Now let’s look at the brain.
The human brain fascinates me for many reasons. The thing that really gets me is the fact that we all have brains, yet we all think and see life so differently.
There is no objective way to measure or compare individual experience, which is crazy because reality is nothing more than an interpretation of sensory inputs by a human brain.
And considering we all have brains, you’d think it would be easier to agree on things, yet we live in a world that is largely divided by the incongruence of our beliefs.
At this point, there are a few forks in the road I could take while still getting to a point.
Actually, I’m not sure which fork I want to take at this time, or which point I want to make, for that matter.
I could spend some time rapping about the fact that you and I will never, ever, ever be able to fully understand another’s point of view—human, horse, democratic, republican, sand flea—let alone the point of view of half of a country that votes one way or the other.
And that we should stop trying to understand or argue and should start accepting. (We most definitely aren’t changing anyone’s mind, so we really need to stop trying to do that as well.)
Human existence is profound on so many levels, but the one that gets to me the most—and that I see the most—is the fact that few of us lack an understanding of the way people are yet we are still so surprised every time a human acts like a human that we could easily be diagnosed as textbook insane.
(The definition of insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.)
Maybe I should try to convey how, since perception is reality, and to a profound degree we can adjust our perception if we are aware enough of it, life really is what you choose it to be.
No more, no less… and all choice.
Yea, let’s go with this point since this it’s already something I think about often as I go through life trying to control my own reality.
Since I love the Stoics, and consider myself a “Stoic” of sorts, here are a couple Stoic quotes to kick things off:
“How many have laid waste to your life when you weren’t aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire, and social amusements— how little of your own was left to you. You will realize you are dying before your time!”
—Seneca, On The Shortness of Life
“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I’m not audacious enough to think I have anything to say that these great men have not already said, but I will try to summarize some of what I’ve come to understand through study and life over the years.
Here are a few thoughts relating to the mind, life and being better at both. I hope you find at least one thing useful here that you can use in your life to live better.
You choose everything in your life, whether you think you do or not.
Think about that for a second: you choose everything you choose.
This inescapable truth of reality is something many are ignorant to and the rest seem to forget on the regular.
After all, most people let their friends, favorite YouTubers and the media choose the thoughts and beliefs that shape their reality.
You might think these individuals aren’t actually choosing since they are letting others choose for them, but I’d remind you that they first have to choose who they pay attention to.
No matter how you spin it, it all comes down to choice.
What’s more insidious about human belief is, most influence is done at the subconscious level where most are unaware that their beliefs are being formed by someone else.
(And this is really scary if you think about it considering the recent political landscape and the prevalence of social media and all the “fake news” being passed around.)
I remember reading about the concept of “contagion.” The author asserted that we (basically) absorb the beliefs from people around us at the subconscious level and that there is little we can do to change this.
But you can do something about it, a lot in fact.
First, you make the choice of who you spend your time with, what you read, and who you watch on YouTube.
Second, you make the choice to question your beliefs as often as possible with the goal of better understanding yourself and others. Or, on the flip side, you never question your beliefs while being oblivious to the fact that maybe your beliefs suck and/or are harmful to your life and those around you.
Third, you make the choice to admit that there is little you can control in life while accepting that the only thing within your control are your thoughts and actions.
Fourth, you make the choice—or you don’t—to be ok with not knowing things. As Socrates said, “I know one thing; that I know nothing.”
It’s all choice. Unfortunately, most people choose without 1) knowing that they are choosing and 2) realizing the long term effects their choosing or lack of choosing has on their life.
I want to make one more point on number 4 above on the topic of not knowing and the prevalence of so many convictions I see being passed around from all sides.
When I see convicted individuals on one side of a point versus another side, I usually think of one of my favorite philosophers, Nietzsche, and one of his brilliant quotes.
It’s this: “Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.”
This is one of those quotes that makes you think.
Why are convictions more dangerous enemies of truth than lies?
Because convictions are based on the rigged assumption that you are right and/or that your way is the best way, both of which pave the way for things like bigotry, closed-mindedness, and radical terrorism, to name a few.
When you are convicted, you are biased to the nth degree.
You succumb to confirmation bias in it’s purest form—the bias that leads you to seek out information that confirms your beliefs while ignoring, or straight up not seeing, information that challenges your beliefs. (This is also the reason why debating politics has the reverse effect: all you are doing is becoming more resolute in your beliefs while making your opponent more resolute in their beliefs.)
In a nutshell, convictions lead to many forms of cognitive bias and are why things like politics and race, two things that tend to have a “Us vs Them” line in the sand, rarely lead to progress.
Convictions are further compounded by the fact that—for reasons I’m not exactly sure of—it has become taboo in our culture to say, “I don’t know.”
Maybe it’s our age of Google and instant information that led us all to believe that we should all have an opinion on everything.