Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software

Quality and other games

This month I’d like to do a brain dump of various thoughts. The target audience of this mental defragmentation exercise is a set of one. Please feel free to skip if these notes may appear incoherent to you :)

A quantitative measure of success comes naturally when you start on a habit. E.g., read 10 books every year. The beauty of this is in simplicity - a single metric to say if you met the bar. But such a measure starts becoming abstract as you master the habit. What would be a measure when you’re reading 20 books per year? You could argue that you’ll keep increasing the metric as well to say 25 for the next year. I’d like to propose that a qualitative goal may be more meaningful. E.g., why did you even start reading? Was it for knowledge? Was it for pleasure? Did you consider a way to measure that why? Quantitative measures degrade into vanity ones if we lose the raison d’etre.

Checklists are a powerful tool. A sense of completeness comes from ticking things off, be it making your inbox zero or getting to the all star status in your LinkedIn profile. Behind the alluring appeal of an “all star” lies the incentive of your favorite app to get richer with your data. A play in vanity to make you do all the work for a fictitious badge. Did you ever measure the impact of these metrics? Until recently I never questioned the benefits of being an “all star”, so I consciously reverted back to a “zero star”. I don’t see any difference yet on my happiness. It’s hard to live a life where the Metaverse is trying to pull you towards working on their behalf by ticking off things, or acquiring statuses. Quantity triumphs again.

In the Hindu mythology often comes a citation to 33 crore (330 million) gods. My interpretation is that each Deity (or Devata) signifies one field of study, and they’re the expert in it. To be a master of Finances, you worship the corresponding Devata, the Kuvera. Now worship here is probably the equivalent of honing your craft for 10 years to become an expert. The crucial takeaway from this is that you can never be an expert in 33 crore fields; it’s uncountable, and probably with every reasonable unit of time cycle new fields get added. Quantity cannot be a strategy to learn the universe.

Years ago I met someone in the valleys of the Himalayas. They suggested that the Ramayan has all the learning that is out there. Just study this one book and your life will change. I couldn’t digest this then although their advice was beaming with a shade of confidence we see in experienced masters of a craft. When a semester at school typically has a handful of books, how can a single book encompass everything?

The answer is two fold. First, these philosophy super texts work at a different level. Day to day subjects (our semester books) deal with objects we perceive. This layer is infinite and grows with the evolution (remember the 33 crore Devatas). The book deals with the instrument of cognition, perception and the core patterns of perceived objects. See the meta aspect? Second, actual text is extremely compressed. This is the reason you see commentary on commentaries of a text. We could go into a ton of deeper enquiries by reflecting on a single line.

Isn’t this an interesting strategy for making sense of an ever evolving world? Why not start focusing on the instruments, the tools of the trade and their properties? Why not start understanding understanding itself? And the amalgamation of this inner system with the outer one.

Being a polymath is not a game we play.

”Games we play” are a mental model to make explicit decisions on things we engage in. Each engagement is a stream of thoughts gradually evolving into desires and pathways to act in that field. Note that this engagement starts with a first person thinking - the “I”; you cannot be a third person in any thought. You identify with the thought, you own a part of it and thus you begin. This is an energy intensive process. Let’s be aware and not even start on this path.

When you say that this is not a game you play you’re exercising a choice. You’re not passing a judgment whether the game is good or bad. You also never comment whether others should play it or not. All these later opinions start a different cycle of thoughts. You make a decision for yourself and move on.

After a point you’ll realize a game from the symptoms and stay unswayed.

A seemingly large amount of energy is dissipated by keeping thoughts in head. Like the game of “Whack-a-mole”, they keep bubbling up, and we have to decide what to do with these thoughts. Either we make some progress on the direction of thinking, engage with the thought and that leads us to the cycle mentioned above. Or we risk forgetting it. That starts another chain.

What works miracles is taking that moment to write it down! This immediately offloads the risk. As a good side effect we can consider batching related notes together and start tackling them in one block of time.

If you’re into the hobby of reading a ton of books and never acting on the wisdom, let me give a high five! After breaking my head over this - my hypothesis is that a part of brain actually derives the same satisfaction from reading the wisdom that you’d have otherwise gotten from acting in the wisdom. E.g., you can get a partial high by reading a self-help book on generosity in the same sense of feeling good by doing a random act of kindness. Note that in one case you never even acted.

Collecting wisdom is addictive. A sense of vanity (or a badge in the Metaverse) veils the rationality. This is not a game we play.

The antidote is to not let yourself call the book complete until you writing a summary in your own words. Effectively you have to live with that nagging feeling of not ticking off the book in Goodreads or whatever checklist, and force yourself to narrate your understanding.

That’s all for today. Looks like you reached here anyways, thank you!