Rest of You Week 1: confronting the unconscious
I’m starting this class with a hyperawareness of the human capability of tricking ourselves. It’s something I try to take advantage of actually, and I’ve spent a lot of time considering the malleability of the mind toward cognitive restructuring. My conscious effort probably started when I recognized that communication patterns I adopted while growing up were harmful to myself and those with whom I found myself emotionally vulnerable; I chose to break those patterns first with the help of a therapist, and then by surrounding myself with others who were deliberately self-evaluating. Upon further reflection, I believe my unconscious effort began when I recognized the incongruity of message and action in authority figures and political or religious institutions at a very young age, and noticed the weaponizing of fear to motivate a respective audience or populace to act in accordance toward advancing the desires of those authorities.
I believe self-evaluation and mind-training are lifestyle choices. It’s not easy. I’m certain I’m a chronic fool, but it feels like a feature, not a bug.
I skirted around the assigned readings this week (I eventually read them) to pick up Nassim Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness.” I was pleased to see it on the recommended book list, as I am a huge fan of Taleb and haven’t read the book in a decade. I tend to think the deductive logic we apply on our experience to be faulty, or even unnecessary; I prefer evaluation over explanation/justification, and Taleb has been one of my role models in applying that mode of reflection. I don’t need to know why our systems of consciousness are flawed, I just need to know what I can do with that information. Taleb points out the terribly tragic societal flaw of investing in post-script justification, and how our weird need for order out of chaos has created an oft-devastating and generally violent empirical binary. I’m actually disturbed by the idea that all events warrant a conscious justification; I believe that that specific human inclination has evolved from a survival mechanism toward the creation of horrifically imbalanced power structures and otherism.
I did try the “Add-1” experiment from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The goal is to pick a card with four integers at random, read them aloud to a metronome, wait two beats, and then recite the numbers adding one to each. I used 0-9 as a control. The purpose is to record the reaction of the pupil while playing the game, as pupils apparently dilate in correlation with mental strain. I noticed that my intuitive reaction was to cover my eyes while thinking, which basically negated the purpose of the experiment… I tried multiple times, but for some reason challenging recall games seem to force me to cover my eyes? I certainly don't have a perfect score.
I’m going to move this toward practicality because I can theorize on this topic day and night.
I’m constantly grappling with the idea that we won’t really ever know if we made the right choices in the past: for instance, if we employ all the correct strategies to halt or even reverse our role in climate destabilization, we may come to the conclusion that our worries of a climate-related apocalypse were nonsense because it never manifested. We’ll never have a basis of comparison (those bases being: employing those methods and having the apocalypse occur anyway, not employing those methods and manifesting the apocalypse, or—the one we are currently betting on—not doing anything and everything turns out fine after all). How do we define a causal effect for such a grave black swan when we’ll never know how the story would end otherwise?
Ok that’s still not practical.
I’ve never truly measured the results of my self-evaluation or mind-training, and I don’t really know how to. I’m fairly analog in my methods; I’ve had a gratitude journal for five years, but I don’t really know if it’s made me more grateful or accepting in that time. I have multiple physical practices (yoga, dance, martial arts) but I have no progress report on paper about my sense of self in space, proper alignment, or mindfulness. I have confronted some fears, but there’s no hard evidence of it (you’ll just have to believe me… I’ll just have to believe myself for that matter). I think taking vitamin D supplements in winter helps my mood, and that I’m probably drinking enough caffeine to aversely affect my sleep. I wait until after breakfast to read the news so I don’t trigger my limbic system before I have the caloric capacity to process the triggering effect of headlines, but have never measured my anxiety levels.
So measurement is the big question! Here are some brainstormy ideas on how to practice the technicals:
Gratitude Monster: a cross-platform text analysis of my use of gratitude terms and measuring it against… life events? My physical journal habits? Just look at patterns in behavior? Alternatively “Apology Monster”
Dance progress report: I’m taking a ballet class this semester and it could provide an opportunity to measure progression in things like alignment, flexibility, etc. My required reading for ballet has been full of academic surprises… a fundamental philosophy of ballet was that practicing measured and ordered dance brought one closer to God, maybe there’s something in that?
Flaneur with a heart: I learned the term flaneurie (aimless wandering, or walking without a purpose) from Taleb’s Anti-Fragile. It’s a favorite pastime of mine, and it may be fun to record what observations get my heart going. I would practice flaneurie with a go pro and heart rate monitor to measure observation whilst walking to heartbeat. Alternatively, what draws my eye, with tracking.
Rose-tinted glasses: self-explanatory, don’t know how/what to track
Reprogramming an aversion: How did they measure the salivation habits of Pavlov’s dog? Could I mimic the experiment by reprogramming an averse reaction, like my mild misophonia, to a neutral or even positive one?
Ok that’s where I’m at for now. Cheers!