I have written before about the Red Pill – Blue Pill dilemma. We are definitely in a time where the choice of pills is right upon us. JP Sears nails the current dominant Blue Pill narrative around Corona Virus: be fearful, stay at home, listen to your leaders, mistrust everyone. While I haven’t seen as clear a summary of the Red Pill view of Corona Virus, Aaron Ginn, Elon Musk, The Carnivore MD and Dave Asprey are doing good work on that front. Total lockdowns are unsustainable, most people will get it and have very minor effects, the real problem is not Covid-19, but underlying metabolic health. I, for one, will stick with the Red Pill.
Jeff Bezos had a problem. He had a very well paying job with a promising career track, but this “internet thing” had caught his interest and overtaken his dreams. Should he leave the good job and start an internet book seller? He told everyone around him. Most counseled to stay with the “sure thing”. That didn’t feel right to him.
I have written about the downside of regret. Today is about the (limited) upside.
As with all emotions, the problem is not their existence in our consciousness. That we have little to no control over. The rub comes in our reaction to the appearance in consciousness. Do we ascent to and identify with the emotion? “I am regretful.” “I regret that.” “You did a regrettable thing.” Once you attach an emotion to a thing, it can become deeply colored by it. While regret is generally an adjective/adverb modifying some “thing” or action we are regretful about, it can become a noun when consciousness identifies very closely to it “I am…” Existence of the emotion doesn’t tend to cause problems, identification, attachment, personalisation tends to.
Yea, yea, Martin I know all that shit, get to your point. The upside comes in the wisdom of the difference between recognition of the existence of an emotion and ascent/identification/attachment to the emotion. Understanding the destructive, disruptive power of a negative emotion like regret can be powerful wisdom to take right action TODAY to avoid future regret. This “regret minimization framework” is how Jeff solved his problem. Of course it has been studied by other choice theory researchers also. As Bezos puts it:
“I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.“Jeff Bezos
Knowledge of the massive negative power of regret was useful to Bezos. It gave him confidence to take a big risk. He calculated the damage of regret from not trying was greater than any damage from failing at the venture. Now this regret minimization framework didn’t cause the success of Amazon, but it was the spark. Likely this mental model has been applied continuously to new projects at Amazon as they moved beyond books to groceries, web services, payments, and more. Continuing to apply the framework likely has kept them on the leading edge.
Useful: regret minimization framework
Not useful: Attachment, personalization, ascent, identification with regret.
A “girls only” sign hangs on the matte black doorknob to my daughter’s bedroom. Three $1 bills hang half out of my back pocket as I silently turned the handle. I cringe as the floorboards creak under my weight.
“Should have made coffee first.”
9-year-old girl chaos invades my eyes. Everything was strewn randomly about. A cluttered computer desk with paper everywhere, pens, a fan, and stuffies guarding the monitor. A bowl with potato chip crumbs and a can of Spindrift sit atop the keyboard. This morning, in addition to the normal debris of life, in the middle of the room lies a blow-up mattress with a tangle of Troll’s blankets. The head of Harper, my 4-year old, peeks out of the blankets on a rainbow Unicorn pillow. Mermaid PJs snuggle up against a cat stuffy. Sleepover night. Another tangle of grey and black “grown-up” unbranded blankets mound up from the raised Queen bed hard against the window on the far side of the room. The older Madison is in that tangle with her eye mask on. Her head rests on a stack of gray cotton pillows under which is a molar she lost last night. The floor creaks again as I make my way through the chaos. Is this going to be the day she learns the tooth fairy is her father? Man, I wish I had that coffee
“She woke up” I say sitting down on our bed.
“Shit, no way,” my wife says.
“So, it’s my fault?” I say defensively.
The second the words come out of my mouth I get a pang in my chest.
“Regret is a waste of consciousness” my friend says in my ear. So why the pang?
Is Madison the problem for waking up?
My wife for being frustrated and combative?
My own defensiveness?
Lack of coffee?
Mercury in retrograde?
My mind rushes through possibilities and mental models for solutions. Dammit, I should have had the coffee.
“Sorry for being defensive, it’s not your fault” I say.
“I’m going to make coffee. Maybe she’ll fall back asleep.”
I hand her the tooth in its tiny plastic jar and head downstairs to make coffee hoping the tooth fairy didn’t die today.
I experienced a stark reminder yesterday of how insidiously ugly regret can be. A major internet influencer posted a video about a topic which trending up and to the right lately. Lots of people are talking about it, writing books and companies are building specialty apps around the concept. While this guy was one of the first to talk about the concept over 10 years ago, he is not one of the current media darlings around the topic. The concept, while trending today is also as old as the world, it is something humans have been doing since the dawn of time. It is something many religious practices teach and ascetics practice. The current discussion is basically a popularisation for the masses. And the guy in the video was pissed off that all these people weren’t giving him credit for talking about it for 10 years. His regret at being left out of the current popularity oozed through every frame. It was not a good look. Half way through, I stopped listening to what he was saying and just felt bad for the guy. His message was not getting through all the regret.
You can’t change the past. So regret is a completely wasted emotion. And when you have it, it can completely change the character of your present. Like a video on a subject you care deeply about. The message of the video was completely lost on me, hidden behind all the regret. The guy’s present moment was destroyed by his ascent to regret about the past. The problem is not that he felt regret. Feelings come into consciousness all the time from who knows where. The problem was his ascent to and identification with regret so that someone watching a video could clearly see and feel it. The regret was passed on with other things he was trying to say and reduced the effectiveness of his message. I doubt that was his intent.
Remember Martin: Regret isn’t a good look on you.
At first blush this seems to be exactly the opposite advice I have given before. And to go against my investing rule to only invest in companies with CEO’s who meditate. Yesterday I watched Ryan Holiday talk about his book Stillness is the Key at Google. He gave his 10 tips to add Stillness to your life “and I am not going to tell you to meditate because you probably won’t anyway.” Yesterday I also listened to something from Sam Harris in his Waking Up app where he pointed out the purpose of meditation is not to become a “meditator”, but to become better at life.
As I roll back through my own meditation journey, I started out of a feeling of guilt and shame. I had tried to “meditate” to be “a meditator” and had “failed”. I couldn’t find a rhythm, it didn’t flow, I was a failure. So my first forays back into learning to meditate were to “win at meditation”. To right the wrong, the failure. That certainly was enough motivation. And as my practice evolved I started to realize the change in my everyday awareness and ability to pause in difficult situations and consider the right action. That pause is likely a result of the practice of meditation, a benefit from the practice which caused everything in my life to change. More resilience, more calm, more pause, less emotional reactivity. The real upside is all that stuff not the time “meditating”.
One of Ryan Holiday’s 10 suggestions is “practice presence”. That is basically meditation. Anytime you are awake to the present moment, you are meditating. There are many ways to be awake to the present moment, having a meditation practice like a mantra based, or breath focused practice, is one. So is gardening, fixing a fence, mowing the lawn, fixing a motorcycle, riding a motorcycle. Anytime you must focus on something right in front of you and let the rest go, you are meditating.
So Remember Martin: Don’t be a meditator. Be present. Practice the pause between stimulus and response.
I have been thinking a lot lately about “Truth” and the scientific method and what we think of as “scientific truth”. If one looks back in time, you will find many times that the prevailing “scientific truth” was thrown over by subsequent research. For example most scientists used to believe the earth was the center of the universe and then along came Copernicus with the alternate theory that the Sun was the center. There was a long period of argument where the two sides went at it because they both had math and observational data that “proved”the conflicting theories. Over time most came to believe Copernicus because of the weight of data and experience tipped in his favor. But it remains a theory, an explanation of our experience that makes sense, an analogy. An explanation of the thing is not the thing itself, nor is it a complete explanation, only an explanation of what we can observe.
The entire process of science is attempting to explain by analogy what we observe. And as we observe more, we keep finding problems with the explanations. Newton did a good job of upgrading our understanding of the physical world with the laws of physics and they fit our observations very well. Until some guys looked deeper and discovered Quantum physics. At the atomic level, things behave very differently than the physical level. Some particles only appear when they are observed. Some particles can communicate state changes over long distances without any detectible communication mechanisms. These observations remain largely unexplained. Does the fact we cannot yet understand them to mean they don’t exist? No, just that our analogy to how it works is incomplete. It may never be complete. Because how those particles operate is not by laws that our scientists discovered, they have no comprehension of our laws or understanding. They are doing their own thing.
What we call scientific “laws” are just our current analogy understanding of what we have so far observed. Not the thing itself. Remember this and your stress to find the “truth” or the “law” that explains it all may be diminished.
Found this is a review of Pierre Hadot where he uses it how Michel Foucault has used it. While wikipedia will tell you it is scholarly essays written by the ancients, Foucault focused on the style more precisely: ” The hypomnemata constituted a material memory of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering these as an accumulated treasure for rereading and later meditation. ” In this way, Marcus Aurelius Meditations is Hypomnemata as it is a personal record of accumulated treasures. Sometimes these treasures are used in essays or speeches to persuade the the public in some way (the focus of wikipedia’s definition). but the more interesting part to me is the personal nature of the collection of wisdom. My blog is hypomnemata.
Turns out I have been using this all along to manage my closets and sort my to do lists of “someday” tasks. The term comes from computer buffer (cache) management. There is a limited amount of fast cache memory in a computer. To manage what is close at hand in this fast memory, the computer needs an algorithm for what to keep and what to replace. Turns out Least Recently Used is the best to get rid of when a choice has to be made. Get rid of the least recently used thing. Same with clothes. This is much better than a static algorithm that says something like “if it is more than x years old”. I also use this for “someday” to do list entries. When I put something on the to do list if when going through it again, the ones i have not considered or remembered recently get thrown off. Regardless of the length of time they have been there.
Starting a new Category here at DGC: Seed Crystals.
A seed crystal can get a chemical process going. Especially in a super saturated environment. It is the catalyst that starts a larger process going. Like a spark to start a fire. Here is how Robert Persig describes it in Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
“A super saturated solution is one in which the saturation point, at which no more material will divide dissolve, has been exceeded. This can occur because the saturation point becomes higher as the temperature of the solution is increased. When you dissolve the material at a high temperature and then cool the solution, the material sometimes doesn’t crystallize out because the molecules don’t know how. They require something to get them started, a seed crystal, or a grain of dust or even a sudden scratch or tap on the surrounding glass.”
In today’s super saturated information environment, we need seed crystals. Tiny sparks to create new structures of understanding. I have found I don’t need more information, more media, more unrelated data, I need seed crystals to start the consolidation process that can make it all make sense. This new category will contain the items and examples of seed crystals that I have found useful. These are a reminder to myself to go back to the seeds, the first principal thinking when stuck. And yes I am often stuck. Usually because of supersaturation, not information deficiency.