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Misery, pain, happiness, and brains - Thoughts on Hacker News comments about TTL

The Hacker News discussion about Think, Try, Learn brought up some good points about happiness, whether it's possible, the value of journaling, and personal growth. Following are a few of my thoughts in response.

@todayiamme (a fine and apropos, name :-) Thanks for the points. This is a Buddhist approach, right? The idea that attachment leads to suffering is one that's been with me for years; very influential. From the Think, Try, Learn perspective, I talk about attachment to experimental outcomes. If we desire and expect a particular result, we have a binary success metric, which makes the process an unhappy one. If things are going our way, we are unhappy because we are afraid it will change. Likewise, if things are not going like we want, we are sad too. Much better is to participate in unfolding events as a scientist would - by observing fully, which brings you into the moment. And mindfulness is a way to be happy (another time-tested idea).

So in fact I'm trying to create a philosophy that resonates with the rational mind, but ties in classic ideas for how to be fulfilled. This is opposite to the idea that eternal bliss is possible. (In fact I'm an atheist, and religion doesn't make sense to me. Jack describes this well. That's why TTL is atheist compatible)

Your experience of keeping a detailed diary is interesting to me. It seems to me that keeping a general record is periodically valuable, but in my work the recording is specific to experiments. The thought that I mention in my recent slidecast (The Experiment-Driven Life) is that observation -> awareness -> change. The self-blame sucks, of course, but ironically, in TTL I argue that you get a "health sense of detachment" by looking at events as information/data, which might help with the negative feelings.

Also, I like your clarification to @DeusExMachina. Well put.

@DeusExMachina: I love your quote:

But if you spend enough time growing, looking inside yourself to what is really important to you and learn to enjoy the journey too, you can be happy.

In TTL, the ultimate guarantee of success is that you'll learn something about yourself and grow your character. The process of experimentation will take you in a personal direction you like. Put another way, the focus is on being excellent at discovery, which we all have control over.

Dealing with pain and problems: As you say, they are inevitable, and it's how we cope (with grace, ideally) that defines us. With TTL, my perspective is that those situations are externally-imposed experiments, ones that provide data like such as feelings and pain. Still working this out...

@Jach: Re: brains being a function of ancestral environments - absolutely! I love this quote by Nancy Kress: "A belief in the afterlife [is] probably the single largest aberration of the human mind." (From "Steal across the sky.") In TTL my idea is to manage irrational thinking by modeling it, testing it, and working to make them consistent (AKA "cognitive dissonance," as orangecat points out). In science, throwing out pet theories in is hard, but the truth is ultimately more useful to discoveries. Doesn't work for everyone, though, and may not be as comfortable as other (unprovable) theories.

@todayiamme: re: radical life extension, I'm ready for it now (I'm soon to be 48 YO) but I'm certain it won't be in time. I don't fear death, but I very strongly don't want it. From a time management perspective (my other hat) it can be a real incentive. Just as you point out with the TV watching. (BTW, a "micro" experiment is to go without TV for a week. I guarantee they will have new experiences, even things like being bored, talking more, etc. This is an appropriate setting to have a diary.)

Your quote is poetic, and expresses how I feel too. Thank you for it:

I have decided to spend every moment I have loving other people, and making their lives richer. I've decided to make others smile and create beautiful things. I've decided to learn as much as I can about this amazingly beautiful world before I die. I've learnt that happiness is only real when shared. I can do this only if I am at peace and I accept that problems will always exist around me. Fretting about them doesn't solve much, does it?

The way this fits into TTL is via collaboration with others, from which the best science comes. The idea is to love and help each other with our experiments, and to tune in (i.e., observe) to the great stuff we have going on in our lives right now. After adopting these ideas, I literally see the world differently. I spent 45 minutes one day last winter marveling at sunlight reflecting off snow crystals. I found that as I focused I could see individual prismatic effects that varied greatly as I moved my head slightly. It occurred to me that this might have been the inspiration for Christmas tree lights. Just a thought.

@dan00: Re: happiness being a by-product - absolutely! I think of love that way too. Like happiness and humor, you can't force it, you can only make space and invite it in. [insert garden/seed metaphor, etc.] (Actually, forcing humor via "laughter clubs" is a cool idea - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughter_Yoga)

@funthree: "Think, then try, then learn, then think. Okay. I needed that." I understand that the title seems obvious. Then again, it's a short name that is supposed to capture the spirit of the scientific method - treating everything in life as an experiment. (P.S. It's funny that you mention Captain Obvious. Check out The Personal Productivity Encyclopedia Of Superhero Powers)

Reader Comments (1)

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October 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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