Categories
Life & Philosophy Tech

The loose gate of attention

Attention works like a loose gate. We can’t always control what information sneaks in, nor can we parse the data so it makes sense coming out.

We grind away at the information life throws at us, some of it tangible and worthwhile but most it nonsense.

Like a Google search, the stuff worth keeping is like finding a needle in a haystack. When we discover something of value, it sticks. We share the knowledge with others, recasting it as our own.

Yet, our minds remain terrible aggregators. Who’s in charge, the thinker or the thought?

It’s impossible to unhear and unsee things — conversations, teacher’s lessons, tweets — without getting sucked into the commercialization of attention. The public sphere promotes mindless chatter, so rationalization sinks to the bottom.

The race to become synchronized with the mainstream prevents the interrogation of ideas. The noisy flood of information buffers thought until finally, the chaos settles to the bottom. And pieces of clarity return, unstuck from the confident idiots.

Categories
Culture Life & Philosophy Tech Writing

The promise of internet niches

gif by Jay Sprogell

The promise of the internet was that unfettered access guaranteed a diversity of interests.

At first, it appeared true — the web broke down the masses into a web of niches. The accumulation of distinctiveness created a long tail that when combined outweighed popular trends.

But little by little, those niches turned into popular tribes where everyone started talking about similar things.

The standardization of tastes, political parties, and lifestyles spread like wildfire. Individuality lost out to group-think.

The anarchic mindset requires one to imagine a world not yet in existence. Who would we be without digging deeper and envisioning the non-existent?

Culture attracts sameness. But we can change the default setting. All it takes is reevaluating and encouraging the realm of distinctiveness.

It’s impossible to synchronize all the world’s attention with the nearest click. But life is way more interesting when we instruct ourselves to think different.

Categories
Life & Philosophy Psychology

Airing out the ego

gif by John Corsi

Never at rest in yesterday’s form. We are always chasing something unique, railing against the establishment.

Chances are we’ve already forgotten the information we learned yesterday.

With half-closed eyes, we bustle through through life forging connections between experiences.

But then one day, it all slows down. It’s not about us anymore but other people: our kids, partners, and close friends.

The ego must be aired out.

Insecurity and security, certainty and uncertainty — it all flows from subjectivity into a way of life that helps other people too see themselves.

Categories
Life & Philosophy

Solitude and leadership

A lot of people think thinkers can’t be leaders. But that’s exactly what leadership is: thinking. The leader of a group takes what they read and hear internally and externally and originates his/her own thought. They speak for themselves. As former Yale professor and best-selling author William Deresiewicz said in his 2009 speech to West Point cadets:

“If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.”

William Deresiewicz

It’s lonely at the top because being the boss requires a lot of independent reflection and focus. Leadership also takes courage, as saying what is unpopular or unknown makes other people uncomfortable. People wish for the status quo as much as they seek certainty.

Being a leader precludes following. The problem is that some of the world’s leaders continue to jump through hoops like “excellent sheep” to get to where they are. They go to Ivy League schools and get straight A’s and go on to become CEOs and lawyers where they keep the usual routine going.

“Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along.”

Success, therefore, is that which appeases others more than it leads. Some of the most educated people choose to chase the herd. On the other hand, real leaders embrace complexity. Deresiewicz uses US General David Petraeus as the apotheosis of a great leader.

“What makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. Even when they don’t please his superiors. Courage: there is physical courage, which you all possess in abundance, and then there is another kind of courage, moral courage, the courage to stand up for what you believe.”

So, how does one think well?

Thinkers concentrate. Thinkers avoid multitasking, distractions, and the tendency to ape the thoughts and opinions of other people. Like philosophers, they search for their originality and tools that will help guide their action.

“Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.”

Leaders require solitude. Isolation requires concentration. Silence means spending time in the canvass of your thoughts and not running away from denial on Facebook and Twitter. “Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality.” Mulling over thoughts, ideas and observations is a single task-driven to achieve honesty with yourself.

“Climbing on that steamboat and spending a few uninterrupted hours hammering it into shape. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.”

Thinking too, is a social act, not just with anyone but with people you trust. Says Deresiewicz, “One of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person.” Speaking your mind to a friend removes the friction of judgment and helps clarify your thoughts and opinions when they still need pruning.

Thinking is preparation. The more deeply you know about yourself, the easier it will be to react naturally to any situation, from the battlefield to major decisions at work or personal life. Solitude and leadership go hand in hand because when it comes to big decisions “all you really have is yourself.”

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.

Oscar Wilde

Read The American Scholar: Solitude and Leadership – William Deresiewicz

Categories
Creativity Culture Productivity & Work

Learning to think again

Humans are thinking creatures. Otherwise, the only difference between humans and other animals is that we have bigger brains that also allow us to speak.

But we use less brainpower every day because we use calculators, Google, and self-driving cars. We’re not lazy.; we just prefer to do the things we want so we can carry on with the business of living.

However, what we risk skipping though are the lessons in between. The proclivity to outsource learning and move on never give neurons a chance to make new synaptic connections.

When we want to recall a statistic or a dig back into our vocabulary, the brain goes through the process of unlearning a skill. To avoid automation, the mind runs past its library of facts and pictures and jogs the mind’s memory.

Thinking is a bicep curl for the mind

Yet today, we’re more likely to divert our chance to think, choosing the exactitude of bots and recipes rather than leaning into our ignorance to solve problems.

Nevertheless, what most digital naysayers don’t realize is that new technology, whether it’s the rise of machines via the industrial revolution or smart computers driving artificial intelligence, will always birth other things to learn like coding. Coding feeds the machines and tells them what to do. However, we should resist becoming the tools of our tools, as Thoreau admonished.

We’re both and winning losing it at the neurocognitive level while advancing society at the same time. The hard part will be holding on to ambiguity, the space in between the strange things, as the data will always feel the need to identify and fix things. Most importantly, what thinking teaches us is that it’s ok to be wrong.

Categories
Life & Philosophy

The big picture view

An animation of girl lying down dreaming in the sand

Everything is a work in progress. From your health to relationships, to making art, the finish line remains elusive because we’re always preserving the status quo or making things better. Even democracy is a work in progress.

En Media Res — That’s Latin for being in the middle of the action. If inertia is the enemy of action, then we can’t afford to sit the good life out.

What’s your modus operandi? What’re your criteria for a successful future? Is there an ethos you’re trying to build for yourself over the next few years?

To stay on track, you need to set goals. Not the ones that invoke jealousy, make you unhappy, enforce you to keep up with others. Chase goals that inspire a way of life, benefit those around you, help develop a sense of purpose, and inspire you to say hell yes despite the burn!

Live by choice, not by chance. Taking control allows one to stay connected to the big picture view. Hold on to your ideas and ideals on how the experience should be and never be afraid to see it through.

Categories
Culture Politics & Society

No harm in metaphors or similes

The brain works like a computer. The reference points are there — neurons resemble digital bytes, the brain is plastic and can keep learning like a droid pumped with artificial intelligence, etc.

Even Steve Jobs resorted to representations to make sense of complex, evolving circuits when he said that “computers are like a bicycle for the mind.”

We think in metaphors and similes to help frame the world. Exploiting illustrative examples streamline communication without having to go into excess detail.

The brain to computer comparison is therefore fitting, as is an athlete who’s “on fire.” Metaphors and similes crunch information into something that’s meaningful.

Save the complexity and nuance for the researchers.

Categories
Arts Creativity

Why we ship

“When we ship, we’re exposed,” writes Steven Pressfield in his book Do the Work.

Do we deliver? The professional artist ships even if they don’t believe 100% in what they make.

Why?

Because behind the cycle of perpetual creation is a signal–whether through viewer feedback or connectivity—on what to make and where to go next.

What feels like a sinking ship is a great ship sliding out of port, toward a compassless journey that is long, arduous, but despite the shakiness, inherently still. The lighthouse is always there to guide us when we get lost.

The creative process rides the water’s edges in an attempt to find the treasure in the middle—the one that promises a little peace for the risk within ourselves.

We steer the ship. But only if we choose to keep slipping out to sea, on board with the whims of the waves.

gif by @mjguzmans

Categories
Arts Creativity Writing

To dare is to blog

A blog helps you solidify your thinking. But the practice of blogging is both a freedom and a constraint.

It’s liberating to say whatever you want, even if no one reads it. How dare someone discovers you! At the same time, there’s a fear that what’s written isn’t polished enough to be published.

But that’s what blogs are: rough drafts. They’re good enough to get started.

Blogs are the blank piece of paper, a sandbox where people work out ideas. They are full of contradictions and imperfections.

The fear is that your words may be wrong or misunderstood. No one likes to be called out. But that’s also part of the excitement—the ability to catch someone’s criticism.

Bloggers are already naked. They can even blog in their underwear. Bloggers notice and give other people something to chew on and discuss. They provide a spark, not the answer.

Bloggers raise their hand before they are ready. They pick themselves, professionals, past success, or not. They have a long-term willingness to figure it out all out and mix and mash the world of ideas even if only a handful of people notice.

Categories
Psychology

Thinking through the repetition

Gif of brain bouncing from wall to wall

Doing the dishes, sweeping the leaves, shooting free throws, organizing your records—repetitive tasks can also be mindful experiences.

There’s something about the fluidity of motion that jogs the brain into a presence on par with meditation.

You’d think that boredom would set in and condemn our brains to seek dopamine-hitting pleasures. But some of the most everyday activities, even driving the car, can be therapeutic.

Thinking without thinking is a liberating experience. Unlike the robot, the brain never rests; rather, it is collecting itself in moments of pause to seek understanding and clarity of purpose.

gif by @liannedias