You’re a lazy whining wussy 😭
The ant on the giant’s path — Spinoza’s life lesson — The Reality Distortion Field — A shortcut to happiness
Remember last time you were late for your train? You ran like an idiot. Yes, you caught it, but you got stressed and sweaty, you messed up your hair and missed a fall. All because you didn’t want to wait for ten minutes for the next one. You had yourself imposed a frame. You got dominated by reality and you yielded. You’re a wussy, and I’m here to tell you how not to be one anymore.
The world is toxic 🥀
Breaking news: the world is not here to be nice to you nor to make you thrive. The world carries on with its shit and doesn’t want to have to deal with you at all. If you suffer, that’s collateral damage. You are just casualty. So don’t worry, it’s not that it’s against you. You’re an ant on the path of a giant. What giant? Your environment — the weather, your job, public transports, your computer, your health, the news, terrorism, waiting lines, money. Basically everything that can piss you off or make you sad or in whatever bad state of mine, especially… people.
People are one of the greatest sources of suffering. Why? Because we are a social species, and the things we react to the most, are people. Look at Alice. Alice is a nice girl, she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. You like Alice. You want to go on a date with her. You ask her out, but she refuses. She’s just not interested. You cry like a little girl. You just got crushed by the giant. You complain and wonder why the world is against you this way. You behave like a bitch.
Complaining is a bad idea. Especially about things that are out of your control. In the following, I’ll talk about “the world”, but it mainly designates people. And I’ll tell you all about how to prevent the world from destroying you, only by shifting your perspective.
Change your perspective, it’s the only thing that matters 👓
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.
— Alphonse Karr
French philosopher Raphaël Enthoven has profoundly inspired me multiple times. He once said “The world is even more interesting than it is sad”. He recommends we take a different perspective on daily situations, a much more enriching, contemplating view. What Enthoven does is basically offering us a real application of Spinoza’s theory of knowledge. What is Spinoza’s theory of knowledge, you ask?
Spinoza’s theory of knowledge
Spinoza was the guy who loved knowledge. He’s a 17th-century Dutch philosopher whose work’s major focus was epistemology — the study of knowledge. In his model of knowledge, he cuts it into three kinds.
- First kind of knowledge — Imagination. In other words, preconception. This is the knowledge acquired by first glance, by getting incomplete information on things, by feeling more than thinking. This knowledge is composed of images, as Spinoza calls them, which lead to weakness and mistake. They are “like conclusions without premises”, prejudices. In his article on Spinoza’s theory of knowledge, Nels Dockstader says that images “enslave [you] to the common order of Nature”.
- Second kind of knowledge — Intellection. This is smart thinking taking control. This knowledge is mastered by the intellect. Leaving the affect aside, you think about the causes and consequences of events, you observe, you ask questions to build a real understanding. You reason your way toward a better life.
I have always been fascinated by how people like it when things are binary, when they can either be black or white, good or bad, from heaven or from hell, yin or yang, Republican or Democrat, man or woman. It always seems disturbing to come and say “Hey, sorry, there’s a third category”. Here, this binary division seems very reasonable. You either have a reasoned opinion or you just have preconceptions. But Spinoza says there’s a third way, I’ll come back to it.
I am no psychologist, but I have some notions about the mechanisms of fear and motivation, and I can’t help but see a parallel here, between the levels of knowledge and the different types of response to danger. To put that in the perspective of the psychology of danger, first kind of knowledge would be fight-or-flight response. That’s immediate impulsive reaction of either confronting danger or fleeing. Second kind of knowledge would be attributed to a more reasonable self control—or Pause-And-Plan response. The term Pause and Plan was introduced by psychologist Susan Segerstron and detailed in the book The Will Power Instinct by Kelly McGonigal (which I strongly recommend).
Enthoven gives us a practical and explicit example of this applied to a classic day-to-day situation: stuck in a traffic jam. First kind of knowledge: you get pissed off, overreact, shout at the other car drivers, horn, blame the universe… You basically sabotage your own mood. Second kind of knowledge: you pause and think, analyse the situation and take a decision about what to do. So you take advantage of this spare time to make a couple of phone calls, for instance. Third kind of knowledge?
Third kind of knowledge 🔭🔬
Imagine looking at life through both a telescope and a microscope. The third kind of knowledge—Intuition—is the ultimate knowledge of the philosopher. Source of the most sublime and delicious experiences. It happens thanks to a subtle combination of feeling and thinking. Intuition is a deep understanding of both the gist and the details of the universe in both its big picture and its small scale. It “takes what is known by Reason and grasps it in a single act of the mind.” It is a glance at the infinite knowledge of the univers. This perfectly expresses Spinoza’s great optimism for human knowledge. I think it’s awesome.
So, back to you stuck in the traffic. What do you do? You observe yourself and the causes of your situation, the implication on the grand scheme of things, and the way you can learn from it. You become an active spectator of your own destiny. As Enthoven puts it, you “impose your consent to reality, you take action. […] Whatever happens, you are in joy.”
Now that you took action, then what? Once you have changed your perspective, then what? Consciousness is outrageously impressive. You know these freak shows where TVs turn on by themselves? Well, I feel like consciousness is a TV. You’re supposed to be influenced by the outside, by the environment—the remote control—but in reality you’re able to feel whatever the fuck you want, just by yourself. Here is today’s epiphany: you can decide what mindset you want to be in, just by switching the right internal dials. Now that you took action, take control of your internal dials, without depending on the remote. The one thing you have to remember after reading this article is to proactively take control of your mind. It is a conscious process of hacking your consciousness without depending on the world.
There are many different interpretations of what meditation is, but to me it is a profound contemplation of your consciousness. This takes a mindset of love and pure honesty towards yourself. And this is the path to taking control, imposing your frame to your mind and to the world. So, back to the reaction to danger. Remember this annoying question mark next to the third-kind-of-knowledge rectangle? Well, how does a jedi knight react to danger? With bad-ass jedi-style mindfulness meditation. Now, that’s what the third kind of reaction to danger is: meditation.
Make the world your bitch 🐩
Psychologist B.L. Fredrickson studied the impact of positive emotions on the mind and the answer is simple. Positive emotions are better for your health, your productivity, your creativity, your learning abilities and so on. What’s even better is that positivity spreads to others. So, you behave positively → you’re happier → your peers are happier → they behave positively → they are happier → you are happier. It is a virtuous circle and all you have to do is trigger it. The mind has this awesome ability to influence other minds, take advantage of this effect!
Now, I’m not going to give you the everything-has-a-purpose bullshit. But my point is that when you choose that everything should benefit you in a way, you naturally feel more on your path. Your brain loves patterns, that’s why it sees patterns everywhere. If you decide to cherrypick the patterns you want, you will be able to choose the ones that make you more successful — whatever that means. Steve Jobs had this ability to impose his frame on people. He mastered it so well that he would turn way-too-short deadlines or way-too-complicated innovations into obviously-achievable ones. It was so impressive that his friends and colleagues had a name for it, Reality Distortion Field. This is what you want to do. Call it manipulation if you want, I call it hacking your reality. Meditation enables you to control your mind, the Reality Distortion Field enables you to control reality.
Don’t wait for the world to make you happy, just switch your internal happiness dials on. Then, impose your positive frame on your environment. Be a proactive third-kind-of-knowledgeable jedi.
- To summarize and scientifize my thoughts: James Glattfelder’s TEDxSalford Talk here on the relationship between knowledge and consciousness.
- Full summary of Spinoza’s three kinds of knowledge here and more about Spinoza here.
- Read Kelly McGonigal’s The Will Power Instinct (link here).
- Learn meditation (yeah I admit, it takes time).
- To know more about Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field, read his bio by Walter Isaacson (link here).