I’ll just tell you straight out right now. I am completely out of my depth on this subject. What I mean is, some of what I’m about to say probably runs into…I dunno…philosophy or epistemology or something or other that’s been discussed and analyzed ad taedium by people much more knowledgeable than I. As excited as I am to share this idea with you, it’s full of its own logical holes, so…I guess…take what you can from it; take what’s useful. But don’t take it too seriously. I don’t know what I’m talking about 🙂 .
A lot of people who read and (especially) write personal development literature come off as very positive, proactive, optimistic, forward-looking. It seems as if they must have been born that way. But if you stick around a bit and dig a little deeper, you start to find out that almost all of these people were at one point incredibly pessimistic, fearful, perhaps even “depressed”. Richard Bandler, Steve Pavlina, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins…all were sad and cynical at one point.
What really hit me about Pavlina was that he continues to listen to personal development recordings to this day. He’s even mentioned that when he goes a long time without listening to that kind of material, his baseline mindset begins to take a dive; he starts to go a bit…you know…Goth.
That big shots are just little shots who kept shooting is edifying, but it’s not today’s topic. So back on topic…Yes…where were you…
OK, so…a lot of times, people will tell you to be positive. Have a positive outlook. Have a positive mindset. And they’re right. But unconvincing.
Why are they unconvincing? Well, for the same reason that people who depend on schools to teach them mathematics almost invariably end up semi-numerate math phobics. People get lost in math at school because books and teachers make massive, unexplained (unjustified) logical leaps. That and there isn’t enough time given to real practice; in a very real sense, mathematics is a language — a sport — and it should be treated (practiced) as such. [Aside: most people who have trouble with math have trouble with it in large part because they don’t actually know what the symbols mean…they haven’t had enough input. It’s like trying to read Japanese without knowing what kanji mean. Not gonna work].
Similarly, calls to positivity are unconvincing because we’re too smart to accept the “handwaving“ they invariably entail. Suppressed premises. We know something is missing…some steps are missing. It can’t really be that simple. And so we reject optimism in favor of pessimism. Because if there’s one thing pessismism is (or at least seems to be), it’s ruthlessly logical.
But then…it hit me that…unexplained optimism and thoroughgoing pessimism actually share the same common flaw: they are both forms of certainty. Certainty is the great enemy of mankind. I’m almost…certain…of that.
Certainty is the great enemy of mankind. I’m almost…certain…of that.
You probably don’t want to be too certain of this idea, because certainty itself is probably the problem. Having said that, any way you cut it, you do kind of end up being certain of something. All I’m offering in this post is that you try being more or less semi-certain about uncertainty. Don’t be too certain about uncertainty, either. We’ll call this noncertainty “Zero Certainty” because the only thing we’re still even vaguely certain about is the zeroness — the lack — of certainty. And even then, not really.
Weak certainty is like a balloon — easily popped. Strong certainty is like a rock — created with a lot of time, effort and pressure, destroyed quickly given the right technologies. Non-certainty — zero-certainty — is like a squishy ball or water or maybe even a gas: mobile, flexible, uncrushable. Hmm…metaphors breaking down. Screw it. Whatever.
Really, think about it: you don’t know what’s going to happen. Read conspiracy theorists and Peak Oil doomers — the ultimate pessimists. It sounds so rational, so numerical, so logical, so convincing, until you realize that:
(1) If these people really know all this stuff and can really predict this much, they must be gods
(2) Which they aren’t
(3) If the people who are supposedly running the conspiracy are so omnipotent and omniscient, well then, they, too, must be gods…
(4) Which, again, they aren’t.
(5) If you look back you’ll find that their “predictions” are always changing. Hmmm…Funny that.
Example 1: One conspiracy website predicted that John Kerry would win the 2004 Presidential election because he has more royal blood than Bush…Yes…yes, that went well.
Example 2: Every Peak Oil doom book or article always predicts a peak within +/- 2 years of its publication. Convenient, that, innit’?
Look forward. Take any prediction ultra-pessimists make today, make a note of it — put it in a time capsule — and wait. See what happens. Y2K. 2012. Take a look-see. None of that noss is going to happen. The world just doesn’t end as easily as a Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich movie. Believe that. Be pessimistic about the world’s chances of ending so cleanly.
You see, accuracywise, pessimism is as much a steaming pile of crap as the optimism it so wryly derides. The difference is that optimism actually helps. Pessimism invites laziness (not the good kind) and armchair quarterbacking.
But again, to be fair, optimism can be a steaming load of crap, too. It’s 2010, people. We have no flying cars (I don’t know whether we really want them, but…), no moon base, no faster-than-light travel [too much sci-fi for me, folks]. Not yet anyway. The 1986 Transformers animated movie promised intelligent robots by 2005. I don’t even have a robot vacuum cleaner yet…I mean, they’re out, but they’re not a commodity yet; they’re not, like, you know, at the level of fridges yet.
So we need a new breed of optimism. A more refined optimism. Optimism’ (“Optimism prime”). Optimism 2.0, if you will. Old optimism says: “it’s definitely, absolutely gonna work!”; this brand of optimism can be brittle; it is easily harmed and turn into rabid cynicism and pessimism, because it shares with them this quality of absolute certainty — the only difference is the direction of certainty. All it takes is one question: “come on, dude, are you sure?”, one event: “oh crap, it didn’t happen”, to destroy this kind of optimism.
Optimism 2.0, our new optimism, is saying: “I’m not sure if it’ll work, but let’s play anyway. Let’s try and see. Let’s do something that helps”. This is that AJATT brand of optimism. Will listening to Japanese while you sleep make you fluent? Dunno. Maybe. It can’t hurt(?) It’ll probably work better than listening to English. It must help — it’ll help much more than sitting around having an English flamewar about it. Optimism 2.0 says, to put it bluntly: just do s[tuff] that f[lipp]ing helps…I’m starting to sound like Moss now.
Optimism doesn’t need to be justified. Confidence doesn’t need to be backed by past experience (in fact, when confidence is backed by past experience, it’s not actually confidence any more — it’s just memory: almost by definition, confidence is baseless). But the reason optimism doesn’t need to be justified…needs to be justified. A lot of smart people realize that optimism is unjustified, so they give up on it. What someone needs to tell them is that that’s actually the point: we choose optimism not because it’s correct, but because it helps (self-fulfilling prophecy). But if you can’t seem to get yourself to hold any brand of optimism, then at least have neutrality — have no certainty, zero certainty of anything whatsoever.
You don’t know jack. Either way. You don’t effing know. You have some fuzzy probabilities based on past experience, but as Nick Taleb would happily tell you, your white swans can get Cullen Jonesed up very easily. Know less. Try more. Experiment more. Help more. And if you must know, choose the malleable, resilient kind of knowing that will help you. Or not, this could all be BS. I dunno. Just trying to help.
Anyway, I imagine that someone else has already had and expressed these ideas, so…if you know of any books/videos/websites that cover these ideas better, do go ahead and share a link or two to that information.