Heuristics, You’re Soaking In Them

In September 1927 a young man of 32 stood on the edge of Lake Michigan and contemplated suicide. From a young age, his Grandmother had taught him to appreciate, and follow the Golden Rule. Entry into the workforce had brought him to the alarming realization that the general populace did not share his enthusiasm for that ancient moral teaching. After a few hours of soul searching, the man came to two decisions. One, he would no longer accept any assertion as fact until he examined the assertion himself, no matter who made it, not even his Grandmother. Two, that he would live his life as an experiment.

That man was none other than Buckminster Fuller. He went on to not only prove in his own life that it was good policy to follow the Golden Rule, but he also gave us a slew of inventions and ideas that are still rocking our world. If more of his notions were widely adopted, there are many who feel this world would be a much better place. Whether you agree with his notions, or not, there is no denying that he was a singular character and that he inspired a great many people. He did this all through the simple expedient of not taking anyone’s word for anything, and living his life as an open laboratory.

What strikes me is how the idea of the Golden Rule nearly drove him to suicide and then became the proof of his life’s passion. His life went through this transformation due to Bucky’s skepticism about this widely accepted ethical teaching.

We humans are faced with an overwhelming amount of data, and endless decisions on a daily basis. We have evolved to deal with this overwhelm through several methods, one of which is pertinent here. Heuristics. A heuristic is a mental shortcut. A rule of thumb used to come to a decision without having to think. Heuristics mean we don’t have to stop and remember each and every step of a recipe while we cook. They are also the mechanic that makes some of us rabidly insist that the proper way to put a toilet paper roll on a dispenser is so that the next tissue comes up over the top of the roll. (Those people are dead wrong, by the way. It should always come from under the roll. Just goes to show you how crazy these mental shortcuts can make some people.)

The problem with these shortcuts is that they work so well. We can easily build up walls of, “well, it’s always done this way…”, “Everyone knows that!”, “Internet stocks are a good idea…” and so on. As we give our decisions over to these auto-pilot scripts more and more, we increasingly distance ourselves from freshly emerging reality, and we curtail our skills of critical thinking and considered determination.

Confucius once put forth the idea that if society could be built up with answers to all basic obligations and actions set out in strict detail then the masses would be free from the stress of thinking. On the surface, this seems like a good idea. The problem is, once you get on those tracks it can be quite hard to get off!

The thing is, I can think of many, many examples of human beings who made hugely positive impacts because they were willing to go against the grain, discard “common sense”, and prove things for themselves just like Bucky Fuller did. I can’t think of a single example of someone who made a lasting impact on the world while doing what they were told.

I am not suggesting that one should go against the common cut just to do it. That is the path of the useless rebel. What I am proposing is that the less we take things for granted, the more we consider options with critical thought, the more we prove our morals in the cauldrons of our own life experience, the better off we will be. Also, if we are lucky, we will make things a bit better for others.

Heuristics are a great evolutionary tool for us to have. However, just like any other tool, they can become a crutch, and then a chain, if we lean on them too much. The first way they do this is by blinding us to any alternatives to them. We can get so set in doing things one way that we close ourselves off to any other.

I got a heavy dose of clarity around this when I started driving for Lyft. I was living in San Francisco, as I had been for 42 years. I had driven the cities streets for 25+ years by that point. I thought I knew the city. I was very wrong. I knew the spots I frequented and the routes between them, but that was it. About 80% of the city was a mystery to me. After having driven people all over for two weeks I can now say I know the city well, but the difference was astounding. All of that was due to the blinders I had taken on through my habits of getting from where I knew to where I knew.

The very first recorded TED talk was on this exact subject. A scientist shared, in a five-minute video, his top tip for cutting wasted time out of our days. He illustrated this with a sports shoe he had on a table. He told a story of getting a pair of similar shoes. The thicker, running shoe style, laces kept coming undone on him. He took the shoes back to the store and asked for a refund. The clerk at the store, after being told the issue, asked the scientist to tie his shoes. When the scientist did so, the store clerk simply said, “Oh, you tied your shoes wrong.” The clerk then proceeded to show the scientist the correct way of tying his shoes. The difference was in the direction of the motion during one step of tying the shoes. That difference altered the mechanics of the knot such that, when tugged, the knot reinforced itself. The way the scientist had been tying his shoes was such that the knot would loosen when tugged. You can watch the talk here to see what I mean.

We all live our lives leveraging the power of shortcuts, here and there. Life is far too complex for us to do otherwise. We need them. However, we also need to be aware of them lest they make the easy transition from our servants to our masters.

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Choose Where You Blossom

One of the models for personal development that I enjoy is the 8-Circuit model of consciousness as originated by Timothy Leary, and further developed by my hero, Robert Anton Wilson. I find it a very useful framework for tracking where I am, and what I can use improvement on. (There’s a lot.)

Another model I find quite useful is the Jewish Mysticism system of Kabbalah. I don’t pretend to have anywhere near the knowledge of Kabbalah that I do of the 8-Circuit model, but there are some components that have helped me out a great deal. There is a place where the 8-circuit model and an important concept from the Kabbalah tradition intersect. I’d like to share that with you today.

First up, the 8-Circuit model. The idea here is that there are eight systems or circuits, that human development moves through. The first four are common to the bulk of humanity. They are settled enough into the regular course of human that pretty much everyone develops them during their life. The second four are those that represent the possibilities that human beings can access, given the opportunity, intention, training, and/or a bit of luck.

Circuit one is the bio-survival circuit. This is the circuit concerned with physical safety, comfort, basic survival, eating, and touch. The basic tactic here is moving towards that which nurtures, and away from that which harms.

Next up is the emotional-territorial circuit. This has to do with learning your place in the local pecking order. Domination and submission. Territoriality. Basic hierarchies. Aggressive versus cooperative behavior.

Next, we have the neuro-semantic circuit. This is the introduction and mastery of language. Also the creation of mental maps for dealing with the territory of reality and society. This is also where you learn more manual dexterity, and start the construction and manipulation of your personal environment. This is the “time-binding” circuit pointed out by Alfred Korzybski. That unique thing about being human that lets us efficiently, and easily pass our acquired knowledge from one generation to the next.

Then we get to the socio-sexual sexual circuit. Here we get morals and socially acceptable methods for reproduction, sexual interaction, and care of the young. This is where we work up social networks and work out our place in the “social contract.”

This is as far as most people get and is essentially the “center of gravity” for current evolution of the species. Each of the first four circuits have enough depth, and nuance for any person to explore and grow in got a whole lifetime.

If the individual continues their development, probably facilitated by some deep insight, or paradigm break, they will move on to the next available circuit, the neurosomatic circuit. These breaks with accepted reality can be conjured by the use of some sort of boundary dissolving compound, such as hallucinogenics. This is the bliss circuit. Deep consciousness of the body. This circuit allows for intentional somatic reprogramming, the willful re-casting of our relationship to the soma, the body.

The sixth circuit is the neuro-electric, or metaprogramming circuit. This is where the nervous system becomes aware of itself. With this opening, it becomes possible to re-imprint and re-program the earlier circuits in accordance with your own conscious design. Got a hang up around transgender dressing? No worries, you can adjust so that your comfort is no longer compromised by someone else dressing in accordance with a gender that doesn’t match their current biology (or, more honestly your own expectations).

Next up we have the neuro-genetic circuit. This is where you open up the genetic record of your own being too conscious inspection. This allows access to racial, and evolutionary collective knowledge. Ancestral contact, access to the DNA-RNA feedback dance, past lives, reincarnation, and intimations of how one would deal with immortality.

The final (as far as we know) circuit is the quantum non-local circuit. Here we are talking about awareness of a non-local variety. Global space-time consciousness not bound by the speed of light. Here come images of Indira’s Net of Buddhism. The vast knowing of the near death experience.

The first four circuits are those most easily available to the “run of the mill” humanity of today. Indeed, it’s these first four circuits that each of us is pushed through in order to be fully qualified as members of acceptable society.

The next four seem to be available options open to any human who will but take the appropriate steps to access them. We have evidence, increasingly anecdotal as you progress up the circuits, of humans who have accessed these capacities. Advanced yogis, and meditators plainly have access to the neurosomatic circuit and can intentionally move into states of bliss and oceanic consciousness.

As we move up the circuits we have to come to terms, more and more, with things like constantly available clarity of the source of our own thoughts, clairvoyance, telepathy, reading of the Akashic records, trance medium conversation with the deceased, and so on. Whether you decide to give these reports credence, or not, they do exist. We do not seem to be able to get away from these stories, so (I would submit) that there is something going on there.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Kabbalah? Glad you asked.

One of the ideas nurtured in the Kabbalah system is that of conceiving of yourself as a plant, of a kind, and has to do with the garden you are situated in. They use this analogy to analyze the level of agency one can have over the direction of their own life.

Before you are born, the bloodlines of your making came together and decided to have an offspring. You have nothing to say about that (in this model.)

Then you are born into a family situation dictated by your parents and their family of choosing. Again, you have no choice there.

Next, you get your pre-school education, care, and training. These are at the discretion of your caretakers. You have very little choice here.

Then comes your primary schooling. Again, the choice of school, and therefore the environment that shapes you is under the purview of your family, and the educational bureaucracy of the city you live in.

Then you get to high-school. Still, this place of development is dictated to you by others. You get to express some of yourself at this point by choosing your electives, though that choice will probably be influenced by what your parents find acceptable.

Then comes college. Here you actually enter the picture as a decision maker. This is the turning point. Now you have some say about the “garden” you will flourish in. You get to make real choices about how you evolve and unfold.

After you are done with college (or, if you don’t go to college) you go out “into the world” to stand on your own two feet. Here you have maximal say about where you will develop. Here you become your own gardener if you choose to. Some do not choose to, and at this point just go along with the momentum and in the direction instilled in them during their earlier years when they had no choice.

Here is where I see the two models coming together. Essentially, the society and familial setting you are born into dictates to a large degree the imprinting, and conditioning, of the first four circuits.

The next four represent choice and free will. As you advance up them, you find more and more access to self-determination and direction. Moving up these circuits is something you must choose to do. Even though access to them may be opened up through outside agencies, the development of them seems to be a matter of one’s own choosing.

We are all born with certain characteristics, traits, and qualities. Those are ours to work with for all of our lives. We are also all born into a context, not of our choosing. That too is ours to work with and eventually to change should we wish too. As we grow we each have the opportunity to become the gardeners of our own development.

Where do you choose to grow? What do you choose to grow in to?

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People Pleasing Does Not Lead To Success

I had a shift in perspective last year while publishing my coloring books. It’s made my life much better. I think it’s due to a distinction I picked up from Gary Vaynerchuck.

You see I am what is commonly called a “people pleaser.” I picked up the habit from my childhood environment, and from being the fat kid in school. In order to feel safe, and accepted, I spent a lot of time putting other’s needs before mine. I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with wanting the best for others. However, like anything it can be taken too far. I have often taken it too far in my life, sacrificing my needs and preferences for those of others.

This is not a good trait when you put your work out into the world for the public to see, and pick apart. I have often felt a “drag factor” that comes from trying to make what I put out there pleasing to everyone. Intellectually I know this is a fool’s errand, but emotionally I can’t help but feel attached to the idea. As I mentioned above, I got picked up a distinction from Gary Vaynerchuck that has helped me adjust this self-limiting habit. He has spoken about it many times, but an episode of his “Ask GaryVee” show brought it sharply to mind. It has to do with how Gary deals with haters and critics. Rather than blow them off, or ignore them, he takes in what they have to say and uses the information to improve what he puts out there.

Gary’s way of engaging his detractors was stuck in my head when I put my first coloring book for adults into the world. The first three reviews were a 5 star review (yay!), a 3 star review (okay), and a 1 star review (ouch.) In the “old” days I would have seen the 1 star review and run for a hiding place. This time, I read them. The complaints were basically in two parts. The first were technical complaints. The second was that they basically didn’t like my images. The second part simply did not concern me. If someone doesn’t like what I put out, they have many other options to pick from. The technical points were valid and gave me great tips on what I can improve. I have incorporated those improvements, and I am grateful to have them. Rather than causing me to give up, my negative reviews have improved my craft. This is a whole new world, and I have Gary to thank for the distinction.

As to the people not liking the images themselves, well that’s fair enough. I don’t care for lobster. Lots of people do. All that means is I don’t order lobster at restaurants. No big deal. The chefs don’t care, and I am sure the lobsters are happy to have one less consumer out there. Win-win.

In the past, my approach to try and please everyone resulted in lukewarm results at best. The amount by which some people dislike what you do is roughly equal to the amount that others will like it. You can’t tell if you’ve got a hot product until someone drops it.

The simple fact is everyone has opinions. They have them for reasons. When they express them, they mean at least that. Reading past the surface, all feedback can be useful. For now, I am one of those who values my detractors. They show me things my fans might miss, or might not be willing to say.

Personally, I am looking forward to my next batch of bad reviews.