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Boundaries, Meaning and Attention
Our mission at Infinite Loops is to become, and to help others become, more nuanced thinkers.
We view every one of our podcast episodes as an opportunity to further this goal by engaging with, and learning from, some of the most interesting and original thinkers and creators on the internet. We are not interested in simple summaries or in asking the questions that have already been answered elsewhere. Instead, we want to identify, explore and challenge the themes and assumptions that underpin our guests’ worldview.
But this is a two way process.
To truly maximise the value that we, our guests, and, most importantly, our listeners, get from Infinite Loops, we need to ensure that we are prepared to engage on a substantive level with the entirety of our guests’ output.
This is where our research notes come in.
Before each podcast, Ed will typically read everything written by the upcoming guest and prepare a comprehensive, thematically structured overview document for Jim. As part of (another) new series here on the Infinite Loops Substack, we are going to start publishing a selection of these research notes.
Hopefully these notes provide our listeners with a deeper appreciation of our guests and their work, as well as giving an insight into the questions that are driving us here at Infinite Loops. They are designed to prompt questions, not answers, and should provide interested listeners with a starting point from which they can launch their own conversation with our guests’ work.
Here’s the first set of notes, on friend of the show Tom Morgan, who is scheduled to make his third appearance on the podcast later this year.
The Perils of Abstraction and Rationality
The Importance of Slack
Balance, Boundaries and Synthesis
Theme 1: Pay Attention
The root of human experience, and the surest path to finding meaning, cultivating change, and experiencing personal growth, is to follow our attention.
Following our attention allows us to understand and experience what has resonance. What has resonance in each of our lives is ultimately what gives them meaning.
‘Proper’ attention is different from short term attention. Getting distracted by Twitter is not following our attention. We need to be attuned to our ‘subtle’ attention. Find the patterns, find the things that hold our attention. This is where meaning lies.
Following our attention means allowing the rationalist left hemispheric brain to cede the field to the ‘feeling’ based right hemisphere. We need to cultivate feelings, not goals.
Our attention is increasingly under siege by short term distractions and irrelevant inputs.
Tom talks about the “enduring edge to be gained” by becoming adept at determining meaning and hearing resonance. Is there a tension between the ‘hard’ idea of gaining a competitive edge and the ‘soft’ idea of allowing our natural interests and attention to dictate our actions? If we are following our attention in order to gain an edge, rather than out of genuine curiosity, does this undermine the whole process?
To what extent are meaning and resonance subjective concepts? The immediate answer is that they are entirely subjective, but it’s not as straightforward as it first seems. Tom repeatedly makes the case that ‘Moloch’ (a single-minded focus on an abstract aim) is something to be avoided and is the path to destruction. But to many, the pursuit of Moloch is what gives their life meaning. In other words, money, status and power is what resonates in their lives. Is this reflective of some sort of misalignment? Are these aims somehow not ‘truly’ meaningful or resonant? If so, then there must be a degree of objectivity in the concepts.
If Tom was asked to make his strongest case against trusting our attention over our intellect, what would it be? What are the biggest risks of this approach?
This idea seems to assume that humanity’s natural attention leads to good places. It is an admirably optimistic view of humanity. But where is the evidence for this? One can make the case that if we remove the blinkers of our left hemispheric brain, it will be brutality, not love, that is unleashed on the world. Fiction is full of cautionary tales of utopian ideals ending in dystopia. Why is this different?
It is impossible to interpret this idea incredibly cynically. Here’s my attempt to paraphrase the least charitable interpretation I can think of: “People have to eat. People have to support their family. All this gooey ‘follow your attention’ stuff is basically a luxury of the rich that won’t survive a moment of contact with the reality for a huge majority of people. The only people that care about this crap are people who are privileged enough to not have to worry about anything else”. How would Tom respond to someone critiquing this idea along those lines?
The obvious practical takeaway is that there’s an enduring edge to be gained if you become adept at determining meaning or hearing resonance.
This is consistent with the most interesting idea that I’ve ever encountered: that your “subtle” attention and your interests would drive your personal growth, but via an unpredictable route.
….A big insight was that where your attention goes, your life goes, and if you are constantly putting your attention on living things, this more aliveness in your own life.
Low-quality content grabs our attention, but only substantial content can hold it. In order for something to hold your attention for a long period of time, it needs to be meaningful.
What we proactively pay attention to is a proxy for meaning. One of the most quietly profound ideas I’ve ever encountered is that our broad attention operates as an exploratory guide for personal evolution. The sensation of whether an activity is meaningful is nature’s reward for pursuing a path of optimal personal growth
Over the last few years, I've come to believe judicious use of attention is at the root of meaningful human experience. It's our most valuable resource, and now one of the most threatened
Theme 2: Finding Meaning
Tom ascribes to McGilchrist’s theory that the two hemispheres of the brain have different characters and capabilities. The left hemisphere is cold, calculating, rational and intellectual. It is the side of categories, language and definitions. The right hemisphere sees the whole picture, it is the side of intuition, emotion, feelings. The left sees things in categories, the right sees how they flow together.
Our brains our currently imbalanced towards the left side which means we are failing to see the whole picture. The ideal balance would be our conscious left side acting in service of the unconscious right.
Using the right side of our brains means being receptive to meaningful external stimuli. Our rationalist left brain only takes in a tiny amount of information. It is naïve to assume this is everything. This can be articulated via the concept of the Umvelt – the idea that humans have only evolved to perceive what’s relevant to our survival. Or alternatively the User Illusion – we experience 60 bits of reality taken from a potential pool of 11 million. What are we missing?
This requires us to accept that our narrow concept of intelligence may be too limited. Our heart, our gut, our environment, all of that can provide external inputs that can resonate and provide meaning.
The stories we as a society tell ourselves carry meaning in of themselves. Artists are more likely to live in the right brain and thus be aligned with the world.
The hero’s journey is the emblematic story of our time. It contains instructions for individual and cultural evolution. It describes the transfer of control from left to right hemisphere. The hero steps out of his left brain into the realm of his right brain, and in doing so finds inner peace. It is the journey towards the harmonious alignment of the left brain in supervision of the right.
Our filters are more important than ever. Not only do we need to be open to the right information, but we have to filter out the information that does not matter. If we do not actively filter then our head will be filled with useless or actively harmful information. In the age of information abundance filters are more important than ever.
Currently we are filtering out information that our left brain doesn’t like. We need to recalibrate our filters. We need to ask the right questions. Our filters should be built around resonance – an internal alignment around values.
Does it matter to Tom if McGilchrist’s theory is true? If it was proven false would this change Tom’s worldview at all? Does he view its primary function as scientific or allegoric?
How does Tom’s theory of being open to external stimuli deal with confirmation bias? What ultimately resonates may be what confirms our priors.
I would argue that the trend of modern storytelling has been the deconstruction of the monomyth. Breaking Bad is the anti-hero’s journey. It is about a man following his attention and unleashing utter devastation. Gus Fring is the archetypal left sided brain character – his cool dispassion is his superpower. It is emotions and feelings that ultimately bring him down. Likewise, Game of Thrones actively seeks to undercut our priors about the evolution of a hero – look what happened to poor Robb Stark (His mistake? Following his attention rather than sticking to the plan). Does the popularity of anti-heroes and of ‘dark’ television undermine Tom’s thesis?
There is a subtle distinction that I haven’t seen Tom discuss in detail: there are two different elements to the filtering process. Firstly, you have to choose the right information – this is obvious. Find the signal, cut out the noise. But there is a second, more delicate process, which is having the internal filters in place to allow you to find the meaning where others may not see it. In other words, two people can read the exact same paragraph, but can get completely different information out of it. How can we develop the second of these filters?
I wonder whether the cognitive dissonance required to think of our brains and our body in this compartmentalised way is healthy – right sided brain, left sided brain, heart, gut etc. Paradoxically, in thinking this way are we not effectively disembodying ourselves?
The idea of reading for awareness not information is profound. I find that I often have this problem when reading history – at first it is easy to get lost in the ‘who did what when’ and lose sight of the bigger picture.
3. Action: “Follow your bliss.” If external input is generally superior, our exploratory attention, what we are unconsciously drawn to, is the best indicator of where to direct our future growth.
4. “Love” as a fundamental force. This is not a sentimental idea. The felt-sense that defines our “bliss” connects us with an emergent force driving toward greater complexity. We physically experience this “hidden force” through our bodies, specifically our hearts. This seems like a far less outlandish idea when we consider that our hearts are far more than just oxygenating pumps. They are also exquisitely sensitive transmitters and receivers of electromagnetic signals.
Yes- I think it points to one of the most interesting ideas I’ve ever considered. If there are things we cannot sense, why should there not be forces acting on us that are hidden as well? With trillions of potential inputs that moves from a possibility to a likelihood. Part of the secret seems to be to attune our subtler senses to intuit when they are acting. It also implies we might be far more intimately embedded in our environment than we tend to assume. It also means the questions we ask determine the quality of our “search” results
As far as I can tell, flourishing and mastery is directly correlated to the amount of intelligence you attribute to things outside of yourself.
Open receptivity to the outside world is the single trait I’ve found that’s common of all forms of success and flourishing.
Bodily sensation is a key indicator of unconscious dissonance; of when your intellect is missing something important from the outside world.
It’s probably romantic nonsense, but I like to imagine our hearts as the mediator of the “value selection” filtering process between head and gut. It’s where resonance is felt.
More than any other single trait I’ve found, across business, and life in general, receptivity to the right external stimulus determines our flourishing and evolution.
In an age of information superabundance, one of the most important determinants of the quality of our lives is the quality of our information filters.
It’s a counterintuitive point (that I’ve raised before), but Nørretranders argues that the value of information is therefore determined by what’s discarded, or “exformation.” The quality of your consciousness, and therefore your entire waking life, will be determined by the quality of your information filters.
And that’s the crux of the filtering process. That resonance hints at an internal alignment around values. You can intuitively detect it when you read it, when you hear it, and when you speak it
7. “Simplicity => Separation => Synthesis” McGilchrist talks about the need for real world experience to originate in the right hemisphere, to be moved to the left for dissection and analysis, but then returned to the right for synthesis into its global context.
12. Know your legends. The same story structures recur over and over throughout human history because they provide guidance for balanced evolution. The most popular stories not only unconsciously reflect our psyches, but they can indicate what direction society is heading. The Hero’s Journey is the most dominant human story because it reflects precise operating instructions for individual and cultural evolution. It also describes the transfer of control from left to right hemisphere.
Theme 3: The Perils of Abstraction and Rationality
Much of human suffering can be attributed to abstraction.
Getting lost in thought is hellish. We need grounded, real connections with the world, with “natural vitality”.
Abstract ideas are isolating – they break down the connections between us. Ultimately, they can lead to war, genocide and conflict (abstracted ideas of ‘the other’ are far easier to kill).
The digital world risks being one of abstractions.
Westernized intellectual, head-centered thinking is a form of abstraction. We have lost connections with external, tangible stimuli. We get obsessed with Moloch – abstract, brutally singular goals.
The problem with the rationalist movement is that it is entirely a left-brain movement. If prioritises intelligence above all else and in doing so dismisses certain external inputs. You cannot quantify everything.
Rationality has led us to a dead end. The rationalist solution to rationalist problems is more rationality. This is an infinite loop. We need to actively embrace irrationality to find our way out. The most creative solutions, and perhaps the most profound, may appear irrational to the cold analytical left side of our brains.
The world is colliding with abstraction as we speak. Real, tangible constraints are biting in a way that they haven’t done previously in the 2010s. Meanwhile the digital world is both promising to bridge the gap between the abstract and the tangible.
The evil of abstraction is one of the starkest themes of Tom’s writing. But one could very easily make the case that discussions Tom has around flow, balance, the Tao, ‘following our heart’, different sides of the brain etc are incredibly abstract. They all live in the mind: they are remote conceptions of phenomena that we are not capable of explaining. On the other hands, the things Tom dismisses as abstractions – ambition, success, money – in many way these are the tangible things. I can count my money but I cannot count the Tao! What would be Tom’s response to someone who sees Moloch as the real world and his theories as abstraction?
In Tom’s model of abstraction, would the archetypal philosopher be the emblematic example of someone who is fully abstracted, or fully embodied?
What would it take for Tom to change his mind on rationality?
One could make the case that Tom’s conception of rationality is a straw man – true rationality would accept external inputs outside of the narrow intellect if such inputs were going to have a productive effect. To ignore these inputs would be irrational. In other words, Tom’s critique of rationalism is not critiquing rationalism at all, it is critiquing a failed form of rationalism. Under this model ‘true’ rationalism would take on board all inputs and would therefore fit within Tom’s framework. Does Tom accept this? Or does he think that rationalism is fundamentally incapable of accepting these external inputs?
Tom is positive about Julia Galef’s ‘the Scout Mindset’, as it aims to harness left sided rationality with right sided morals – “rationality aligned with the world”. This makes me think of the effective altruist movement which can ultimately be boiled down to the use of rationality for moral ends. Does Tom see the movement as embodying the left / right balance he speaks of?
The defining trend of the smartphone era is everything being rapidly dragged further and further away from physical reality. Abstraction simply means “to pull away from,” and it is the primary source of a staggering amount of suffering.
. But, trust me on this one, getting lost in abstract thoughts is literally hellish. Some schizophrenics describe a disembodied, lifeless, virtualized existence where time passes like Groundhog Day.
To summarize, at their absolute worst, abstract ideas: Isolate us in lifeless worlds, both mental and digital. Distract us from fulfilling our potential. Facilitate war, genocide, and conflict (abstract, labelled out-groups are easier to compete with and kill).
The dominant theme of the last six months, and likely the foreseeable future, is the collapse of many of modernity’s layers of complex abstraction. Ephemeral digital businesses at insane valuations, excess financialization, and impractical postmodern theories are all meeting the immediacy of reality. This broader collision is increasingly being framed as “reals” versus “virtuals.”
Whenever someone offers you their opinion, a superb initial question paraphrases Morgan Housel: “what have you experienced that makes you believe what you do?” The profound usefulness of this simple question is that it immediately anchors abstract ideas back to real-world experience. Or reveals its absence; especially in non-practitioners like politicians or academics.
Awkward but inevitable conclusion. Any formal training system or strategy risks becoming an abstract target, and we’re right back at Moloch. The key point, one that I think seems intuitively true to all of us, is that real-life experience tends to trump mental models
20. Dramatic evolutions can look irrational. Fitness landscapes are an incredible visual metaphor for evolution. The goal of any species is to get to the highest possible “fitness” peak. Left hemispheric ego and action takes you up the hill, exploratory attention takes you back down it. If rationality, or the same behaviors, have taken you to a stale peak, the only thing left is supra-rational exploration.
Why is this interesting? The biggest shift in my thinking over the past few years has been in understanding quite how limited the rational intellect is. Moreover, the faster the environment is moving, the more evolution & innovation moves “irrationally” to explore new possibilities.
Meaningful interests and pursuits often seem irrational. But evolution often operates irrationally out of necessity. Just because an emergent behavior is currently beyond the event-horizon of intellectual rationality does not mean that it’s inexplicable, especially in retrospect. Entirely predictable things get killed by predators.
How does our individual rediscovery of connection address our massive systemic problems? This is where most Western, rational analysis gets stuck; it can’t see around corners. The diagnosis is usually doom and the only prescription is more rationality. They ask how we can redesign another system of top-down control, or get everyone to agree on a single centralized solution.
The broader application of this balance to both life and investing is what really stood out from my last piece on Julia Galef’s “Scout Mindset.” She stresses the importance of rationality combined with values. Rationality first allows us to see the present clearly, but then we need to align ourselves with the world around us. Parts then the whole.
This is a grim metaphor for the dire consequences of getting stuck in infinite loops of rationality. A system that endlessly repeats the same behaviors enters the “frozen zone.” A business or individual that cannot innovate and play, becomes fragile, then dies. Torrance cannot find his own creativity, he can’t reconnect with the flow of life.
Theme 4: The Importance of Slack
For ideas, systems, solutions, and relationships to grow, they need space to do so. Rigid systems, whether personal or institutional, are inherently fragile.
Solutions can be found via play – flexibility, exploration, creativity. All of this requires slack in the system. If there is no room for error and for experimentation then there is no room for pattern development and recognition.
Following our attention requires us to have the space to experiment with things that may initially seem irrational, as they may ultimately be what provides meaning. Having slack in the system allows us to do this.
Single minded focus on diligence, productivity and intellectualisation is self-destructive. Solutions lie where we may not expect them.
The more rapidly changing an environment is, the more important it is to have slack in the system to allow organisms to experiment with new behaviours. Rigidly following previous behaviours becomes more risky as the system becomes more dynamic. The world is changing at such a rate that slack is now more important than ever.
I like to think of a rigid, inflexible institution as failing the Stannis Baratheon test: if it will break before it bends, it isn’t going to make a good King.
What matters more – having slack, or what we do with it? If the latter, then it stops becoming slack!
The pandemic saw the biggest external imposition of slack on our lives in recent history. The large majority of us suddenly had a lot more time on our hands for two years, even if we couldn’t do much with it. If Tom’s theory is true, one would expect an explosion of creativity and problem solving emerging from this as people had time to experiment and to play. Has there been any evidence of this?
Money buys slack. Earning money costs slack. How can we escape this paradox?
My concern with slack as an ideal is that something about the concept suggests that it is a reprieve from the rest of our life. It reanimates a distinction between work and play. A life of perfect balance would not need slack. Should we be aiming for the balance rather than the slack?
14. Rapid repetition builds expert intuition. The broader the field, the greater the reliance on expert intuition. This is defined as “the synthesis of experience with unconscious reasoning on the basis of that experience.” But “experience” isn’t necessarily the length of time you’ve been doing something, it’s the number of repetitions that build up that database of patterns.
Yes, diligence and persistence is obviously great. But true creativity and insight often requires slack, relaxation and non-intellectual effort. If we’re already bumping up against the limits of our neurobiology, straining harder won’t produce corresponding gains. The brain is not a muscle or a computer.
Meaningful interests and pursuits often seem irrational. But evolution often operates irrationally out of necessity. Just because an emergent behavior is currently beyond the event-horizon of intellectual rationality does not mean that it’s inexplicable, especially in retrospect. Entirely predictable things get killed by predators.
The more rapidly an environment is changing, the more “randomly” an organism or group needs to behave. We are now experiencing by far the most rapidly-evolving landscape in human history
Optimizing solely for profitability or user engagement can create fragility and unintended negative feedback loops. This has exacerbated inequality, polarization, and environmental destruction.
This is totally consistent with the universal principle of slack that underlies both DiBello’s and Sutherland’s work. Strategic rehearsals work because you can fail repeatedly in a safe environment. You can only experiment with Sutherland’s “behavioral moonshots” within an organization that embraces sufficient creativity and flexibility.
Money represented the illusion that I could stay closed-off and still live a full life. It was either armor or gifts, not both. So now I try to ask what each incremental dollar is doing for me. Is it making me more isolated and less adventurous, or is it helping me directly engage with life with greater freedom? Is an inheritance creating the illusion of safety or a platform for lifelong experimentation? What fear does money protect me from? Can it?
The shorthand here is pretty simple. The world is now blowing up in all sorts of unexpected ways because we’ve put artificially rigid structures on natural systems. Businesses or individuals that want to survive need to mimic nature.
Theme 5: Balance, Boundaries and Synthesis
Meaning and truth can be found in the boundaries – the murky zones where different things meet, combine and interact.
Boundaries are the spaces between competing elements or ideals. Asleep and awake. Right hemisphere and left hemisphere. Eastern thought and Western thought. Conscious and unconscious. Old and new.
Synthesis is the process of locating and bridging these boundaries. Synthesis also happens within the boundaries. There is a natural pattern of ‘simplicity, separation, synthesis’. The separation is the boundary, the synthesis is the bridge.
Boundaries allow for the transfer of information. In doing so, the information can become transform into something new.
The boundary of any given system is also the area where it encounters the real world. By finding the boundaries we identify where our abstractions meet real life. Focusing on these boundaries therefore helps ground us in the real world.
By finding boundaries we can find balance. We currently do not operate at the boundary of our conscious and unconscious self – instead we take comfort in the conscious. We are imbalanced.
Much of what Tom writes is about balance. The balance between Moloch and slack. The balance between our left and right hemispheres. The balance between challenge and safety. All of these require us to find where the boundary between these concepts lie to then find that balance.
This is where the Tao comes in. Taosim is ultimately a state of balance.
What are Tom’s current boundaries? How is exploring them?
Is the Taoist concept of De an articulation of someone’s ability to effortlessly walk along the boundaries?
I visualise the synthesiser as someone who can locate and bridge the boundaries. Does Tom agree?
How does one enhance this skill? One relatively universal answer is to cultivate boundary periods. For me it’s the period between sleeping and wakefulness. I assemble the ingredients in my head before bed, and often awake annoyingly early with the answers.
16. Action: Cultivate boundary periods. For me personally, they are the period between sleeping and wakefulness, medium-paced runs, embodiment, massage, and cold showers. Boundary periods allow for transfer between conscious and unconscious. The critical final step is to integrate and respond to signals received in this state.
German physicist and chaos scientist Peter Richter coined the phrase “the beauty of boundaries.” He found human beings tended to settle on coasts, rivers, mountains, and lakes. Near the transition of one element to another.
One of the core tenets of systems thinking is to correctly identify the boundary of the system you’re in. Since every complex system in the entire universe is interdependent it’s never going to be a perfect science. The boundary of your bodily system is your skin. Robinson thinks metals traders are the boundary of the rates market. As the most junior employee, Montañez was the boundary at Frito Lay. The boundary touches the world. If you can identify the farthest edge of the system, it means you’re getting the most accurate information available. If you then rapidly adjust to that information, you have a formula for the kind of dynamic evolution today’s environment requires.
TM: As an aside, I was recently fascinated by an article in Nautilus on curiosity. We seem to navigate our information landscape at a boundary between familiar and novel. “Curiosity peaked when subjects had a good guess about the answer but weren’t quite sure. The sweet spot for curiosity seemed to be a Goldilocksian level of information—not too much nor too little.”
If you seek control, prepare to sacrifice life. If you seek life, prepare to sacrifice control. The trick, as always, is getting the balance of control, with a permanent tilt towards life.
A common characteristic of adaptive businesses is a receptivity to solid reality; information from the edge of their network; whether it’s their workers or consumers.
Essentially: We are drawn to things that mimic the delicate balance of life itself.
This delicate balance between order and chaos is akin to the ancient Chinese concept of The Tao.
The role of the individual is to reconcile these two opposing forces. To act and compete (Moloch) but in balance and relationship with the outside world (slack). The U.S. Marines have a heuristic for when things go awry: “keep moving, seek the high ground, stay in touch.” A response to chaos requires dynamism, perspective, and relevant external information.
Returning to Galef, this is a key reason why her work is so special: it strikes the increasingly rare “hybrid thinker” balance. She offers really great tips and tools for getting more Bayesian and rational, but with a need for fundamental values.
Taoism reflects a state of balance. Order and chaos in harmony. Now some of the wisest systems theorists and scientists have ended up where the Taoists already were! It’s a framework that teaches you how to operate beyond frameworks.
Why do toys show us where the future is? The answer is in the concept of play. Play is perfectly balanced of challenge and safety.
Theme 6: Phase Change
We are currently at a level of unprecedented abstraction, i.e. isolation from our environment. The cold left sided brain is dominant over the emotional, embodied right-sided brain. We have incredible comfort and security, but we are completely disconnected from each other and our world. This is manifested in, for example, the mental illness epidemic. There is a sense among us that something is wrong.
·As a result, there is an emergent search for meaning. A bottom-up groundswell of desire for ‘something else’. Its symptoms may look irrational – NFTs, the metaverse, ESG etc – but they are an entirely understandable response to the imbalances of modern society.
This change that we’re searching for isn’t a top-down process. It is something that is bottom-up. Even more profoundly, it is something that can be caused by the individual. In an infinitely complex system, an individual in balance with their environment can have cascading effects on the system.
The phase change we’re searching for and that may be coming isn’t a gentle process. It is a destructive one. It will involve the tearing down of what has come before and the replacement with something new – creative destruction.
The language of creative destruction, of tearing down existing structures, clearly evokes revolutionary movements of the past. However, Tom seem largely uninterested in the political. Do socio political-movements have any power in his framework of phase change, or are these ultimately just symptoms of what really matters, being the individual?
Can Tom point to any historical examples of phase changes?
Does Tom’s model of one person having a cascading effect on the system mean that, if enough individuals take it upon themselves to be the change, they will together have the strength to enact it? Or does it mean that if enough individuals take it upon themselves to be change, the odds are that one of those individuals will be the one who is able to enact it? In other words is the catalyst for change the social body or the individual?
Tom’s model of creative destruction reminds me of Samo Burja’s writing on the transfer of knowledge. Samo argues that processes of creative destruction are hugely harmful due to the destruction in knowledge that happens along the way. My concern is that in this ‘creative destruction’ of our current models of thinking we may lose certain patterns of thought that provide a net benefit to society. For example, a society which loses its ability to think rationally would, at least in my view, be a bad thing. What are Tom’s thoughts on this?
Now I see it literally everywhere I look. I clearly observe limited LH thought in myself and in people around me, as well as the way our modern world is shaped and treated. Cultures across time have myths that warn about the dangers of exactly the hemispheric imbalance we are currently experiencing. In both ancient Greece and Rome, it heralded the collapse of their civilizations. John Glubb’s theory of civilizations found that they last on average two hundred and fifty years, and the “age of intellect” typically arrives just before a collapse. The period of most separation and disengagement from our environment also makes us the most fragile. McGilchrist thinks we’re now at urgent risk of it happening again.
Contemporary human culture has become imbalanced toward exploitation. We have incredible comfort, safety, and predictability. More people globally now die from obesity than malnutrition. For our “exploit” instinct, it is truly the best of times. But our era is also defined by disconnection, environmental destruction, and mental illness. We’re increasingly troubled by the nagging sense that something isn’t quite right, and it’s getting worse. Unlike the ants, our growing exploration urge isn’t driving us to discover new territories. We’ve run out of places to go. We already have all the food we need. Instead it’s driving an evolution of consciousness, toward one that’s more realigned with our environment.
What’s staggeringly optimistic is that the global phase change we’re now accelerating towards seems to be unfolding in an emergent way: nobody is driving it. It might be an “irrational leap.” The explosion of creativity through NFTs, decentralization through blockchain, and a wider appreciation of externalities through ESG are just symptoms. The fact that they look flawed or irrational is a specific indication that they might be evolutionary.
At the highest level, I also have deeply strange and optimistic instincts about the potential for a global phase change. The problem is that they are typically preceded by a “dark night” of chaos and suffering.
The period of most separation and disengagement from our environment also makes us the most fragile. If we can’t necessarily change top-down, then we should look bottoms-up. The spooky implication from chaos theory is that the individual acting as a butterfly can influence the entire system. There’s a really quite strikingly beautiful union of business and spiritual thought that might give us some clues on how.
11. You can be the butterfly. We all understand that we live in an infinitely complex environment that’s inherently unpredictable. However it is possible to become so aligned with external stimulus that you not only flourish, but have a cascading positive impact on the system itself. This is a function of attunement, action, and surrender. This is the definition of a “Taoist Sage.”
The most interesting, and perhaps least immediately plausible, implication of morphic resonance is of the impact of single individuals on the whole system. If you personally make a breakthrough, the entire collective memory benefits. They crystallize and articulate an idea that is somehow latent in the ether around us. An truth that can catalyse a critical moment or movement. This is consistent with both modern chaos theory and the ancient Taoist concept of the sage.
13. Embrace creative destruction. It’s hard to rebuild a new model of reality with destroying your old one. Conscious models are replaced with new unconscious solutions.
But Cedric also illustrates something exceptionally profound: that true change is rarely achieved just by layering more information on top of what we already know. Instead our old models need to be proven to be inadequate. This often causes crisis, failure, and pain.
Is Tom bullish or bearish on the ability of video games to shift our thinking from the left to the right side of our brains?
What are Tom’s go to methods of entering a flow state?
Tom brilliantly synthesises all these theories of the world – User Illusion, the hemispheric brain, Umvelt, etc. How important to him is the scientific foundation of these theories relative to their metaphorical power?