Reflections on Aphorisms #72

Short reflection today because I’ve been bad about getting started in a timely fashion. Fortunately some of my bigger time crunches are getting done soon, so it shouldn’t be an issue for much longer.

Aphorism 110

Reason is God’s gift; but so are the passions: reason is as guilty as passion.

John Henry Newman


One of the things that I think people overlook about reason is the fact that it’s a neurochemical process.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t believe that there’s more to the brain than just chemistry; I’m a religious man, and that means that I have some belief in our humanity stretching deeper than we can know.

However, I’m also not ignorant of science, and I know that a lot of how our brain works is basically electricity and chemicals.

A lot of what we consider to be really important to us is nothing more than a function that’s going on. Our emotions, for instance, seem highly driven by our brain chemistry. Consciousness is a little more complicated, which is part of the reason we don’t understand it very much.

Even so, we’d be foolish to assume that our own biological limitations are not in play with every act of reason.

One of the things that I am kind of fixated on is the idea that we’re heuristic beings. We work based off of slapdash jury-rigging, cognitively speaking, and we don’t have a whole lot of self-awareness for what’s carefully considered and what is a hack to get through the day alive.

Like, think of phobias. If you can’t do certain things, you’re at a distinct disadvantage, but it’s also really useful for your brain to just out-and-out say “I’m not a fan of dark places” when you’re thinking about going into a dark place, because you don’t know what danger’s there.

Reason may exist on a level above the heuristic, but it’s still drawn from it. Deliberately thinking about things can let us achieve a new perspective, but it’s the same pair of eyes feeding those observations as feed our intuition.

The other day I shared a diagram in which I pointed out that there’s basically three fundamental parts to the universe as it pertains to us : the predictable future, the expected unknown, and the entirely unknown.

The predictable future is what our heuristics and reason try to grasp, and reason goes a step further into the expected unknown.

The problem with reason is that it can only turn unknown to expected unknown, rather than unknown into predictable future.

Never forget that our limitations are a lot more than they look. We’re basically miracle boxes, but even then we’re squishy ones with not a whole lot of stored information.


Don’t forget to evaluate my assumptions.

The unknown remains the unknown, even if you think you’ve figured it out. Don’t assume there’s a fundamental difference between its two states.

Go fast when the heuristics are good.

Reflections on Aphorisms #68

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.

Aphorism 106

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.

E.U= Expected Unknown. Graph by myself.

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.


Check my heuristics.

Don’t lie.

Don’t use information to obscure reality.