Category Archives: Meandering Mind
I’m reading a fantastic book called Thinking Fast and Slow, by Nobel Prize Winner, Daniel Kahneman. I can’t get more than 5 pages into it without taking a page of notes and implications. I end up thinking so hard and making so many connections in my head that I’m sometimes exhausted after a brief session of reading then taking notes. Paperback edition highly recommended.
There’s a point made that there is an experiencing self, and a remembering self. That is, “how are things right now,” and “how were things, on the whole?” It reminds me that our minds are essentially comprised of a long history of memories, and a thing slice of experience that feeds that collection. So we should work to preserve and enhance those from the perspective of the future, not our experiences as we live them. We are a moment in the experience, a lifetime in its memory.
This is how I tend to write, as well. To absolutely and faithfully record the facts as I lived them is an illusion. It is always tainted by my perspective at the time and ignores any future realizations. My experience at the time is, by necessity, incomplete. Why bother to record an incomplete story?
Instead, I like to write with the benefit of future perspective, analysis, and insight. This tells the true story, even if the details are not impartially recorded. A shorthand is to write the story as you will remember it, not as you lived it. This also allows for curation and rebelling that’s more humorous, dramatic, compelling, and more human that the experienced self found it to be. That’s what has (hopefully) allowed me to keep an entertaining and informative blog for so many years.
There’s a recent article in the New York Times about nostalgia and its role in human psychology. It’s an interesting article in which the author takes us briefly through the idea of nostalgia, melancholia and its relationship to psychiatric diagnoses. The prevailing wisdom is that nostalgia is a bad thing, making us feel lonelier and more isolated, and can lead to mental disease. But that’s changing, in large part, thanks to Constantine Sedikides, who pioneered the field of psychological study.
Actually, it turns out, nostalgia is good for your mental health, allowing you to feel comfort in strange surroundings. By reminding you of troubled times before and showing you that you’ve overcome them just fine. Or by reminding you of good past experiences. And with friends, reminding you of the experiences you’ve shared. Nostalgia can cheer you up and bring you happiness when you’re down, instead of the other way around.
The natural conclusion, which they posit in the article later on, is that one strategy is to purposefully create situations which will build nostalgia. A related field, which Daniel Khaneman talks about here at TED. Point is since we never recall experiences truly accurately, we should instead strategize for optimal memories, not experience. (Side note: Daniel Khaneman recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics but he’s actually a Psychologist. He’s got a book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that goes into lots of detail about the strange ways in which our mind really works, versus how we think it does.
My favorite line in the original article is “Military physicians speculated that its prevalence among Swiss mercenaries abroad was due to earlier damage to the soldiers’ ear drums and brain cells by the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Alps.” This story is from 1688, but nostalgia has been observed around the world across human history. Most people say they experience nostalgia at least once a week.
A recent podcast is along the same lines, The Memory Palace: Origin Stories. It’s about a man thinking back on the stories his family used to tell. They were mostly set around the time the matriarch and patriarch (his grandparents) met. And eventually the stories were shortened to a few words that, for someone who knows the stories very well, would bring on all of the old nostalgia, a warm feeling and a smile. I particularly like the Origin Stories angle, since it’s not far from those stories to a cultural Mythos, if the experience is widespread enough. From legend and myth to faith and religion is a conceivable jump, looking back in the history of mankind. You can see its potential role in superstition, shamanistic practices, ancestor worship and even polytheism. A couple of good books, “The Evolution of God” and “The Faith Instinct” speak to this, arguing that this process is entirely natural. More reason why nostalgia shouldn’t be sloughed off as just a road to depression.
Research on eye movement suggests that there are some strange benefits to some eye movements. For example, there seems to be a correlation between eye movement and creativity. And there also seems to be a correlation between eye movement and memory. That’s an interesting finding considering that these eye movements roughly match what you’ll do when you’re reading an actual book. But it’s not the movement you’ll be making when listening to a book on tape, or (in my experience) reading on a computer screen where you tend to move your head not your eyes. Vive la papier!
From the movie The Producers, by Mel Brooks.
Bialystock: You think you’re not in prison now? Living in a grey little room. Going to a grey little job. Leading a grey little life.
Bloom: You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I’m a nothing. I spend my life counting other people’s money – people I’m smarter than, better than. Where’s my share? Where’s Leo Bloom’s share? I want, I want, I want, I want everything I’ve ever seen in the movies!
Bialystock: Leo, say you’ll join me.
Bloom: I’ll do it. By God, I’ll do it. I’m Leo Bloom. I’m me. I can do whatever I want.
You don’t have to be talking about breaking the law to talk about doing whatever you want. We all feel like we’re trapped sometimes in our lives. Prisoners to our routine. Making money for other people. Sweeping up a pile of money to be added to the coffers of old rich men. But this prison is safety. Trading comfort for satisfaction. It offers many freedoms, don’t get me wrong. But it also has many shackles that could be thrown off if it weren’t for the safety net offered by that grey little job, inside the grey little room. That’s why we voluntarily imprison ourselves. The shackles are light. But they’re still shackles.
It occurs to me that there may be no free will nor destiny. Things which happen simply take the universe in one direction rather than another. No causality, nor inevitability; it just is the way it is because it is. Is existence random or just uncertain? I can’t tell you that. But I do know that there is only one arrow on the direction of time. You can’t unscramble an egg and you can’t unknow a thing. And you can’t recapture time lost for any reason.
Every decision you made (or didn’t make), every action you took (or didn’t take) today is who you will be tomorrow. Who are you becoming? If you’re not becoming something you will love, shouldn’t you be?
Is it by choice that the cricket chirps? My macrobehavior has no relevance to my immediate predicament. If I have wanderlust right now does it really matter that I could have quit my job and been traveling the world by now?
“For thinkers and all sensitive spirits, boredom is that disagreeable “windless calm” of the soul that precedes a happy voyage an cheerful winds.” -Nietzsche
In other words, don’t attempt to so fill your hours that you lose the tine you have in boredom. Creativity springs from daydreams and daydreams are born of boredom. Inspiration and not sloth comes of boredom.
Those who search may miss all but their goal. Those who wander miss little and find much. Set your goal and wander toward it. Stop on occasion to see what you’ve found and to see if you still have the same goal. That is called “meandering”.
I read a post about whether or not to haggle over on Brave New Traveler. The article implores you to look at the bigger picture view. They come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t bargain too hard with the locals because you’re really rich and they’re not. I’ll give you a couple more reasons not to haggle too hard and then tell you why I usually haggle my ass off.
The article talks mainly about costs relative to the locals’ income, but how about relative to your income? If you go home empty handed, you’ll feel like you lost out. Think of how much your trip cost you, versus how much you’re arguing over. It’s not worth it. And think of how much you make per hour back home. Odds are it’s several times the amount you’re haggling over. Besides, what would you pay to not regret walking away from a cool item once you get back? I’d wager you’d pay more than you’re arguing about, but less than the price to go back there and buy it this time.
But then consider the local economy as the real big picture view. If you don’t haggle down to a reasonable local price, you drive up the price due to resource scarcity. Yes, that may be a small effect akin to the impact of one person’s vote in an election, but the aggregate effect can hurt. You can also contribute to inflation, thus reducing the buying power of non-merchants who don’t have a ready stream of inflated income. Then there is the effect of high prices on the local job market. If the tourist merchants make a lot of money, the others will not be far behind them in setting up shop, creating a flood of merchants and reducing the size of the work force to do other essential tasks.
I met Jeppe Jungersen on a plane after he was involved in shooting Makibefo – an adaptation of the Shakespeare play – in Madagascar. He said the crew had to very carefully manage the economic risks before, during and after shooting. The balance they had to strike was to get enough people to act in their movie without stopping people from fishing or creating income inequalities among the villagers. The crew hired a local from another area to act as a language, cultural and economic translator. They about paid the same for all actors and extras as the locals would make from a day’s work fishing. Incidentally, that also meant that the actors weren’t just in it for the money, but were there because they really wanted to be.