Not a whole lot of productivity today either. I’ve become hooked on Stranger Things and I just can’t seem to function. Though, to be fair, I spent a lot of time waiting in the auto shop to try and get my car fixed today.
Turns out it’s going to cost more than I expected. Take longer, too, which isn’t such a big deal because I don’t need to drive anywhere any time soon, but it’s a bad turn all ways ‘round.
Our repentance is not so much sorrow for the ill we have done as fear of the ill that may happen to us. (Maxim 180)
François de La Rochefoucauld
One of the things that’s been on my mind recently is horror fiction, and what makes things scary.
It’s not necessarily the unknown; we actually have a part of us that relishes novel experiences and that which we cannot predict. The unknown is often scary, but it’s not that bad by itself.
Uncertainty is much worse.
We can deal with the unknown because we have a schema for it; we are either in charge of our world or we are not, and we respond accordingly.
On the other hand, when we have uncertainty, it puts us in a dilemma.
It’s not the unknown that scares us, it’s the unknown that we don’t have an answer for that poses a threat.
And this isn’t necessarily to say that it’s the only threat we can face; people can take a fearful and anxious approach to the unknown. However, uncertainty strikes everyone equally.
Of course, the strength of conviction and belief can be stronger in some than in others (for instance, it’s possible to accept uncertain things if the uncertainty is low in emotional and psychological value), and not everyone will be crippled by uncertainty or find it odious.
I’m in a stage of my life where I’ve embraced a lot of uncertainty in exchange for the promise of a potential future.
The question I have to ask myself is whether I can maintain my value in the face of potential disaster, if I can keep going when I am opening myself to potentially losing more than I ever have.
Of course, the great practical reminder here is that everyone else still seems to be making it in the world, even if they’re not living their dreams. The number of people who are abjectly miserable is probably fairly low, and even then a lot of people who are really struggling are living in a way that leads them toward that path and could change it if they were conscious of the interactions between things in their life and psyche that create those conditions.
Pursue value, not certainty.
Make decisions based on the future, not the present.
I’ve got a bad thing going on where I keep writing right next to bed-time, so it’s going to be another single aphorism night.
However, I Think this one is going to be interesting, even though the writer is anonymous. It’s an interesting point, though.
Clever liars give details, but the cleverest don’t.
Lies are a funny thing. They’re a difficult thing to do well, even though they come naturally to us.
A lie is an attempt to tell an alternative account than that which exists in the universe, and it’s something which is associated both with intelligence (since good liars need to be smart) and foolishness (because you can’t outrun reality).
One of the things that we notice is that people who are lying often go to great lengths to justify their lies, and people who are not will be very comfortable in telling a story that’s much more barebones.
I’ve studied how social engineers do things, and one of the things that’s really interesting is that they don’t actually try to tell good lies most of the time, even though they have to deceive people to do their jobs right.
Instead, they start with befriending people and only once they’ve gotten some territory will they actually tell a lie. When they do, they always keep it vague, and usually their stories pass muster. If you say there’s a problem with an elevator, for instance, that’s a lot better than saying what the problem is.
One of the things that this ties into is a sort of peculiar injunction to honesty. The best lies lack details because they can’t match reality (at least, not on purpose).
By leaving out details, you give enough room for the people on the receiving end to fill in the picture you paint. In a sense, you use a falsehood cloaked in the reality which is known to other people.
After all, how much do any of us really know about our surroundings? Probably not all that much, even if we’re trained for situational awareness. We have a lot of heuristics, however, and our heuristics are fairly broad so that we can adapt to as many situations as possible. You want to be flexible enough to manage almost anything, not left in the dust when the smallest change occurs.
The problem is that this provides a sort of extension of proto-reality, potential presents and futures that cover the space beyond our senses.
The diagram above indicates a sort of diagram of how I conceive the mind’s state in the universe.
It’s “not to scale” as it were, in the sense that I’ve chosen the angles to make the diagram neatly legible rather than as any sort of statement about how the mind works.
In the center you have the heuristic, and the heuristic would actually extend as a full circle and overlap with validation.
This is the way we think about the world.
Notice that the heuristic extends into the unknown; this is a reflection of the unconscious and the role it plays in shaping the psyche, and is where subconscious bias and other formative factors that we aren’t necessarily aware of play.
Part of the heuristics section is the validation. This is the place where our perceived current and past realities match our expectations. Although this appears to be getting broader, it’s worth noting that the degree to which this is actually part of our heuristics may be inflated by the fact that we are generally conscious of those things which we expect.
Again, the representation here is not to scale.
We have the expected future out front. This is where our expectations meet reality in a relatively accurate fashion. If I expect for the sun to come up tomorrow, and I am correct, then this is an assumption based on my heuristic that I can safely put in the expected future.
Think of this as the prediction spot.
Next you have the expected unknown (E.U. in the chart). These are the places where we know that something will happen, but we aren’t sure what. Although I’ve diagrammed this as a relatively small portion, I think that for many people, especially people like me who tend to navel gaze, this is actually a large part of our minds and heuristics. Think about it this way: I don’t know that my commute in the morning will be pleasant, so I plan for it being potentially painful.
Last, we have the blind unknown. To a certain degree this is shaping our heuristic, but it represents all of the past, present, and future that we are not consciously aware of. This is a place with very real meaning, but we cannot discern or decipher it. This is certainly under-represented on the graph. It should probably extend in all directions beyond the heuristic and known.
A good lie plays with the expected unknown. If I know that the elevator may break, and that it is important to keep it maintained, I will not question an elevator maintenance crew showing up at my facility once in a while. I may not even question them moving around, since they may have to talk to people to do their jobs. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s logical enough.
If the person who’s showed up to fix the elevator tells me that they’re there because the elevator keeps getting stuck on Floor 3 and they’re going to need to talk to Mr. Smith in his office, the lie has gotten a lot more complex. If someone says the wrong thing next time or if there is no Mr. Smith (or worse, no Floor 3), it will cause the obvious conflict with reality to pop to the forefront.
I got through a lot of miscellaneous writing, but nothing finished. I’m working on reflections on the Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, and reviews of a couple books, plus things for the Loreshaper Games blog.
I also went for a fairly long walk, and I don’t think I anticipated how long it would take because when I finally got home I’d burned through most of the time I had been planning on writing. Oops.
Conscious ignorance, if you can practice it, expands your world; it can make things infinte.
Nicholas Nassim Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes
The other day I wrote something that a lot of people responded to when I said “I believe in the immensity of the unknown.”
A lot of people took that in a different light than I meant it.
I don’t necessarily mean that there’s a vastly interesting universe around us full of exciting and novel things that aren’t common knowledge (though that’s certainly true too), but rather that what we know can only be a infinitesimal amount of the knowable.
Taleb’s point about conscious ignorance ties into this: you understand how what you know works, but you will never know everything.
This gives a learning attitude.
One of the things you learn in education college (though many of the things you learn in an education college are useless, so perhaps it’s better to use the fact that I can verify this with anecdotes) is that it’s better for a pupil to perceive themselves as knowing some things, but not everything.
This creates humility (and a desire to learn more) but doesn’t create the discouraging effects of knowing nothing.
When philosophically minded people express uncertainty in their knowledge, they don’t mean that they have base ignorance.
Rather, we’re (and I include myself here cautiously) self-aware enough to know that what we know can be wrong.
It’s actually okay to be certain. Convictions are not bad.
However, our brains work on heuristics and abstract conceptions, not reality.
What works is associated with truth, whether or not it actually is true. If divine favor brings healing, then God must smile upon cleanly people who recover much better from getting sick and avoid infections for diseases.
Of course, we can’t necessarily rule this out, but we’ve come to the conclusion in the modern age that germs cause disease and forestall healing, so the link between cleanliness and good medical practice is a result of germs being kept away, rather than the cleanliness necessarily pleasing God.
As someone who’s mildly obsessive about cleanliness (the prospect of hand-shakes and high-fives fills me with dread), I like to think that proper hygiene earns God’s approval, but that’s beside the point.
Knowing that we can’t know things leaves them mysterious, and fills us with hope.
This image stuck out to me among all of the images I was looking for. I was actually hoping to find an image of an aurora in the night sky, or else over-exposed stars that gave a cool vibe, but I find this image to be something that could illustrate this point.
We see through clouds (the apostle Paul’s “mirror darkly”), and only where those clouds do not exist can we see anything. Even then, we have limited sensory capabilities, and there may be things that we mistake for others (by mental or physical limitations) or things that we simply cannot grasp.
The movements of the unseen all around us are also difficult to track.
We like to make assumptions because we can’t see things, so we merely project ourselves into the void. For instance, we like to assume that every bad driver is a jerk, because when we drive poorly we’re probably being jerks (or at least that’s what I like to tell myself, since I prefer to think of myself as a pain in the butt rather than a bad driver).
What we can’t see is as much a defining factor in our lives, and as someone with religious conviction and a belief in free will (insomuch as there is no ordained course we must follow, though I also think that we generally respond to stimuli predictably and rarely exercise our will) I think that it’s in this unknown space that God lives.
As a youth, I often wanted to make everything knowable. I had formed working frameworks of everything, even if I had to make an assumption on partial evidence. To my credit, I was usually pretty quick to change in light of new information, but even so the lack of willingness to accept the value of conscious ignorance was crippling.
We can define four stages of knowledge:
Not knowing something and lacking understanding of that. (Base ignorance)
Not knowing something and having understanding of that. (Conscious ignorance)
Knowing something and lacking understanding of that. (Practical knowledge)
Knowing something and having understanding of that. (Deep understanding)
Conscious ignorance is the second stage of knowledge, and not particularly desirable in and of itself, but the great thing about it is that you can develop it simultaneously for everything which otherwise may be base ignorance.
The value of having conscious ignorance about the vast number of things which we cannot know (or cannot easily know, like mathematics for those of us who didn’t particularly care for the subject in school) is that it’s a great way to avoid the great harms that base ignorance can breed.
It also leads us to encounter the sublime. We know what we don’t know, and we know it when we see it. Lacking the self-awareness of one’s ignorance makes it difficult to see the wondrous and inscrutable.
Peer into the clouds; there is a chance they may yield fruit.
Steer clear of base ignorance.
Work to turn ignorance into knowledge, but don’t overlook the value of humility.
Got carried away because I got to writing about consciousness. It’s a fascinating subject, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully written about some of my philosophical curiosities about what consciousness is in any serious form, though I might have jotted down a couple quick sketches of ideas a while back.
In any case, Oscar Wilde obliged.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
I believe in the immensity of the unknown.
What exists is orders of magnitude greater than what we perceive to exist. This remains true if we cut down the sheer volume of the cosmos by focusing only on the things which have value to us (i.e. those that impact our lives).
I am often fascinated by the amount of unknown information that exists in the world. I’m not sure if this is something that is regular, or if there’s something in me that pushes me toward this. A large part of it is probably down to the fact that I grew up playing video games all the time, and while the games I played were quite complex they were still only knowable.
It terrifies me to think that I do not know what is in other peoples’ heads. That’s a bit of a strong wording, since it falsely implies that I form some distrust of others or have a phobia.
Rather, I think it’s a form of encounter with the sublime. I realize that those around me have things going on internally that are inscrutable to me, even with conversation. I’m not the most socially aware, though I’m not particularly bad at it (I like to describe myself as average in this way, as I am in many things), and while I can catch on-to things when they’re obvious I don’t have any Sherlock-esque mind-reading or subconscious body language mastery.
However, while this will sometimes consume my thoughts, I find it more interesting to see what we know.
I’ve read a few interesting things about consciousness, and all that I really know about it is that it’s quite an incredible thing.
One of two things in particular that I’ve thought a lot about is the classical philosophical question of similarity in perception: that is to say, the question of whether everyone perceives in universally similar ways.
For instance, if the sky is blue to you and blue to me, is the sensation that we get in our eyes the same essential blue, or does each person’s particular perception of it form based on a different conscious structure? It may seem self-evident that all people perceive similarly (since, after all, we can universally represent these concepts barring some barriers in communication), but on the other hand it may simply be that everyone has fundamentally similar responses to the same stimuli but the actual conscious representation of that stimulus is different.
The other is the accuracy of consciousness. How well do we actually perceive our world?
If I see a snake, is my perception shaped by something biological, or is it a strictly absolute perception? The same caveats as above apply (e.g. we can represent a snake in pictures), but again the nature of consciousness itself may play tricks upon us.
I also get to thinking about physics. What are the odds that there are whole phenomenological structures that underlie the fabric of reality that we simply cannot attune ourselves to? Things like time, for instance, are nearly there (since we perceive time only from a particular point at any moment) , but what is to say that there aren’t other systems and rules that we simply will never know because we aren’t the sort of being to interact with them?
We know that the brain is full of cheap hacks and tricks; this is why I see flickers of my cat, who has been deceased for over a month now, in the corner of my eye when I begin to move around. My brain is reminding me to look for the cat lest I trip over her (she was quite fond of causing such accidents, though she usually came out on the worse end of such exchanges), and still expects to see her despite her absence (and the conscious permanence of it, since I held her cold body in my hands). Years of life with her are not easily overwritten by the conscious over-mind.
Another thing that I have questions about is dreams.
There’s a phenomenon with dreams where the dreamer sees the future, or things that they will only see in the future.
There are three possible responses to this:
These people are credible, and they have seen through time.
These people are frauds, and they are delusional or trying out a con.
These people are experiencing a phenomenon from the intersection of the conscious and unconscious mind.
Of these three, I am predisposed to the third option, at least in the majority of cases.
My skepticism prevents me from fully ruling out the first. Just as it does not prescribe me to believe such accounts, I cannot reject them without examination. The only absolutes I hold faith in are moral absolutes, and since I believe in an omnipotent God there’s no reason why one couldn’t get a vision of the future (assuming God chooses to grant it), though I haven’t necessarily believed in any particular case I’ve seen.
The second is the cynical view. It may be true that some people who believe themselves to see the future are delusional, and that some are charlatans claiming to be true believers. However, the knowledge that this is a possibility should not be transferred into an absolute, and delusions are only delusional if evidence exists to the contrary; it is possible that someone believes themselves to have seen the future but has no evidence to the contrary and therefore is perfectly logical in their beliefs, which doesn’t meet the standards for a delusion. In our enlightenment we would frown on this, but I still think that it’s possible.
Carl Jung recounts an event where he was waiting for a book on alchemy and he saw symbols from the book in his dreams before it arrived. He claims to have had no prior exposure to these symbols, and that on multiple occasions similar events occurred.
Now, I’m not a believer in the paranormal (see my skeptical position above), and I don’t think that Jung is necessarily much of one either (though he certainly is a little New-Agey at times), but I think that this is perhaps an example of an intersection of psychological elements.
If we go on the theory that consciousness is a black box; it takes stimuli that are not necessarily known and produces results that may not actually resemble the original stimuli, things that are perceived in dreams may actually be capable of coming true in real life. The memory and perception of the dream will then switch over to match the phenomena as it is observed in consciousness (altered memory being irreversible and effectively as good as the stimulus being altered), or the stimulus will be altered to match the subconscious perceptions from dreams.
This could be disproven by a number of tests, like the transfer of one of these dream stimuli to a concrete form before the actual event that the dreamer claims occurred in their dreams before it happened in reality, but I have never seen a credible example of this in my readings or studies. Esoteric accounts, like those cited by the people who claim that Nostradamus had prophetic visions, are unconvincing to me because they do not withstand Occam’s razor.
The problem with this is that the accurate representation of something within a dream that would be satisfactory as a proper proof of precognition would be too difficult for most people to execute. If we could actually see into dreams it would become a trivial thing to prove, but this is subject to the other issues with consciousness.
Another issue is that the brain is a prediction engine. Dreams can predict something without having absolute foreknowledge of the future; if you know that someone is sick, you may dream of their death without being certain of it, but having enough evidence for an unconscious anxiety to become concrete and break into your psyche.
There’s also a chance that something that someone thinks they don’t know and have never been exposed to has actually crossed their path before; Jung had possibly witnessed some of the symbols of alchemy in art or literature before he had actually received the book, and had dreamed of unfamiliar symbols that he subconsciously knew to be related to alchemy, which just so happened to also be within the contents of the book.
In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter in practice (this is the answer to most philosophical questions), but it sure is a fascinating point of study.
In any case, I think that Oscar Wilde is making a point about consciousness being a great mystery, I agree with him entirely, and I can certainly ramble and lose track of my point quite a bit.
Don’t take observations for granted.
Don’t worry about what lies behind the veil, take in what I see and understand that.
Stay curious, but don’t let it get in the way of my life.