Millennial Meditations (3/3)

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Media and Communication

Fallacies and Mental Models

Fallacies are errors in logic; visit Wikipedia for a comprehensive list. If you enjoy learning about fallacies, search Farnam Street on Google; I particularly recommend their mental models section.

Understanding and spotting logical fallacies will reduce the risk of being manipulated by irrational and deceitful individuals; politicians and social activists are the most egregious offenders in daily life.; they’ll use strawmans, red herrings, and draw misguided causes from minimal correlation. Whenever an individual paints with a broad brush, generally, a false claim will follow; e.g., back in June, 2015, during his campaign days, Donald Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He knows that the majority of immigrants are decent, hard working people, but he opts for inflammatory language because it resonates with his base, and it ruffles the fuck out of liberal’s feathers. Discerning individuals can spot the absurdities in a politician’s statements, but loyalists are apt to adopt the beliefs of their party’s spokesman. 

In 1928, Edward Bernays published Propaganda, a self promotion piece, which also included his moral views on propaganda. The opening paragraph begins,

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Bernays worked diligently to remove the stigma from the term propaganda, but as we know today, he failed. However, modern marketers and political organizations are well aware of his contributions. Bernays was the man who made smoking cigarettes cool and subsequently campaigned against them when the science regarding the harm became incontrovertible. Also, while working for a piano company, he convinced Americans to build music rooms knowing they would purchase pianos to fill them. 

Bernays was several steps ahead of the consumer; priming them for consumption, and then providing the product. If I search for a bed or have a conversation about beds—the next day, while scrolling through Instagram—I see advertisements for beds. The only guaranteed solution to avoid the lure of marketing is to avert our gaze.

Information Overload

What does it mean to be an informed citizen: do we need to know our representatives, foreign policy affairs, and the current social climate? 

There’s no satisfactory response for what constitutes valuable information. I err on the side of limited exposure to media corporations; preferring to skim the headlines, then diving into areas of personal interest. Modern media thrives on ratings, “If it bleeds, it leads”; especially local news; I would include inflammatory speech as well. 

Our two party system, in conjunction with our specie’s habit of oversimplifying complex issues; has provided free range for media companies to cater events towards their demographic’s preferences. Every news station actively vilifies their opponents and foments an atmosphere of distrust — causing otherwise rational people to foam at the mouth. I look forward to the day when we can take a step back; observe media sources from a less biased perspective; and analyze the information in an objective manner. Families and friends are at each other’s necks because of political issues, and yet, few take any initiative to affect change. Staying informed is important, but cooler heads always prevail.Media and citizens would benefit from an open dialogue regarding key issues—instead of the status quo spoon-feeding; Twitter could serve this function, but it lacks output from dissenting opinions. Consuming facts and rallying around our favorite media sources is only the first step towards becoming an informed citizen. After consumption, we need to scrutinize the facts, and search for opposing viewpoints; because every coin has two sides.

TMI

Social media has connected society in unimaginable ways, and while they aren’t a substitute for interpersonal relationships, internet-based friendships are genuine (excluding fake personas). 

Striking a balance between immediacy and the infinite amount of information is crippling users, and less fortunate observers are converted to hedonistic voyeurists. Also, each search is fueling massive data dumps, which results in increasingly intuitive suggestions. Unexamined individuals are helpless when faced with algorithmically-adapted advertisements. The line between our wants and needs is already blurry, and the future looks bleak. 

Social media is a double-edged sword—if you don’t use it, you will be ostracized by your peers—if you do use it, you will risk irrevocably exposing your identity to exploitative advertisers. Eventually, hyper-active users will be reconstructed and downloaded by pop culture fanatics. I fear that our ideals and values will be eroded from sustained social media usage, but I refuse to demonize communication technologies. Eventually, governments will be forced to pass laws stipulating what kinds of data can be procured by tech companies, and how the data can be used; if profits are the only motivation for these companies, I fear the worst.

Apollo Plantae

My uncle gave me a plant for my garden; I’m digging a hole in the new pot, and clearing the soil around the edges of the old one.

To my brother, “Turn on the hose.” 

Plants need to be watered vigorously after transplanting. 

The sides of the root ball are nearly cleared. I inspect the transplant hole again. I probably won’t have enough room to lower my hands in, so I tell my uncle, “Widen the hole.” 

He demurs and says, “Just drop it in,” and proceeds to scrape the edges with indifference. 

I kneel down to grab what I hope is the bottom of the root ball, and lift up; the plant ascends from the bucket like an Apollo rocket; I waddle over to the transplant hole, and kneel down with both hands around the root ball — my fear is confirmed — the hole isn’t big enough to gently set it down. I complain and protest, meanwhile, the bottom half of the root ball crumbles. 

I yell, “It won’t fit!”

My uncle retorts, “Just drop it!” 

I release it. 

*THUD* 

I fill the space around the root ball; water extensively, and curse profusely.

I thought about the situation later, and realized that I made an irresponsible assumption. I assumed my uncle knew as much as I did about preserving a root system. From my perspective, roots are similar to the legs and mouths of humans; they support the lower half of the plant and uptake a majority of its essential nutrients; ideally, transplanting does minimal damage to the root system, and only delays growth for a day or two. My transplant was botched. 

A lot of communication problems occur because of false assumptions. Effective communication requires accepted definitions, a basic knowledge of cultural idiosyncrasies, patience, attentive listening skills, and humility to bridge the knowledge gap. Next time, I will explain myself better, and if they don’t listen, I’ll do it myself.

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

Without language, higher level reasoning and understanding wouldn’t be possible. However, even language is limited by the symbols we use to define phenomenon. This becomes apparent when studying the discrepancies between descriptive and prescriptive grammar: descriptivists consider a native speakers’ colloquialisms as “correct” grammar; in other words, rules accommodate everyday usage—whereas the prescriptive grammar camp defines the terms, and then expects everyone to adopt their definitions; they’re more of the tight-ass types (AKA grammar Nazis). From these definitions, we can begin to comprehend why language is an imperfect vehicle for communication. The methodology for defining words is one of the first obstacles, but then there’s gradations among words. Consciousness, is one example of a word with myriad definitions, each varying among fields of study, in addition to intrafield variation. The consciousness example highlights the inherent limitations of language when trying to describe phenomena outside the realm of empirical observation; although we can see “consciousness” using an fMRI — the underlying qualities remain a mystery. Language is evolving to accommodate modern day usages, sometimes for the better, but the dilution and evolution of certain words will undoubtedly diminish their original application; creating a need for new words.

It Doesn’t Hurt

My father jokes fearlessly,

sometimes they falls flat; 

then he asks for something free

“If you don’t, you won’t receive.”

Agape y Frappes

Love. One of the most overused words in the English language. The colloquial use pertains to food, as in “I love pizza”; significant others; the weather — and despite its flippant usage among millennials, divorce rates are declining, so maybe the word doesn’t matter. However, the phenomenological experience of love is worth discussing.

Affection, altruism, empathy, and bonding are integral to healthy relationships; and Love encompasses all of them.  A parent will sacrifice their life to save their child; we cry when Leonardo DiCaprio sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic in Titanic; and capuchin monkey’s oxytocin levels spike following fur-rubbing and grooming (oxytocin, a neuropeptide, has been heralded as the “bonding” hormone … recent research has revealed insidious, context dependent effects).

Are there gradations of love? Will the feelings associated with the term lose their weight? Maybe someone really does love pizza or frappes as much as their child — pizza never pooped itself or cried incessantly (yet, avid coffee drinkers know a thing or two about pooping themselves 😂). The same can be said for hate — if it becomes easier to loosely categorize affiliations, what prevents an individual from loving or hating everything?

Self-Care

Everyone wants trust in their relationships (platonic and intimate); yet most are reluctant to express their feelings — hasty responses are needy — displaying indifference is ideal. 

If trust is the desired outcome, I fail to comprehend how deception and obfuscation will lead there. What was dating like before cell phones? was something lost from the shift in communication?

Individuals commingle, form bonds, and hope they stick; but statistics show that the success rate of life-long relationships are about as good as a coin flip. Most people aren’t ready for intimate relationships; sometimes we just want someone to cuddle with during the winter; so we allow creatures to crawl over with their half-baked philosophies and unload their baggage; but when the snow melts, we’re stuck with a pile of crap. 

There isn’t enough self-care and adherence to “The Simple Things.” The average citizen looks emaciated, bloated, or zombified; and we still sleep with them. When an individual possesses glaring neuroses, it’s only a matter of time before it works to the forefront; a shrink could help, but psychiatrists are generally only successful when sought by the individual in need. Before seeking a relationship, take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Would I want to date me?” Anything short of “Yes, absolutely!” should send you back to the drawing board. 

Relationships function best when the strengths of one individual offset the weaknesses of the other. If one person is terrible with money, but their partner is an accountant, they’re covered. However, if one person is overweight and prediabetic, and the other is ambivalent—they’re probably headed downhill—hopefully they don’t trip. 

There’s no formula for a perfect relationship; at best, we’re malleable and possess a surplus of patience—stay away from partners who turn the mundane into a murky quagmire. It takes time to be the best version of ourselves, and a little bit longer to find our other half to complete the whole. Relationships and dating should be fun; there should be growth and learning on both sides (especially when they fail); friends and family can provide perspective; maybe an ex can give some advice too; just be prepared to listen when the time comes; and always, always, trust your heart. 

My Earliest Memory

My mom is giving me a bath in our pink bathtub. Everything is going great. Rub-a-dub-dub playin’ wit’ ducky in da tub. Then, I look at my hands.

Oh my God. Why do my hands look like this?

“Waaaaaaaaaaah!”

My mom attempts to assuage me, but it’s my grandfather who rescues me with his soothing whisper. He passed away when I was in elementary school, but through this memory, I feel as if there’s some resonance of him — his Portuguese accent and soft tone are still audible. Yet, I’m unable to conjure his face in this early childhood scene; instead, I overlay a gray silhouette. 

Daniel Kahneman’s peak-end rule is one of many theories which elucidate the fickle nature of memory; the thrust is, “people judge an experience based on how they felt at the peak excitation, and at the end (e.g., its most intense points); rather than the sum total.” Therefore, a memory is compressed, and when it’s recalled, the highest “peaks or valleys” will determine whether or not it’s remembered positively or negatively. 

The initial peak of my memory was when I noticed my pruney fingers, but what was the second peak? Presumably, the soothing voice of my grandfather. I have positive associations with this memory now, but I cannot remember if this was always the case. Part of me believes I’ve stored this memory in response to his sudden passing; a subconscious scavenging and preserving of all things labeled “Grandpa Freitas.” 

Our memories are fragmented and skewed. We should be thankful for these gaps — a condition called hyperthymesia, allows individuals to store and recollect massive amounts of memories. Instead of happily living in the present, individuals with hyperthymesia are often paralyzed by their past. Forgetting things is our brain’s way of clearing space and preserving attention for the present. Psychoanalysts delve into minds to unearth traumas and deep seated truths—recollecting blissful moments is an inexpensive alternative. 

I remember my dad lifting me on his shoulders at some theme park. I reflect on the pain it would cause me to do the same (I have chronic back pain). Then, my favorite quote by Isaac Newton comes to me, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” 

Tears well up, and all of my qualms and worries wash away.

Finally, there’s a benefit for optimism and finding silver-linings. Framing our experiences and viewing events through a positive lens might be the difference between remembering an event for the positive lesson, as opposed to the negative (every negative value has its positive counterfactual). Just because someone wrongs us doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust others, instead, recalibrate for the individual. Empathizing with others and giving them the benefit of the doubt is the ideal, but we must preserve our peace of mind in the process. Blind optimists will be taken advantage of and tripped by duplicitous individuals. Avoiding toxic relationships is crucial for a successful and fulfilling life.

Synecdoche

I’m at Ardenwood Historic Farm with Ariel; the weather is overcast, slightly chilly, but enjoyable. There’s a plethora of greenery, and the trees are shedding their orangish-yellow leaves. The fall transition usually passes by unnoticed, but Walter Isaacson’s, Leonard Da Vinci has influenced my perception of nature. 

I know that a leaf is composed of the same DNA as the tree, but I look at the leaf as if it is less. All too often I find myself seeking some grand spectacle—and losing sight of the beauty contained in the constituent parts; I form perceptions of people based on their appearance—and miss the beautiful details contained within. 

We should embrace our distinctions: an individualized collection of experiences, mixed with our unique biochemistry. But instead, we try to adapt to society; dressing and acting in accordance with what others want us to be — strangers to our true selves.

Despite being surrounded by millions of people, individuals living in high population density areas feel increasingly lonely. A true understanding of the self requires isolation. Never pity the person who wanders alone, they’re on the path to connect with the whole, a lone leaf among the trees of Ardenwood.

Regression to the Mean

Music can be harmonious: 

ameliorating aesthetically with 

each additional input — 

elevating the experience for

performers and patrons alike. 

So, the less ti-talented 

musicians ruin it for everyone.

‘Tis Nobler to Allow Suffering for Cheap Smartphones?

Discontinuities arise when operating from a solipsistic perspective: there’s the individual, a single point; immediate family and friends, a small cluster; our local community; statesmen; countrymen; and the remainder of humanity (not to mention animals, fungi, plants, etc.). An action in one domain will either detract from, or stagnate progress in another—our expectations for these various perspectives will cause dissonance throughout life—eventually, an individual has to acquiesce to the insurmountable task of satisfying all of the preceding paradigms, or risk paralysis. 

The disconnect is problematic from an economic perspective, because it begs the question, how should we use scarce resources? A smartphone is a prime example of a tool that we expect people in our locality to possess, and the lack thereof would lead to ridicule and an inability to communicate and navigate effectively. However, manufacturing and production occurs outside the United States, so deplorable working conditions and avaricious resource gathering methodologies are overlooked. Undoubtedly, our desire to possess a smartphone isn’t intended to harm others in less regulated countries, but that doesn’t change the results. 

A “consume local goods” trend has emerged to combat the aforementioned exploitation; a noble gesture for sure, but when the factories go under, sweatshop worker’s economic mobility will sink too. To be, or to buy smartphones?

Ode to The Judge

Humans: boundless beings. 

Yet, most forsake their worth; 

blindly fumbling and fleeing — 

Sorry souls, roaming the Earth.

False walls become obstacles; 

who placed them there?

Bust the blocks, blow em’ over,

free the mind from its shackles;

sickening, suffocating,,,tears.

Success is there, I assure: 

 

embrace Ignorance, 

follow Curiosity’s call, 

take a chance, Dance…

Lost Bug?

A mosquito-esque creature crawled on the previous page. Now it’s on my thumb — I raise my hand for a closer look; it’s antennae are barely visible against the backdrop of my mahogany desk. I place my hand on the page again, it flies away … and it’s back. 

Is it lost? what will it eat? what does it eat? is it looking for friends, fresh air, or is it perfectly content keeping me company? is it possible to be lost? even if I’m blindfolded and driven into the middle of the jungle; would I be lost?I’d still be on Earth, it would be foreign for sure, but nothing prevents me from Being; from enjoying the experience as an adventure. At least until the mosquitoes eat me.

Paul the Polymath

Michael Pollan’s, “How to Change Your Mind” is engrossing! He references a man named Paul Stamets several times. Stamets is a mycologist (fungi expert), with dozens of fungi patents; e.g., he engineered a strain of beauveria bassiana to desecrate ant colonies: the fungus infects an ant, and once infected, it bypasses the colony’s security detection—because Stamet’s strain has a delayed response—climbs to an elevated area above the colony, then, a mushroom explodes from its head and launches its spores everywhere. 

Stamets is a polymath with invaluable knowledge. If psychedelic mushroom (entheogens) research doesn’t become legal soon, we’re at risk of ostracizing some of our greatest philosophical and scientific minds. Hiding from drugs will never bring about progress; we need a radical change in thought.

The effects of these transcendental experiences are incalculable; empowering healthy individuals could spur economic creativity (Jobs, Gates, Huxley, Pollan, Stamets, and a host of others have benefitted from using LSD and psilocybin). It’s unfortunate that their history has been muddied by institutions which prefer a disillusioned mass. 

Exponential growth necessitates exponential innovation.

Utilitarian Utopia

Geoffrey West, author of Scale, draws parallels between vascular systems in humans and metropolitan infrastructure. The relation between the two—they both optimize as they grow. The internodes in cities (e.g., gas stations) are more efficiently spaced than in rural settings.

Also, the effects of exponential population growth have resulted in an increase in economic factors (e.g., patents, income, and GDP), and an increase in undesirable sociological factors (e.g., crime).

A square inch of organic soil can contain miles of mycelia, packed into a space-saving fractal pattern; similar to arteries and veins in mammals. The climate and economy are also complex systems, but they haven’t conferred the benefits of millennia of evolution.

Dr. West is a utilitarian. He believes we can use the population to solve the world’s problems. Nevertheless, we’re still restricted by limited resources—current agricultural practices have been depleting phosphorous supplies at an unprecedented rate (an essential plant nutrient); with no solution in sight. Some resources have formed over millennia, and reconstituting them will require new technologies and energy—harnessing solar power efficiently will become a necessity.

The future doesn’t need to look so bleak, but it will require an increased frequency of innovation and an efficiency akin to biology. Try as we might to innovate ourselves out of this problem, our models will suffer from absence of information; the solution to one disaster will lead to the creation of another. When studying complexity, establishing causation—as opposed to correlation—is a speculative endeavor. Distinguishing between noise and legitimate effects requires a holistic approach, which I believe lies outside the scope of human understanding. Hopefully AI can overcome this deficiency.

Poder para as Pessoas

The ideal city will serve all of its inhabitants, including visitors and individuals who’ve been priced out of their homes. In a 2016 article, discussing the homeless population in San Francisco, it was determined that over seventy percent were originally from the area. When a city like San Francisco experiences an economic boom, city planners need to adopt developmental projects that facilitate the needs of businesses and inhabitants alike, instead of focusing on the prior. 

Panoramic Interests, founded by Patrick Kennedy in Berkeley, understands the critical role of mixed-use development in cities, but local ordinances make it difficult to procure land, and creative projects are often discouraged. Cities should study the lean startup principles championed by Silicon Valley; fostering a community of ambitious citizens. We have an abundance of technology at our disposal to collect feedback, but the ossified public sector lacks ingenuity. We must strive for greener technologies and encourage the use of innovative materials (e.g., energy absorbing concrete). We need to form symbiotic relationships between inorganic structures and biology—avoiding the creation of concrete jungles like São Paulo. Industrialized cities have been too concerned with building structures to house people and businesses, and overlooking communal spaces like the piazzas in Madrid and Florence. Communal areas in  higher population densities facilitate more social interactions and innovations. Steve Jobs was aware of this phenomenon when he helped design the central atrium in Pixar’s headquarters.

Reading and Writing

Linearity is Limiting

A good book is able to entertain and educate, but a great book will shatter paradigms and break plateaus. The lessons might be as mundane as learning to appreciate washing dishes, or the value of great friendships, but the effects will persist throughout life, rippling and recurring as time passes. The common progression of life depicts a linear trajectory—we start at age zero and then develop in a gradual manner—a more realistic portrayal is a wave, expanding and contracting. Fortunate individuals will experience several intellectual and spiritual rebirths.

My motivations for reading have changed several times over the years. I wanted to be smart at first, then wise, and now I just focus on humility. Recently, I’ve had several people tell me I’m “smart,” and I thought I really wanted to hear this, especially after a lifetime of living in my brother’s intellectual shadow, but the pleasure didn’t last — because I realized I was regurgitating other people’s profundities.

I felt hollow.

I spent a decade chasing an intellectual dream, but I never stopped to cultivate thoughts and beliefs of my own; I lost sight of the ends. Fortunately, reading is one of the few activities that pays dividends regardless of reader’s intentions, yet incremental progress is hard to observe. Sometimes I know I could read faster, but finishing is less important than the journey; and expediency might lead to a concern with finishing books quickly, instead of consuming them for all they’re worth.

The divide between reading and reality cannot be bridged. Regardless of how much I learn, the same questions come full circle; tinted by new ideas. T.S. Elliot’s quote keeps coming to mind, “to return home, after traveling for some time, and see the place again for the first time.”

One should read what excites them, and in as much breadth and depth as desired; glance at the list of banned books to see what was so controversial, or ask a friend who reads a lot. 

Language shapes the world around us, the more we know, the more control we have over our environment.

Ineffable

I spoke with my friend about his habit of leaving books unfinished. We both felt a desire to finish books for the sake of finality, but he believes that a book should be set aside after receiving certain nuggets of wisdom (or the lack thereof).

I was dealt a spiritual blow while reading Adyashanti’s, Emptiness Dancing. He views books as tools for uncovering the true value of life and all of its intricacies. After reading the chapter, “Enlightenment,” I was momentarily paralyzed: I envisioned a cosmic fist punching me in the chest, knocking my soul out of my body, then I watched as it slowly descended into the dark depths of nothingness (I was not on drugs). 

I couldn’t read another word. I put the book away and walked into the other room where I encountered my father and Franklin. My perception was altered; an uncanny novelty, which I struggle to describe; not new, or child-like, but infinitely ambivalent. My feet felt light and I forgot about my back pain. what does it mean to feel pain? I looked out the window and witnessed the clearest sky.

Out of Mind, On the Page

Writing captures thoughts in clouds — dispensing them faster than the ink can dry … and when a writer’s last line is laid bare, and their soul strips sinews, readers can piece them together again.

Art: Combine and Contrast

Creatives have an uncanny ability to combine disparate elements to create something original; Leonardo Da Vinci used nature and Steve Jobs stole/purchased IP from other companies. The challenge for creatives is finding the pieces for inspiration and silencing the voices that say, “it’ll never work.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard friends say, “I don’t think I know enough to write something,” or, “I don’t know where to begin.” So potential creatives are stalled before they ever begin, because they’re either waiting for something original, or they assume that someone else is already working on their idea.

I didn’t set out to create something original or present anything revelatory. Writing is my medium for expression, and it helps me grow as an individual — what more can I ask for? If someone profits from this writing, that’s amazing, but it wasn’t the impetus for beginning. 

For-profit creativity is shallow and antithetical to Honest creativity. If I set out to make money from writing, I would be more concerned with building an audience (or at least faintly concerned).

What?

Lacan developed a semantic structure to map an individual’s psychology; retrospectively, we know that language is an imperfect mechanism for capturing reality (Wittgenstein arrived at a similar conclusion). 

As a writer, I feel compelled to broaden my lexicon, but using abstruse, convolutedly verbose language is pretentious AF. And yet, great minds are obligated to wrestle with language if there’s any hope at comprehending ideas that are heretofore unknown.


Roy from Smalltown urged me to begin my mornings with writing, because after hours of reading, the caffeine dissipates, and my eyes become fatigued. The past couple mornings have consisted of poetry and several failed attempts at adding to my Meditations.

Time has been passing at an uncanny rate recently. It feels as if I’ll wake up and a decade will have passed. I used to look forward to getting old, but I’m ambivalent now. It doesn’t seem to matter which stage of life I’m in.

On Nature and Philosophy

Overlooked

I dreaded the rain, 

then the garden came

I despised weeds, 

now, I mash them to mulch. 

 

I wish I could sit with nature—

and not feel lazy;

marvel at the miles of mycelia,

piss on trees *Ahh Choo* allergies

 

Snails burbling, drowning in beer. 

Felled crops—eyes with tears. 

Apathetic dirt-stained shirts. 

 

Nature: a beauteous mess,

a reliever of stress,

a tempest at times,

but often sublime. 


What’s the cost of fresh air, clean oceans, and verdant forests?


Small Acts Add Up

My brother claims to lack philosophical and religious views. When I ask him, “Why do you get out of bed every day?” 

He says, “Because sitting in bed would be boring.”

“Why do you workout?”

“To get stronger.” 

I probe, “To what end?” 

A man without an end in mind will never achieve goals. He will form habits without understanding their root cause. Without a higher calling (e.g., friends, family, community), solipsistic isolation will result.

It’s of the utmost importance to remember the smallest acts of kindness. People say, “I want to help out and save the world,” yet they fail to hold the door open for the person behind them; simple pleasantries are avoided, and smiles are faked or absent. The world needs small consistent acts. Actions are unquantifiable, but the impacts will reverberate ad infinitum. We should be ecstatic about the opportunity to walk this Earth; every breath we take is afforded to us by a string of highly unlikely events (the creation of the planet, the evolution of species, and our eventual birth). Never lose sight of the little things—smile frequently, laugh heartily, help when capable, and love always. 

My brother says, “If you truly want to help the world, seek out the highest means.” His logic presumes an awareness of the potential outcomes resulting from actions. For quants (mathematically oriented individuals), the abstract and qualitative realm is mystifying. I explain to him—it’s impossible to live outside the present moment. We can pine for future goals, but time won’t stop in the present. We can hold a grudge too, but we will be burdened by it. Any attempt at living in the past or future will diminish the present moment. I don’t disparage history or reminiscing, but both rely on the inconsistency of recollection and one-sidedness. Everything outside the “now” is fragmented and stored, inferior to the present moment. 

Moral Erosion

The divergence of intuition and objective truth is eroding western society’s moral foundation. For previous generations, religion has shaped morals, relationships, and provided answers to ontological questions. As science advances, religion is being supplanted by its empirical equivalent; an equivalence neither side would dare acknowledge — and at this semantic divide exists the crux of one of society’s greatest issues. The Truth is, we need each other, because the mind will atrophy in isolation. Isn’t our unlikely existence a sufficient panacea to remedy depression and strife among the inhabitants of Earth (human, animal, and plantae)?

Certitudes place our species on a slippery slope. It allows for the establishment of false dichotomies (evolution and the big bang are True, therefore God, or, whoever you worship, does not exist). Conceding the prior parenthetical statement places the believer at odds with a massive portion of the population. That being said, possessing varied beliefs is not the issue, the problem arises when actions are taken based on beliefs. 

Our myriad beliefs allow for the development of language and complex systems. Words can only gain weight by attaching value (consciously or sub rosa). Family and friends provide the foundation for development, but our conscious decisions dictate our fate. There’s no need for God or empirical truths to experience a fulfilling life. 

Our consciousness allows for critical analysis and the ability to orient and adapt to ever-changing environments. How we came to be is worth studying—development cannot be the enemy. Homosapien’s ability to introspect has allowed for some of the greatest discoveries, so why elevate beyond the self? I exist, I feel, you exist, we feel. 

Civilization’s recent exponential development has muddied our conception of what it means to be human. The things we need to survive and flourish are currently abundant, but we overlook because they aren’t flashing at us on a screen. We need to curb reactionary thinking while transitioning from a mass-consuming market economy, to a brighter, knowledge economy. Short of omnipresence, no one can predict all of the possible results from an action — which doesn’t mean we should neglect available information. Every input will necessarily produce an output, we cannot let profits and blind idealism trump our responsibilities.

Cocksure

The greatest strength and weakness of atheism is its grounding in reality: firmly planted in the objective world of science, each step can be taken confidently and land securely; anything that can’t be sensed is shooed like pigeons—whereas spirituality allows an individual to transcend the self-centered view of reality, arriving in uncharted territories. Atheists’ reluctance to embrace unobservable/unorthodox phenomenon has impeded research pertaining to meditation and psychoactive substances—the same might be said for religious individuals who overlook practices because they don’t align with their respective tradition; yet, a spiritual person, regardless of their affiliation, has made a concession in favor of ethereal, metaphysical phenomenon. 

The recent results from studies on meditation and psychedelics are too significant to overlook. Guided psychedelic sessions have proven to be more effective than current pharmaceutics for treating addiction (cigarettes in particular). In reference to meditation, the brain waves from experienced meditators is strikingly similar to someone experiencing an ego-dissolution trip (trip, or, psychedelic experience). I’m not advocating for psychedelic intervention, but I am suggesting that we leave room for skepticism regardless of our philosophical views. 

It will be a long time before we’re able to understand the implications of meditation and psychedelics. Our current neuroimaging techniques only scratch the surface. In the meantime, we need to think about the future of mental health and religion: do we want to live in a world where we can consume a substance that rewires the circuitry in our brain? 

The current research prohibits individuals with psychosis, because a “bad” trip might induce negative, irreconcilable effects (bad is an understatement). However, even a psychologically “healthy” individual can experience a bad trip. Good or bad, the experience will be life changing. Any lingering doubts about relationships and undesirable habits will be fleshed out and brought under the microscope. The same can be said for an introspective meditation practice.

Energy pervades all life: a spark starts an infant’s heart, an inexplicable consciousness follows, and the Light allows us to witness Nature’s splendor. Our mere existence is cosmologically improbable—we are but specks of dust—take solace, before something comes to sweep us up.

Far From Now

Philosophy is an endless pursuit. My journey has led me from Atheism, to Agnosticism, to Deism, to Buddhism, and then nothingness. Any attempt at satisfying life with one belief system is futile. One day, we might discover God—but that day is far from now. Until then, we should respect all species—plantae, fungi, and animalia—because we don’t have the means to recreate them. We should practice humility, and create—yet remain cognizant of the resources being consumed. We should strive for harmony, because no one wants pain and discord. These words will be lost with the passage of time, my only wish is that they’ll give hope to someone who has lost their way. One day, I believe we will embrace the meaninglessness of life with open arms, but that day is far from now. 


The list of things to learn is infinite, but lessons and experiences must be sought. The secrets of life will reveal themselves to those who seek them, but the moment of realization might not occur until months or years later—sometimes it will require letting go of all hope, then it will appear.


Emerson has been a volatile read; he’s sombre, then sanguine. He disparages common day Christianity—for losing sight of the soul—the infinite soul, which connected Jesus to the world and God. Pastors and clergymen deliver hollow sermons to a complacent congregation — failing to grasp the nature of the universe. Our sense of community and oneness is eroding, eventually, our institutions will deteriorate too. He foresaw the rise of materialism, but we were too busy with our phones and fashions. In time, nature cleanses pestilence.

Conclusion

My mom eviscerated a raspberry plant that I transplanted because she thought it was a weed. Then, while listening to Sam Harris’s Making Sense podcast, he said, “We should eliminate mosquitoes from the planet.” His guest, Shane Parrish, promptly warned him of the potentially disastrous second and third-order effects resulting from disturbing natural systems.  

Clearly, brilliant individuals are fallible, and it’s significantly easier to destroy things than it is to construct them. However, I’m hopeful that we can muster the necessary humility to prevent our species from sliding into the abyss. Regardless of how bad things get, we need to respect one another and keep each other in check. Don’t lose faith, the future is what we make it. 


P.S.

I intended for this writing to serve as a foundation for further research; a field guide of sorts, for navigating the twenty-first century. I spent a lot of time reading to prepare for this piece, and I’ll attach my reading list for anyone who is curious, but I encourage you to follow your own path. 

I’ll never know whether or not it was worth reading as much as I have. Everyone encourages reading, but Schopenhauer and other wise individuals acknowledge the importance of learning through experience. I have spent countless hours in my garden the past couple years, and I feel as if I have found more satisfaction and education while surrounded by plants, than by reading some of the more banal texts on the list. Time is the one resource we cannot control. 

Relevant Quotes

  1. “On one occasion, a man came to pay homage to the Buddha at the Jetavana monastery. One night, while pacing up and down in meditation, the man accidentally stepped on some insects. In the morning, some adherents visiting the man found the dead insects. They thought ill of him and reported the matter to the Buddha. The Buddha asked them whether they had seen the man killing the insects. When they answered in the negative, the Buddha said, ‘Just as you had not seen him killing, so also he had not seen those living insects … and so he was quite innocent.’” Unknown
  2. “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” Theodore Roosevelt
  3. “If you can make your least favorite activities into a mindfulness practice, you will overcome boredom and grow to new heights. Eventually, you will be resting comfortably in the clouds, gracing mankind in every encounter.” Thich Nhat Hanh
  4. “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” Mark Twain
  5. “By good rights I ought not to have so much put on me, but there seems no other way. Len says one steady pull more ought to do it. He says the best way out is always through. And I agree to that, or in so far as that I can see no way out but through—leastways for me—and then they’ll be convinced.” Robert Frost
  6. “I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn’t want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I’m not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn’t know how to return the treatment.” Malcolm X
  7. “The more I learn, the less I realize I know” Socrates
  8. “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” Stephen Hawking
  9. “Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.” Albert Einstein
  10. “Writing should push towards new grounds. Find a space that has been untouched, and fill it. Don’t worry about the reader.” Norman Fischer
  11. “If the words do not come roaring out, don’t write.” Charles Bukowski
  12. “I want to see if you can guess who it is I’m doing an impression of. All right? Let me get into character. You gotta guess who it is, though. Okay, here it goes. Uh, duh. Hey! Durr! If you do anything wrong in your life, duh, and I find out about it, I’m gonna try to take everything away from you, and I don’t care when I find out. Could be today, tomorrow, 15, 20 years from now. If I find out, you’re fucking-duh-finished.

—Trump.

—Who … who’s that?

—Trump. 

That’s YOU! That’s what the audience sounds like to me. That’s why I don’t be coming out doing comedy all the time, ’cause y’all niggas is the worst motherfuckers I’ve ever tried to entertain in my FUCKING life.” Dave Chappelle AKA “The Peerless One”

  1. “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
  2. “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” Alan Watts
  3. “We bubblewrap kids to keep them safe, then they’re impaled by reality.” Tyler Housley

Pretentious Vocabulary

Abject (adj): Experienced or present to the maximum degree.

Biomagnification: also known as bioamplification or biological magnification, is the increasing concentration of a substance, such as a toxic chemical, in the tissues of tolerant organisms at successively higher levels in a food chain. This increase can occur as a result of:

  • Persistence: where the substance cannot be broken down by environmental processes
  • Food chain energetics: where the substance’s concentration increases progressively as it moves up the food chain
  • Low or non-existent rate of internal degradation or excretion of the substance: often due to water-insolubility

Biological magnification often refers to the process whereby certain substances such as pesticides or heavy metals work their way into lakes, rivers and the ocean, and then move up the food chain in progressively greater concentrations as they are incorporated into the diet of aquatic organisms such as zooplankton, which in turn are eaten perhaps by fish, which then may be eaten by bigger fish, large birds, animals, or humans.

Clinging and craving: Craving is aspiring to an object that one has not yet reached, like a thief’s outstretched hand in the dark; clinging is the grasping of an object that one has reached, like the thief grasping his objective.

Ephemeral (adj): lasting for a very short time.

Hormesis: a term used by toxicologists to refer to a biphasic dose response to an environmental agent characterized by a low dose stimulation or beneficial effect and a high dose inhibitory or toxic effect. In the fields of biology and medicine, hormesis is defined as an adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate (usually intermittent) stress.

Inundate (v): overwhelm (someone) with things or people to be dealt with.

Inverse ETF (n): also known as a “short ETF” or “bear ETF,” is an exchange-traded fund designed to return the opposite performance of a certain index or benchmark (the tracking isn’t exactly inverse, and there are different fees depending on which ETF you choose). ProShares and Direxion offer a variety of inverse ETFs.

Lambaste (v): criticize (someone or something) harshly.

Lament (n or v): A passionate expression of grief of sorrow. Also, to mourn (a person’s loss or death).

Middle way (n): A policy or course of action which avoids extremes.

Obfuscate (v): render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.

Panacea (n): a solution or remedy for all difficulties or diseases.

Sanguine (adj or n): Optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation.

Script (n): a sequence of expected behaviors for a given situation. Scripts include default standards for the actors, props, setting, and sequence of events that are expected to occur in a particular situation.

Skive (v): Avoid work or a duty by staying away or leaving early.

Socratic Method: a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.

Solipsism (n): the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

Somber (adj): Dark or dull in color or tone; gloomy.

Submissive (adj): ready to conform to the authority or will of others; meekly obedient or passive.

Sub rosa (adj): happening or done in secret.

Synecdoche (n): a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.

Synergy (n): A cumulative effect that results in disparate pieces equating to more when combined.

Zealot (n): A person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.

Illustrations by Ariel Soon (@slushie_fund)

© 2019