“If only I had done X, this would have never happened.” Why would you think that? Wishful thinking, perhaps, because it allows you to imagine a simple reality where one action would have such clear consequences? We as humans seem to be magically drawn to counterfactual statements of the form ”If A would have been different, B would be different, too.“. We’re assuming a causal relationship between A and B. This allows us to imaginatively control the uncontrollable—the reality that didn’t happen.
The problem is, we never know what would have happened, because we didn’t try to really change A and only A. The name for these statements, counterfactuals, is perfectly on point. The statement is contra-to-fact, it contradicts reality—it’s false by definition.
For me, this is a rare case where being able to put a name on it made all the difference. Whenever I hear a counterfactual statement now, my mind raises a red flag and I know to critically examine the statement, because it’s probably false.
It’s consistently weird to me how many decisions parents can—and sometimes have to—make for their children.
For example, my wife and I can choose to indoctrinate our child into a religion of our choosing. Although some religions are less harmful than others, it is morally reprehensible to put that kind of stamp on a child before they can decide for themselves. Like for alcohol or drugs, a minimum age for religion sounds like a good idea to me.
Another choice we face is the kind of kindergarten or school we pick for our child. There are quite a few options with unscientific or even anti-scientific pedagogic concepts, like Montessori or Waldorf. Going to such a school would set our son back years, at least in regards of critical thinking, but quite certainly also in other areas.
We can also choose to not vaccinate our child, thereby not giving him basic immunisation agains common or dangerous diseases. This will harm him, but it will also harm other people around him, who might not be able to be vaccinated. We’re all legally allowed to skip vaccinations for us or our children. But if you are doing just that, please get off this planet—you’re a danger to humanity.
Why did we set up a culture with these freedoms? Yes, at first glance, these are freedoms of choice. But at closer inspection, your freedom to indoctrinate your child is severely limiting their spiritual and philosophical freedom. Your freedom to not vaccinate your child is hurting their health and the health of their peers. Your freedom to pick a crackpot school for your child is stifling their potential, and thus their freedom to become the best person they can be. Morally, we already aren’t allowed to limit our children in that way. So why are we legally allowed to do so?
Bushcraft is having fun in the forest without using technology. That’s my understanding, at least. Like any outdoor activity, it has its unique characteristics. Doing Bushcraft is slow, for example. You don’t want to exert yourself, because working up a sweat means you have to dry your clothes and you need to collect more water. So Bushcraft is relaxed. It’s is also defined by reducing everything to the bare minimum: no need for a gas stove when a fire suffices. No need for a tent when a tarp is enough. This reduction means that the more you know, the less you carry: knowledge about using your environment and available materials means you need to take less equipment.
I love this slowed down, deliberate way of being, which heavily relies on skills and knowledge. I call it the Bushcraft Mode. Like the martial ways, the benefits of the Bushcraft Mode extend far beyond its immediate practice.
Applying it on the job, for example, could mean thinking fast and planning well, but working slowly and deliberately. It can mean focusing on quality and the application of all my knowledge in contrast to the dreaded ASAP culture where doing comes before thinking. Working in Bushcraft Mode is slow enough that you can be ready for any situation. Just because you’ve had the time to prepare. It can lead to doing the right thing because you’ve taken the time to gather all the knowledge, instead of trucking on in the wrong direction because you need to reach that milestone by tomorrow.
To apply the Bushcraft Mode in my private life can mean focusing less on stuff and more on friends, less on owning many things and more on knowing how to skillfully use everything I own. It can mean using my environment to get creative instead of buying more stuff. Cooking in this mode, I will use few high-quality ingredients—and take my time and produce something simple but great.
For me, operating in Bushcraft Mode is akin to a rediscovery of slowness. Of quality. Of deliberation. Of taking time to do things right.
On my best man’s wedding, his best man gave a presentation. Because as a consultant, that’s what he’s used to do, in order to structure his thoughts. As a coder, I’m using my text editor with markdown to structure my thoughs. Alternatively, as a UX designer, I’m using pen & paper sketches. Previously, I experimented with mind maps, outliners (which are more limited than markdown) and todo applications.
Structuring our thoughts outside our mind is necessary for any problem more complex than making tea. I wonder why so few good tools exist. Let me consider some drawbacks of the above solutions:
- With the exception of mindmaps and pen & paper, they are linear and don’t allow annotating the all important links between distant topics.
- Most methods focus on prose, which is often cumbersome. More visual approaches can be much quicker.
- Presentation software is made to share thoughts, not to structure them for oneself, so the focus is wrong.
The ideal tool to support my thinking would meet the following three requirements:
- Non-linearity: Reordering topics and links between topics must be possible.
- Time-sensitivity: It must be possible to see in which order the separate parts were created in order to retrace the though process later.
- Visuality: There must be a way to incorporate sketches, scribbles or even pictures from other sources.
So far, I don’t know any tool that combine these three. Pen & paper sketches are non-linear, but not time-sensitive. Presentations are visual, but linear. Text documents are none of the above. Mindmaps are non-linear, but not time-sensitive and rarely visual.
The way we structure our thoughts is critical in order to solve any complex problem. I, for one, am gonna spend more time improving my tools and methods here, since that’s what’s worked in many other related scenarios, e. g. for coding, designing or presenting.
At the core of your smartphone sits a choice. Do you use it to extend your mind, or to imprison it?
You’re imprisoning your mind if you’re …
- staring at your phone like a zombie while more important things are going on around you,
- always looking at a limited slice of reality (an echo chamber),
- using your phone to paint a idealized picture of yourself on social media or
- pulling-to-refresh like an addict.
You’re exending your mind if you’re …
- looking up all the knowledge of the world to teach and learn,
- making interesting computations with useful apps,
- extending your senses (some AR apps, for example) or
- augmenting your own memory with notes, sketches and pictures.
Most people only know one type of travel. The expensive type that also damages the environment immensely. It’s often personally rewarding to travel the world, because—done right—travelling gives us new perspectives. When done wrongly though, without experiencing the foreign place and its people, physical travel is little more than an expensive way to heat our planet.
Using the second type of travelling, I’ve been 10000 years in the future, seen foreign galaxies, visited the past and met a lot of unique individuals along the way. I’m talking about travelling with my mind, of course. To do this, you can use many vehicles: books, video games, in rare cases even television. A good book will take you on a journey to its own world, immersing you completely for hours at a time. The feeling of immersion here is the same as standing in a foreign place, breathing in the atmosphere.
I’m writing this mostly because our society overvalues physical travelling and undervalues travelling with the mind. Many people never experienced being immersed in the exciting world of a well made video game. Or dove head first into the unusual universe of a well written science fiction book. If you haven’t, please try it some time! I’ve been on many physical journeys. But for almost all of my most memorable travels, I’ve been using my mind only.
If my little son were a computer, he’d be horribly designed. Here are a few examples:
- There’s only one type of error sound without any message. If you don’t find the solution to the problem, the sound becomes louder and louder.
- Sometimes, it just plays the error sound for no reason, and it won’t stop.
- Solutions to problems can be polar opposites, e. g. raising or reducing temperature.
- Bad ventilation and temperature control, needing frequent manual adjustments by the user.
- It has an inbuilt mechanism to not allow the user to get enough sleep by doing periodical error sounds at least every four hours, probably more often, but basically random. This prevents the user from operating at full productivity by having impeded problem solving capabilities.
- Whenever you lift or move it, you need to take care that it doesn’t break because the internal structure is very weak.
- Huge energy demands but tiny battery, needing frequent recharges.
- Not owning one usually causes a strong biological urge inside the potential user to get one.
- Relies on hormonal manipulation of the user in order to be liked despite all of the above.
Thanks a bunch, evolution!
“All opinions matter” said the poster in the subway, trying to get me to take part in a survey. Would that it were so simple. Opinions are quickly adopted, easily changed and rarely based on facts. So I’d disagree with that poster and say that your opinion doesn’t matter at all—unless it’s an informed opinion. That is, one based on facts.
For example, when talking about vaccination, it is often asserted that there are two sides, pro and con. And that both positions are valid opinions. But being against vaccination is not a valid opinion, because it’s not grounded in facts. There are no rational arguments against vaccines in general. Vaccines are an astoundingly useful achievement of science.
The false balance between informed opinions and uninformed opinions changes a rational discussion between informed people to an irrational discussion between opinionated people. For me, the transition from having opinions to having informed opinions meant being less opinionated and more often stating “I don’t know, I’ve not seen any facts point either way.” I can only wish for everyone holding uninformed opinions to do the same.
Family reunions, although generally nice events, often bring me into contact with religion. Since I’ve been around 14 years old, it’s been obvious to me that none of the approximately 8000 gods humanity has invented actually exist. The god delusion is still very prevalent amongst my relatives, though. At my grandma’s 80th birthday party, I was especially surprised by the way the prayers my uncle spoke, deprive believers of agency and responsibility. Let me review two prayers in more detail, to clarify what I mean.
The Forces of Good
First, a very common prayer from Germany:
1 The forces of good are wonderfully surrounding,
2 so we await confidently whatever comes our way,
3 God’s with us from dawn to the slumber of evening,
4 and certainly at the break of each new day.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (translated from the German original)
Line 1, aside from being obviously false, also gives the believer the impression that there is someone good looking out for them. It removes responsibility from the believer, especially with line 2 following. Believers can just sit at home and watch TV, awaiting confidently whatever comes, because the forces of good will deal with all problems. That’s so wrong, it hurts. No, the forces of good won’t deal with all problems. Every person has to do the best they can in order to make living on this planet work out. We can’t sit back and wait for imaginary good forces to do our bidding.
Unfortunately, the prayer takes a turn for the worse in lines 3 and 4. These lines make sure the believer understands that they will be surveilled all the time, every day. The fact that believers are already used to the state of total surveillance makes them much more easily content with the total surveillance of the state. Which is a direction many states are heading in. Believers, like all people, need to resist that, not revel in it!
The Lord is my Shepherd
To show that this is not a unique example, here’s another well-known prayer:
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Psalm 23 (1—4), The Bible
Similar to “The Forces of Good”, lines 1 and 2 paint a picture of a good shepherd caring for the believers. Believers don’t need to do anything by themselves, everything will be provided for. I think this also instills a sense of entitlement in believers. They’re told everything will be provided, but in reality, it isn’t. So they might complain why they aren’t given what was promised, instead of providing it themselves.
In line 3, we find a nice example why conflicts beween religions are so common: the path of righteousness sounds to me—from a perspective of the enlightenment—to be a path where the believer can’t be wrong. In reality, however, admitting (or even assuming) that we’re wrong and then looking for reasons why we’re wrong, is often a great path towards enlightening discoveries.
With it’s conclusion in line 4, the prayer takes even more things away from the believer. This time, it’s fear. Especially in dark valleys, fear is a useful instinct. I admit that in a metaphorical sense, modern dark valleys (e. g. problems at work) might not be served by this instinct. But we shouldn’t walk through the valley trusting in an imaginary friend, we should walk through it with real friends or real skills, trusting in those instead. The surveillance theme in this line is also not helpful, but I repeat myself.
Prayers—ritualistic phrases that are often repeated—aren’t a bad idea in general. But the examples I know, two of which I’ve discussed, all degrade the believer from enlightened human to powerless worshipper. Such a waste! Christians could have used these opportunities to highlight mindsets that are beneficial for personal development. They could instill skepticism instead of obedience, freedom instead of surveillance or responsibility instead of passivity. Wouldn’t that be great‽