Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fisk the Stoic

Being a fan of the Athenian tradition, I respect Stoics. I'd like an opportunity to give them an opportunity to update the philosophy, to pay them back for the many good ideas they've given me.

Xenosystems has linked to someone calling themselves a Stoic. Let's fisk.

The Stoics focus on two things:
  1. How can we lead a fulfilling, happy life?
  2. How can we become better human beings?
A key to speaking as an Aristotlean Sage is to avoid contradicting known facts. Speaking colloquially is about being careful of your implications, such as implying that the Stoics differed from any Athenian school in this regard.

It’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them; it’s vital that we learn to transmute them into fuel to feed our fire.
Poetic nonsense. It turns out this is predictive.

Without a philosophy to guide our work and life, we will relentlessly succumb to our excuses and distractions.
Ew, gross. Try to at least pretend to care about the truth more than your status.

This many errors, especially in quick succession, indicates a writer who barely knows anything. It takes more effort to remove the dross from this ore than it would to construct the truths from scratch. Since I've already decided to be fisking, we'll be testing this prediction. 

It is not outside forces that make us feel something, it is what we tell ourselves that create our feelings. A blank document, canvas, or unmarked to-do list is not inherently stressful—it’s your thoughts that are stressing you out.
Very confused. Look how long it takes me to address the confusions. It's an amazing feat of confabulation.

Snakes are inherently stressful. Therefore, some things are inherently stressful.

First, let's stop being confused about the chain of events.
1. A snake-associated pattern of photons is resolved by the eye.
2. The visual cortex recognizes a snake, based on instinct.
3. The limbic system recognizes a snake as dangerous, based on instinct.
4. A snake-image is reported to consciousness associated with an attention-arresting unpleasant emotion.

According to Jun, is the visual cortex an inside force, or an outside force? How about according to you? ProTip, it doesn't matter. What matters is whether you control your visual cortex or not. Are you capable of choosing not to see a snake image when a snake-shaped pattern of photons is resolved by your retina?

Now generalize.
What else can or can't you control?
What is the chain of events that starts with resolving a blank-canvas associated pattern of photons?

Why are the thoughts associated with the empty canvas unpleasant? Can, for example, you decide that missing your deadline and not being paid is not an unpleasant experience?

There is a question whether it is rational to look at an empty canvas and conclude the deadline is likely to be missed. Whether it is constructive to dwell on that possibility, as opposed to other possibilities, given you can dwell on a limited number of possibilities at one time.

Science has shown that, at least on average, dwelling on success marginally increases your odds of success. I've found this to be provisionally true for me. Dwelling on likely failure modes makes me much more likely to think of a solution, and I'm very likely to need a solution. Dwelling on unlikely failure feels like chewing on a pen lid, and diverts a small amount of resources away from applying myself to the task.

(See also: Stoicism was re-named by bureaucratic society as 'cognitive therapy.')

However, it may well be likely that you'll miss your deadline. Then it may well be rational to dwell on it. It is not rational to tell yourself that an unpleasant outcome is not unpleasant, it is a lie. In this case, Stoicism is false, no caveats. At least, before we steelman it.

The steelman is pain doesn't have to hurt. Scratch an itch; it is painful, but it doesn't hurt. It stings, but does not cause suffering. No damage was done. Now generalize.

While you've got your brain's guts open, might as well distinguish pleasure and joy, so you can distinguish hedonism and health.

Many of us want to place blame and responsibility on external objects because it’s easy to do, but the truth remains that all conflicts start internally, in our minds.
It is possible the thinker is not as unsophisticated as the writing indicates.
First, let's translate 'external' to something that matters - uncontrollable. Is it true that it's tempting to blame things I can't control for failures that I can control, and that this is an error. Indeed I used to often believe things I can control were beyond me - it is necessary to explicitly test all such assumptions. I've gone so far as to attempt to control meteorological phenomena by force of will. "But surely..." The point is I said that and was wrong. I had to start well beyond what's 'reasonable' to avoid starting well inside of what's reasonable.

Notably, this is not done by thinking, "I will now prove I can't control these clouds." If it is possible to 'prove' such a thing according to your standards, you will succeed, whether it is true or not. I found it necessary to method-act the belief that I could control my test subjects. At present, I think I'll avoid spoiling the surprising results. I think you'll enjoy finding out for yourself more. Also it's probably best not to contaminate the experiment.

It is of course true that 'conflict,' which I'll hold to mean 'unpleasant qualia,' starts in the brain, which most others would describe as 'inside' you. Empty space isn't stressed out by snakes. However, as the owner of that brain, you don't have the luxury of such coarse distinctions. To use your brain to its full potential, you must distinguish between the bits of your inside you do control and the bits you don't.

When we flee from reality—a deadline, an urgent email—we are doing nothing but harming ourselves and undermining our self-discipline.
Of course that is sometimes true. It is far from always true. tl;dr sometimes the subconscious parts of your brain, that you don't directly control but do directly control you, don't buy your plan. It is smarter than you; while you can use self-discipline to override it, it is painful, costly, and I've found it's almost always the wrong decision. E.g. I should have played hooky most school days. I feel something you'd call 'regret' for using my discipline to not play hooky - it was in fact doing so that undermined my discipline, not failing to do so.

I dunno, maybe your subconscious is different. I'd have to test it, like I tested my own.

There is no formula for determining the difference between cowardice and the subcon not buying my plan. Judgment must be used, and nobody but I can see the relevant parts of my own brain.

The next time you run into an obstacle and feel resistance, don’t look at what’s around you. Instead, look within.
Luckily, we all live under rocks and this is novel to us.

There are many kinds of resistance. They all mean slightly different things.

I associate resistance with excitement. I rarely get the chance to exert myself.
The 'resistance' Jun is probably thinking of I experience as a dull tidal flow. Or maybe like climbing a loose snowbank. There's no percentage there, so I go around.

When I first started my blog and called myself a writer, who could I look up to?
Looking up to people is for the weak.
By all means, if you find a technique or practice you admire, steal it. But, having stolen the technique, you may find it hard to look up to. However, I've found these techniques are distributed inconsistently. If you're capable of looking up to a specific person, it means you're god-awful. I mean, sure, steal all their good stuff. However, a reasonable rate of advance will swiftly carry the dedicated student beyond any specific example.

Looking up to a person sets up a psychological parent-child cascade. It reinforces the idea the child cannot measure up to the parent, and this belief will be a barrier, not a booster. Why put unnecessary barriers between you and excellence?

Know them by their fruits - this Jun idiot looked up to people. I most certainly do not look up to Jun.

Whatever you do—create apps, draw portraits, write books, or make animation films—there are individuals that you can learn from.
Jun said something unfalse. An oasis of relief.
Admittedly Jun probably doesn't know that one mainly learns by negative example. "This app is crap. Right, I'ma not do that." At least make novel errors.

What’s important to realize is that this isn’t an exercise of comparison. If you don’t get a book deal in eight months or if your product doesn’t hit #1 in the first week, like your role model, that doesn’t make you a failure.
Jun is very sure comparing yourself to others is low status.
However, if your goal was to be as good or better than your role model, then yeah, you were totally a failure.
However, it is worth noting they may have many hidden advantages. In my experience, a vast majority of advantages are hidden. This is another reason it's not worth looking up to anyone - even if you are fully capable of copying them, you can't, because their secret sauces are naturally hidden.

To take an absurd example, say you're in college, you spend lots of time on the internet, you've found the Dark Enlightenment and you decide this Alrenous person is on the ball. You try to steal my stuff. Sorry, too late. I started when I was about 12. By the time I was 15, almost every spare moment was spent philosophizing, and I didn't even know it wasn't normal. It's not work to me either, it literally comes more easily than breathing. You can catch up, but not anytime soon. Now, generalize. How many 'overnight' successes are the result of endless years of silent practice?

Also, Buffet may simply be cheating. His methods sound eminently copyable, and there's a financial incentive to copy them. Market logic dictates that if they ever worked, they should have stopped working. Hence, his stated methods are not his real methods.
Your idols tell untruths about how they achieved. Often they themselves honestly don't even know they don't know.

That said being a failure is reversible, even though being socially considered a failure generally isn't. In reality failure is the path to power. I learn little from success. "Seems I'm good at this, I guess I'll stay the same." I require failure the way plants require water.

 Everyone, no matter how successful they are, has heroes/mentors to look towards.
If you find someone who can mentor me, kindly tell me. As a bonus you'll get to watch my face fall off as my entire worldview is turned on its head. For years I assumed there would be someone. Eventually the empirical difficulty tuned the challenge rating up to infinity. I am unhappy about this.

I suspect various aspects of modernity are sharply discouraging productive mentorship. I offer free-ish mentorship, because I'd like to test these hypotheses.

To blog productively means resisting most short-term incentives. How many incentives must be resisted to mentor properly?

So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Stating counter-intuitive things to impress your buddies and disgust the proles is not a new practice.
Succeeding without work is more profitable than succeeding at large cost. Profit is basically what we mean by 'fortune.'

There is of course the failure=water thing. I don't know about you, while Aurelius reminds me of this, I have to severely torture his actual words to get that literal meaning out of them.

The outcome was similar to having a baby and all the doctors laughing out loud, saying, “My goodness that is an ugly baby.”
There are indeed some associated strong unpleasant qualia.

1. Was it really honest? Was it you that was rejected, or was it your ego, your persona, your mask?

2. If it was you that was rejected, do they deserve your regard, or have they just proven their opinions are wrong?

3. If their opinion was right, does it matter? Are you in fact a bad person for making a baby ugly in this particular way?

On one hand, you presumably like your friends and don't want them to suffer, which implies hiding the uglier parts of yourself. On the other hand, if they are indeed friend to your virtues and not e.g. your money, then no matter how harshly they complain, they will still be your friend.

I'm presently sympathetic to the plan of accepting your friends' warts (by not unfriending them, not by pretending they're not warts) because in the long term you want less-stressed friends, which goal is strongly served by not demanding they filter themselves. Also, "Shams may cease," etc.

After the doctors are done laughing at your ugly baby, do they treat it with care and kindness, or do they brusquely dump it on your lap so they can get on with cooing at the pretty babies? Given you have to live with yourself, what kind of person would you rather live with?

Seems this plan generalizes to both arts and crafts without much alteration.

Caveat: not all warts are acceptable. I don't mean 'should not be accepted' or 'appropriate' I mean they mechanically cannot be accepted by anyone worth being accepted by. Having one of these mutations rules out having friends; in these cases feeling scared of vulnerability is strictly due to vulnerability being dangerous.
But recovering from that failure is a practice, a mindset—in fact, the lessons that I internalized from that experience is helping me do better work. The thinking goes: No failure, no growth.
Hopefully you already see why this is a path to weakness and pain. Plants do not recover from being watered. I will now ineptly try to be more plain.

The thing about failure that hurts is painful due to facts beyond my control. I cannot decide that being ostracized is fun times. I can, however, change my goals.

I found failure hurt because I was wrapping my ego up in my efforts, and then deciding my audience was competent to judge my ego. What in fact happens is audiences look just long enough to decide if 'good' or 'bad' is the high-status response, and then dismiss the work from their mind. They don't conceive of the person behind the work as person unless deliberately reminded. I therefore intellectualized the social risks, instead of letting the subcon handle it, which turned out to be curative. If I find the social risks acceptable, I take them. 'Failure' is merely annoying. If not, I don't.

I ignore those who talk past the sale, but I do think past the sale. What am I producing for? If I win, what do I win? If I lose, does it really low my odds of winning next time? Frequently, even a devastating 'failure' can cause no damage to my final cause, and as a result I do not fear it. Caveat: sometimes the social risks abut pre-rational instincts, which mean the unpleasantness of resisting this instinct has to go into the cost-benefit balance.

Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person.
"Impress me."


 Reading books on marketing or business or creativity will supply endless dots that have potential for connection to develop a more in-depth awareness,
I've never found a single one. "Reading is high status, and I'm high status, so I say reading is good. You believe I'm high status, right?"

but what will ultimately make you effective at that craft is by applying it.
Thing is, as per Paul Fussel, status jockeying is almost always pointless. The momentary highs do not correspond to any kind of progress. When you read a book to impress your friends, even if your friends are impressed, you won't get anything as a result. What, are they going to help you move, but harder? Will they start letting you decide where the group goes? Can you imagine? "Well, Fregil read twelve books last week, let's all defer to Fregil." "Mmm, yeah."

I see lots of cost-benefit balances that work out to 'read that book' that would be fine if status was worth a damn, but it's not. The book has to make what-is-called-material improvements to your life. This can only be reliably assessed in which time I see a lot of hype over the next book, instead of reflecting on how reliable such hype was regarding the last one. That's a recipe for allowing people like me to lead you around by the nose.

Reading prepares your mind, even helps you avoid foolish mistakes, but at the end of it all there must be the result of some action: a failure, maybe a success, or a lesson.
Reading blah blah applause lights vagueness blah. After blah blah, a thing should thingy.
Reading self-help books will, in that moment, make you feel inspired for a change.
Indeed, don't confuse a pleasant feeling with a productive outcome. Caveat: momentary pleasure is a perfectly cromulent goal, as long as it's taken for what it is.

Some people boast about their failings: can you imagine someone who counts his faults as merits ever giving thought to their cure? So—to the best of your ability—demonstrate your own guilt, conduct inquiries of your own into all the evidence against yourself.  
Hiding faults sets off a psychological cascade that makes them seem unacceptable.
"I'm not a glutton!"
"Because a glutton deserves to be a hated outcast."
One can psychologically hide from this self-blame, but it's still around and its gravity will be felt. I can often pinpoint some of these within seconds of meeting someone: the voice moved out of consciousness shrieks out in action.

By contrast, by trying to resist the gluttony and failing, it is proven the gluttony is beyond control. Can't be blamed for things beyond control. Genuinely trying, mind, not "I'm going to prove I can't control this gluttony." You know that's bullshit. It's merely a sophisticated way of hiding from that voice saying you can.

The practice of self-awareness—to think about your thinking—in how you think, feel, and behave is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.
As per Aristotle, all the virtues come down to habit.
Unless you have Asperger's, which saps habits of their momentum. They're more like suggestions, then.

“A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I found it worthwhile to reset entirely. Pay attention to approximately nothing. See what costs I in fact incurred. Then, start paying attention again only as necessary. This gave me an intuitive sense of when I was wasting my attention, as I had two standard bodies to compare to. It stopped being a reflective object and started reminding me directly, subjectively, emotionally, of things I had profited by ignoring.

The other day I was genuinely shocked at how much time I spent spectating on Instagram, watching other people live their lives and eat boats of sushi.
First time I witnessed this shock I was shocked. What, you don't keep your goals and priorities in mind at all times? How could you possibly not realize Instagram doesn't serve your goals?

Remind yourself: you weren’t meant to procrastinate.
Dear young versions of me: you were meant to procrastinate. Don't listen. They're scared of being low status and maybe have the vaguest connection to their inner selves. Also they're flagellating themselves over this so they can avoid flagellating themselves over their real faults, which they can't admit because they think it proves they deserve to be cast out

Ironically, this self-hating self-destruction causes them to deserve to be cast out. While this is reversible, it gets less reversible the longer it's true.

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company. Seneca, Letters From a Stoic
I don't know what this means. Are we talking about being able to sit down on a park bench, just because? Or what? If it is the park bench, then what happens when a thing-called-disordered mind tries it?

To me, a child in a restaurant playing a game on her iPad
The child is saying your company is worthless. This is because to you the child is a conduit for status, so you don't bother to provide value to her. That is, your company is worthless. Also most children can multitask. She doesn't appear to be paying attention to you because you have no empathy and have repressed what being a child is like.

When you’re working, be ruthlessly present.
I allow myself to be exactly as present as I feel like being. Some blog posts involve constant irrelevant distractions, and I do nothing to prevent them. My task at hand is always 'furthering my goals.' The distractions may or may not serve the post, the apparent object of my effort, but they further my goals. Being ruthlessly present hinders my goals.

Both scenarios are moments of connection (to the people around you, not through your screen), communication, and enjoyment. 
"Validate my status with attention."


Also, I imagine you'll have difficulty explaining how fluffing this idiot's ego is the same as being alone.

 To be present as well as learning to be alone is a habit. [...] Throughout your day find a moment, however fleeting, to just sit and be still.  
Persons who are in fact mindful notice non-sequiturs.

Sooner or later, you’ll realize how much of an asset this is to your creativity and overall quality of life. 
To me, this level of disconnection with the self is like having to remind someone to eat food instead of plastic. Food feels good to have eaten. Non-food doesn't. If something feels bad, consider the possibility it's bad for you. If you need to feel alone you will start feeling aversion to your phone or what have you, just as a little straight salt tastes great, and a little more tastes awful. Unless your self-empathy has been completely ravaged, I suppose, in which case I can't consider you a person anymore. Get out of the way for someone who can not-suffer.

“Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able be good.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Who is this patient? I mastered the logic of consciousness because I wanted to know it now. Whether I had endless time to do it was entirely irrelevant. I'm writing this blog post because I'm eager to see how it turns out. I'm failing to put it off only because I don't have to put it off.

Turns out my subconsciousness buys my plan. The fun part is I don't know why. Only way I'm going to find out is by executing and seeing what happens.

It provides a sense of urgency, to realize that you’ve lived a certain number of hours and the hours ahead of you are not guaranteed as the ones you have lived.
No, that's annoying. Every instant I'm thinking about that is an instant I'm not executing my next plan.

 Lastly, in the words of Seneca, “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.”
Namely, almost none of them. If Jun had gone through his post and removed everything that couldn't be immediately applicable, it would be what, a few sentences? Also, he might have realized that vague generalities are impossible to execute on. Of logical necessity, plans must be concrete and detailed.

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