The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #3 - Transform

Easy to confound A.L.T.E.R. for one of these 5-step-something acronym for a self helpy series. Unfortunately, though an acronym, and a 5 step process, it won't help you in anything. This is a careful observation of the development, maintenance and improvement of a hacker mind. A.L.T.E.R. = Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise.


STRUCTURE + STORIES

In the last post, we established how important stories are. They are the lattices our mental life thrives on. They determine what and how we remember things, skills and ourselves. I believe for instance one reason why the new testament is more popular than the old testament is because it's a single more compelling story:

  • Partly because it's centred around a single quite interesting hero: A man comes to earth in a bizarre way. An alien. He has powers. 
  • But also because it's more structured: It leads the reader and the audience from a to z.  The man grows his power and waits for the right time to unveil it.

How much easier it must've been for the disciples to spread the word compared to the jews. Interestingly, the Jesus story relates to a more universal story structure. Here's one video about that structure, Ben, his father and cancer:

The author explains the structure of the dramatic arc and concludes as to what a universal story structure might look like:  

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Climax - "How can a father have fun with his cancerous kid when he knows he is dying?"
  4. Falling action
  5. Denouement

STRUCTURE + SKILLS

In the very first part (Amplify) of the series. We've mentioned how the mind deconstructs and reconstructs material continuously.  That same cycle of deconstruction and reconstruction is also what enables creativity. That is where, I believe, 'everything is a remix' stems from.

And the confirmation came however while learning html on my own, copying the tutorial videos' lines of codes. In itself, that single act felt enriching but I only felt like learning when I digressed, improvised and tried new things on my own correcting my mistakes thereafter by going back to the video. So the rule to learn and the route to creativity is 'copy' but the imperative is 'transform'. We need to push the limits of our knowledge, in a sense, to truly grasp what we already know. We need to take a courageous stare at the unknown to understand the known.

 Peek off the cliff

Peek off the cliff

 

The question that came to mind was much more 'when do we best learn?' and I believe that is the moment when we 'peek over the cliff'. We stand on the shoulders of giants yes and we must. But it's only by jumping off them that we make progress. It makes me realize why we spend millions on telescopes more powerful than the Hubble. We need that peek over the cliff, out of the known. And the kid inside us starts jumping at the prospect that we might one day 'see' the borders of the universe! But I digress :)

 

There are so numerous skills one can hack or master: Style, Diet, Focus, Connection, Empathy and even Happiness. Happiness for instance, once deconstructed, yields the following:

  • Happiness is relative. We conclude we're happy when we see others' feelings of happiness
  • Happiness stems from several precursors
  • Happiness is personal
  • Happiness involves a time factor in that it builds up with duration and more time investment
  • On that time trajectory, one needs a repeatable process to make sure happiness actually builds up. That is a very procedural or scientific aspect. Happiness becomes the proven result of a repeatable "experiment"

STRUCTURE + SYSTEMS

 

 

So the hacking mind is a scientific mind: It needs a repeatable process that is re-usable and repeatedly effective. And for our purposes, what will make us take that leap and jump from "copy" to "transform" is comparison. Comparison could very well be a universal door to understanding and a starting point to hacking anything. Appropriately, from the book "You can do anything!":

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The process by which you reason is known as logic. Logic teaches you how to derive a previously unknown truth from the facts already at hand. Logic teaches you how to be sure whether what you think is true is really true. … Logic is the supreme avenue to intellectual truth. Don't ever despair of possessing a logical mind. You don't have to study it for years, read books and digest a mountain of data. All you have to remember is one word – compare. Compare all points in a proposition. Note the similarity – that tells you something new. Note the difference – that tells you something new. Then take the new things you've found and check them against established laws or principles. This is logic. This is reason. This is knowledge in its highest form.

Comparison is the leanest deduction tool: Light, fast and effective. It is certainly the best way to reach a reliable conclusion with minimal effort. Comparing one's work to others' work is the best way to advance from "copy" to "transform" as transformation is effectively a synonym of differentiation. Just as in science, one realises they've 'made science' after the fact, same with ideas. This is a key to creativity. And to cite a creative 'you can only connect the dots looking backwards':

Echoing Steve Jobs, who in his own fantastic commencement address famously cautioned that "you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards," Patchett urges these new graduates to be sure to return at some point – this, she argues, would let them reflect on the series of small choices which, as William James put it a century ago, "[spin] our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone." 

The repeatable or scientific aspect leads us to our fourth blog in the A.L.T.E.R. series which is endure. Once we've made the step to start transforming, we need to make the habit sink in. This is the first step towards automation.

 

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The Hacker Mind - A.L.T.E.R. #2 - Link

Easy to confound A.L.T.E.R. for one of these 5-step-something acronym for a self helpy series. Unfortunately, though an acronym, and a 5 step process, it won't help you in anything. This is a careful observation of the development, maintenance and improvement of a hacker mind. A.L.T.E.R. = Amplify, Link, Transform, Endure and Rise.

 


 

 

DOT CONNECTION > STORIES

 

How can I be more creative ? A lot has been written, even more has been stipulated. A single conclusion stands out: Learn how to connect the dots. And it's down to 3 steps:

  • Collect. Obviously you need dots prior to that. Reading, traveling and meeting new people can create a rich soil. Take notes.
  • Connect. Then you need a routine. A time and an activity especially focused on sifting through the dots you've found or the notes you've written down.
  • Challenge. Try to connect dots that are un-related and distant. Up the game and the ante. What does Wen Chu have to do with photography ?

The collision of multiple, different, disciplines has shown efficient, time and again, in bringing about new insight and creative outcome. It's similar to creative dot connection and the reason why metaphors - the ability to draw similarity between two distant concepts - are the main ingredient behind all our stories. Mythology is essentially one over-sized metaphor. But only efficient metaphors survive our imaginary and time to become traditions or millennial stories. They are linkages and lattices our minds remember best. Quality is king when it comes to dot connection.

  Dots Connect , an additive game... seriously

Dots Connect, an additive game... seriously

 

This inherent ability to appreciate good stories might be ingrained in our very nature. Philippa Perry in "how to stay sane" from 'the school of life' series writes:

As we get older it is our short-term memory that fades rather than our long-term memory. Perhaps we have evolved like this so that we are able to tell the younger generation about the stories and experiences that have formed us which may be important to subsequent generations if they are to thrive

 

STORIES > PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT

 

It doesn't come as a surprise then that our understanding of our selves also hinges on story building. Peter Shallard writes about "Why the stories you tell yourself decide your success". In his article, he draws a Maslow-like pyramid of the self:

Environment -> Behaviour -> Capabilities -> Beliefs -> Identity

Identity is at the top of the pyramid and it's a deeply connected to the stories we tell ourselves. Call it perception, self-branding, persuasion or even mumbo-jumbo-who's-the-man but let me call it personal story for now. Turning mistakes and hardships into challenges rather than obstacles and opportunities rather than roadblocks goes a long way. Dramatising and / or building a narrative around your choices and actions is the equivalent of big brand framing. In building and acquiring new skills, this can be a very valuable technique.

 

I remember playing Final Fantasy X back in the time and 'unlocking' extra-powers only after I had acquired some other powers:

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One's story can be a tale of personal evolution and a step-by-step journey to a better self. Mostly however, the trick is in finding new story patches that complement the current story a person is running. Paulo Coelho calls it the 'personal legend'. I like to call it OS 4 Life. The story we run to progress on a personal level.

This equates personal evolution to how evolution actually happens through "proximal development" i.e. the adjacent possible. This reminds me of Gary Marcus who wrote about Gregory Bateson and the term deutero-learning he coined in the 1940s to refer to the organisation of learning, or learning to learn:

[The 'zone of proximal development' is] the idea that learning works best when the student tackles something that is just beyond his or her current reach, neither too hard nor too easy. In classroom situations, for example, one team of researchers estimated that its best to arrange things so that children succeed roughly 80 percent of the time; more than that, and kids tend to get bored; less, and they tend to get frustrated. The same is surely true of adults, too, which is why video game manufacturers have been known to invest millions in play testing to make sure that the level of challenge always lies in that sweet spot of neither too easy nor too hard.
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You need to reach for a level just beyond your current level. You do that by "downloading" a new mental story. This concept of "proximal development" is also reminiscent of "flow" in that the task at hand matches our level of skill (not too hard, not too easy). One can write the following equation which the creators of FFX probably had in mind:

 

 

Proximal development = Flow + Adjacent Possible

 

 

PROXIMAL DEVELOPMENT > DYNAMIC LINKAGE

 

There is a risk however. If one is following a given path, reaching for superior levels, building on his current capabilities and choosing challenges different but not too far from his current zone of development, it's likely that mental blinders will end up clouding hi judgement. His choices will try to pre-fit his mould and self-criticism will fade away. With no attempts to question every single though, the big picture is forgotten and soon one forgets why what is being done is being done.

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There's a fine line between dot connection and mould fitting. The latter is an unconscious attempt to fit every single new idea into an existing paradigm. NN Taleb refers to this y using Procrustes bed metaphor. Dot connection, as a skill, should be a way out of vertical thinking and paradigm fitting. It should be a window opener. a way to bring fresh air into the room of one's thoughts.

In all honesty, reading brain pickings, one has the impression there's an attempt to stick and relate every new idea or author's input or book into an existing paradigm such as the importance of routines, the hedonic treadmill ... and it feels new paradigms struggle to come about.

I love Brain-pickings. But this is an mad argument here. The second element of A.L.T.E.R. is Link. And it's not just a synonym of connect. It's a manifesto in defence of irrational logic. Some might find it dumb to spend an hour figuring out how Banksy's work and Einstein's ideas might be connected. But it is a form of lateral thinking. Irrational logic is a form of meta-thinking. It means you've gotten to a level of thinking mature enough to question your own thinking. David Byrne's "Arboretum" is a crazy application of that. Brain-pickings features the following work:

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 It's the equivalent of self-ridiculing oneself. It's the greatest sign of confidence. There's no fear putting yourself down because you understand that this in itself holds strength. The power of your Self lies in its resilience, not its resistance, to change. Practically, this means: The application of logical scientific rigour and form to basically irrational premises. To proceed, carefully and deliberately, from nonsense with a a straight face, often arriving at a new kind of sense.  

 

Physicality - Volume 3 : Necessary evils

You probably never heard of dwarf tossing. And you probably won't forgive me for letting you in on one of humanity's sickest hobbies. That's OK. At least you'll keep reading :)

Dwarf tossing is a bar attraction in which dwarfs wearing special padded clothing or Velcro costumes are thrown onto mattresses or at Velcro-coated walls. Participants compete to throw the dwarf the farthest. A related activity was dwarf bowling where the little person was placed on a skateboard and used as a bowling ball.

Wikipedia

You thought I was kidding :) Non. Just as our Roman ancestors used to enjoy gladiators slaying each other, we still enjoy large men running into each other to defend inches on a green field and an odd looking ball, or make animals fight to death (cooks, snakes and rats, dogs) in underground arenas.

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There is a taboo larger than gay adoption, money or men's vulnerability... and that is that you have been deprived of your right to shout. Your inner violence has been censored. As essential as it might be, as inherent as it is to your humanity, you have no right to express it. You'll be thrown in jail for such an animal behaviour.

Isn't it strange that the volume of your voice will never cross a certain threshold ? In your life. Day in and day out, you put up with pressures you didn't evolve to handle and are offered no escape. No catharsis. So you take on Yoga ! Or boxing, or lifting... And the overwhelming emotions . Caveman Klaus, a great friend, described how most of us are like ducks in a pond. On the surface we look calm and proud but underneath the water, our feet are struggling to keep us moving.

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We need to exorcise our souls and project our violence through a catharsis. we cannot shout in this world. we are born and go silent. We cannot shout. it is forbidden. So here it is the conclusion of the 3 physical volumes:

As a kid, I used to think there was a real business opportunity for 'violence venues' where people could rent a room with dummies where their shouts and screams can't be heard and explode instead of soothing emotional excess with cigarettes, alcohol or food. We fill our stomachs and our lungs so our system gets busy with something else. Until the next working day starts.

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We need centres to shout ! Project our violence in a safe environment ! Maybe that'll calm down all the sick people beating up other people. As a species, we used to enjoy blood ! People fighting and making each other bleed ! And now, suddenly, we're civilized and are able to handle our savagery... The way we calm our violence today is through mental and social pinching: We hurt and terrorize people subtly.

Whereas beating up your neighbour is probably not the best idea, there's ample space to rediscover one's physicality and the world's matter. We live too much in our minds.

 

Physicality - Volume 2 : The perfect beauty of imprfction

Wabi is a Japanese word with no equivalents in other languages. It means identifying beauty with unpretentious, simple, unfinished, transient things [PS: The two 'e' in the title are missing on purpose :)]. Suffice to look at how rugged traditional Japanese tea cups are, or see a Japanese monk enjoy the falling snow to understand what Wabi is. Alain de Botton tells the story of a Japanese traveller walking in an English man's garden and seeing how the leaves have covered the alley. He turns to his host and congratulates him for his beautiful garden. As soon as he does that, the English man points out he's hiring a cleaner to get these leaves out of the way !

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Despite the difference between these two men's perceptions, we generally enjoy and have a taste for imperfection, though not too often. We see beauty in old photo filters and worn-off vintage clothes, we are in wonder in front of old, broken toys, amaze in front of quirky things and are puzzled at how we're not really attracted to a flawless man or woman. "We begin to enjoy [things] when the glitter is worn off" writes De Botton. There is joy in seeing nature taking its toll and witnessing its power over man's work. However, on the opposite side, we also see beauty in that which surmounts nature's power: a large bridge that goes beyond a ravin for example or a ship fraying its way through the sea. Where then does our perception of beauty lie ?

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Of course, there is no single conception of beauty. There is however a valid meta-definition in that "beauty is the promise of happiness". But don't go thinking that entails some kind of superior purety clothed with morality and deep values. Living together has led us our inner human taste to diverge from the values we prone. Even our most valorous emotions are not as immaculate as we think they are. Enter Kundera Milan:

Incident-ally, somebody's filmed the life of a foetus inside a pregnant woman. In an acrobatic contortion we could never imitate for ourselves, the foetus was fellating its own tiny organ. You see, sexuality is not the exclusive property of young, well-built bodies that arouse bitter envy. The foetus's self-fellation will move every grandmother. In the world, even the sourest ones, even the most prudish. Because the baby is the strongest, the broadest, the most reliable common denominator of all majorities. And a foetus, my dear friends, is more than a baby - it's an archbaby, a superbaby!'

'A foetus with a sex life, imagine! It has no con-sciousness yet, no individuality, no perception of anything, but it already feels a sexual impulse and maybe even pleasure. So our sexuality precedes our self-awareness. Our self doesn't yet exist,,but our lust is already there. And, imagine, all my colleagues found this idea touching! They had tears in their eyes over the masturbating foetus!'

Genius Kundera winks at existentialism's "existence precedes essence" and affirms that: "sex precedes existence" or at least consciousness. Inherently however, he is destroying the sanctity of a grandmother's love. He is staining of the purest human emotions: caring.

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Flip this analysis however and whereas the emotions we thought beautiful about can be stained by some sick strangeness, we are able to perceive beauty in things we'd, at first, think of as repulsive.

Take Ego for example, in its common conception rather than its common one. There are quotes galore to describe how ugly ego is. It's nearly impossible to find a writer who elevates ego. Nietzsche famously (?) wrote "Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog called Ego". Ego is ugly and repulsive. It is a darkness that shrouds and clouds your essential wits. It mislead your judgement and often leads you right into dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Yet, ego is attractive to a lot of people for reasons they probably can't control. Osho writes "for centuries, man had to struggle to survive and the idea has become a fixation, a deep unconscious conditioning, that only strong egos can survive in the struggle of life".

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The beauty of imperfection, the imperfection of beauty, the strangeness of our perception ... Hard to see how it relates to physicality [I personally struggled :)] if it wasn't for Steffen Zweig and a small excerpt in the "Confusion of feelings":

England rose before our eyes; the island girdled by the stormy waters in which all the continents of the globe are laved. In that sea-girt isle, the ocean holds sway. The cold and clear gaze of the watery element is reflected in the eyes of the inhabitants. Every one of the dwellers in that land is one of the sea-folk, is himself an island. The storms and dangers of the sea have left their mark, and live on to-day in these English, whose ancestors for centuries were Vikings and sea-raiders. Now peace broods over the isle. But the dwellers therein, used to storms, crave for the lie of the sea with its daily perils.

Pure genius. An outer element so persistent it transmits its most edgy feature to the world within us. We are primarily physical beings and we interiorize the physical world around us. In its imperfection. We live in an era where our the ratio of mind to body function is, say, 4:1 whereas only some 1000 years ago, it was 1:4 ... This is bound to create some problems. But more on that in Volume 3 :)

The post start-up children : A manifesto for the next generation

Manifesto for the next generation:

  1. We believe the hedonic treadmill and imposed ambition and borrowed goals have ruled for far too long
  2. We believe fun is the next big thing
  3. We believe edgier crazier behaviours are becoming more permit-table as the benchmark for madness is driven higher through our inter-connections
  4. We believe that, when dancing in a bus, one invites others to join, others are now more likely to do so then ever before
  5. A long cycle of un-coolness is coming to an end. Get ready to smile more

Two books struck a chord lately from magnificent publishing house "Gestalten".

  • "A delicious life: New food entrepreneurs" : The book fleshes out how a so-called 'organic & natural' hype is manifesting and influencing people's lives. These are young entrepreneurs who either hit the road on a custom built coffee brewer or opened their own chocolaterie. The book description goes a long way: "Creative young people who used to want to work at start-ups, advertising agencies, or investment banks are now increasingly likely to become organic farmers, bee-keepers, speak-easy bartenders, or owners of mom-and-pop grocery stores". A personal friend, resistant to write a blog about his experience, hit the road after graduating from a top Parisian business school in order to pitch in at self-managed farms all over the country. I'm still in admiration.

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  • "Introducing: visual identities for small businesses" goes on to show how design and brand is not the panache of big brands any more but rather a concern for many businesses, especially the SMEs. Now the kind that'll go to stretches to have a coherent communication is probably run by the same breed I described above. A young generation that understands the importance of local and sees it as a platform to change things.

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Building on the above (This is a very 'bullet-ed' post ^^) :

  • And it's generation S. For Stop because it understands life is not a race (or Self because it now fixes its own goals). Life is multi-form and Life goals ought to be as well. We're not running towards the same finish line so there's no point in looking down on each other. Nobody wins at Life and nobody loses.

Help stop the Little League arms race. Kids' sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it's fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn't about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don't make the travelling soccer team or get into the "right" school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That's not right. You'll never read the following obituary: "Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place."

  • It's generation U. For Unruly. The 'boss' is a decaying concept. If we work, we work for people who are smarter than ourselves or we don't .. and just start our own companies. In that sense, maybe we've all become Marxists, but in our own way. The revolution is not about depraving entrepreneurs from capital and giving it the the proletariat. It's about turning the proletariat into a bunch of entrepreneurs.
  • The new generation is generation D. D for displaced. Not that it's a generation whose far from its country or nation, though it often is. Rather that its home is no longer defined by a place. 'Heimat', that un-translatable German word, is no longer a rock construct or an apartment. 'Heimat' is deeply buried in one self or it is not. Today's young need to find an inner core at the risk of getting lost and disoriented. I am weak when I move on moving ground. Evading soil. Lost when my departing point disappears. Though I know where I'm going, I forget where I came from and thus the present moment feels like a fleeting instant, a transitory state, an insignificant time whose weight dissolves as it passes. Then I've lost the liberty of being. The line is no longer here and no longer mine. Never forget what 'Heimat' is and where it lies.

De Botton writes in the Architecture of Happiness : "Culture is the word we have assigned to the force that assists us in identifying which of our many sensations we should focus on and apportion value to". A new culture is in the making.

Growing up before growing old

In the midst of a day, there are a number of things for which we find it is worth interrupting 'whatever else we're doing' and dedicating our time to. What comes to mind unfortunately are timely emergencies : A parent is sick, a friend is depressed, a child got kicked out of school ... And the reason why we do leave everything else to cater to these is because their very nature is interruptive. These are unexpected incidents we need to fix for everything to go back to normal. And 'normal' is probably the culprit here. Your career not being aligned with your life goals or your very soul is not as urgent as these matters. Our happiness being in-existent in our current lifestyle is in no way something we need to pay attention to right now. A beautiful quote by Bill Waterson, courtesy of  Brainpickings:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential – as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them. To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble.

Brainpickings explains how this text here distinguishes between "having an enviable career" and "being a happy person". It falls under what the dot-connecting blog calls the "hedonic treadmill" of achievement. An aimless run where we lose sight of the goal and end up drugged by the overwhelming feeling of fatigue and ticked boxes in a needless to-do list. And what better to echo this than Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness explaining how difficult it is to refuse an out-of-the box house a real estate agency would suggest to us:

We would be sternly reminded that to scorn their designs would therefore be to ignore commercial logic and attempt to deny others a democratic right to their own tastes, bringing us into conflict with two of the great authoritative concepts of our civilisation, money and liberty

Sitting in a bus on my way from Paris to London, happy to be writing, with just a single luggage as a belonging, I saw a group of young people sitting outside a store they seem to be painting. They're laughing and clearly happy. On my right, people are lying in a park, putting an end to the week-end under a rare London sun. And it all feels like an oasis in a large desert where the dominant colour is that of the tyranny of money and liberty.

It might seem money is the real peccant. But it's not. Money is advertised as a means to more liberty and freedom. It is the promoted conception of liberty and freedom that hence needs to be questioned. Criticism aside, in times where a program such as PRISM is defended with says such as "PRISM is there for us to be free", one wonders if freedom means primarily 'free of something', be it fear or war or famine. An environment where our basic needs and emotional stability are guaranteed. And once that environment is secured, whether freedom is nothing more than a smiley nap in a park or the liberty to paint a store or write to your heart's delight in the back of a rocking bus.

But just like happiness, freedom is something we measure relative to a personal scale. A prisoner is freer than anyone else because he might have felt free in prison at one point. Regardless, this is an emergency. Whether at any given moment we are free is a question that should make us jump out of our cubicles and rolling chairs, go for a walk and, in case alignment is missing and the big picture is screwed, plan ahead, to make it all work again. "To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble."

Antifragility, Sadness as a mind-opener and Sangoku !

It's so practical to have friends with great ideas. Makes for a great many more blogs. Yesterday, I mentioned mangas and how in some of them the main character gets stronger each time he / she nears death or comes back from the other side. And a friend mentioned NN Taleb's new book : "Anti-Fragile" (Thank you Peter ;) copyrights here for the dot connection) three

NN Taleb apparently differentiates 3 states of fragility:

  • Fragile : Damocles eating at Dionysius II of Syracuse's table with a sword above his head hanging by a horse's hair.

" Damocles was an obsequious courtier in the court of Dionysus II of Syracuse, a 4th-century BC tyrant of Syracuse, Sicily. Pandering to his king, Damocles exclaimed that, as a great man of power and authority surrounded by magnificence, Dionysius was truly extremely fortunate. Dionysius then offered to switch places with Damocles, so that Damocles could taste that very fortune first-hand. Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the king's proposal. Damocles sat down in the king's throne surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius arranged that a huge sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse's tail. Damocles finally begged the tyrant that he be allowed to depart, because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate." Wikipedia

  • Robust : The phoenix. Each time the phoenix dies, he regenerates, only identical to its old self. Robust is synonymous with resilient in many ways.
  • Anti-fragile : The hydra. Each time a hydra's head is cut, two heads grow in its place. Not only does it survive hardships like the phoenix. Hardships make it grow. Being anti-fragile isn't only about being resilient. It is an improved resiliency.

This flips Nietzsche's "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" on its head. What kills the hydra makes it stronger. What destroys us completely gives us window of growth. See death as an opportunity ! But though a hydra might be able to grow a head from nothing, we cannot grow strength from void. We need to absorb the material surrounding us and turn it into new soil for growth. Hence, delving into the concept, anti-fragile seems to mean leveraging the ubiquitous entropy of the universe. Becoming entropic ourselves.

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But how does this translate in everyday life ? Obviously, dying on a daily basis doesn't sound ...

mmm ... rather read this:

"The man's sadness points us to a subsidiary claim. It is perhaps when our lives are at their most problematic that we are likely to be most receptive to beautiful things. our downhearted moments provide architecture and art with their best openings for it is at such times that our hunger for their ideal qualities will be at its height" The architecture of happiness, Alain de Botton

Sadness is not a pitfall but rather an opening. An opportunity to grow stronger. Same for the rest of life's downfalls. We need to perceive them as windows of opportunity where we can take the world's energy / entropy / beauty in and, with it, grow stronger. This is the anti-fragile way of life.

Art, the future, order and a secret praise of OCD

Order + Art In the architecture of happiness, Alain de Botton points out how the modernists and Le Corbusier were crafting their buildings and especially the "Villa Savoye" in an artistic eulogy to efficiency, the future, science and democracy. He writes: "they wanted their armchairs to evoke racing cars and planes, they wanted their lamps to evoke the power of industry and their coffee pots the dynamism of high speed trains". A modernist architecture that honour efficiency but essentially modernist houses conceived  "machine[s]-for-living"... villa_savoie2

Along the same obsessive lines, one could encounter the futurist art movement whose manifesto was an eulogy to speed and fast cars:

" 4) We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing auto-mobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

5) We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit."

The Futurist Manifesto

LUIGI-RUSSOLO-PEINTRE-ET-BRUITISTE

Order + The Future

In many ways, it is a vision that resonates with the future pictured in 'Minority report', 'Artificial Intelligence', 'I, Robot', 'Tron' or the interior of the 'Solaris' ship, the 'Alien' vessel or the 'Start Trek' enterprise. Orderliness, coherent colours, mostly uniform dressing codes.

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Obviously this fascination for a future world where orderliness and speed would be the norm has been hijacked many times. Collective imagination has been overwhelmed by the Aldous Huxley and Azimov of the world. And our recent disillusion probably made this worrying future fade away. For the future came and it wasn't as smart as we'd thought it would be. We saw we had control over our smartphones, the web, TVs and robots and the future was no longer this impenetrable perfect 'machine'. On the contrary, it seemed quite clunky at times. In a constant beta. Today, yesterday's phones are already old, computers are done for... And the future feels like a series of leaps, too prompt to appear, yet even prompter to disappear.

Order + Evolution

Still, the aftermath of an orderly future's broken dream didn't get the best of us. We're doing fine... Most of the time.

A friend left me his flat a while ago. Poor guy. Ugly, disproportionate stuff disappeared, books got re-ordered by size and colour, odours disappeared ... You get the picture. Once done, I felt peace. Not only because the aesthetics of the place were now improved, but mainly, as a dear person pointed out, because it felt mine. A bit like a dog pees on a tree to make it clear who's the boss of the hoods, order was my way of taking ownership.

At its core, order is strange. It isn't too remote from a pathological need for cleanliness. And we all know a cleanliness freak. Of course, by 'clean' I'm not only referring to the neatness of the space around us. Some will perceive their body as 'dirty' after eating unhealthy food and go on a 'vomiting' trip to South America, accompanied by a 'shaman' of course, as if it was possible to clean one's very genes and cells by puking food ! We are the Only species that 'disgusts itself'. Probably because we're self-conscious.

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But this is no criticism. If anything, it is a respectful though grave admiration of order freaks. Imho, orderliness (and OCD by extension maybe) is an evolutionary advantage. Untidy hunters used to lose their weapons. Orderly tribes were always ready for offence. And we probably obsess about order because it appeals to some inner human need. What better proof than art on the one hand and our envisioning of our future on the other. Still, the question is : To what inner human need does order appeal ?

Order = ?

"Left to its own devices, nature will not hesitate to crumble our walls, claw down our buildings, push wild vines through our walls and return every other feature of our carefully plotted geometric world to primal chaos. nature's way is to corrode, melt, soften, stain and chew on the works of man. And eventually it will win. [...] Our background awareness of inevitable calamity is what can make us especially sensitive to the beauty of a street, in which we recognise the very qualities on which our survival hangs. The drive towards order reveals itself as synonymous with the drive towards life"

The architecture of happiness, Alain de Botton

So maybe order is a statement and a tribute to human resistance ? Our constant strive to mould our environment, own our evolution and write our species' story. Maybe. But I think order stretches further into our beings. Be it the fasting / vomiting pilgrims of South America cleansing their bodies to elevate their souls, the Modernists who build their houses in a tidiness glorifying efficiency or myself ordering a room to 'feel better' ... Each of us, through this obsessive habit and behaviour, is bridging the physical world and the ethical and spiritual world. This a unique human feature.

We associate the physicality of the world with a higher state of things and operate in constant abstraction. Our minds are perpetual dot connectors and just as, in dream state, they mix all sorts of events and emotions in a big confusing soup, they constantly link ethics and feelings to perceptions of the physical world in the waking state. This is probably why we're also able to appreciate or disapprove of art work:

"Buildings will strike as offensive not because they violate a private and mysterious visual preference but because they conflict with our understanding of the rightful sense of experience - which helps to explain the seriousness and viciousness with which disputes about fitting architecture tend to unfold."

The architecture of happiness, Alain de Botton

Maybe that very feature is also a queue as to how much we value order! Our minds can't have loose perceptions flying around with no point of reference so they immediately attach them to an emotion, a value or an ethical anchor. Maybe our unconscious is just a big cupboard... You know: A big one with many perfect squares and a special place and colour for each thing...

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I feel better suddenly.

Follow the white rabbit : A take on happiness

The white rabbit is a snake Remember "the Matrix" ? That single green sentence on a black screen that changes everything for Neo : "Follow the white rabbit". A couple of minutes later a girl shows up with a white rabbit tattoo on her shoulder. Neo decides to join her and her gang for a party. That's where he meets Trinity, who leads him to Morpheus ('God of dreams' in the Greek mythology btw) ... And he becomes a messiah ... Obviously the allusion to Alice's 'white rabbit' is interesting. In 'Alice in Wonderland', Alice follows the small white mammal and ends up in a new world.

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One might even see an interesting parallel between Adam and Eve's snake and that white rabbit. Eve takes the apple, tastes it with Adam and here they are in a new world. And the question is, just as much for Eve, Adam,Neo and Alice : Are they more or less happy in that new world ? Consider the following

Now you know...

I need to put a name on this and I believe most adequate would be : "The village stranger syndrom". In 'Children on their birthdays', Truman Capote describes how a newcomer, Miss Lily Jane Bobbit, a 10 year old kid that dresses overly well and dances the valse, changes the lives of all the children of the village. Billy Bob is suddenly lovesick, but more importantly the other village girls, Billy Bob's 'exes', grow sadder and more isolated by the day. They realize there's 'something else' out there. And that newness acts like a mirror to a child.

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Mirror stage - when a child understands that the image reflected by a mirror is himself - is a concept developed by Lacan. Only the importance of this event in a person's life is strongly understated:

The dual relationship (relation duelle) refers not only to the relation between the Ego and the body, which is always characterized by illusions of similarity and reciprocity, but also to the relation between the Imaginary and the Real. The visual identity given from the mirror supplies imaginary "wholeness" to the experience of a fragmentary real. See Lacan's paper, "The Mirror Stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience", the first of his Écrits.

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Blablabla aside : What happens when a child sees 'himself' for the first time and develops an understanding of the image and the self for the first time, is no less than a schism : 'I am'. In other terms:

This contrast, Lacan hypothesized, is first felt by the infant as a rivalry with its own image, because the wholeness of the image threatens it with fragmentation; thus the mirror stage gives rise to an aggressive tension between the subject and the image. To resolve this aggressive tension, the subject identifies with the image: this primary identification with the counterpart is what forms the Ego.

"L'enfer c'est les autres"

The child will spend his entire life trying to repair that schism (Thanks to Nic Watz here :) for the insight). However, there's an argument to be made that others are also mirrors in our lives. Sartre famously wrote "Hell is other people" in 'Huis-Clos'. Just like Miss Lilly Jane Bobbit, they make us realize that 'we are'. They are the mirrors of our happiness. They suddenly set rulers and benchmarks for us to 'measure' and realize how happy we really are.

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It suddenly dawns on us that we are not alone and that our self-worth is relative. If Neo hadn't known about the white rabbit, if he hadn't looked around for Morpheus, he would've been convinced that all there is to the world is the matrix. That would've been all he needed. That is where he would've built his happiness. Only that white rabbit, very much like adam and eve's snake, led him to see what else is possible.

According to Barry Shwartz, happiness thrives in a fish bowl : When no one interferes with your vision of happiness, when no strangers come to the village. The fish bowl breaks, surprisingly, when plunged in the ocean. The fish realizes it's been living in a dream, that the world is bigger, that other things could be. And its taste of happiness is never more the same. It's like a kid who tastes ice cream for the first time. Nothing will ever taste the same again.

Anti-fragile happiness

So how do you make sure nobody breaks your fish bowl ? Do you try and prevent it by any means possible ? do you seclude yourself and live on a mountain top ? You'll never see people with better bodies than yours and feel frustrated, people richer than you and feel miserable and unsuccessful, see people who can handle stress better than you and feel like a wreck, people who can have fun or attract boys / girls better than you and feel like a loser. But then, you might see however some monks who can reach higher planes of consciousness than you and meditate better and that my friend - when you've left your life for this - sucks :)

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So maybe the solution is not to prevent the fishbowl from breaking. What about making it bulletproof then ? Practically unbreakable. Or better yet : Anti-fragile. NN Taleb's latest book is called 'Anti-fragile'. He describes these things and systems as 'things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish'. Spoiler: Don't expect a set of X happiness recommendations in the lines to follow :)

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So how do you make your happiness anti-fragile ? By breaking it yourself and surviving the mess. Over and over and over. Does that mean looking at a magazine cover model and not care ? Imagine you were taller. Picture yourself richer and think whether that would make you happier. See yourself with an extra 10 centimeters. Are you happier ? Break the bowl again and again.

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Please note

This is not a case for low expectations. I'm not arguing for contempt. Be as EFFING ambitious as you can be. But keep in mind:

  1. We are all abashed by a perverse paradigm today saying : We are all 'equal'. Meaning you have no excuse not to be a billionaire. Everyone can be a success. look at the youtube videos with a billion views. What are you waiting for ? Yadiyadiya
  2. But that's not true. We aren't equal and it's not possible for all of us to reach the same highs as the odds are simply not the same for us all. Realising this helps us re-establish our expectations. Not lower them but set them right. Set our own. Not ones influenced by village strangers. Creating our own right-sized fish bowl. Not the smallest one, nor someone else's.
  3. And to do that, it's essential to realize that no one's opinion or no one other than oneself should influence or be able to influence one's happiness. One needs to be absolutely self-minded, in-negotiably free spirited. Never try to please any one. Never try to live up to anyone's expectations.

You can control a system of which processes and targets you are the sole master. You cannot control one where your targets are fixed by others.

The first step to expansion

image In a guest series about apprenticeship Robert Greene tells the story of Zora Neale Hurston who, paradoxically, wasn't lucky enough to have a master or become an apprentice and had to self-direct herself towards higher accomplishments.

Interestingly, her first steps was reading books and it's back to the idea that exploring the adjacent possibilities, one must first pull in fresh material. One that is different from his own.

What the expression 'adjacent possible' actually misses is that the material that will lead you to your next hub or to that next dot you'll be able to connect is in no way truly 'adjacent'. It is not in the vicinity of your current knowledge. Rather it is your responsibility to gather distant notions and group them up. Ideas are not bounded entity limited and set in space. They cannot and are not mapped.

Ideas are free electrons shooting through space and readily available whenever they are summoned. Amazing little things.

How listening to grandma guaranties human evolution

Trust I was lucky enough to drop in on a talk by the chief scientist at Salesforce.com at the Dublin Web Summit. And like most great talks, it started by something completely unrelated to his main subject (data science and database management): Bankruptcy. The word comes from “Bench” and “Rupto”. What?! Well, you see. In 13th century Venice, merchants used to sit on benches waiting there for other dealers. Merchants who lied and lost others' trust used to get kicked out and their bench would get broken for them not to be able to come back and deal in the market.

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And it's interesting how 'real' trust was. Trust was a bench. If you break trust, your bench gets broken. In today's world, that would be the equivalent of a LinkedIn Profile with an irremovable stamp saying 'LIAR' maybe :)

And it's interesting how the physical space around us carved our emotions and feelings towards each other. How form ends up influencing function in a way. The De la Rullaye brothers gave a great talk at TEDx Sorbonne where they explained how we domesticated water with our tools. We were bale to store it in vases and bottles. I think we even domesticated information through language. We found a way to store it. First in our brains then, with the advent of writing, in our archives. We domesticated relationships when we created families. There was a stable unit that preserved links created among us. We domesticated animals obviously but families and monogamy were men’s way of domesticating women. That same leap in evolution (not the monogamy ;) but the storage part) allowed us to consume what we didn't produce. Because things could now be stored, we were able to consume what others were now able to produce and store. Consumption could now be shifted in time. It wasn't an immediate act anymore.

And along the way, a major technology came about. One that would also carve our relationship: Walls. Let me explain how this circles back to trust. I believe walls appeared first and foremost to shield our sexual privacy. But soon evolved to protect our cities and belongings. In other terms, we built walls because we weren’t comfortable with, and also because we didn’t trust, our surroundings anymore.

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Tribes

Maybe tribes had grown too big and full transparency was no longer an option. In small tribes, everyone knew everyone and acts were quickly and easily made public: One's trustworthiness was a common knowledge. This was no longer the case in big cities however and I think walls came in to restore that. To make it so trust was again something within our grasp. I think walls decreased cities’ fear of each other and enabled exchange.

Brainpickings sums up a book called “eavesdropping, an intimate history” whose author explains that walls freed us from looking around:

“The disappearance of human vigil gave us the time necessary to build relationships both marital and familial. In other terms: walls brought about structured society.”

Trust was an un-existing concept before walls. You didn't need trust when you could see what others were doing. Computer screens in an office play the same role. How can you trust somebody when you can't see what he's doing? Real-time collaboration brought back instant accountability partly, hence re-instituting the old dynamics we used to have in our primal non-opaque societies. Delayed accountability creates distrust.

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Small philosophical stint here: I think it was distrust that brought about the concept of trust. In other terms, distrust precedes trust. I need to know I can trust you because, essentially, I can't.

Trust = human currency

While writing this, I was reminded of the movie "The lives of others". A Nazi officer saves a couple that’s betraying the country’s regime. And the lesson here is that diving into the intimacy of others, beyond the walls that separate us, helps us reconnect in a way. It awakens our primal empathy. It makes us understand and relate to others' feelings, needs and emotions. Walls, large, structured societies, decimated the little empathy our race was still capable of.

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Another speaker at TEDx Sorbonne, Frederic Mazella, said something along the lines of: Trust is an exclusive good. Like an apple, if one person consumes it, another person can’t. Dead wrong. Trust is information. It’s a non-exclusive good. Publicly available. What changed however is the easiness with which we can access this information. Whereas in small villages, anyone can vouch or not for someone else’s trustworthiness, that’s not possible in big cities.

Now Fred got something right. Our online transactions could be a way to determine our trustworthiness. It’s as if we were replicating the Venetian market. We’d each have our bench. Kabbage, for example, is an online company that gives loans to online merchants based, among other things; on their ratings on Ebay and Amazon. It’s turning trust into a 5 star rating basically, and acting upon it. Now will the online world turn trust into a graspable concept back from the abstract one walls turned it into? The jury is out.

Tribes = culture-yielding entities

When everything else fails, when institutions, nations and religions disappoint, all what's left is the tribe. This was our first evolutionary instinct. We formed tribes to outrun antelopes then hunt them. Jonathan Haidt, in his TED talk, mentions we are the only mammals capable of forming bigger clusters than the simple groups other mammals form. Take armies for example. Ever seen a 10,000 chimpanzee army? Right.

So if tribes are so important and the primal entity we rely on today isn't the family anymore, as it is the case in most Western countries, will the new support entity be the company? The group with which we effectively spend most of our time.

The strength of tribes lie in their culture actually. It is the traditions or the rites, as a friend puts it, which mold their unity. The fire dances, the masks, the Christmas dinner … And I believe great companies succeed only if they create great cultures, through great traditions. A bottle of champagne for every small victory, a portrait of every new addition … Interestingly communism is supportive of the weakening of tribalization. And that in a way means then it sees itself as a new stage in evolution, redefining what it is to be human. It didn’t miss the tradition bit however. And communal festivities were thoroughly implemented. Trust is the garanty of healthy exchange.

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The more we share with others, through common traditions for example, the more likely we are to relate to them, to empathize with them and eventually to trust them. But traditions survive for a reason probably. In our human lives, they compete against the rest. So their survival relies on a mix of time needed to execute, value and behavioral impact. When traditions disappear, it means individualism is probably winning over.

Your grandma in all of this

Our tribes form around common conceptions and convictions, common concepts of beauty... Cultures are collective convictions. There is a beauty in sharing a common subjectivity. And obviously, such a form of unanimity is harder to reach in a large group. At burning man, one probably feels it because people there have a common belief. Start-ups are more efficient and more prone to success because they're made up of like-minded people who share a common conviction. Conviction forms more easily in a small group just as consensus is easier to reach in a small group. The smaller the group, the nearer each member is to the decision point and the more likely it is that the final outcome will meet most peoples’ expectations.

The bigger the group, the more difficult it is to find a common denominator. Still tribes won’t disappear, as big as our societies get. And maybe that’s where Marc Rougier’s TEDx talk comes in:

“We’ve always needed to filter information. Our first online answer was a directory. Yahoo, a dictator. Vader style. The second was Google and search robots. Terminator style. Social media helped us shift to a more human search. Problem is you end up with Ganganm style being the most popular video on the web. Curators are the last step in that filtering evolution. Curation is a means of expression. Subjectivity, pertinence and impertinence are essential to organizing information.”

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And that makes sense: In our tribes, tradition, culture, common tales and conviction were the product of the chiefs, magicians … the tribes’ seniors, the references.  The people’s adoption and peer selection then made sure only the best was passed on as a thumb up to the efforts of the elder, the ones who understood how important the tribe was. Grandma in other terms :) Tribes are the fundamental organizing units of information in our societies. Filtering it, selecting it, promoting it, sharing it and ultimately preserving it.

Funny that thumb up turned into a Facebook like today. Our modern culture-creating, tribe-building technology. And funny how opposable thumbs and Facebook likes seem to be more and more what defines us as human today :)

The flesh within

Antonin Artaud wrote somewhere that blood will drip if you plant a knife in your hand. And as obvious as this might seem, it is as foreign to our understanding as it can get. Are we getting too cerebral to understanding how physical we are ? Or have we always been ? A species too attracted by the beauty of the mind, the spirit and the world of thoughts that the body we live in ends up being a means of transportation. Think of the last time you thought about your body. The last time where, going up some stairs, you thought of your quadriceps under tension. Your breath, your heart and your blood.

As cerebral as we might get however, every single aspect of our existence is deeply physical. Here's to flesh

The physicality of memory

To create a memory, a certain protein structure needs to be created in the brain. When injected with a medical substance aimed at disrupting the creation of that protein while they are trying to remember something, they are suddenly incapable of learning. And that's where it gets really strange : Whenever a rat becomes an expert in a given field,  such as reacting in a certain way to a certain sound, if he is injected with a chemical at the very moment where he is about to use that skill, he will be unable to retrieve that. Only, it is only these memories he was trying to retrieve for his brain, at that very moment taht are affected. The rest of his memory and brain are intact. This means that the protein that encodes memory is encoded each time the rat tries to remember that particular skill.

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Anisomycine, the medicine used here, is also used with humans to erase bad memories and trauma at the moment where people are trying to remember them. What it does is that it hinders the encoding of these memory proteins. Sp each time the patient will try and remember that event, he will surely have a trace of it in his memory, only because the intensity of emotions at the level of tonsils is toned down, because he cannot recreate the memory with the same intensity, his memory is obscured and the trauma is lessened, Memory is a protein encoded at will and delivered when summoned. Memory is extremely physical. Remembrance is hence an act of creation ad professor Yadin Dudai from the Weizmann institute points out. He reaches the paradoxical conclusion that the most perfect memory is that of amnesic people for these do not create their memories. They have none.

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But going back to rats, I think the work of Ed Boyden is amazing. His approach to the mind is as physical as it gets: It omens the day where we'll be able to download our memories unto a hard drive:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hupHAPF1fHY]

What always amazed me about the technology of writing is that it single handedly engendered History. Our alphabets created our past. It gave birth to a physical trace we could now trace and recall. Writing is the encoding memory of our external acts, our memory as a civilization. Now the hardware is being upgraded and every single act it seems, every single decision has the potential to be engraved. Infinite memory is around the corner. Look at your Drop-box  your Facebook pictures. And if anything is missing there, go have a look at Google.

The physicality of ideas

But despite all my arguments pointing at a ever-expanding strive to ultimate remembrance, I don't think we value remembrance or memories that much. Because other senses prime. Because we are first and foremost experiential beings. Maya Baratz, senior product manager at ABC News says that experience and memory are interchangeable. That's wrong.  If you know you can go on on a vacation but won't have any trace of it later, you'll still go. Experience is superior to memory. And the reason I write this is that though the hardware is getting extremely useful at storing it all, this luxury of space doesn't mean that the software is changing : I don't believe evolution is or will ever be goal driven. What I mean is that : Evolution is. And that's all. The ultimate software that made us all doesn't aim to trace its footsteps. It doesn't have any plans in mind and I don't think there's an end goal to all of this.

Still we move forward. We invent and innovate. That doesn't mean the underlying software has a goal per se, other maybe than sustaining itself, in whatever ingenious way it can find. But as strange as that might sound : Innovation is a zero sum game. Bare with me. Need breeds innovation. Hunger made us carve our first tear-shaped stones. Hunger has been the single biggest driver of innovation on the scale of our species' History. Hunger is the ache to survive. It is this very fear of void that innovation aims to fill up.

"Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed." Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794)

Innovation is merely the transformation of a need into a means. Ideas start at a very physical level. Because we are experiential beings.

The physicality of reflection

Even at an emotional level, empathy is the physical impact of one's neurons on another person's neurons. Mirror neurons are physically affected to imprint a being with sympathy towards his fellow human. And these carve neural pathways to get to you. Extremely physical stuff these pathways ! They're the same you need to form in order to establish habits and the same you need to destroy through constant repetition to get rid of one. And the same pathways responsible for remembrance are also responsible for simulation and future projection. And who better It was Kahneman to put the fine line between experience and memory and liaise them with projections:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRlrBl-7Yg]

Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, basing his conclusion on work from memory researcher Daniel Schacter, who believes the construction of memory is very similar to the way we imagine the future :

We have argued recently that memory plays a critical role in allowing individuals to imagine or simulate events that might occur in their personal futures. We have further suggested that understanding memory's role in future event simulation may be important for understanding the constructive nature of memory, because the former requires a system that allows flexible recombination of elements of past experience, which may also contribute to memory errors.

There's this beautiful article that I simply can't sum up that traces the quantum nature of our minds. If you don't like system thinking, this is probably enough to get you hooked. How Hilbert mathematics end up finding an echo in behavioral economics is food for deep thought. Excuse the long except but it's amazing:

But the quantum world doesn't obey. When electrons or photons in a beam pass through the two slits, they act as waves and produce an interference pattern on the wall. The pattern with A and B open just isn't the sum of the two patterns with either A or B open alone, but something entirely different - one that varies as light and dark stripes.

Such interference effects lie at the heart of many quantum phenomena, and find a natural description in Hilbert's mathematics. But the phenomenon may go well beyond physics, and one example of this is the violation of what logicians call the "sure thing" principle. This is the idea that if you prefer one action over another in one situation - coffee over tea in situation A, say, when it's before noon - and you prefer the same thing in the opposite situation - coffee over tea in situation B, when it's after noon - then you should have the same preference when you don't know the situation: that is, coffee over tea when you don't know what time it is.

Remarkably, people don't respect this rule. In the early 1990s, for example, psychologists Amos Tversky and Eldar Shafir of Princeton University tested the idea in a simple gambling experiment. Players were told they had an even chance of winning $200 or losing $100, and were then asked to choose whether or not to play the same gamble a second time. When told they had won the first gamble (situation A), 69 per cent of the participants chose to play again. If told they had lost (situation B), only 59 per cent wanted to play again. That's not surprising. But when they were not told the outcome of the first gamble (situation A or B), only 36 per cent wanted to play again.

Classical logic would demand that the third probability equal the average of the first two, yet it doesn't. As in the double slit experiment, the simultaneous presence of two parts, A and B, seems to lead to some kind of weird interference that spoils classical probabilities.

The physicality of souls

This strange passage in Coelho's book Brida where a witch teaches Brida a trick involving a phone. Phones are amazingly new to our species. They separate the sound from the individual. Look at your doodles when you're on a call. Something in that call appeals to something beyond you. And if you got to this point of the post, you kind of deserve to get the word on this :

“No, no, the vision wasn’t a trick. The trick I’m referring to is the phone. For millions of years, we only ever spoke to someone we could see, then, in less than a century, ‘seeing’ and ‘speaking’ were suddenly separated. We think it’s quite normal now and don’t realize the huge impact it has on our reflexes. Our body still hasn’t got used to it.

“The practical result is that, when we speak on the phone, we often enter a state very similar to certain magical trances. Our mind tunes into another frequency and becomes more receptive to the invisible world. I know some witches who always keep a pen and paper by the phone, and while they’re talking to someone, they sit doodling apparently nonsensical things. When they hang up, though, they find that their ‘doodles’ are often symbols from the Tradition of the Moon.”

What needs to be grasped however is more subtle. And I do owe this to my friend Arne Dietrich. In a discussion Dietrich mentionned that in the brain's case, no computer metaphor does justice. Ever. Why ? Because in the brain's case : The software is the hardware. In the brain,  it's the routines and the iterations that end up mattering :

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syfalikXBLA]

And maybe it's the same for the simple small pleasures. when we understand it's these small smiles that make for a happier life, that it's not the big vacation or the two week holiday but the daily break that make for a full life just as it's the small accomplishments and the joy that comes with that that make for a life that even more perfect. Maybe when we understand that it's the marginal change that makes for an incremental variation, never the leap, never the jump as it passes by just as fast as it appeared. Sweat the details, spend time on the small stuff. That's what it means to live life in every breath.

The soup nature of creativity and the route to better thinking

There's an interesting thread to be explored between the nature of creativity and that of understanding. For the two emerge from the brain eventually. And one might give hints about the other. How our brains yield ideas should gives us clues about how it comprehends the world around us. But eventually, for the sake of simplicity, we need to find the single biggest determinant of how to think better.

Life = Soup

I probably owe this post to Steven Johnson and a quote from his book 'where ideas come from'

In a sense, dreams are the mind's primordial soup : the medium that facilitates the serendipitous collisions of creative insight. And hunches are like carbon atoms, seeking out new kinds of connections to help them build new chains and rings of innovation

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I think these two sentences single-handedly sum up the combinatorial nature of creativity and the importance of slowness when it comes to generating breakthroughs. In other terms, all ideas, be them the ones we pursue and that translate in hunches or the ones we don't, such as dreams, are the happy children of two eternal parents : Mix & Wait.

Sleep is a busy time, interweaving streams of thought with emotional values attached, as they fit or challenge the organizational structure of all this action, I believe is to regulate disturbing emotion in order to keep it from disrupting sleep and subsequent waking functioning

I read that in brain-pickings. I find it incredibly interesting how our sleeping body regulates to ensure we get rest. Yesterday night, the place where I was sleeping got really noisy and the person next to me started snoring as if to cover up the noise, hence ensuring an iron-clad sleep for one self and a sleepless night for me. But sleep is more than just about dreams and mental soups where thoughts and emotions meet and mate. I believe it was in brain-pickings that I read how some writers sleep their way out of a creativity block. Probably not because dreams might come out of it. Rather because the "wait" part is sacred when it comes to creativity and writers need to stop and get bored often so that ideas have the time to mix and mingle.

On earth at least, the story of life's creativity begins with a liquid, high-density network: connection-hungry carbon atoms colliding with other elements in the primordial soup

Johnson again. And as much as this quote conveys the importance of a proper environment where the right ingredients have been added, the alert reader will be reminded just how long it took for that primordial soup to yield new 'stuff'. How long intelligent life had to 'wait' until it came about.

Primordial Soup

Soup = Growth

Life itself is combinatorial. A constant ebb of mix and wait. And if you've had the thrilling chance to study combinatorial mathematics and see the astronomic numbers coming out of the simplest equations, you certainly realize how rich life's yield is. A constant lottery where so many numbers are created and so many are ditched. And moving from creativity to understanding, it's strange that we often perceive life as an axis. One that starts in a hot boiling geyser somewhere near the hemisphere. And looking at that axis, it is interesting to see how instrumental time is in our understanding of life. In an article in Science about how thermodynamics is today being considered a candidate for a unifying theory of everything in Physics, one could read :

A process such as dissolved dye molecules forming themselves into a clump offends our sensibilities because it appears to amount to running time backwards as much as anything else, although the real objection is that it decreases entropy

Time is synonymous of disorder. An egg can go from a whole state to a broken state. There is no way on Earth it could go from the latter to the former however. And that movement is defined by entropy. Put simply, it is the universe's tendency to grow, on every imaginable level. In the example of the egg, state 1 is 'whole' (1 possibility), state 2 is either 'broken' or 'whole' (2 possibilities). This urge to grow is so fundamental to the universe that scientists are considering thermodynamics and entropy as the basis of a new holistic approach to physics.

ab230924-fa4d-9eac-5e5e8d5152c227b1_32

Put these two speculative relations together with standard, undisputed connections between entropy, temperature, kinetic energy and velocity, and it is possible to construct a quantity that mathematically looks like gravity, but is defined in terms of entropy. Such theories, which are by no means universally accepted, suggest that when bodies fall together it is not the effect of a separate fundamental force called gravity, but because the heating that results best fulfills the thermodynamic diktat that entropy in the universe must always increase.

In other terms, no general relativity no bla-bla, if a body falls once it goes up it is because its energy expenditure needs to go up. It needs to actuate its entropy in other terms. But the most interesting part comes about later.

Maxwell's problem was with life.  Living things deliberately do things to other things to make life easier for themselves.  Conceivably, they might try to reduce the entropy of their surroundings and thereby violate the second law.  Such a possibility is highly disturbing to physicists.  Either something is a universal law or it is merely a cover for something deeper.  Yet it was only in the late 1970s that Maxwell's entropy-fiddling "demon" was laid to rest.  Its slayer was the US physicist Charles Bennett, who built on work by his colleague at IBM, Rolf Landauer, using the theory of information developed a few decades earlier by Claude Shannon.  An intelligent being can certainly rearrange things to lower the entropy of its environment.  But to do this, it must first fill up its memory, gaining information as to how things are arranged in the first place.

This acquired information must be encoded somewhere, presumably in the demon's memory. When this memory is finally full, or the being dies or otherwise expires, it must be reset. Dumping all this stored, ordered information back into the environment increases entropy – and this entropy increase, Bennett showed, will ultimately always be at least as large as the entropy reduction the demon originally achieved. Thus the status of the second law was assured, albeit anchored in a mantra of Landauer's that would have been unintelligible to the 19th-century progenitors of thermodynamics that "information is physical."

06Maxwell's demon

How beautiful is that ? We as a species always interact with our environment in that manner. We try to control its entropy. The uncertainty it might yield.  So how exactly do we achieve that ?

Growth = Bits

We build walls and cities to keep the wilderness and danger of nature away from us. And even our need for understanding is actually a need to lower entropy. When confronted with a massive amount of information or more interestingly an information cluster that grows at a rapid pace, our reaction is to build tools and models to try and control it. We have 'bookmark' apps today to organize and store the ever-increasing web in a neat format we can grab and comprehend. But it's not a new phenomenon. We created religions and systems of beliefs, saints and messiahs, to simplify what is singular and alien to our understanding. Limit it to attain an understanding.

The Fermi paradox is a beautiful mental experiment that models this chunk-ing process. Though I think it has holes in it but still. Here's a small courtesy of Wikipedia :

The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity's lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations. The basic points of the argument, made by physicists Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart, are:

  1. The Sun is a young star. There are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older;
  2. Some of these stars likely have Earth-like planets which, if the Earth is typical, may develop intelligent life;
  3. Presumably some of these civilizations will develop interstellar travel, a technology Earth is investigating even now;
  4. At any practical pace of interstellar travel, the galaxy can be completely colonized in just a few tens of millions of years.

According to this line of thinking, the Earth should have already been colonized, or at least visited. But no convincing evidence of this exists. Furthermore, no confirmed signs of intelligence elsewhere have been spotted, either in our galaxy or the more than 80 billion other galaxies of the observable universe. Hence Fermi's question "Where is everybody?".

the_search

Seriously! Where is everybody ? Keep in mind however this is much more a thought experiment than an actual outcry against the fact aliens seem not to want to talk to us.  The Drake equation gives a clearer idea of the Fermi Paradox in that sense by saying : the whole paradox is simply a way to organize our ignorance. His equation actually breaks down the problem into a series of unknown chunks. "Organizing our ignorance", in other terms breaking down our problems into size-able (or maybe computable chunks), should be a major focus today. Can we use the web to do that ? Can we build a machine ? Google is organizing the world's information. Who's organizing our ignorance. Organizing the world's ignorance is much more useful it seems as it outlines the steps for any problem's solution. Our new machine would break down all our problems into size-able chunks people can take on and start resolving. There is still no automated way to do that.

The reason why this is important emerges when you familiarize with Gestalt psychology's. One of the fundamental laws of this descriptive approach of the human mind is the law of proximity. It states that we perceive objects that are near each other as forming groups.

Gestalt_proximity.svg

If you look at the illustration above, you'll see three distinct groups of points on the right and one big group on the left. Now you're thinking it's obvious. But is it ? Why the hell is it this way ? Why don't we conceive of the three groups as two, one made out of two double row groups and one made out of a single double row group ? Gestalt however is a purely descriptive theory. "Why" is not a concern. It is however quite informative as to the nature of our understanding.

Bits = Story

"The universe is made of stories, not atoms" wrote poet Muriel Rukeyser. We build our world upon meshes, links, explanatory narratives. That is the reason why we're amazed by theories of everything, because these are stories in a way, more complete, more satisfying to our subconscious than granular explanations and separate theories. We like things to go from point A to point B or at least point A to be related to point B when they have something in common. "Proximity justifies similarity" said Malcolm Gladwell. Hence Gestalt's law of proximity. I've been obsessed by this saying for a long time. In a way it reminds me of "birds of a feather flock together" only it makes you wonder whether it's because they're of a feather that they flock together or rather that it's because they flock together that they end up being of a feather.

But I digress. Stories are the lattice on which our understanding is built but from the reasoning above, now we realize that they come about because we chop life into understandable chunks. Stories are much more a Lego construction where similar building blocks end up next to each other (Gestalt's law of proximity) than a ready-made thread we stick over the things we encounter. And it's no wonder we've grown fond of stories and ended up being good at producing them. We like links and meshes not because they're more elegant. Aesthetics have no business here. But rather because they've allowed us to transmit knowledge and survive. They were easier to memorize and transmit. As Peter Cosgrave points out : "Facts tell. stories sell". Let me ponder later upon whether that quote was really necessary :)

Story = Meta

If you've done some programming in your life, you might have heard of Booleans. These are not simple information but rather 'orders' you write in programming language for computers to execute. They herd several bits of data. They're meta-data in a way. And just as Booleans are essential to any program, meta-cognition is crucial to our brain functioning  Thinking about thinking, which some might call philosophy, is the bird's eye view that allows to visualize and understand what has been happening. Information is meaningless without a meta-level view. Meta yields meaning. And that is why stories are important. They are once removed from reality. They live at another level.

Artificial Intelligence brings an interesting light to the reflection here. Scientists trying to reverse engineer the brain have thought deeply about the brain's functioning. Vicarious for example is a company trying to replicate vision. In a talk at Singularity summit, they use a great metaphor on how the Wright brothers did not try to replicate a bird's dynamics to accomplish flight. There were other fundamental principles that needed to be leveraged. And Gestalt psychology comes to mind again as human perception is focused on the whole rather than the parts and uses laws such as the law of proximity and similarity to perceive things. So why not use the same rules to make computers see as humans do.

Another abstract example is willpower. Maybe you don't need to replicate the whole human system (brain, neurons, emotions and bla-bla) to achieve that and all you really need to see is that willpower behaves like a muscle in that it will develop under tension but will crash when chronically used. This is a constructivism, structuralism and holistism (if these words even exist).

funny-baby-thinking-old-photograph

Life = ... = Meta

I've been wondering lately whether perfectionism was baked into us for evolutionary purposes. Whether it was an evolutionary advantage. And I've heard this TED talk lately about how beauty is not in the eye of the beholder but rather something much more universal than we might have thought since we all share some common reference points when it comes to beauty. The Mona Lisa is the low hanging fruit. Models and stars aren't contrary to what you might think. Attractive body composition has changed throughout centuries. Maybe the more food became abundant, the more skinny girls became attractive for example. Why ? In times of scarcity, fat signals opulence and fortune. Hence, a fat or well-rounded person was a well-off person with whom the prospects of mating would yield an evolutionary advantage for one's offspring.

But I digress. Why talk about perfectionism ? Mainly to introduce obsessiveness as it feels the latter is a manifestation of the former or vice versa. And obsessiveness, among other things includes tidying things up in a single place. Maybe to have a better bird's eye view on where one is. Maybe just because boxes look much better when put in other boxes that you then organize in one other big box. And put in the corner of the room ... Next to that other box there.

And what I'm trying to get to here is that it all starts with obsession. An unshakable conviction. A purpose that's so inherent it's become the very scent of your soul. A consistent manic to collect what one sees around. Showing up over and over. Take it in as bits. Build it up as stories. Let it  rest for some time and see small ideas and stories combine and yield big ideas. Obsession. Collection. Creation. Comprehension ... Obsession. A constant abstraction of Life. Onward and upward. The secret to thinking better seems to be working out i.e. thinking more and more often.

Creative droughts and ego shakes

What flares creativity ? Large question. But no need to over-think this here. A walk by Brainpickings blog will make clear the combinatorial nature of creativity. And lately, a review of a book about getting out of the creative block featured one interesting creative booster : random combination. Open a magazine, pick a picture. Launch Spotify, choose a song. Take a pen, start doodling and mix the 3. The picture, the song and that childiah sketch. And your mind awakens as if you opened a door shut for too lomg. Another work-around creativity however is to read all your little random notes again. Another form of random combination. Reading through your parsed ideas will spark a new one. And for many authors, the eternal side booklet has probably been a salvation in times of mental hardship and creative drought. There lies my argument. For back to the point about what flares creativity and looking at the importance of that booklet, one grasps the importance of jotting down these ideas whenever they occur. And for one to pull out his phone or booklet each time one has an idea, there is a pre-condition : taking oneself seriously. Ego. Ego flares creativity.

Paula Scher

If I get up every day with the optimism that I have the capacity for growth, then that's success for me.

Culinary colonialism

It seems Colonel Sanders' Fried Chicken speciality has set foot well in China ! This is a formidable article about how Chicken conquered the world and continues to do so.image

Why Blank Ballots are the Real-world Equivalent of Facebook Likes

For a long time now, I've been convinced that blank ballot is the legitimate president of this world. Ivan Krastev has a heavy accent and a heavy idea to illustrate this :

[ted id=1547]

Democracy + Trust =

His talk is a complete questioning of democracy in our era. Only 18% of Italians and 15% of Greeks today believe that their vote matters. And I doubt that the trend is exclusively Mediterranean. Krastev concludes that “Trust in our democratic institutions is dwindling”.

Only the rationale doesn't stand. In all likelihood, never did the majority of a population believe that its vote mattered. This is probably less true in times of elections when our minds are draped in motivational speeches, of course. I remember feeling my vote mattered when Obama was running for his first presidency, though I couldn’t possibly vote for him. Many people actually got inspired (draped) by these speeches, to the extent that a website was launched to pick votes from around the world for Obama and McCain. Obama won of course. Head to this website to vote for either Obama or Romney now, whatever your nationality.

So it doesn't seem like a question of trust in our institutions. To be clear, the reason why people feel their votes don’t matter is not because they don’t. I believe a vote does count. This is not a lottery. A vote can change a nation. So that’s that. But what I’d like to do here is to go beyond introspection and actually understand why people state their votes don’t matter.

Trust + Information =

Krastev does an interesting job listing the milestones that have led to our modern view of democracy :

  • 1968 : Individuals position themselves at the center of politics. We see the rise of a culture of non-conformism. Only this very period destroys the feeling of a collective purpose. Nation, class, family are notions under attack. And it's difficult to engage people in politics when they believe that what truly matters is where they personally stand.
  • 1980s : The market revolution sends the message that governments is not the always the solution. It drives the rise of choice-driven societies. However, this is also a time where inequality increases. Until the 1970s, The spread of democracy had always been accompanied by a decline in inequality, now it's the reverse : Spread of democracy is accompanied with the increase of inequality. Here's a graph by Paul Krugman showing the share of income owned by the top 1% to prove it :

  • 1989 : Fall of the Berlin wall and end of the cold war. Only Krastev sees this as the period that teared up the social contract between the elite and the rest of the people. The latter have no more control over the former and the former don't fear the latter anymore. The currently trending "transparency" (that I'll discuss later) has been one way to make up for that situation.
  • 1990s : The Internet revolution brought about all the goodies we know. However, as we've also come to realize, the Internet created echo chambers and political clusters. It is more and more difficult to understand the people who are not like you since you're surrounded by like-minded people and familiar opinions.
  • 2000s : The revolution in brain sciences is a bliss. But it's been seen by politicians as a way to manipulate the emotions of people. One great contributor to that trend is Edward Bernays, author of "The engineering of consent".

Looking at these historical pivot points, I'm reminded of Jaan Tallinn's speech at Singularity University. One of Skype's founders, he talks about level 3 people and level 3 causes. These are issues whose outcome influences society as a whole. In his view, tackling these issues feels more and more peripheral to most of us, though it should be central. Is it due to the rise of individualism we've mentioned ?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84G6An1Ff2E]

I don't believe so. The reason we've departed from these issues is the same that's making the blank ballots the legitimate presidents of this world. Put simply, we don't feel concerned. But this is the obvious tip of the iceberg. Deep down, there was a time where we did feel concerned. This whole discussion is a reminiscence of that lost age. And transparency might be our way of getting another feel of it.

Information + Control =

Krastev mentions that transparency is back at the center of politics but makes it clear that transparency is not about restoring trust in politics today. Rather, transparency is a political way of managing mistrust. It might look like saying the same thing twice but what this means is that transparency is a solution to a problem, not an improvement within the system. Krastev gives an example towards the end of his talk, one of a small country where the prime minister decided to make his ministers' talk publicly available 24 hours after they happened. When interviewed, he said it was the best way for them to keep their mouth shut.

Transparency limits the possibility for conjectures. No more guess-work about the government's next steps. People don’t stipulate about a government’s possible decisions anymore. Transparency in a way limits informational entropy. And limiting enthropy is a way to limit the size of a system. A way to make it more manageable and hence easier to control. But why do we need the system to be smaller to be able to control it ? What human feature does it relate to ? And looking at all the above, this is an attempt to restore what's been lost when the 150 person tribe turned into a village and grew into a city. How do you solve this ? Do you find a way to make countries smaller ? Is transparency really the way to do so ?

Control + Size =

The problem is not that our politicians can’t control the country anymore. It’s rather that each and every one of us can’t. This is the culprit. We, each one of us, are not once not twice, but infinitely removed from the decision making point. The actual yes / no moment that impacts our collective being. And that is the curse of big societies. Think of how this remoteness to the decision point compares to our primal tribes. Think of how far we are from the time where our voice actually mattered not because it was meaningful, not because it was consequential but for the sheer reason that the group was simply too small to ignore it. The group in its entirety could literally hear me shout then.

What has been destructive to society is the distance that's grown between the individual and consequential decision. Democracy is a mascarade of what detribalisation led to. If the Dunbar number means anything, this must be it : It  illustrates that very existential malaise. Dunbar, as many know, theorized that meaningful relationships cannot be built in a group exceeding 150 person in the human species. His major input was a correlation between the size of the brain of a given mammal species and its group size. In 150 person group, the individual can still influence the direction the community decides to take. At 500, with no exceptional oratory skills, he has no way of doing so. Demosthenes and the importance of the mastery of oratory arts in ancient Greece are a reminder of this constant attempt to retrieve power over one's destiny. How so ? Because one's destiny is so closely related to that of others and influencing the group through words, through eloquence, can influence its destiny. Politics is about eloquence. Obama's success goes on to prove that.

That is proof that distance between us and the decision point ends up uninteresting us in all collective issues. The rise of individualism only seems natural then. Bigger societies don't enable us to relate to and realize our interdependence. On the contrary they lead us to center on our selves. And to go back to voting, it's only natural that the bigger the community, the more it seems like a profoundly absurd act. This is why people feel more engaged about municipal elections in small cities than national ones. Their voice matters more comparatively. In big cities, people don't care either way. The voting process looks like a hoarded lottery. Worse, it feels useless compared to a lottery. When the group gets bigger, just as when information input gets larger, it becomes harder to be near the decision making point. People end up in the periphery. Some try to stay involved. Some fail to do so. They actually won't even try. And this very display is bound to produce free riders.

Size + Efficiency =

The free rider problem is a situation where an individual or a group of individuals is reaping the benefits of the group's cooperation and bringing no value to the table. It's a pure weight, an absolute write-off : x output, 0 input. It's a drain on the system. I don't know whether evolution has developped a way to find and eliminate free riders. Come and think of it, it feels as if free riders don't exist in efficient systems actually. Why ? Well, think of nature's free riders : parasites. They're actually essential to the ecosystem. In a sense they're not free riders, they do have a certain x input. This is probably the reason why they and the systems they belong to are still around. Maybe systems where real free riders (o input) got the upper hadn didn't even make it this far and aren't here anymore to show us what a self-destructive mechanism looks like. Here's the super-sized flea that developed to feed off dinosaurs for example :

So when we put in place systems to sustain free riders - people bringing 0 input - are we setting ourselves up for failure ? Unemployment benefits comes to mind of course. And the answer is no, at least in my opinion. These are investments. A trusting belief in the human ability to rise and thrive. But does this rationale stand true just as much in the short, medium and long term however ? No. Because the constituents of every system have the power to change behavior on the one hand and because, just like evolution, we are lazy and will always look to reap maximal gains for a minimal effort. In all scenarios, the free rider problem prevents the virality of action and the full power of impact. Things don't spread as well when you have dead weight hanging.

Efficiency + Impact =

In one of his TED talks, Jonathan Haidt says that "If a group cannot solve the free-rider problem then it cannot reap the benefits of cooperation and group selection cannot get started".  And one wonders whether our latest platform of evolution, namely the Internet, can contribute to that solution. A Nielsen study shows increasing trust in online ads mainly due to the social dimension that's been infused in them. Friends' recommendations spreading around the web are making us more trustful. Does that mean we're reducing the scale of the web ? Are we reforming our tribes thanks to social networks pervasiveness ?

In The Edge's last edition, June Cohen writes about  primal tribes reconstitution thanks to the web. As if we had finally found a way to go back to our initial configuration. The 150 person group we longed for. But that's wrong. Not because you have 2000 friends on Facebook but rather because the Internet does not allow for the same interaction as real life does. The biological side of it lacks. And that is a one major side. We are more than brains. And that's where the idea of Web 0.0 comes in.

This is the experience a friend of mine had with his organization: Make Sense. A Facebook for good-doers and social entrepreneurs to take action. What he discovered is that you can't inspire action solely online. You need to be on the ground. For a group to be optimally efficient, free of free riders, its members need to know each other and more importantly to meet each other. That is the ultimate way to limit information entropy : see the other person, shake his hand, look him in the eye, see him at work.

Our relationship with technology and especially communication technology is still in its infancy. There's still an immaturity to it. Where will it head however ? What will it eventually end up looking like ? This is an interesting question. It echoes another : Do we divert our use of a given tool to fulfill a need we have as a society ? Does a tool evolve to answer a question that's bugging us or to solve a problem that's immobilizing us ? Or is its evolution shaped by a more random process ?

= ?

Whatever the answer, there's a lot the almighty tech can't do. And one needs to get back in the field. Back to Web 0.0. One of my favorite quotes is a saying by Ted Roosevelt :

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never tasted victory or defeat.”

The blank ballot is the SOS in a bottle of our era. It is the underlying equation to the sum I've tried to draw throughout this article with an equation : Democracy + Trust + Information + Control + Size + Efficiency + Impact. Web 0.0 is the place we need to go back to so as to enable our communities to be optimally efficient, away from the big haze the Internet throws over action attempts. Democracy, to our societies, represents that same overarching supra-structure the Internet has become for our communities : in many ways, it's beneficial but it distances us from the decision point and hence leads us to inaction. In many ways, the blank ballot is the "Like" you leave to a status when there are too many comments for yours to matter.