0390 – my feelings are often wrong and unreliable

Recovering from my illness. I feel my mind returning. I have thoughts and questions to explore.

I find myself thinking about the passage of time, about changing configurations of reality, of identity, of mental models. Some old models wither away with disuse. [1] Others longer long after they’ve outlived their usefulness, like old riverbeds- old grooves etched deeply into the landscape of the mind. Cached. [2]

The odd result is that I’m now living a fragmented life where I’m not very certain of what I should carry with me and what I should leave behind, seemingly[3] forever. I’m starting to realize that nothing ever truly gets left behind [4], so I don’t actually need to worry too much about that. I can leave a trail of writing without having to worry too much about consolidating and making sense of all of it all the time. If you become truly significant, like say Benjamin Franklin or Steve Jobs or Lee Kuan Yew or someone, you’ll have other people eager to do it for you, and debate one another over it. Though it also seems guaranteed that you’ll be misinterpreted. That’s life, I guess. [5]

So what are the next steps for me? Why am I writing this? Well, I want to figure out what’s the next best course of action for myself. [6] I’ve talked and written about this loads of times, and I will be talking and writing about this loads of times more, I imagine, but I need to get to something that’s really, really true for me. So true that I can use it as an answer to the question, and it should hit me in the gut somehow. I’ve written things like “I want to destroy my past self, destroy my saboteur, be liberated from the cycle of misery that I’ve been trapped in for so long”. I say those things and sometimes I feel it very strongly, but sometimes I don’t feel it that strongly.

And I know that the feelings are actually less relevant than I thought they were. My feelings are broken, they’ve often led me onto paths that were destructive, negative, frustrating. So I can’t trust my feelings. I have to rely on things that are more enduring than feelings. Principles. What are my principles? What do I value? I want to feel calm and strong. So… right now I have a somewhat neutral, calm feeling. But this is a sort of… imperfect feeling. It’s an uninformed feeling. The reality is that I still have things I need to prepare for, and I should prepare for them. I have work to do, and I should do it. A part of me feels like “Ah, it’s not that big a deal, you’ll figure it out, you’ll survive it, no need to worry about it.” But that feeling is damaging and wrong. It’s like feeling that you ought to inject yourself with heroin (I’ve never felt that, thankfully). It’s a wrong feeling. Feelings can be wrong.

So I’m going to publish this now, and this will earn me a checkbox on my fridge and a striking-out of a date. But then I can’t relax yet. I have work to do, so I’m going to go do that.
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[1] I find myself thinking of old friends. Old habits. School. Parents. Teachers. I’ve internalized a lot of those things- of what I need to do to navigate that situation. All sorts of learned responses that seem to have gotten encoded into the non-conscious parts of the mind. These might’ve maybe been time-saving measures in the past, or just a little quirk of how the mind works, but they have become hilariously obsolete and counter-productive. The only way forward seems to be to reason from first principles.

[2] I am painfully aware that I am not well equipped to be precise about these matters. It feels like I’m grasping awkwardly and struggling to convey what is being created in my mind. But I must try and try again because I think that this is an ideaspace I need to navigate, chart and conquer if I am to lead a happy, fulfilling life. And even if it isn’t, it feels like a feat of thought and writing that I would be proud to have accomplished. I will be a better writer and thinker for having carved this up.

[3] For a long period of time I was very into this idea of keeping track of everything, of trying to keep records of all my thoughts and ideas. When I become successful one day, I reasoned, it would be especially useful to anybody who might be in my shoes, at the start of their journey. After all, hadn’t I spent loads of time trying to find other people like myself? And wasn’t it such an unnecessary, painful slog? If only people had left notes! Not commencement addresses- those are victory laps meant to mythologize, whether the speaker does so consciously or otherwise. History is always neat and tidy in hindsight. I wanted to keep records day by day to show how messy it was. And of course to make things funnier, I’ve always been really bad at record keeping. So I ended up spending far too much of my time trying to preserve my early mistakes, failures and missteps- at the expense of focusing my energies on moving forward. You see the flaw in my plan- it’s hard to get successful when you spend your time planning your legacy. The only way to get successful at anything is to focus on the problems that you want to solve them, and solve those rigorously. Amusing how long it’s taken me to figure that out. And these vomits and blogposts and such will have to do as a record of who I have been.

[4] And here I have to ask myself, what am I doing all this carrying for? Is it really for others like myself? That sounds noble (and extremely presumptuous- but I was basing that presumption on what I personally think I would’ve wanted, not what I thought other people would’ve wanted), but it’s almost a little too convenient. I should consider alternative explanations. What if I was carrying them for me, as some sort of crutch? It gives me some simple busywork to do everyday, allowing me to avoid doing harder and more important things.

[5] I guess the short answer is really… if you want to help people you should start by helping yourself. Demonstrate rather than explain. If you can’t demonstrate, all the explanation in the world is suspect. Nobody trusts a fat person’s fitness advice, or a bankrupt’s investment advice (unless they are descriptions of how they got there, and what NOT to do, rather than what to do).

[6] Here I’m reminded of a great line in a Paul Graham essay where he talks about showing his essays to his friends, to observe their reactions- if they laugh it’s a good sign, it means he went somewhere interesting and/or unexpected. If they’re bored or unconvinced though, the issue isn’t to dress things up to make them more persuasive- it’s to reassess the situation and get to the truth of the matter. There’s always something interesting about the truth if you look hard enough.

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