an option, so he generates as much momentum as possible, presses down with force and explodes skyward.

Nope.

Again? No.

One more time? Nah.

Instead he jumps down some plumbing pipes, pops out the other side, runs to the next screen and saves the princess.

Billy is a 6 year old scientist.

He formulated a hypothesis: ‘To get past the wall I need to jump over it’. Billy conducted the experiment as best he could, but it didn’t yield the result he hoped (a different story if he chowed some shrooms earlier). He then formulated a new hypothesis, tested it and got the result he wanted.

Science is a word used to describe lots of different things. Done well it’s typically falsifiable (Popper), predictive (reproducibility) and has a hard to vary explanation (Deutsch).

Science is usually assumed rigorous. This prevents us from being scientific and asking questions about it. Instead, with a simple enough definition the scientific method is a natural mode of thought. It therefore predates science, humanity even.

This mode is a keeper, problem is it’s just one of many. So smart people double down on it.

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2 Types Of Rational Thought

Most think rational thinking looks like this.

The evidence is examined with a microscope and then a smart conclusion is formed.

In fact it’s probably the opposite, we form an opinion and then look for evidence to back it up. Locking prior beliefs in a box before weighing evidence is rare, if not non-existent.

Also, I think I’m rational and everyone else isn’t. So do you and so do stupid people.

But ignoring human bias for a second, the evidence based approach makes sense.

There are domains where we have figured it all out. With enough diligence, we’ll get the right answer. Problem is, these domains are often simple and boring. People transfer this same approach to areas we haven’t figured it all out yet. It doesn’t work so well here.

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