A Modicum of Thought

a weekly pursuit of depth of thought

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Category: on human nature

Towers of Hanoi

This Modicum is an expansive one that attempts to close out a number of recent Modicums.

Context is everything when it comes to understanding a mindset, just like the above sentence helps prepare you for this Modicum. We are so subjective to the world view at any given moment, that it is almost humorous to think we can be anything but a mere byproduct of social thinking. In fact, this whole exercise of a Modicum of Thought is questionable: “Really? a modicum of thought that you hope might be original? Join the masses on the internet, for everyone is writing about the same thing.” Is it just coincidence that this post on the inner voice just went viral just a few weeks after dominating my own thoughts? Doubtful. And yet, I can’t point explicitly at any single common source that is the common instigation; it is the contextual upswell of thought in the world we live in; it is Heideggerian In-der-Welt-sein.

So context is everything, and our context is the world revealed after behavioral economists have destroyed the concept of the higher mind. In typical American style, we all view humanity as marching up a staircase, each generation building on the previous. But in a part II follow up to last week’s Modicum, I am beginning to view it in a different light that has been fascinating to see its consistency as I dive into the idea. Ultimately, it has given me a nice pretty ribbon and bow to wrap around three months of thinking. But… it is not what you may think, and to get there I need some visuals and a whole lot of patience from you, dear reader.

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Pascal Was On To Something

Broad sweeping generalizations to explain everything at once are the bane to all good deliberation and advancement, from philosophy to politics to science to well being. But.. my soul craves creating Grand Unified Theorems (GUT) at a biological level akin to the innate need to classify everything we see. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that I am searching for underlying perspectives that are – at least through analogy – able to provide understanding to all things of value.

I’ve held on to one such GUT – the Grecian Urn – that I really should capture in words one day. But this past week, I’ve been settling in to a new one that feels pretty cozy, like snuggling under a warm flannel blanket in a Portland winter day. And to understand it, we must begin with Pascal and a famous wager.

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Do Dogs Think?

Alright, yeah – I am back into thinking about consciousness. Ironically, this is as much due to reading The Social Animal as it is due to working my way through Heidegger’s Being and Time. This time, I promise to be short(er).

If you’ve read the last few Modicums, you’ll know that I’m increasingly of the mindset that the lower brain is the key to being human, and not the higher, conscious brain. And you’ll know that I view the lower brain has an extremely powerful Bayesian Estimator. That lower brain is free from language and the voice of the inner mind, and thus consciousness as we know it given our Cartesian world view. Finally, you’ll also know that I think of the inner voice and its stream of consciousness as a leftover farce that has taken over the show. This is a bit hard to swallow, so step through all those previous Modicums to catch up.

So that begs the question, if the Bayesian Estimator is what received much of the new brain cells during the homo genus evolutionary explosion, then perhaps the stream of consciousness portion of the mind may have already been there – and thus, other animals have it too. And thus further, the child-like question arises: Do Dogs Think? (And yes, this incredible photo was taken by Emerson!)

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The Empty Driver’s Seat

It’s New Years (oh, Happy New Year and New Decade, sort of) and thus I’ve been a bit delinquent on sustained thought in lieu of friends, family, libations and well, skiing. So for this week’s Modicum (or as my eldest daughter calls it, “Adult Homework“), I thought I’d do a quick revisit of two passing comments in previous Modicums that touch upon an idea that is growing in my mind, threatening a flood. Or rather, perhaps the analogy is better suited to a sinkhole than an overflowing spring.

The passing comment was added humorously to the Modicum The Premise of a Big Goal – in which I owned up to having a driver seat view of the death spiral of suburban frenetic mundanity. Driver seat of course to own up to the fact that it was of my own making.

The quick quip has stuck with me for a while – which is always a sign that the lower, more intelligent brain is working away on something but is keeping the child of our conscious mind in the dark.

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I Feel, Therefore I am Not

First to set some context, I have been in exploring for the better part of the past year three large influencing mindsets on the subject of rational reasoning versus emotional intuition, and subconscious versus conscious thought. These mindsets are exemplified by their source readings:

  1. David BrooksThe Social Animal, which argues that the emotional mind is far more essential and active in the day to day (see also The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail by Jonathan Haidt)
  2. Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality (aka HPMOR), which emphasizes the need for focused purely-rational reasoning, performed using Bayesian principles to arrive at rational thought, overcoming the limitations of the irrational mind.
  3. Daniel Kahneman‘s Thinking Fast And Slow –  Which argues that the brain’s desire for consistency (e.g. Caldiani‘s Consistency in Influence) overwhelms emotion and undermines the argument that the brain is even biologically capable of rational thought in the first place. In this bucket, I also throw in the incredible Phantoms in the Brain by Ramachandran – who got at these issues from a neuroscientific perspective 20 years ago.
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The Premise of a Big Goal

We all know that tasks fill the void of time and energy based on the allotment given to them. I also have argued that many of modern society’s ills are caused by the fact that we now have too much truly discretionary time in our lives. That combination presents a powerful death spiral to frenetic mundanity, i.e. the curse of the soccer parent. There is many a day when I seem to have a front seat (admittedly driver side) view of that spiral. But painfully and thankfully, my fellow soccer moms’ insistence that “it’s for the kids, your most important creation, so don’t worry” has limited staying power in my battle against comfortable numbness.

So what are the tricks for getting off the freeway to mediocrity? That could be a long list, and is the topic of many of my posts. But for this week, I have really been thinking about the concept of having a Big Goal (think, like hiking the PCT), with the capitalization being of utmost importance to the concept.

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Mirror, Mirror

I  am not sure I even had the choice this week as to what thought would be most prevalent in my mind because throughout this week, the same word keeps hitting me over the head. The word is mirroring – specifically the tool in which one person mirrors the actions or thoughts of another.

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