In the absence of knowing, I’ve found a way to arrive at decisions that works extremely well for me. I call it Game Theory.
With Game Theory, when I don’t know what the outcome will be, I list possible outcomes and then see which ones I like, and what end result I want to create. Then see if I can make decisions that will get me moving in one of those preferred directions.
How much meaning do I want to see in life, in my every day, second-to-second life? If I want there to be rich meaning abounding, then I can choose to use a lens that gives me that view — a lens that makes things more explainable and understandable.
For example, in terms of the nature of reality, there are really only two clusters of lenses to choose from. One says there is something like a God, and the other says there is nothing like a God.
Through the lenses that say there is something like a God, there may appear to be an abundance of meaning in our lives. In the other cluster of lenses, there may appear to be a dearth of meaning — much happens that makes no sense, nor do we expect it to make sense.
I was in this lens for many years. It came from being so impressed by science as a kid. I can testify that there are good things about this lens. For one thing, it makes us feel terrifically autonomous, as independent thinkers, since most of the world is viewing things from the other stance. It sometimes strips away so many considerations that we quickly look at situations and see the barest of elements, the quintessence. There is a certain minimalist “cleanliness” if not clarity to this view.
Emotionally, the lens of being alone in an unbenevolent universe can be toughening, allowing us to more easily become fatalistic and to shed many of our attachments. We don’t make assumptions but are very common sense and down to earth: very empirical. We don’t lean on illusions or faith or anyone else to define reality. All of which can be good.
Another viewpoint, which I have dubbed the “Something like God exists” lens, affords meaning to everything.
If you yearn to have more meaning in your life, I suggest using this lens without believing it to be the truth or disbelieving it. This way, you will always see the meanings you ascribe as tentative, without becoming locked into them or attached to your view. You may also see a wealth of value in using this lens, imbuing more meaning in your life.
Pope Francis’ recent visit to the US offers a great example of the utility of wearing the “Something like God exists” lens. Regardless of the religious beliefs you hold (or not), it’s difficult at best to not acknowledge the palpable message of love, hope and caring for one another that emanated so powerfully from the Pope’s presence even more than from his words, which were also so beautifully spoken.
None of us, not even Pope Francis, really knows the meaning of life. It is all a wonderfully thrilling awesome unknown, which makes life interesting, mysterious-mystical, immense, awe-inspiring. Wouldn’t we be missing something if we did know everything?
Since God or a universal intelligence of some kind* cannot be ruled out, wearing the “Something like God exists” lens allows you to start seeing possible reasons why certain things have happened — as if the universe is trying to help you by putting certain training obstacles in your path. I call this noia — being the opposite of paranoia.
By seeing things as possible gifts from the universe even if they are not, and even if they don’t feel like gifts at the time, we gain some leverage from being able to see how to use the event constructively.
The mind, like a reducing valve, closes down to keep out overload. In this so far 6000-year era of Acceleritis™, there has been a lot of shutting down, when openness without commitment either way would always have been the more careful strategy.
People in the cloak of Acceleritis feel proudly that they have been properly hard-nosed when they are unconsciously trying to simplify and don’t know it, so this hard-nosed stuff is merely a rationalization. They unconsciously don’t want to consider how much scarce mental bandwidth it might take to deal with the flood of hard questions that will arise in their mind if they were to actually try to keep it open on the huge issues of life — such as what is death — is there a universal consciousness and if so is it personal or something else — who are we, each of us, what are we, why are we here, is there a point to it all?
The first moment in life that Acceleritis takes over, when we are very young, is the moment that we turn off the wonder at these questions and decide to get on with life, without realizing it we have unconsciously made a set of assumptions about the answers to those questions. Our every action is decided based on those assumptions, and every instant of our life will be shaped by those assumptions.
What if your assumptions are actually less favorable than the true conditions of reality in which you might partake?
Game Theory would posit that you are better off trying to get away with the most positive view of life you believe is conceivable, until empirical proof drives you to dial that down a bit — if that ever happens; leaving open the possibility that things could turn out to be even better than that, or simply as good as that, and you might never have to revise your assumptions downward.
Game Theory would disapprove of starting out from the most negative assumptions possible. And yet Acceleritis hugely raises the odds that an individual will tend to shoot low when making these unconscious assumptions about the nature of reality, probably normatively before age 5 in our present culture.
This is because Acceleritis increases the daily sense that we are incompetent, as compared with days of yore, those halcyon days before written language let all genies out of all bottles, in a 6000-year cascade.
Yet more genies-out-of-bottles no doubt lie ahead. So the premise of our institute is that the human race had better evolve mental emotional software to finally conquer and cure Acceleritis, if not the unthinkably enormous capacity of the human race to invent tools/weapons/media.
Acceleritis is the trance-like accommodation the human race has made for its own over-inventiveness, since written language caused our brains to rewire themselves in a way that allows us to visualize spatially at the same time as we symbolize in ever more condensed packets, enabling levels of abstraction and logic that make geometry seem like child’s play. We never had this before written language because before that we could not see communication, except for the numinosity – communicating symbols earlier hominids must have had, such as the circle, triangle, and other “magical” archetypal figures.
Numinosity for all its importance is just a feeling, whereas abstraction as potentiated in our visually-dominant primate species by seeable language, is a tool. Acceleritis is all about tools — inventions — machines — weapons — media. Our mind could not make any but the most rudimentary tools, scarcely more sophisticated than the tools made and used by other animals, until we were able to see communication. Communication being the only way that ideas can be expressed. Ideas being what drive the making of tools/inventions.
Today we receive too many question-producing stimuli each day, which causes us at an early age to shift the big questions in life off the screen of our consciousness and onto the hidden screen of our subconscious/unconscious. There, decisions/assumptions made previously constrain our body’s and conscious mind’s alternatives considerably and we are unaware of it. Like slaves, or robots of a hidden master.
Observer state is when the hidden master is exposed and the whole self is there watching itself objectively.
Flow state is when all of those parts flow into automatic harmony with one another and the individual is transported into a special state of consciousness where numinosity or miraculousness is present although the experience does not have to feel spiritual. Most people have it a few times in a lifetime playing a sport, playing a musical instrument, making love, or having a transcendent experience seemingly out of the blue.
Again these two higher states occur when Acceleritis is cured temporarily — and for more evolved human beings, permanently. The Human Effectiveness Institute sees no reason why the whole human race cannot experience these states far more often, which would lead to greater effectiveness and far greater happiness and ultimately to peace among all peoples.
We come back to the question of an open mind. What is the value of it?
Game Theory says the value of not assuming negative conditions is great, no matter what game you play. Modern psychology finds this is scientifically accurate, not just theory. Our beliefs, perceptions, assumptions, expectations, intentions and other mental emotional stuff predict the outcomes of our actions, and our scores on games. This is validated science today.
Flashback: In college majoring in philosophy and minoring in psychology I am inveigled into an experiment as a subject. More than a dozen cards are being shown, and the subject is asked to remember the sequence the cards are in. Each time you try, you are asked whether you think you will make it in 10 rounds. You go ten times to see if by the final round you can remember the whole sequence — of course the cards are shuffled each time. Turns out afterward that the actual point of the study was to compare an individual’s prediction that he or she will succeed with their true success scores. They seemed amazed that I said ten times I expected I would succeed, and that I did succeed. I asked why that was so amazing and they said no one else thought they would succeed, although nearly half did.
Acceleritis does that to our self-confidence. We of course project confidence to the degree we realized how important it was to our standing vis-à-vis other people, that if we did not show more confidence they would walk all over us.
It probably was not like this before Acceleritis.
Now about the experiments that we will undertake next week in part 2 of this post.
You don’t have to believe in anything. In fact, that would bias the experiments. You have to set aside all beliefs — suspend disbelief — in order to start.
The object of these experiments is to level set reality — you reopen your mind to the existence of all possibilities, you strip away all hidden assumptions, and then allow reality to teach you what it is, without you imposing any restrictions on it.
Of course, what these actions do in your conscious mind has less effect on your subconscious mind than on your temporary conscious mind, and all of it can flow downstream rather rapidly leaving you back in Acceleritis. However, this does not in any way mean our intentions are futile. Quite the opposite. They just take time and repetition to sink in down below the quarterdeck. But sink in they do.
You can perform these experiments surreptitiously because there are no obvious outward manifestations. It is all going on within you. No one else knows what you are doing. You cannot lose face, so while you are still attached to that, it cannot distract you from the experiment. This is highly useful because distraction is the main means by which Acceleritis reduces our effectiveness. Any way distraction can get tuned down or nullified, use it, so that your entire mind is swept as if by a ring of brooms back from its diffuse expanse, into single-pointed focus.
The stage is now set and we hope you’ll come back next week to try our incredibly easy and vitally important experiments that will help you level set your reality.
UPDATE to this post:
Watch a 3.5 minute video I made about my theory of Acceleritis.
Gaining the yogic power to control what are now self-propelled functions within your being is an end in itself. The point of this little story is not aimed at reopening your mind for the purpose of flooding it with my ideas. When you gain mastery over any previously involuntary aspect of yourself, your ability to stay in Flow state increases.
Here on Earth at this time there is a pandemic cognitive bias toward closure in the face of the very number of things our minds have to deal with every day, 99% of them distractive.
Acceleritis is my neologism to denote the condition of being cognitively and emotionally overwhelmed by the accelerating information stimuli our brains contend with every moment of every day. My theory is that written language 6000 years ago was the trigger, leading to tools, weapons, and media — the three historic shocks that created the modern trance characterized by Acceleritis. The metric by which this can now be tracked going forward would be the number of P300 waves detected in the average human brain per day, which I hypothesize is continuing to increase. These waves occur when experience deviates from expectations, causing surprise and attention. I dub the stimuli causing P300 waves as “question-producing” stimuli relative to that individual at that time.
Because of Acceleritis we yearn for closure. We can easily become irritated or even angry when we are feeling mentally overloaded and someone asks us a question or begins to speak about something in a way we sense will require us to give attention to something else on top of what we are already dealing with. All the little details between us and our priorities madden us and so closure becomes a subconscious goal energized by more and more invested neuronal motivation weight.
This makes reopening our mind on any subject something that we generally refuse to do in earnest. If someone asks us to reopen our minds we might pretend to do so, humoring the person as politely as possible.
You can test this for yourself within your own mind and emotional body. Pick a subject you feel strongly about, perhaps some religious or political issue that means a lot to you and into which your idealism has been channeled. Or perhaps pick your visceral distaste for some political figure, or a strong negative feeling you have about some person you know. By act of will, just to prove to yourself that you can do it, reopen your mind to the possibility that you are wrong about that subject. Actually feel the internal resistance morph into willingness to reconsider.
Evidence that you have achieved this would include hearing yourself think of a few persuasive arguments as to the view opposing the one you have held. The proof that you have actually reopened your mind is a feeling, however. It is a feeling of lightness, calm, freedom, being more present than usual, an ability to let your mind go anywhere, objectivity, clarity, a sense of being superior to your normal self. You may be more conscious of your breath, and of having choices, creativity and control over your future. You yourself are now in perspective as being far more important than the relative trivia to which you have been bound. You will know it when you feel it. You will know that your mind is really reopened, at least on that issue. This is a useful exercise. It can be used often, particularly when you are out of sorts about something. At those times, locate the source of the irritation and see whether a belief you have is making you vulnerable to something you could be invulnerable to, by reopening your mind about that belief.
To demonstrate, let’s try it on me. One of my strongest intuitions/hypotheses is that One Consciousness is all that exists and, by biocomputer partitioning, that One Self is able to live through all things in the universe that it created out of Itself.
This picture of the universe supports my intuition that each individual deserves respect, that there ought to be equality of opportunity. The cosmology of One Self, even considered open-mindedly as a real possibility, pragmatically encourages the individual to be alert to possible beneficial yet subtle messages in surrounding occurrences, and to be alert to one’s own subtle guidance system of hunches. This model balances Individualism and Collectivism in making logical that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, and at the same time making logical that in the long run certain individuals could do more good for the many. This map of reality tends to open the heart to other people, and leads to optimism.
Despite my ardor for this theory, however, I can reopen my mind to the possibility that Accidental Materialism is true, that consciousness is an emergent self-referential characteristic dependent upon the number of neuronal connections a brain can make, and that everything came about by random collisions of subatomic particles.
As unlikely as I feel the latter to be, I can open my mind to the fact that it is absolutely possible. As a scientist I can defer final closure on the subject until there is adequate evidence to lock in one view. Yet even then I can leave open the chance that better science in the future could change that too. Despite being as flooded as everyone else with too many things to think about, I can attest that relaxing the need for closure entirely is a useful state
Interestingly, however, from a Game Theory point of view, I still feel it is more practical to act as if my model of the universe is true, and thus Accidental Materialism is false. Whether the One Self view is true or not, living in that viewpoint has already made me a happier person enjoying life more, and apparently tapping into more subtle clues, as evidenced by the number of ideas I’ve had that turned out to be successful in the media business.
If Accidental Materialism is true, then when I die, I will never know I was wrong. If the One Self view is true, then when I die, I will know I was right. In the absence of certainty, Game Theory suggests the One Self model is more pragmatic, and leads to more pleasure when one is cognizant of it. If there is no penalty at the end or along the way, why not live in paradise, even if it could ultimately be a “fool’s paradise”?
Is time an illusion? Is there a universe, or multiverse? Finite or infinite? Will we ever know, and does it matter?
All of these are interesting questions. Let’s however focus on the last one — does it matter?
It matters because one’s view of the universe shapes one’s thoughts, feelings and actions.
If one is betting there is a multiverse and that individuals tune into certain branches and experience different lives as universes branch off into variations on themselves, one is always careful to tune one’s mind to the universe one wants to be living in. Such a person probably would have not built a bomb shelter following the Cuban Missile Crisis. Because that degree of concentration on the universe in which the missiles would come could switch one into that branch, which — if multiverse theory is accurate — probably really exists having branched off back in the 60s.
If one is betting there is a single universe that happened by accident, such a person might have built that bomb shelter. If the person is wrong and it’s a multiverse, despite being wrong that person would be lucky enough to be living in this branch in which WWIII did not happen in the 20th century.
We are not saying one is right and the other is wrong — merely that there are reasons why it does matter which view of reality one is betting on. Because our view influences our decisions, implying that all of us should spend at least a little time reaching one’s own position on the largest questions — something that Aristotle advised a long time ago.
If one is truly betting there is a God that is benevolent and likes Good acts, one is more likely to perform those even at self-sacrifice. If one is betting that life is a free-for-all then one is more likely to take care of number one first.
Given the pragmatic importance of a view of reality, it is amazing how little conversation there is about the nature of reality, and how infrequently there are articles like the one in The New York Times that started this post.
If one has no proof one way or the other about the nature of reality, what are the implications for optimal action and decision making?
Game theory dictates that one should adopt the position offering the greatest chance of success regardless of what reality turns out to be. In other words, if one had an optimizer running in one’s head, there would be a spreadsheet for every contemplated action in which the columns were the alternative possible natures of reality — Benevolent God, Accidental Materialism, One Self Living Many Lives at Once, Two Gods One Good One Evil, We Are All Gods in a Free-for-All, etc. The rows would be the alternative actions one could take in a given situation. Each cell in the table would contain a best guess about how well each action would fare in each type of universe. Calculations done instantaneously on the table would indicate the action with the greatest chances of serving one’s true long-term goals the best regardless of which type of universe we are living in.
This seems pretty far-fetched. Not only have people given up thinking about the largest questions, they have even given up self-observational/critical thinking about their own true long-term goals. This is the nature of the I Have No Time Culture.
Nevertheless it is probable that in the “gut” — the part of the intuition that manifests through the basal ganglia and holds a record of what has worked and not worked for us in the past (see last post) — something very similar to such a table is operating to provide realtime optimal recommendations in the way of gut feel.
Game theory in this case points to not foreclosing on any possible nature of reality. This puts the individual in the strongest position to be able to attune to intuitions, read minds or thought currents, and sense the future, because if one takes the more common assumption of Accidental Materialism (essentially a believed religion like any other), one tends to be shut off from the openness to having these useful experiences.
Now briefly to the other questions my friend posed:
Is time an illusion? I am betting that to the One Consciousness of which we are parts, everything is one instant, and the smaller minds of the slivers (us) have to break the whole down into a sequence in order to delectate it without being overwhelmed. That sequence is time.
Is there a universe, or multiverse? My bet: multiverse — otherwise one is assuming that we are naturally able to sense the entire universe through our instruments and senses — which seems to me to be just one more unwarranted assumption. Any processor capable of launching and sustaining the ornate universe we see is so awesomely powerful in terms of bits per second and other such objective information theory metrics that it is unreasonable to assume limits.
Finite or infinite? I’m with Heinlein on this — whatever is, must be finite, but a very large number so large that it might as well be infinity. Why “must” whatever “is” be “finite”? By definition of the word “is”. My definition is that something “is” if it is perceived by any consciousness. A consciousness alone in its own universe, since it perceives itself, is. A tree that falls in a forest in my view is, because the tree itself is conscious. So is a rock. Being made out of consciousness, everything must have some form of consciousness, no matter how rudimentary. We see evidence of “rudimentary” or “essential” consciousness in the victims of dementia for example.
Will we ever know?
If your consciousness survives death, there will be a vast increase in your own certainty and knowledge as to which universe descriptions have to be taken off the table. However, those left behind will still be in the dark until they leave this life.
Or is that necessarily the case? Some individuals have unexplainable experiences of contacting the consciousness above, and this convinces them of the existence of an Overconsciousness. Often these are infused with the symbols of a specific religion and as a set these are called “religious experiences”. Others characterize people who have these experiences as having flipped their wigs. This is part of the reason why people don’t talk much about the largest questions any more.
That’s OK with me, I would just hope that people think to themselves about the largest questions some more. Returning to where we began, it matters because one’s view of the universe shapes one’s thoughts, feelings and actions.
Science in all its amazing advances still admits it does not know the ultimate truths of our existence — who we are, why we are here, what reality is. In place of this knowing some choose faith as one lens e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, et al. Even though perhaps attending a specific church, many slide easily into the prevailing unspoken lens of our times — the lens that earlier science gave us and which still sticks in our head (and eyes). We assume unthinkingly that the lens of science has not changed in 200 years.
The old lens is the lens of materialism, which says matter is the primary constituent of the universe. The lens that says the universe is an accident, and the force of its accidental explosion into being caused and still causes most major interactions to occur through collisions, e.g. stars, planets, satellites, asteroids, comets. The lens that says life also began by accidental collisions forming chemicals and then proteins and eventually life. Life then evolved through the destruction of all but the accidentally survivable species. And life then evolved consciousness accidentally, and the consciousness we experience is a phenomenon projected by the material brain somehow, all on its own. And of course, each consciousness is forever separate, cut off, and in competition with everything else in the universe for survival, eking out as much contentment as possible against great odds.
Science has matured enough to realize that the latter is all a lens and not proven truth. In fact its central premise, all that exists is matter, has been utterly blown away. Matter turns out to be (as Indian sages said thousands of years ago) an appearance of what is really going on, which when you are able to detect really small interactions, everything is ultimately not matter, but energy. Matter is made of energy. Another way to see this is that the macro phenomena we associate with the word “matter” are illusions of the interactions between our sensory apparatus and the energy swirls in our immediate vicinity. One scientist once said it this way (wish I remembered which scientist): matter is just light revolving rather than moving in a straight path.
My favorite physicist John Wheeler then decomposes energy as the ultimate substrate of matter by saying that information is even more basic and foundational than energy to what the universe is.
These are all still lenses, ways of gestalting the universe. Not scientifically proven truth, nor fact. Models. Constructs. Ways of talking about things, ways of looking at things, ways of seeing them.
It’s good to be able to remember this and not be stuck in making fixed immovable assumptions that are hidden from ourselves, based on the autonomic and forgotten use of lenses. Because then we use these hidden assumptions as the basis for decision making, even when we do not realize we are making decisions every moment. Choices that keep us moving in a direction that at the same time might be a direction we complain about.
In the absence of knowing much, there is a way of making decisions that works extremely well when it is actually applied. This is called Game Theory.
With Game Theory, when you don’t know what the outcomes will be, you list possible outcomes and then see which ones you like. Then you see if you can convince yourself to make the decisions that will get you moving in one of those preferred directions.
How much meaning do you want to see in life, in your everyday, second-to-second life? If you want there to be rich meaning abounding, then choose a lens that gives you that view. A lens that makes things more explainable and understandable. Remember, it is still just a lens!
For example, let’s say that in terms of the nature of reality, there are really only two clusters of lenses to choose from. One says there is something like a God, and the other says there is nothing like a God.
Through the lenses that say there is something like a God, there appears to be an abundance of meaning in our lives. In the other cluster of lenses, there appears to be a dearth of meaning — much happens that makes no sense, nor do we expect it to make sense.
I was in this lens for many years. It came from being so impressed by science as a kid. I can testify that there are good things about this lens. For one thing, it makes one feel terribly independent, an independent thinker, since most of the world is in the other lens cluster. It sometimes strips away so many considerations that you can quickly look at situations and see the barest of elements, the quintessence. There is a certain minimalist “cleanliness” if not clarity.
Emotionally the lens of being alone in an unbenevolent universe can be toughening, allowing you to more easily become fatalistic and to shed many of your attachments. You get in the habit of not making assumptions but rather being very commonsense and down to earth. Very empirical. You don’t lean on illusions or faith or anyone else to define reality for you. All of which can be good.
The God lens from the standpoint of Game Theory has its benefits too. Again we are not saying anything definitive about the true nature of reality. We are only discussing the lenses we can look through.
Through the lens that says the universe is not accidental and intelligence was present from the beginning, intelligence may indeed be the ultimate “information processor” that both started the universe and is the universe. Everything else — information, energy, matter — is epiphenomena arising in appearance from this intelligence as the single existent thing in the universe.
This is somewhat of a new lens — I might even be inventing it — in the cluster of lenses I have dubbed the “Something like God exists” cluster.
The other lenses in this cluster are more “religious” in their depiction of the underlying intelligence. Mine is more “scientific”. On the other hand, when one looks back through history for others who have espoused lenses similar to mine, one goes all the way back to native shamans and to what for a long time we have called “pantheism”. Certainly all mystics use lenses that come close to mine in the sense that they are mystics — admitting they still operate in the mists, with no one fixed ideology.
This scientific-mystic lens affords meaning to everything. Use this lens (without believing it to be the truth, nor disbelieving it) if you yearn to have more meaning in your life. You will always see the meanings as tentative without become locked into them, but at least you will see a wealth more meaning in your life.
Since meaning adds a sense of value to all human beings, the Game Theory “bet” on intelligence behind the universe is a better bet than the opposite bet, because it imputes more value to life.
However, I am not saying you should make a bet, just continue to keep an open mind, and experiment with both lenses.
In fact it will help you shoulder on the mantle of this lens to remember that you don’t know the meaning of life or reality — nobody does, it is all a wonder-fully thrilling awesome unknown. This makes it interesting, mysterious-mystical, immense, awe-inspiring. Wouldn’t we be missing something if we did know everything?
Since a universal intelligence of some kind cannot be ruled out, this lens allows you to entertain explanations for things in every moment both with and without God or Universal Intelligence in your mindstream.
Wearing this pure empirical maximal-skeptic lens you will start to see possible reasons why certain things happened — as if the universe is trying to help you — even by putting certain training obstacles in your path. I call this noia — being the opposite of paranoia.
By seeing things as possible gifts from the universe even if they are not, and even if they don’t feel like gifts, you gain some leverage from being able to see how to use the event better. Game Theory.
You benefit most by being able to switch lenses at will. Have fun!