Thought Vs. Emotion

I think that by most people’s standards, I’ve had a challenging life.  I also think that by most people’s standards, I brought most of it on myself – and I would agree.  I have a long history of taking things that should be easy, and finding ways of making them hard.  I’m not actually sure why I have this quality, but I am starting to understand the impact it has on my life.

Each time I put myself in a challenging situation, I had to figure it out.  It wasn’t that I lacked a support system, it’s just that my support system would usually suggest that if I got myself into it, I can get myself out of it.  Over the years, I developed a system that was effectively: Understand where you’re at, understand where you want to be, and find a way to close the gap.  I think the key word there is understand.  It was an exercise in problem solving in the arena of thought.

My father passed away in my mid-20s.  He and I were close – he meant a lot to me.  It was cancer and he lasted about 2 years between diagnosis and death.  Towards the end, I remember having a conversation with a friend about how it would impact me.  I had noticed a pattern over the years which suggested that each time I went through something like this, I became a less emotional person.  Despite all the other challenges I had overcome, I knew that losing my dad would impact me more than anything I had ever been through and I was concerned about how it would impact my emotional disposition – would I have any left?

In the month that my dad died, the first girl I thought I’d marry left me for her ex-boyfriend, I tore my shoulder, and the promotion which I had just moved cities for was rescinded.  After I wrapped up the responsibilities around my father’s estate, I decided it was important to give myself time to grieve to prevent any future imbalance.  The following week was a combination of work, family sized lasagnas, weed, and a few movies that legitimately made me bawl my eyes out (the dad scene in Warrior got me good).  By the end of that week, I figured that the best thing I could do for my father, for myself, and for those who counted on me was to rise above and move forward.  I accepted that my father may have died earlier than I would’ve liked, but I also recognized that he led the kind of life that most people would aspire to.  He had a family who loved him, he was a master of his craft, he built and sold a business, he was respected within his community, and he was the giant upon whose shoulders I would stand on.  I had to wrap my head around that death was part of the natural order in which we all existed, and that I should be proud of the life that my father lived.  I don’t know if it was easy or hard, but I did.

I spent the next 6 months identifying where I was in my life, where I wanted to be, and worked on closing the gap.  By the end of that year, I was headed back home for a new career in wealth management for one of the world’s top global banks.  The loss of my father was never a source of depression for me, instead, I chose to use his memory as a source of inspiration and drive.  Even to this day, everything that I do is in some way for him.

I was often complimented on how well I handled the passing of my father.  I was called very well adjusted.  However, my concerns about becoming a less emotional person seemed to be valid.  The girls I dated since likely saw the same thing.  One said that I was driven, but not passionate.  Another said that I was empty inside.  My favorite though, and perhaps the girl who understood me best, called me her benevolent robot king.  I was a high functioning human being in most respects, but I did it without what most people would call emotion.  I don’t have the wisdom necessary to make any conclusions, but I’m starting to think that there some validity to operating without emotion.

This is where I think it’s important to define the term emotion.  Google’s definition suggests that emotion is a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood and relationships with others.  For me, the key word is instinctive and I think there’s a key difference between instinct and thought.  I’m sitting here trying to think of exactly what that is and I don’t think I can define it just yet.  When I try, I think of instinct like firmware and thought like software.  The firmware came with the hardware and can be tough to update.  Software however can be updated often depending on the applications you want to run and the tasks you’re looking to accomplish.

Before modern cognition, instincts were paramount to survival.  In modern society, our instinctual drives often seem counter-productive.  Easy examples include men cheating on their spouses because of their instinctual drive to procreate with multiple partners or women searching for men with the physique and resources to protect and provide for them.  If we were to understand these types of behaviors as instinctual and left over evolutionary characteristics from a past era, I think we’d understand each other a little better.  Unfortunately, this is where ’emotions and feelings’ come into play.

In many of my relationships, I was told that I had to respect their emotions or respect their feelings.  I understood that I should respect the person and that their emotional state is part of who they are, but I didn’t understand why I should inherently respect their emotions.  Perhaps my favorite example is when a girlfriend spent the day angry at me because I had cheated on her in a dream – for the record, I’ve never cheated.  I understood and appreciated that she had sensory input that triggered instinctual fears of losing a mate but what I didn’t understand is why it was acceptable for her to ‘feel’ upset with me let alone why that state of mind should be respected.

The more rational I became, the more challenging I was for someone who was emotional.  I was still nice, I still wanted to be a good person and I was still working hard to make a positive impact in the world, but thought and emotion were often two different perspectives in the world and one often struggled to understand the other.  What I’m going to say next might ruffle some feathers, and I could be wrong, but it’s my current evolution of thought on the matter.  I think that thought is a higher form of cognition than emotion.  I’m not prepared to say that one is better than the other, or that one leads to a happier life, but I am prepared to say that on average, thinking things through is a more successful approach than feeling things out.

When I think of humanity’s greatest thinkers and what they’ve accomplished, I’m inspired.  When I think of humanity’s greatest feelers and what they’ve accomplished, I draw a blank.  When I think of humanity’s worst, I think of people who let hate and prejudice get the better of them.  Hate is an emotional state while prejudice is a lack of thought.  However, I cannot accurate say that all good things come from thought while all bad things come from emotion because without emotion, where’s the love?

This would surprise many, but as rational and robotic as I am, I still cry on a regular basis.  I’d say about once a month, I see something beautiful or something sad that touches me and gets me misty eyed at the very least.  It was the kind of thing that I would fight when I was younger but I embrace now.  Fear doesn’t really register with me the way that it does with other people, but I do have a very real concern about losing that connection because there is something that feels very human about it.  Something that I respect and appreciate about emotion is that the best moments in my life were emotional.  Happiness is an emotional state of mind.

Where I’ll leave this for today is a theory that I’m working on.  We only have one body, we only have one central nervous system, and we only have one brain.  On that basis, emotion and thought have to be connected.  Emotion seems to have a stronger connection to the body and the subconscious while thought seems to have a stronger connection to the outside world.  I think that in earlier stages of evolution, instinctual drives and internal monitors were more closely associated with survival but as we’ve created the world we live in today, it’s become increasingly important to understand the outside world.  Trying to understand the outside world with an instinctual or emotional perspective can be limiting so thought has become more important.  As the outside world progresses, we continue to develop physical and intellectual tools to help understand what’s happening internally.  Currently, I’m trying to understand what will happen to emotion if we continue along this path.  I don’t think that the emotional state will disappear completely, but I do think that it’s importance will diminish as our understanding of how it fits into general cognition evolves.  How Vulcan…

 

Before Comey Takes the Stand..

I’ve been relatively quiet on the Trump matter since I started this blog.  It’s not because I haven’t been paying attention.  On the contrary, I’ve been studying Trump’s rise and time in the office more intensely than I’ve studied anything in my adult life.  The rise of Trump to power will likely go down as one of the most fascinating moments in our young human history.

I’ve done my best to track articles, ‘news’, and commentary from both sides, as well as engaging with some of the most intelligent people I could find representing the full spectrum.  I’ve already put my money where my mouth is by pushing my portfolio to cash, but I also wanted to document my position here before it looks like I did it through hindsight.

I’m not a fan of facts.  Not because they can’t be true by definition, but because they’re only brief glimpses into a greater truth which, without context, can obscure perception.  It’s much like watching brief clips of a movie without being able to see the movie.  It’s true that each clip was part of the movie, but seeing them out of context doesn’t lend to understanding the true nature of the film.  For me, I search for patterns.  Patterns tend to repeat themselves and are therefore much more enduring when it comes to understanding the greater truth.

Trump’s not a good person.  He’s not a very smart person either.  He’s likely guilty, but he wasn’t smart enough to put this together.  In all likelihood, he’s being used – the extent of which he probably doesn’t realize.  I doubt that it’s a single entity or a grand collusion behind Trump, I think it’s more likely that it’s been a patch-worked collaborative effort by several groups who realized they could push their agenda through Trump.

This is a game in which Trump is a pawn who doesn’t realize he’s a pawn.  Ironically, several other players on the board, like the Russians and The Koch brothers think they’re pulling the strings, but even they’re pawns in a much larger game.  This is a game of love versus fear.

 

The Economic Case for Universal Health Care

So with health care being top of mind for a lot of people right now, I’ve been giving the system some thought as well.  In the states, generally speaking, conservatives think healthcare should be left to the private sector and that people should should be able to source their own coverage.  Liberals, generally speaking, think health care is a basic right and the government should assist in making sure everyone is covered.

The frustrating thing about politics for me is that these aren’t conversations about the most efficient way forward, these debates simply an arena where governing parties fight for power and control.  I say this with confidence because if you think about it carefully, both sides are right but they can’t see it.  Rather than working together and coming up with a solution that accommodates the priorities of both sides, those involved seem more interested in obstructing their opposition.

Healthcare should be privatized because privatization isn’t an evil word.  In fact, all it really means is opening that business opportunity up to the public.  As it turns out, the general population is filled with awesome ideas and great entrepreneurs who can bring them to market.  Add in some competition with one another and we’ll find some pretty fantastic ways to deliver healthcare to those who need it.

People should be able to source their own coverage.  Why?  For the same reason we should be able to choose our own internet provider, streaming subscription, or gym membership.  Where we choose to spend money reflects our preferences and our preferences let our providers know where they should be competing hardest.

All that said, health care should absolutely be a basic human right and the government should absolutely have a hand in providing health care to those without the means to provide it to themselves.  I’ll even explain why with basic economic theory.

So I have this theory that right and wrong are human constructs which are actually based in efficiency (I’ll explore that more in another post once I’ve refined the theory a bit more). Effectively, the most efficient manner of accomplishing long-term progress is perceived to be both the most moral and ethical way forward. This is because for it to be the most efficient path forward, it must take all variables into consideration and deliver us to our end goal with the least amount of effort and time.

The next concept that needs to be touched on is comparative advantage. It’s a basic economic theory which essentially says that we’re all built a little differently, and that if we’re able to figure out what we do really well, we should do the hell out of it. Everyone produces what they’re absolutely best at, and trade helps goods and services end up where they should.

Most republicans and economists recognize comparative advantage to be fundamental to the free market – and for good reason. But for people to reach the peak of their comparative advantage, they require favourable circumstances. People on welfare, working minimum wage jobs, etc. are unlikely to be producing at their highest levels (AKA maximum utility) and without more favourable circumstances, never will. I get the classic conservative approach of taking it upon yourself to create your own favourable circumstances – I often tell people to be the change that they seek, but it’s not always in the cards.  For you hold’em players out there, let’s use a poker analogy. Would you rather have pocket aces and hit nothing on the board or a 7/2 off-suit and hit nothing on the board? Most people will choose the aces, but statistically, both are losing hands. I think the best thing the government can do for itself and for its people is help the person holding aces to a hand where they flop the other two aces and the 7/2 to a flop with the other three 7s.

If we can do that, the entire country transforms and becomes an unparalleled powerhouse of production, delivering levels of value that we didn’t even realize were possible. Cost of universal health care in that scenario? Negligible.

I know, I know, what does comparative advantage and maximum utility have to do with healthcare? Stephen Hawking. He’s said on multiple occasions that he would likely be dead without access to the NHS, Britain’s public healthcare system. If that’s true, what if he had been born in the US? He’s one of my favourite examples of someone who was dealt a 7/2 offset, but because he existed in a system which wanted to give him every opportunity to reach his maximum utility, he was given the chance to make his contribution.

Would you agree that the value Hawking has provided to the world has exceeded the health care services he has provided? Perhaps my biggest point here is that everyone *should have* the opportunity to make their greatest contribution to society. Some of us are able to earn it, but as circumstance would have it, for those like Hawking it must be given.  Healthcare included.

Using Google’s Algorithm to Solve Democracy

So I don’t sleep much.  My issue is that when the lights go off and I climb in bed, instead of my brain thinking that it’s time to sleep, it think’s that it’s now time for an un-interrupted thought session.

Last night, at about 2AM I turned to the other person in my bed and announced that I might have solved democracy with an application of Google’s search algorithm.  Fortunately for me, I wasn’t greeted with a pillow to the face and I was given an opportunity to explain what I meant.

When defining democracy, it’s essentially a system of government by the people, for the people.  I don’t see a fundamental flaw in that regard, but I do see a fundamental flaw in our application of democracy to the election process. Even with variations like the electoral college system, democratic elections are still determined primarily by the popular vote – and that’s the problem.

Back in grade 9, I ran for student council.  I was the representative for the grade 8 class, so why not.  I was one of two people who were voted in.  The second was a classmate named Collin who was egged on by the popular crowd to run.  The problem is that Collin had very few intentions of actually participating on the council.  He was elected, partly as a practical joke and partly as an act of defiance.  This was the first time I had experienced a failure of a democratic election and certainly wasn’t the last.

If we agree that the purpose of a democratic election is to collectively select the leader most capable of leading, then we have a fantastic starting point.  Where that falls out of line with the democratic process though, is that all votes are counted equally.  That makes the assumption that everyone is equally capable of selecting the most capable leader.  Effectively, someone who has put no effort into understanding who’s most fit to lead has an equal vote to someone who’s put in a tremendous amount of effort.  That’s strikes me as an efficient process.

Imagine if a company’s CEO was determined by the popular vote of its employees and customers.  Sounds fun, but how qualified are those individuals to make that decision?  A search for a major CEO is a highly strategic endeavor in which significant resources are dedicated to finding the absolute best candidates, and vetting them to the nth degree.  Would it not make sense to apply a similar strategy to electing a president or prime minister?  For most companies, the CEO is elected by a board of directors and the board of directors are elected by the company’s shareholders.  Effectively, you have people who are highly educated on the operations of that business, have had a chance to review all the candidates personally, and have selected the person who’s best capable of leading that company – in theory.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to suggest applying business principles to government, but I think this approach falls short of the end goal as well.  Let’s use the states as an example with a 320 million person voting base and let’s say that this hypothetical board of directors that would be responsible for selecting a president was 20 members deep.  So the 320 million Americans would elect those 20 board members and those board members would elect the president, but this doesn’t solve the issue of people choosing someone they don’t know, whose policies they don’t understand, for a role they don’t entirely comprehend.  That board of directors becomes another exercise in the popular vote, but now they’ve also been given the autonomy to select someone who may not be in the public’s best interest.  Somehow, the elected leader needs to be reflective of the general population’s best interests, but be selected by those who are capable of making such decisions.  Enter Google.

I suspect that the majority of people who use Google know that it’ll do a fantastic job of helping you find something, but they might not understand what’s happening behind the scenes.  The way it was explained to me was with a soccer team.  How do you determine the best player on the team?  Is it the player who scores the most goals?  Is it who the crowd cheers loudest for?  Probably not as defense wins championships and fans are fickle.  Based on the Google Algorithm, a player’s value is determined by the passes they receive.  Effectively, if they receive more passes than the average player, they’re simply identified as a more important player.  The best player is simply determined by which player receives the most passes from the most important players.

Makes sense right?  Well let’s take that one step further and recognize that what Google has really done is created an algorithm that identifies and then prioritizes trust.  The best player on the team receives the ball more more often from other top players because they trust that player to be more capable.  This trust factor is important when discussing the relationship that most voters have with their candidates.  Most career politicians seem to have issues with integrity and keeping promises, yet every cycle, millions of voters talk about how they trust their preferred candidate.  Personally, I think it’s unreasonable to trust someone you’ve never met, let alone seen how they behave when their morals and integrity are challenged.  The reality is that it’s unfair to expect these individuals to choose a leader simply because they’re not equipped to do so.  Another unfortunate reality is that the political system and media are fully aware of this and it’s why every few years, the circus comes to town and the status quo is maintained.

In order to make an educated decision for the leader of a country, you need to have a deep understanding of how government works and you need to have a deep understanding of who that candidate is.  I think I’d be safe in assuming that 99% of Americans who participated in the last election were unqualified to vote by those standards – but they absolutely still deserve a voice.  Time to deploy Google’s algorithm.

The idea is that you may only vote for someone you know and it would be encouraged that you simply prioritize character, integrity, and vision. Neighbourhoods all over the country would then put their trust behind a few key individuals who would then put their trust behind other key individuals.  Through 6 degrees of separation, this algorithm would include just about everyone.  Eventually, the algorithm would produce a group of peers who are effectively the most trusted and capable individuals in the country, and through their votes, they would elect the individual who they deem to be the most capable and trust worthy.

Earlier we agreed that the purpose of a democratic election was to collectively determine the individual most capable of leading.  Democracy solved.

 

 

There is No Normal

We seem to care a great deal about what is normal and what is not, but I have good reason to think that there is no normal and that our preoccupation with it becomes a counter-productive perspective.  Imagine if you will, a normal person.  How tall are they?  How heavy?  How smart?  What do they look like?  What are their talents?  Now consider what normal might look like for someone from another culture.  The same?  Whose version of normal is more accurate (hint: probably Chinese or Indian).

I suspect that most of us would consider ourselves to be mostly normal.  So is normal an arithmetic mean of the human population, or is normal people who are more like us? And why do we want people to be normal?

When I visualize normal, I’m visualizing a blossom of deviations from that median where everyone is just a little different than what the human genetic blueprint might suggest.  Now this is where things start to get interesting because different isn’t necessarily good or bad – The universe never claimed to be a fair place.  Some of us are ‘gifted’ with a high IQ, athleticism, or good looks, while others are ‘gifted’ with a lack of emotional intelligence, binge eating tendencies, and a big nose.  Or maybe those are all qualities of the same person.

The unfortunate reality is that some of these deviations are so extreme that they’re not given a chance to play out.  Infants die from differences in how their brains or hearts developed and while we might be quick to call them defects, they weren’t broken and they didn’t come out wrong, this was part of the process and they got the short end of the stick.  What’s important to keep in mind though is that we’re dealt a hand and the hand is rarely determined by one card.  If you look back, this defines some of history’s most fascinating and accomplished people:

  • Beethoven: Legendary composer who began to lose his hearing in his 20s went on to compose some of his best work almost completely deaf.
  • Turing: Socially awkward, gay, eccentric math genius who founded modern computer science as an out of the box solution to cracking the German Enigma in WWII.
  • Hawking: World renowned astrophysicist who developed ALS in his early 20s who went on to become one of the most valuable minds in modern history – and he’s going to space!

Each individual is incredible person in their own right, but they also illustrate what I think is a very important pattern.  Given the right motivations and circumstances, being dealt a bad card doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been dealt a bad hand.

I think that the motivation necessary to accomplish what these individuals did is not to be undervalued, but for the purpose of this conversation, it’s about circumstance.  Consider if Beethoven was born today.  He likely would’ve received the right treatment for his illnesses and would’ve never gone deaf.  Had Turing been born today, he probably would’ve been celebrated like a gay Steve Jobs (a far more suitable ending to his story).  But what if Hawking had been born 100 years ago?  What this all amounts to, is the idea that we are each dealt a hand, and that your cards are largely irrelevant without knowing the circumstances in which we have to play them – but things are improving.

Had Hawking been born 100 years ago, he would’ve likely died before 25.  Medical science isn’t yet capable of giving everyone a fair shot yet, but we’ve made tremendous progress and Hawking is a fantastic example.  As medical science continues to improve, more people will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

While medical science might allow someone born with a heart defect to go on to play professional sports, social circumstances exist as well.  Alan Turing is my favourite historical figure and perhaps one of history’s best examples of someone who was born before his time.  Turing was gay in England at a time when being gay was illegal.  Despite a tremendous education, being highly regarded in his field, cracking the Enigma, being awarded the Order of the British Empire, and founding modern computer science, the British government prosecuted Turing for being gay.  He was left with the options of prison or chemical castration – to which he elected a third option and took his own life.  Imagine where computer science would be today had he fulfilled his potential.

Society evolves along with the rest of us and so do our understandings of what people should and shouldn’t be doing.  Consider this: The word kind is derived from the word kin, meaning children (or family more broadly).  Knowing that, perhaps as evolved as we might be, we might still have the pack instincts of being kind to our family, and being cautious of those who are not.  Where we’ve evolved though, is who we consider to be family.  Perhaps it began as a family, then a tribe, then a village, then a kingdom, and eventually an empire.  As we’ve progressed through those stages though, we’ve understood that kin isn’t necessarily determined by bloodlines, or location, it’s based on how we choose to identify ourselves.  As we learn that identity comes from within and isn’t a selection on a multiple choice test, the closer we come to understanding just what normal is.

The more honest we are with ourselves and the better we understand ourselves, the more we recognize that we’re all just a little different.  With that understanding, it’s much easier to expand the idea of family, to include our entire species.  If we’re looking at the entire species, there’s a lot of deviation from that human blueprint.  If deviation from the median is the norm, then different is normal.

Now for my favourite part.  Embracing different isn’t about gay pride parades or shaking up the dress code at work, it’s about doing what we’re best at.  Everyone’s wired in their own unique way and we’re just now entering into an era where exploring that identity isn’t just tolerated, it’s encouraged.  The more we explore our own identities, the better we’ll understand ourselves and the better we understand ourselves, the better we are at recognizing what our gift to the world is.  Everyone has their own unique potential and we must understand it before we can reach it.  The first step is understanding that there is no normal.

Challenge Everything: Why?

My mental model is developed as a reflection of my current understanding of how our known universe operates – but how do I know if any of what I think I know is true?  I  start by challenging it.  Usually by asking why.

Most people are familiar with the idea that there are the things you know, the things you know you don’t know, and the things you don’t know you don’t know.  I suspect that more than 99.9% of the universe currently falls into the category of unknown unknowns, with aliens being my favourite example:

Consider the sheer size of the universe and the wide definition of what we consider to be life.  Still think it’s just us?  Now consider how long the universe has been around and how much ground humans have covered in the last 2000 years.  The idea of advanced aliens zipping around the universe and messing with us from time to time becomes much less far fetched.  This part is key though – we don’t know, and that’s OK.

Perhaps what we really just did was acknowledge all the unknown unknowns, effectively making them known unknowns?  My apologies if that made your head spin, but the purpose of this exercise was to help everyone understand that while I’m not literally challenging everything, I’m challenging the things I think I know and certainly challenging the things that people tell me.

In an age where you can find anything on the internet to back up any point, I think it’s fairly evident to challenge the things you’re told by others.  A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to pick up some diet ginger ale for her cold.  I brought her orange juice.  She and her husband said that ginger ale was actually good for a cold because of the ginger.  I knew ginger had medicinal properties but thought that everything else in the soda would outweigh those effects – so I looked it up.  I actually found a couple articles saying that it was a valid remedy and almost conceded that I was wrong until I found a proper medical journal that debunked that quite easily.  Adjustments to the mental model were made, time to move on.

So it makes sense to challenge what I’m told by others, but why challenge the things I think I know?  If you noticed that I said ‘things I think I know’ instead of things I know, you just answered the question.  How many religious extremists ‘know’ that they’ll be vindicated in the afterlife?  How many Trump supports ‘know’ he’s an honest guy?  Too often we mistake a belief or assumption with an understanding, and challenging my own thoughts when I’m presented with new information is part of how I keep myself honest and accurate.

Imagine if people like Hitler, Pol Pot, or Andrew Jackson had kept themselves honest.

Now imagine if people like Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, and Alan Turing didn’t challenge that all important status quo.

It’s easy to be inspired when you understand how that dynamic has repeated itself throughout history but here’s the kicker: Whether you’re Abe Lincoln or Andrew Jackson, leaders need followers.  What would WWII have looked like had the vast majority of Germans dismissed Hitler as unfit to lead?

Truth is, not only do I maintain this disposition in hopes of one day making an Alan Turing-like contribution, I also do it knowing that the pursuit of knowledge is fundamental to progress and we could all be reminded of that from time to time.