0212 – Bullshit breaks down at the boundaries

I’m on the way to work, and for the first time in weeks, I’m not tired. Not exhausted. It was almost definitely the weekend naps. I didn’t even particularly sleep better at nights- I had a bit of trouble sleeping last night. (I think I was too eager and anxious to do lots of writing, and my mind took a long time to calm down as a result.)

Despite that, I had 6 hours more Zzz’s than usual, and I think that made all the difference. My mind is significantly clearer now and I know I’m going to be more productive at work today.

I guess the next steps are to remind myself in writing and through other forms- that I need to sleep well every bit as much as I needed to quit smoking. I think I’ll take a meditation break and a short nap at work today. I think it’s getting clear that these things make a significant difference in my clarity of mind. It’s not even about productivity, though that helps a lot. It’s about being present in each moment- about showing up for my life while it’s happening.

Ok, we got that out of the way. What do want to talk about next?

I had a thought recently that the most annoying thing is Bullshit. Bullshit is noisy information that’s produced by people who are indifferent to truth. Bullshit is something inaccurate and/or invalid that is passed off as valid.

The annoying thing about Bullshit is that it’s often not immediately obvious as noise. It attempts to pass itself off as signal, or is interpreted and passed on by intermediaries as signal. This can be confusing.

Truth is that which doesn’t disappear when you stop believing in it. Truth is often painful, harsh, inconvenient. Speaking truth to Bullshitters is often a lost cause. There are sunk costs to being a Bullshitter, and people who Bullshit are rarely interesred in the truth. And this is completely rational for them as long as their environment permits it. Bullshit is comforting, familiar, and it feels good.

So why truth over Bullshit? Bullshit allows you to be the perceived master of your unique/limited domain. Truthism allows you to navigate across domains- or at least it provides you with the tools you need to start down that path (or to get even more nuanced, it’s a starting point / mindset that gets you looking in the right direction).

To be less abstract- Bullshit is pleasant until reality forces you to verify it. Bullshit is unverified claims, like “I didn’t do well because I didn’t study“. You can tell yourself and others that story for as long as you like, and it feels good until you’re made to prove it. When you’re put in a position where you need to do well. That’s when you’ll discover that you cannot actually deliver- that your failure to perform wasn’t a simple, noble act of rebellion (sour grapes is Bullshit) but a much more complex cocktail of incompetence.

This is where it gets a bit scary- realizing that the brain is a natural Bullshitter. Richard Fen man alluded to this: – “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Different people may have different predispositions to this, and maybe environment, upbringing and peer groups (and your identity, but I repeat myself) influence this, but for the most part I think we’re all designed to think what is convenient rather than what is verifiably accurate.

I’m reminded of a quote somewhere else- maybe LessWrong- that science persists because it is powerful, not because it is true. Truth eventually becomes a source of power- understanding physics and engineering allows you to make superior weapons. If science were comforting, it would dominate all religions. But it isn’t, and so it doesn’t.

Science does yield insights that can be immensely profound, but these things are not comfortable. Science persists and triumphs by being right, valid, verifiable, repeatable.

Okay so science is painful but good, Bullshit is comforting but ultimately confusing.

Here’s the other thought- reality reveals itself (and Bullshit gets exposed) at boundary conditions. We learn how the brain works by observing patients with brain damage. You find out what’s truly important to you when you’re about to die. If you’re struggling to prioritize things, it helps to go for an intense run. I’ve found this helpful, at least. My brain can’t juggle Bullshit and it’s need for oxygen at the same time, so it drops the Bullshit. The insights we get in such moments should be enduring- they’re still valid when the Bullshit returns.

This helps me understand better why some people do crazy shit. Because Bullshit breaks down at the boundaries.

What are the implications, then? What should I do? If I’m philosophically opposed to Bullshit, the solution is to test all claims, beliefs, hypotheses and ideas for Bullshit by pushing them to boundary conditions. If I think I want to do X, I should test that idea by being extreme about it. These word vomits are an example. Writing 1,000,000 words is a good way of testing whether or not you actually enjoy writing. I think it’s pretty clear where I stand about this.

But what else? What other beliefs are living rent-free in my head? I’m not sure. But these are things that I want to test. I believe that I can do X. I believe that i can do Y. I know now, for instance, that I can do 4 word vomits in a day. Can I do 10? I feel like I could do 10, but is that actually possible, or just Bullshit?

Until I can prove it, it’s technically Bullshit. It’s just an idea I carry in my head to feel good about myself. I have all this potential, wow, so special, so amaze. I have to eliminate “theoretically” from my vocabulary. Theory can be useful sometimes, but for my purposes, for my current station in life, experience is far more relevant. “I’ve done” is way more relevant than “I think I can do…”, which for me has always been problematic.

Okay, time to work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *