Tuesday, April 30, 2019

epiphany as a service

Last night I had an epiphany. I've been trying to set my life right for years now. Oh, the usual stuff- Be good at work, Maintain excellent relationships, Be knowledgeable of the workings of society, Be kind and generous, Stay Healthy, Make the world better. Summarily, "Live Well". And to this end I've attended lectures, read books, made notes from podcasts, had conversations with successful strangers, filled pages with thoughts and questions, practiced yoga, questioned, lamented. And quite a few other things which I'd do well by forgetting. And yet I've failed. Every single time.

The basis of living like this, according my learnings, is discipline, focus, dedication. Ofcourse I've questioned about why I have to live like this. Why I find those qualities important enough to change my lifestyle. I've never really gotten a convincing answer, not anything that stuck for more than a few days. And inevitably I fall back to my old ways- cursing, cribbing, self-pitying, demeaning myself for my inability to stick to anything- Even things I'd set out for myself to do. I see this as a weakness of the will and even after I've tried multiple mechanisms (to-do lists, agile methodology, yoga and meditation, inspirational mythologies), I've never grown strong enough to live better. A part of me is confounded by my lack of discipline, by the lack of willpower. How do you learn to be strong, brave, good, sincere?

You ask yourself why do you have to be and it seems like the best way to live life. These qualities seem important because lives of many a "successful" person seem to echo that. Someone who's work we deem important enough to learn tips from them on how to live so that we can have equally productive lives- This ideology right here is what I call the engineering mindset. That everything is made up of components and if you optimize all the components, you'll see an "improvement" in the performance of the whole.

A small list of what I mean when I talk about diving life into components:
1. Past, Present, Future
2. Friends, Enemies, Emperors, Slaves
3. Good, Bad, Ugly
4. Happiness, Suffering, Confusion(?)
5. Productive, Unproductive, Hopefully-Productive
6. Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual
7. Lower, Here, Higher

They are axioms: Either because we've reached the end and they are the truth, or simply because we're unable to understand where they come from.

Assuming, everything is physics & biology, and that there's nothing beyond, it ignores the interactions between components and the generally fluctuating nature of human desire. So even if that methodology achieves what it initially set out to do, it doesn't really because the goalposts have moved. Quite soon, I'm trying to understand and map the nature of this infra layer. The entire structure of self-help is based on this premise that if you set these components right, inevitably the whole will be a success. This is classic engineering hubris.

Ofcourse, we take into account the factor that we don't have complete information and the conditions will change or infact the goal itself will change. So we devised Agile. Your product (goal) is ever evolving and always in the process of being made. There's an argument somewhere in the deeper recesses of my mind that maps Agile and Becoming Philosophy to the state of dissatisfaction and restlessness millennials are so accused of.

Engineering is the act of implementing knowledge to solve real-world problems. All life advice is basically recursion. And all life advice, unlike useful advice, takes the form of epiphany because in that instant everything seems to make sense. Unfortunately, enlightenment is equally short-lived.

life_advice (current_generation)
personal learnings from real-world experience * life_advice(current_generation - 1)

So when I'm trying to optimise my life, I might be helping myself but that's only incidental; What I'm really doing is contributing to the human species as a whole. If we live in a Darwinian world, then what is the point of my questioning and realization of this fact? It is either that 1. I'm an anomaly or 2. intermittently questioning assumptions is nature's built-in mechanism to detect and obliterate outdated information.

Point 1 does not really hold true for two reasons: 1. Everybody thinks they're different from the group, so I can't backup my claim of being different 2. I'd have to assume that human consciousness has branched away from nature and is now the most powerful force in the world; And unless consciousness is transcendental, and is there a good reason for it to be?, it is hard to believe we've done to nature what we're afraid AI will do to us.

Point 2 seems more real. But a lot of reading to do in that area- Darwin, Dennett, Dawkins, Complexity Theory, Hofstadter, Pinker's The Blank Slate, Nassim Taleb. (Are there any Indian philosophy books that discuss these topics. I'd love to read them.) So essentially what I'm trying to understand is Where my thoughts come from, and if I, whoever that is, can do something about it.

At this point though, I think life is not, or not just, an engineering problem. True, most daily 'problems' can be solved by adopting this mindset but by definition it means prescribing the ideal state and working towards it. Deciding on the ideal state is the result of agreeing upon a value structure and binding it to time to create realistic expectations, and unless I know where my values come from, if they're arbitrary or absolute, how can I go about acting with conviction on any action I undertake. Unless it just happens. Then, though, there's not much I can do about it anyway.

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