Samurais on Planning, Investing and When to have kids

In the book "Rich dad, Poor dad", Robert T. Kiyosaki, gives a simple framework to think about investing: Build assets that generate income. A better way to grasp this is his definition of wealth: It is the moment where the money your assets generate (interest on money, stock, real estate etc.) can cover all your monthly expenses. I liked the framework. Don't focus on income but on income-generating assets. Hence, invest early. This can apply to mental, spiritual and emotional skills as well. The Early Investor Framework can help you choose the books you read, the people you spend time with etc. This might sound utilitarian and images of bloodless ultra-capitalists might be popping in your mind but stay with me. Samurais were big on apprenticeship. A Ronin - a samurai with no master - was a rogue samurai who was frowned upon. Samurais would've advised us to get a mentor as early as possible. It is one form of investing in one self.

In his book "How will you measure your book?", Harvard professor Clayton Christensen hints at how Samurai philosophy can apply to when to have kids: "(the) mistake that high-potential young professionals make is believing that investments in life can be sequenced. (...) “I can invest in my career during the early years when our children are small and parenting isn’t as critical. When our children are a bit older and begin to be interested in things that adults are interested in, then I can lift my foot off my career accelerator.  (...)” Guess what. By that time the game is already over. An investment in a child needs to have been made long before then, to provide him with the tools he needs to survive life’s challenges — even earlier than you might realize." You see what I'm trying to get to? As Seneca put it, time is the ultimate form of fortune. Investing (in money, relationships, knowledge etc.) needs to cater for that. Just as an early investor hopes he'll have money to spend on an expense when he needs it, investing early in life means attempting to create pockets of time when you need them later in life.

Now. What happens to Samurais' "life in every breath" in this planning frenesy? Nothing. It stays as is. Planning doesn't mean living in the future instead of the present. For instance, there's doubtlessly room for innovation when we think about relationships and families and planning can help. You might have read about positive psychology's advice to "write your 3 daily blessings". How about "write your 3 daily blessings with your partner". It can be life-changing to remember daily blessings together. A planned weekly feedback session with written notes exchange, a yearly round-up in an exotic location etc. Investing early means having faith that the future will look dramatically different from the present, that relationship patterns are not set in stone, that all is ephemeral and that this is precisely the reason why trial and error are always options on the table, keeping everything from relationships to knowledge acquisition much more interesting. :* to the Impossible Family :)

Could Boredom Lead Humanity to its End?

I'm always amazed at how easily we get habituated, and eventually bored, by things around us. Humorist Louis CK tells the story of a passenger complaining about having bad wifi on a plane. You're on a plane! You're flying in the sky! You should be in constant awe. In "Human, all too human" Nietzsche writes about the future of science and how pleasure and science might relate: "To the man who works and searches in it, science gives much pleasure; to the man who learns its results, very little. But since all important scientific truths must eventually become everyday and commonplace, even this small amount of pleasure ceases; just as we have long ago ceased to enjoy learning the admirable multiplication tables" 

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Columbia biologist Stuart Firestein, author of "The Fantastic Ignorance" echoes that concern after explaining how fundamental failure is to science: "So what's the worry? That we will become irrationally impatient with science, with it's wrong turns and occasional blind alleys, with its temporary results that need constant revision. And we will lose our trust and belief in science as the single best way to understand the physical universe. . . . From a historical perspective the path to discovery may seem clear, but the reality is that there are twists and turns and reversals and failures and cul de sacs all along the path to any discovery. (...) This is the messy process of science. We should worry that our unrealistic expectations will destroy this amazing mess."

That we will watch science like a soccer match one day is concerning. Nietzsche makes a prophecy relating to habituation and science. "Interest in truth will cease, the less it gives pleasure; illusion, error, and fantasies, because they are linked with pleasure, will reconquer their former territory step by step; the ruin of the sciences and relapse into barbarism follow next. Mankind will have to begin to weave its cloth from the beginning again, after having, like Penelope, destroyed it in the night. But who will guarantee that we will keep finding the strength to do so?"

Nietzsche actually suggests a solution: "Therefore a higher culture must give man a double brain, two brain chambers, as it were, one to experience science, and one to experience nonscience. (...) In the one domain lies the source of strength, in the other the regulator. Illusions, biases, passions must give heat; with the help of scientific knowledge, the pernicious and dangerous consequences of overheating must be prevented." I disagree. Sorry Friedrich. I think poets and artists can re-ignite our awe for science - Watch Jason Silva's, Performance philosopher, "Shots of Awe" on Youtube. I think The Impossible Campaign is bringing its brick to the edifice. I hope you think so as well Impossible family :D

Artists as Start-ups

A while ago I went to an expo and read the following about Ambroise Vollard (picture below):

It made me think artists are a bit like start-ups. If they're too innovative and ahead of the curve, they'll have a tough time finding funding. Another excerpt from a post about Literature Nobel Prize Alice Munro by Brain-Pickings made me extend the analogy:

In a 1994 Paris Review interview, she offers a curious counterpoint to the notion that the reading experience of a story is ever-evolving, by observing that so is its writing experience. Both challenging and affirming the notion of a story’s “sturdy sense of itself,” Munro notes that whenever she begins writing a story, she doesn’t fully know what it will be or where it will go — which is exactly as it should be: "Any story that’s going to be any good is usually going to change". And that, perhaps, is the gift of great literature: The invitation to continually discover and rediscover ourselves, both as readers and as writers, in the perpetually evolving experience of a good story.

In many ways, this is how start-ups deal with products. If you're not familiar with the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable Product), it is one amazing mental model. Facebook started as a face comparison website in a single university. This small experiment proved the product's idea was valid, namely that people like to snoop on other people and "grade" them - maybe ;). Same for your next blog project, your next company or more interestingly, your next friendship. Start small, test, see it evolve, collect feedback and decide whether to grow it or move to some other experiment. We're all start-ups :) Good morning Impossible Family!

What if we Replace Bosons With Angels?

My amazing sister and I were walking in the 5th arrondissement in Paris last week. At one point, we saw a great looking building and decided to walk in. We were way too immersed in our discussion to care about the fact we were entering a university and, going up the floors, we ended up in an amphitheater. Asking around, someone told us the theme of the conference was "Can we have faith in Science?". Minutes later, walks into the room none other than intellectual superstar Etienne Klein!

The philosopher of sciences and physicist blew our minds that evening. I finally understood why Higgs' Boson was such a big deal. More importantly, I understood why it is that faith in science may not be a choice. The boson first :) Remember that Physics course at school where you learned atoms and electrons had a mass? Well. They don't. Particles have no mass. Discovering Higgs' Boson means mass is not a primary property of physical bodies but a secondary one stemming from their interaction with the void where Higgs' Boson lies!

In other terms, we discovered "something else" is keeping us from floating in space. Now we can choose to call it Higgs' Boson or Angels and imagine tiny beautiful Angels are somehow pressing us against the floor and keeping us from flying. And the thing is, it's perfectly fine. Even Higgs wouldn't mind! Because the narrative is not the point. The symbols we choose to refer to reality can be anything. The process to unveil consistent phenomenon, however, can't be.

You can't run one double-blind experiment on a non-representative sample of human beings and draw conclusions about a medication's efficiency. It's not valid. You can't deduce climate change isn't happening because you don't feel that hot today. Your conclusions can't be generalized. They are useless in terms of predictions. Science is that process. You can deny narratives and argue about symbols. You can't deny the process because it uncovers reality. And I'm italicizing on purpose: Higgs' boson (or the Angels) might be an illusion in our minds but it's a consistent illusion in our minds. It is one we can verify again and again with a particle accelerator. More on Science this coming Thursday ;) Good morning Impossible Family!

Is The Impossible Campaign a Religion?

Is The Impossible Campaign a Religion? Let me start by saying I don't ask you for your money or your time. So I can safely confirm we're not a cult. But I find religions fascinating. Alain De Botton wrote a lot about that and got me thinking. It's funny how resistant I used to be to religions. Probably because I didn't want anyone to mind-wash me. In a speech, De Botton says something along these lines:

We think "someone is trying to persuade me of something" whenever we hear of didacticism. Naturally since Hitler and Staline used this technique! But the commercial world is also trying to make us buy things. Influence is absolutely pervasive. In the meantime, while art could be enriching peoples' inner lives, artists are involved in being enigmatic while coca-cola is responsible for our inner life.

I'm subscribed to Brain Pickings for instance. I'm mindful enough to see how much my thinking was affected by this weekly newsletter. I now see fear and failure as formative experiences and creativity as a combinatory, mainly unconscious process. I have been mind-washed. But why not choose our mind-washers if we're conscious of the washing? Even more, why not help them be more effective and maybe learn from religions' manual. De Botton writes about how people hope to change the world by writing books. Absurd. The only product of the human mind that has left an enduring impact on our lives are institutions. The one institution that has carved our mental lives best is religion.

  • Religions use habits. We are immensely forgetful creatures. Repetition helps to combat the terrible tendency to forget. Religions teach us the same things 5 times a day.
  • Religions hack our calendars. Wanting to be grateful and having a day dedicated for gratefulness (as is the case in judaism and buddhism) is completely different. Religion manages our time.
  • Religions hack other institutions. Religions successfully involved themselves in running banks, legal teams, community centres, orchestras, youth movements, weekend retreats, radio stations, lecture halls and clothing lines.
  • Religions use art and understand the importance of the medium. Museums' approach is that the less you explain openly about what a work of art is, the more suspicious it is. "What did it mean?". Religions are very simple about art. It should remind you about what you should love or frighten you from what is bad. Art is didactic for religions.

So maybe to be clear, you are washing your brain by reading The Impossible Campaign. The twice a week frequency is anything but random. The choice of weekly ideas is premeditated. The mix of cultural elements is important. The shortness and style are TIC's way of saying the medium is the message. In a lot of ways, this campaign is religion in your inbox. I hope you chose wisely Impossible Family.

Free Will and Why You'll Open this Email

So you just opened this email. Interesting. Did you have the choice not to? Of course. But you did. Did somebody somewhere already know that you were going to open it? Thought experiment: Imagine an all-knowing demon that has, stored in his memory, all the past of the entire universe. Imagine I said ;) Would that demon be able to predict precisely whether or not you'd have opened that email?

Did you answer yes? Congratulations, you believe in practical unpredictability. Did you answer No? Interesting, you believe in absolute unpredictability. The Practical kind entails that the universe is deterministic: If we know the state of the universe down to the smallest entity - and yes, inclusive even of probabilistic quantum events, smartass reader - and know the nature of all interactions, we can predict precisely what the future will look like. Absolute unpredictability means there is something in the fabric of the universe that is fundamentally unpredictable. I personally don't believe so.

Now, this ultimately leads us to Free Will. If the universe is deterministic and the same past - exact same past - causes the same future, this means a criminal did what he did because of his past. He couldn't help it. This past caused this behaviour and he couldn't have escaped it in any way. Extra step: His very thoughts about his Free Will were caused by his past experiences!

One might draw a conclusion at this point: The above entails that Free Will is an illusion. But then again, it doesn't. Let me explain. Say you drank and drove and killed a cat :( cat killer! No matter whether unpredictability is practical or absolute and your past (abusive father, tough week etc.) has led you to become an irresponsible alcoholic, locally, at the scale of a given day, you chose to drink and drive and killed an animal. You are responsible for that choice. In other terms, in the larger scheme of things, a scheme of events (again - abusive father, tough week etc.) led you to do what you did. However, on a smaller scale, you made that choice. At that scale - and it is the one where society operates - you did enjoy free will and will enjoy tonight's dinner in prison. Confusion stems from us making a bigger deal of what "free" means as we envision it as ultimate or absolute freedom. But freedom could also operate in the context of a deterministic world! See Impossible Family? Good morning :)

Why You Should Smile in Clubs

I use smileys though I feel a bit dumb when I do so :) All serious books are devoid of smileys. I'll keep the smileys. Here's Brain-Pickings on Saint-Exupery:

"Saint-Exupéry ends with a reflection on the sacred universality and life-giving force of that one simple gesture, the human smile: "Care granted to the sick, welcome offered to the banished, forgiveness itself are worth nothing without a smile enlightening the deed. We communicate in a smile beyond languages, classes, and parties. We are faithful members of the same church, you with your customs, I with mine." Four years after he wrote "Letter to a Hostage", (...) Saint-Exupéry disappeared over the Bay of Biscay never to return. Popular legend has it that Horst Rippert, the German fighter pilot who shot down the author's plane, broke down and wept upon hearing the news – Saint-Exupéry had been his favorite author. What a tragic form of contact, war."

If you ever wondered why Batman's The Joker cut his lips to make them look like a smile, the idea might stem from "Maldoror" by Le Comte de Lautréamont: "Seeing these exhibitions I've longed to laugh, with the rest, but that strange imitation was impossible. Taking a penknife with a sharp-edged blade, I slit the flesh at the points joining the lips. For an instant I believed my aim was achieved. I saw in a mirror the mouth ruined at my own will!" Now, why did Maldoror slit his lips? To fit in. Quite simply.

Without going this far, you can just plaster a smile on your face and, as studies have shown, it will make you happier. However, I suspect the best smiles emerge from truly happy individuals. But please, keep smiling anyways :) Actually, I find smiles evolutionary interesting. In itself, it's an effort to flex cheek muscles rather than not, so why do we do it?

Dennett in "Intuition pumps" gives the example of Gazelles' strange habit of stotting - jumping extremely high - when predators pursue them, despite it making them lose speed. But it's actually to signal they are the fittest and so to assure the predator he has no chance of catching them. Same for smiling! An application? Well, in clubs of course :) The most interesting people are the ones smiling. It signals fitness doesn't it? Good morning Impossible Family ;)

On Loss and Making Sense

This week is the week of Loss :) Go figure. Special advice here for those who are "searching": Give up :) And start finding instead. Brain-pickings starts today: In the foreword, Lightman recounts attending a lecture by the Dalai Lama at MIT, "one of the world’s spiritual leaders sitting cross-legged in a modern temple of science," and hearing about the Buddhist concept of sunyata, translated as “emptiness” – the notion that objects in the physical universe are vacant of inherent meaning and that we imbue them with meaning and value with the thoughts of our own minds.

This echoes existentialist philosophy. Existence precedes essence. Push it further: Without essence there is no observant to witness existence. Hence you don't exist. As Nemo Nobody put it in the movie "Mr. Nobody" - which as part of the Impossible Family is mandatory viewing - "How can you be so sure you exist?" And later on reaches the conclusion "It should be written on every school blackboard: Life is playground or nothing".

Interesting especially that Jean-Paul Sartre especially wants you to be a kid. And Nietzsche believed that one's life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

Be it Tolle's "The Power of Now" or Watts' "The Wisdom of Insecurity", un-certainty or no-solution is default. And as for everything, our perception of this fact can be crippling or empowering. The fact there is no meaning can be seen as the fuel of a more creative life since the (metaphorical) sky is the limit now. Take Carl Sagan: "If we ever reach a point where we thoroughly understand who we are and where we are from, we will have failed". Good morning Impossible Family :)

On Loss and Reading Everything

From The School Of Life - couldn't cut anything out!

"There is so much to read – there are so many good books out there, and thousands of new books published each year. The pressure to read a lot can make us anxious. Montaigne developed an unusual tactic in response to the pressure to be knowledgeable: he decided to resist it. He had a few classic books which he loved and read many times; but he focused his free time not on reading but on writing small essays, which were attempts to describe what was going on inside himself. He was a bit like someone who gets ambitious about writing diary entries or blog posts. He consoled himself, and us, with the observation that the man digging vegetables in the garden was wiser than most of the professors at the Sorbonne. The gardener is wiser because the point of reading is to get better at living, therefore the gardener, who is already living well, is ahead of the professor, who is not using reading to live better.

The knowledge we need might not be waiting in books. It might be lying in our own unprocessed past experience. We all have enough experience to be wise, if we were to spend the time going over it. The barrier – the stupid distraction – is the desire to look educated in the eyes of those who try to read everything."

I felt it's compelling because I often want to read Everything. ALL the books! Yet, the angst to read everything is akin to a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). You choose a new pair of pants and the second you do, you wonder whether it was best and you missed out on the cool flashy green ones. In an ideal world, we think, we could buy ALL the pants. There is one reality though: We can't wear all the pants and we can't read all the books. We have to make peace with Loss. In other words, give up on some things. Odds are you'll never be a dj & a writer & an entrepreneur & a T-shirt designer - that's me daydreaming :) - and that's liberating. You need to give up on some things.

Look a your mind's allergy to the world "give up". Amazing isn't it?! Where does this visceral reaction come from?! To illustrate the emptiness of the mind, buddhist monks often use vast analogies such as an infinite number so large you will stop counting. You will give up. And the beauty of it is that it allows for the emergence of a type of focus unlike any you've known before. Choose what you're giving up on Impossible family :D

Let the Right One In

A must for every reading list is the book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck. Brain Pickings writes: 

"This illustrates the key difference between the two mindsets — for those with a growth one, “personal success is when you work your hardest to become your best,” whereas for those with a fixed one, “success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple. Being that somebody who is worthier than the nobodies.” For the latter, setbacks are a sentence and a label. For the former, they’re motivating, informative input — a wakeup call."

This reminds me of James Gleick's signal and noise in "The Information". But mainly it reminds me of Daniel Dennett's book (again). Remember that Impossible about your "self" being similar to a centre of gravity i.e. an abstraction? That was the "static" approach to the self. There's another more dynamic approach that describes the "self" as a centre of narrative gravity. Dennett starts out by writing that a lot of what has happened to us is forgotten and some lot is remembered because, for some reason, it fits us to a t. Then he puts our illusions about a self to rest... indefinitely:

“What you are is that rolling sum of experience and talent, solemn intention and daydreaming fantasy, bound together in one brain and body and called by a given name. The idea that there is, in addition, a special indissoluble nugget of you, or ego, or spirit, or soul, is an attractive fantasy, but nothing that we need in order to make sense of people, their dreams and hopes, their heroism and their sins."

I saw an amazing play - though some lovely people won't agree - once in London called "Let the Right One In" about teen vampires and things. I think the title is so fitting here. You are what you let in, and how often you do so increases the gravity of a given set of experiences. Take theatre courses as a kid for 12 years and see how ingrained confidence becomes in your conception of your "Self". Let the right one in Impossible Family & HAPPY NEW YEAR :D

You are Negative Space

When you make a choice, you are putting down life possibilities
Like stray dogs in a lost village in the US
There is a whole cemetery you are giving birth to
One you will never set foot in
But just as blanks define this poem
Just as silence is the stone a composer sculpts out to create music
Dead choices give birth to you
You are what you chose not to choose
Just as you are as much about what you accomplished than what you failed to reach

Brain-Pickings writes - While a "near win" may be an invitation to grow, it is anything but comfortable. One of the most easily discernible manifestations of its anguish is found among Olympic medalists. Lewis cites the work of Cornell psychologist Thomas Gilovich, who found that silver medalists were far more frustrated with having lost than bronze medalists. (...). And yet the "near win" is also the reason why silver medalists are more likely to win the gold next time around – victory seems possible, yet not as far away as for the bronze medalists, so the "near win" is experienced as a nudge to sharpen focus and try harder rather than a discouragement. Lewis writes:

A near win shifts our view of the landscape. It can turn future goals, which we tend to envision at a distance, into more proximate events. We consider temporal distance as we do spatial distance. (Visualize a great day tomorrow and we see it with granular, practical clarity. But picture what a great day in the future might be like, not tomorrow but fifty years from now, and the image will be hazier.) The near win changes our focus to consider how we plan to attain what lies in our sights, but out of reach.

Masters are not experts because they take a subject to its conceptual end. They are masters because they realize that there isn’t one. On utterly smooth ground, the path from aim to attainment is in the permanent future.

So if what we are lies in the un-done and un-chosen
Where can we find peace?
How do we land ourselves in that field where we once breathed fully
As if nothing was clutching our lungs anymore
Breathe with me
Here it is. It’s always been here
Your thoughts and thoughts about thoughts, loops and re-loops
Can fill the universe
They are ADHD kids entering a supermarket for the first time
Let them run and turn the shelves upside down
And they’ll let you breathe
Your presence lies in the infinity of what you cannot see, count or control
Your presence is bathing in a sea of absence

A Word-Less World

I read an article by Bernard Stiegler in a Philosophy magazine and one idea popped up: "In a society where musical partitions don't exist, we can't separate composition from interpretation". This might, as in my case, make you think of African tribes playing drums. In hindsight, I believe they do have partitions however, only these rest in their minds rather than on paper. Regardless, it's interesting how the best performances we witness are the ones that feel partition-less. So rehearsed as to appear improvised, natural, spontaneous.

Now, interestingly, partitions hold music in time just like language holds our thoughts in time. They are time capsules for future beings to discover and repeat. Alan Watts writes about the word-less world in "The Wisdom of Insecurity". The phone you're carrying doesn't need to be called "phone" to exist. It just does. As does the whole world, independently of language. Language is a barrier between experience and reality. Even if it takes us a split second to put a name on an object we see, it still creates a chiasm towards our direct experience of reality.

There's a more subtle form of time capsule however: Memories, expectations, hopes, dreams etc. Take expectations. Expectations might be wordless but they encapsulate our idea of what we envision the future will be. Exactly like language, they are Not reality. And they do create a schism between reality and our experience. They are a disposable - though perfectly normal - lense. Once disposed of, one experiences a sense of one-ness. And that I can't write about :)

But is there a way to deliver it? Leo Babauta suggests the blueberry approach to meditation. Let me try and convey it. Choose an object around you. A pen, your phone, your mouse, your jeans, a table etc. You know how it feels like to touch these objects. Great. These are your expectations. The time capsule from your past experience. Now. Lift your free hand and approach it to the chosen object with no expectations of what it will feel like i.e. Imagine you're touching a new object for the first time. Do it with care, slowly. "You didn’t know how it would (feel), but this is brilliant! It’s new, because you’ve never (felt) anything quite like it. This is sometimes called the Beginner’s Mind, but I think of it as a mind free of expectations."

Richard Davidson tells the story of how he visited a buddhist temple and put electrodes on a monk's head to measure brain waves. Suddenly, the other monks started laughing. Davidson thought it was because the monk looked funny. But then one of them explained he had put the electrodes in the wrong place. They should have been on the heart. Experience primes all time capsules. MERRY CHRISTMAS Impossible Family :D

There is a Life before Death

The Economist writes amazing obituaries. One is about Fred Branfman, exposer of America’s secret war in Laos who died on September 24th, aged 72. It ends with a paragraph called "Singing against death"

"The problem with the human race, he concluded, was that it blocked out pain. Uncomfortable facts, inconvenient truths, other people’s suffering, were all denied as long as possible. And nothing was denied as vigorously as death (...). But he had heard it first, like so much else, in Laos. A 14-year-old boy told him how he had sung in the ricefields, even as the planes passed over. “I felt that although I might have to die, it did not matter; that I just had to be happy in the midst of all the sadness of war, of the airplanes dropping bombs.”

When we read such things we picture the fear of being blowN up in the midst of a war and singing feels erratic. But to many wise people, it seems thinking more about death was liberating. English writers of the Victorian era kept human skulls on their desks to remind them of death. Heidegger advised to spend more time in graveyards. Artist Austin Kleon begins his day by reading the obituaries in the paper. Brain-pickings notes how it might seem like an odd habit, but it's actually a remarkable tool for clarifying one's priorities. Kleon writes:

"Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards. Reading them is a way for me to think about death while also keeping it at arm’s length. Obituaries aren’t really about death; they’re about life. . . . Reading about people who are dead now and did things with their lives makes me want to get up and do something decent with mine. Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live."

Honestly, I don't get it. Death is this blurry distant thing I intellectualize too often. Turning it into a thinking tool makes things worse. "Thinking" about death is dumb. Period. Spending time in graveyards is useless if you've never been "there". If you haven't "lived" death often enough. So. I bought a skateboard. And managed to nearly die a couple of times. My skateboard has skulls and a crow on it so I remember why I bought it. It also has a name: "Mission". Because every time I'm on my skateboard, I'm on a mission. To all the (metaphorical) skateboarders among our Impossible family :)

And allow me to dedicate this to my legendary cousin who had a near-death experience the day before his birthday last week. To Namir, the man with a scar and a smile. You're an inspiration bro.

On the Virtues of Sponges

Brain Pickings explains how Nietzsche argued that human suffering is necessary for the soul's growth and admonished against "the religion of comfortableness," which he believed hindered true happiness. Like Albert Camus, he envisioned happiness and unhappiness as "sisters and even twins that either grow up together or … remain small together". Nietzsche might have killed God but he would have spared Buddha Well, not really, having seen the rise of science, Nietzsche put an end to all things supernatural but stay with me here. In her book "Stay: A history of suicide and the philosophies against it", Jennifer Michael Hecht writes:

"Nietzsche urges us to see that human suffering is necessary, but what is not necessary is painfully regretting that suffering. Our condition hands us difficulty, and unless we are careful to stop ourselves, we add more difficulty to our lot by fearing and loathing that difficulty. We suffer and then hate ourselves for suffering. We are much better off accepting the pain, seeing it as universal, noting that it can be borne, and, when possible, expressing it."

Now! Brace yourselves for Alan Watts :) "It (living in the moment) consists in being completely sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive. This is not a philosophical theory but an experiment. One has to make the experiment to understand that it brings into play altogether new powers of adaptation to life, of literally absorbing pain and insecurity. It is as hard to describe how this absorption works as to explain the beating of one’s heart or the formation of genes. The “open” mind does this as most of us breathe: without being able to explain it at all. The principle of the thing is clearly something like judo, the gentle (ju) way (do) of mastering an opposing force by giving in to it"

Absorb! How much more beautiful than "accept" or "allow" or "surrender". Like Spongebob squarepants! But more importantly, this flips the idea of personal freedom on its head, the same way Slavoj Zizek already has in his book "Demanding the impossible". Just as acceptance is the first step towards self-discipline and is a form of initial awareness, Zizek quotes Herbert Marcuse saying : "Freedom is the condition for liberation""The first step towards freedom is to become aware of your situation - the situation of injustice and unfairness". Better yet, "Revolutions sometimes do happen, maybe in time of chaos. but they usually happen when there's neither a war nor chaos". Absorb and thrive fellow Impossibles :)

This connects the dots with an older Impossible called Flip It and with a blog I wrote about the necessary long shortcuts called Life is a Lebanese bouncer.

Project Managers ! You are Key to our Neo-Evolution

Neo-evolution is understood as the phenomena by which a species no longer evolves due to changes in its environment but rather starts changing its own environment. Now you know what you're part of :) But Matt Ridley in "This Will Make You Smarter" under "Collective Intelligence" nuances this super-power:

"The key to human achievement is not individual intelligence at all. The reason human beings dominate the planet is not because they have big brains: Neanderthals had big brains but were just another kind of predatory ape. Evolving a 1200-cc brain and a lot of fancy software like language was necessary but not sufficient for civilization. (...) Human achievement is entirely a networking phenomenon. It is by putting brains together through the division of labor — through trade and specialisation — that human society stumbled upon a way to raise the living standards, carrying capacity, technological virtuosity and knowledge base of the species."

Having read Alan Smith and ingurgitated theories about the pin factory and the of labour, it took me a while to willingly connect dots in that sector of knowledge. But think about it! Someone divided labour in that pin factory. Call him project manager or what have you... She or he is our oldest technologist as Management is a technology. Now, I consider philosophy, language and a bunch of other stuff technologies as well. Why? Because they are once removed from "pure reality" i.e. what a creature with no consciousness experiences. And why is management vital to our evolution?

D'emberton writes "Take the smartest person in the world, and they might dazzle you with some incredible feats. But take someone who can always do what they set their mind to? That person could take over the world." What is it that helps us, as a species, do what we set our mind to? "The function of management is to minimize deviations from plan, and thus help produce predictable results on important dimensions." Say good morning to the closest manager impossible-rs :D

Umwelt, Guugu Yimithirr and Neo-evolution

Guugu Yimithirr is an aboriginal Australian language that only uses absolute directions when describing spatial relations — the position of everything is described by using the cardinal directions. A speaker of Guugu yimithirr will define a person as being "north of the house", while a speaker of English may say that he is "in front of the house" or "to the left of the house" depending on the speaker's point of view. This difference makes Guugu yimithirr speakers better at performing some kinds of tasks, such as finding and describing locations in open terrain, whereas English speakers perform better in tasks regarding the positioning of objects relative to the speaker. For example telling someone to set a round table putting forks to the right of the plate and knives to the left would be extremely difficult in Guugu yimithirr.

This connects the dots with the concept of "Umwelt" Daniel Dennett writes about in "Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking": "(The umwelt is) Our manifest image (it) really is manifest, really is subjective in a strong sense. It's the world we live in, the world according to us. (...) Much of our manifest image has been shaped by natural selection over eons, and is part of our genetic heritage. One of my favorite examples of how different an Umwelt can be compares an anteater to an insectivorous bird (Wimsatt, 1980). The bird tracks individual insects and must deal with their erratic flight patterns by having a high flicker-fusion rate (in effect it sees more “frames per second” than we do, and hence a movie would be like a slide show to it). The anteater just averages over the whole ant-infested area and lets its big tongue take up the slack. A philosopher might say that “ant” for an anteater is a mass term, like “water” and “ice” and “furniture,” not a sortal (you can count them) like “olives” and “raindrops” and “chairs.” When an anteater sees a nice blob of ant, it slurps it up with its tongue, as oblivious to the individuals as we are to the individual glucose molecules we slurp up when we eat a sweet."

Anteater / Insectivorous bird. Westerners / Guugu Yimithirr speakers. Now. We've always known that my perception of "blue" is not your perception of "blue". But allow me as I've been diving into Alan Watts' "Wisdom of Insecurity". What I'm imagining here is a fundamental change in our Umwelt. Maybe even better, a destruction so profound you would look at these w o r d s and see the l e t t e r s behind them. Look at the letters and see ink. Look at the ink and see a screen, atoms, void. Now imagine your Umwelt i. e. references change so profoundly every time you look at an object around you, your mouth freezes in awe... How do we get there? Good morning ladies and gents ;)

You (Actually) Can't Handle The Truth

Kurt Vonnegut write "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." Brain-pickings complements with "But given how much our minds mislead us, what if we don't realize when we're pretending – who are we then?". Brain-pickings goes on to tell the story of how Benjamin Franklin made a friend out of an enemy by asking him for a favour. The enemy actually started liking Franklin! In the book "You are now less dumb", McRaney writes "This brings us to the chicken-or-the-egg question of whether the belief or the display came first. According to self-perception theory, we are both observers and narrators of our own experience – we see ourselves do something and, unable to pin down our motive, we try to make sense of it by constructing a plausible story. We then form beliefs about ourselves based on observing our actions, as narrated by that story, which of course is based on our existing beliefs in the first place. This is what happened to Franklin's nemesis: He observed himself performing an act of kindness toward Franklin, which he explained to himself by constructing the most plausible story – that he did so willfully, because he liked Franklin after all."

But the stories we choose aren't always our own. Howard Suber, film school professor at UCLA tells the story of how he deals with people telling him their aches. He asks “What movie are you living now?” People will laugh at first. "And the laugh is a sign of recognition that the story they’ve been telling me has a recognizable structure, and once they give me that, they then usually laugh again and say something like, “Oh, my God.” I then say, as quietly as I can, “And where does the story go?” And that’s the advice I’ve given them."

But to muse on the above. The need to fit ideas in a story or a system might be a reflection of our own need to belong and fit into a group don't you think? Two aspects of the same mental pattern. We fear rejection in society and same for ideas. McRaney writes: "You can see the proof in an MRI scan of someone presented with political opinions that conflict with her own. The brain scans of a person shown statements that oppose her political stance show that the highest areas of the cortex, the portions responsible for providing rational thought, get less blood until another statement is presented that confirms her beliefs. Your brain literally begins to shut down when you feel your ideology is threatened." Impossible ! Yet true :) Good morning !

How we forget why we do what we do

In a paper called "‪Habits in Everyday Life: How to Form Good Habits and Change Bad Ones‬", Wendy Wood calls attention to the neurology of habits, and how they have a recognisable neural signature. When you are learning a response you engage your associative basal ganglia, which involves the prefrontal cortex and supports working memory so you can make decisions. As you repeat the behavior in the same context, the information is reorganised in your brain. It shifts to the sensory motor loop that supports representations of cue response associations, and no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. This shift from goal directed to context cue response helps to explain why our habits are rigid behaviours.

Basically, with time, we forget why we do what we do. We wake up one morning - good morning :) - and wonder why we're going to work again. But this very realisation can help us "Sell to Ourselves" which was mentioned in the last Impossible. This shattering "why" is the breach one needs in a mental status-quo to start a grounds up change. When "Why" show up, it's very tempting to censor it. It's quite unwise however.

About censorship, Charles Bukowski writes: "My days, my years, my life has seen up and downs, lights and darknesses. If I wrote only and continually of the "light" and never mentioned the other, then as an artist I would be a liar. Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can't vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist."

"Why" will creep up one day. Look past its weird old look. Ignore its drooling mouth and stupid eyes. "Why" has the soul of a child. "Why" will take you where many ways exist. Why censor your heart.

How to Sell to Yourself

It is extremely easy to say to oneself "smile more". We've all made new year resolutions. Adopting an actual decision is something entirely different. It is the journey from coming across an ad to actually buying and using a product. If the ad doesn't compel you, good luck paying for the product. Same for "smile more" - or "swear less" or "eat less red meat" or what have you. The challenge is to sell to oneself. Mere affirmation is not enough i.e. "I want to smile more", "I am a happy person". It's not 1990 anymore and neuroscience did some progress since then. To "download" a decision into the software of your mind, you need to build a neural lattice work on which it can sit. Charlie Munger asserts : "You can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ‘em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form."

So far so good. Now, how do we sell to ourselves :) When you think of salesmen, a man knocking on a door or smiling next to a car come to mind. Truth is, we're all in sales (see "To Sell is Human" by Dan Pink) and we're all facing objections we need to diffuse from potential buyers including ourselves. Now the big insight today comes courtesy of Peter Thiel, founder of Paypal and author of the amazing book "0 to 1": "Even university professors, who claim authority from scholarly achievement, are envious of the self-promoters who define their fields. Academic ideas about history or English don't just sell themselves on their intellectual merits. Even the agenda of fundamental physics and the future path of cancer research are results of persuasion."

Very often, we talk ourselves out of enacting a decision we took. We find a billion smart objections to "don't eat sweets" or "go for a run". I personally decided to "change the world" for instance. But I got a gazillion objection from my self along the lines of - "Why go through the pain? Life is meaningless. Why care?". And that's where Thiel's "Don't just sell themselves on their intellectual merits" comes in. "Life is meaningless", we are a beautiful blip in the universe. But that is precisely why our decisions are almighty, they are big bangs of sense in the non-sensical universe. They are exceptions to entropy, carving meaning out of nothingness. Is this then the guardrail to whenever you want to give up fellow Impossible-r ? Maybe. Stay tuned for next episode :)

When Everything is Amazing

Chade-Meng Tan heads "Search Inside Yourself", Google's meditation course for employees. In a talk at the RSA, he mentions a beautiful habit he developed. Whenever Chade-Meng Tan meets somebody, he thinks:  "I want you to be happy". No need to think anything more or imagine hocus pocus energy flowing towards the other person. Simply think "I want you to be happy".  

A dear friend of mine created a personal version of this practice. He sits down for a single minute - not a second more - and thinks of all the people he loves. I tried it out and, for a minute, wished every person I know all the happiness possible. No overthinking - simply thinking it. An effort light enough to bring forth the feeling. Close your eyes. Give an honest shot today and get back to me once you're done :)

Olivier Emberton writes: "Kids are geniuses. We rarely prize people for acting like a child. The world is forever telling us to “grow up” and “take responsibility”, as if anything else is a bug in the system. On the contrary – childish behaviour can be quite brilliant. Kids try many things. Stupid things, like eating soil or rollerskating on ice. But they’re fearless and relentless. Kids don’t know what they don’t know. So they question everything. Kids are easily bored. They live in fantasy worlds because present reality is limiting."

I like this and I'd argue there's a magical sweet point in childhood where the world itself is a fantasy world. We look around and every cricket is a spaceship, every ladybug is a gypsy caravan, and every person is a disguised Pumba or [Insert favorite Disney character]. Somewhere inside our brains, that same mental network can still fire up. Find it, wake it up and look at the world around you. What happens when everything is amazing? Could you still complain? Well, take this: PhD Gino Yu asked me to feel anger while breathing from my diaphragm. Impossible! Some things don't go together (Try it). Same for amazingness. The brain circuitry simply overrides complaint. Good morning amazing people :)