Ideas to Help Chart Your Path

For my first post, I am going to break down some ideas that have helped with my goals of self-improvement and self-awareness. It will include:

  1. The similarity between Elon Musk and Descartes.
  2. How Bruce Lee’s philosophy can help improve your work/life balance.
  3. Explain my Primal-Instinct/Higher-Consciousness paradox theory about why humanity continues to be violent despite our incredible advances in technology and society.
  4. What do Bruce Lee and Neil deGrasse Tyson have in common?

I got inspiration for some of the methodology behind my idea creation from Freakonomics. The genius behind the book, film, and subsequent podcast series include a journalist and economist (Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt) who try to find similarities between two seemingly disparate things such as what sumo wrestlers and school teachers have in common, you can find their website here:

  1. Anyway, onward, what connects Elon Musk, one of the greatest minds of our time and the creator of Paypal, Tesla, Space X, Solar City, etc. To Descartes, the brilliant philosopher who invented the Cartesian coordinate system, the laws of refraction and reflection, Cartesian Dualism, etc? Well, first watch an excellent interview of Elon Musk by TED Talks here: . (You can skip below if you don’t want to watch the whole thing now. It’s about 20 minutes)

Watch the whole thing because it’s a great interview, but my main point is what he says in the last five minutes. Musk is asked to give some sage advice about tools that have helped him achieve at such a high level. He says, “A good framework for thinking is Physics. You know the sort of first principles reasoning /…/ what I mean is boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy. /…/ This means we copy other people with slight variations, and we have to do that because otherwise mentally we couldn’t get through the day, but when you want to do something new you have to apply the Physics approach. The Physics approach is really how to discover new things that are counter intuitive like Quantum Mechanics, it is really counter intuitive.” Great advice indeed: take some ideas or thoughts and get them down to their unarguable foundations or truths. Well, that method sounds startlingly similar to Descartes’ Methodological Skepticism. Let me explain, but first watch this superb video by College Binary and let him explain Descartes’ principle: . (It’s 3 minutes long, or you can skip it for now.)

So, quick recap of Methodological Skepticism: Descartes put things on a table, took all the things he thought existed off the table, and then tried to put things back on the table after he could prove they did in fact exist. Hilariously, he couldn’t prove anything, and nothing got put back on the table. He was extremely frustrated until he realized he could prove that he himself existed, and that explained why he was pondering about the nature of existence. This brought about the classic phrase, “I think therefore I am”.

Do you see the similarity between Elon Musk and Descartes’ thinking now? Both individuals break down their ideas to their unarguable and fundamental truths, one through his Physics background, and the other by putting things on a table and then taking them off. The fact that these two created and executed such a similar methodology with astonishing results in such disparate fields amazes me. The biggest take away for me about why this method is so valuable shows itself after you break your ideas down. Once at that fundamental level, there is a higher chance that your ideas won’t be subject to your own bias or self-defeating assumptions. Any statistician or social scientist knows that is worth its weight in gold, or statistical significance, which ever one you find more valuable.

2. Bruce Lee is one of my biggest role models, and inspirations in general. He is the epitome of the Warrior-Scholar ideal that I strive for in life, which I will address in a later post. Anyway, onward, one idea that Bruce Lee emphasized a lot in his writing was that martial arts “styles” box movement into silos, and these “styles” are actually an impediment to martial arts effectiveness and evolution. Said another way, “styles” become a crutch rather then a stepping stone towards improvement. Here is a wonderful video from the Official Bruce Lee YouTube channel explaining and expanding on Lee’s idea behind “styles”: . (It’s 45 seconds long.) For further exploration of Bruce Lee’s incredible philosophy, check out his book the Tao of Jeet Kune Do here: .

“Be like water, my friend”, and “honestly express yourself.” The older I get, the more value I identify in such simple yet profound words of wisdom, and with Lee’s articulation and delivery behind them it is like listening to a distinguished Greek play. Anyway, back on topic. I interpreted Lee’s idea about “styles” and thought I should try and apply it to labels in general with hopes of finding similar effectiveness. I recently started my first full-time job after college so I thought what better label to analyze then the well-known doctrine of work/life balance.

So here’s my idea… There is no WORK/LIFE BALANCE, there is is no WORK versus LIFE either, there is just TIME and ENERGY. So just think of what you do as investments of your time and energy, completely disregarding the labels that are usually attached whether it be work, life, family, friends, hobbies, etc. Again, it is all in essence just time and energy, so don’t box what you do into categories. To note Elon Musk from earlier and adding my own spin on his method, the labels we use, such as work, life, and leisure, are the products of our minds “reasoning by analogy”. As Musk noted, this is not the best approach when you want to be innovative. Bruce Lee’s application was revolutionary during his time period, he vehemently stated traditional styles such as Karate or Kung Fu as bad. Many people in the martial arts community did not react well to Lee’s philosophy. So if my idea sounds kind of crazy too, I think that’s actually a good thing! I hope some look at my idea, think it over, and say that’s ludicrous!

3. Violence, I believe, is as old as humanity itself. Read the Bible or watch the news and a lot of the same stuff seems to be happening. One event particularly struck me as I was preparing to write this part of my blog post about violence: Airman First Class Spencer Stone was stabbed in Sacramento after previously helping to foil a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in France. Here’s a video link to a CNN news report: and a New York Times article about it: . Whether on vacation in Europe and bumping into violent religious extremism or back at home enjoying a night out, violence seems to be just a hat toss away. Now, I do not want to seem overly paranoid about the prevalence of violence, and as some of my friends and family have pointed out, violence has decreased worldwide as time has progressed, but my point is to analyze why violence hasn’t improved at the same rate that other sectors of life such as technological innovation or life-time expectancy. Anyway, my explanation for why humanity has struggled to reduce violence at a faster rate is my Primal-Instinct/Higher Consciousness Paradox Theory. To properly explain my theory, let me first ask a question, why are the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or the Sopranos such popular TV shows?

Well I’m glad you asked! I would argue besides an engaging story line, character development, and plot twists, one of the main draws of many of these high-profile, super-successful shows is their high level of visceral and gut-wrenching use of excessive violence. I believe people are naturally drawn to violence because it is heart pumping, adrenaline inducing, and satisfying to watch, but isn’t that kind of messed up when you think about it. Most people are taught since birth to be peace-loving and violence-avoiding individuals, so why does our mind reward the viewing of violence when our society tells us to admonish it? I believe our enjoyment of violence is a defense mechanism right up there with the fight-or-flight response. Back in prehistoric times, early humans had to be violent on a daily basis, killing their food and killing or fighting other predators and possibly other groups of humans as well. No supermarkets and no society meant constant threats, which meant lots of violence in order to stay alive long enough to reproduce. If early humans weren’t programmed to enjoy being violent, we wouldn’t be here today; at least that is my analysis and explanation.

So that’s the first half of my paradox theory, and here’s the second half. After some evolution took place, humans got a nice little thing called the pre-frontal cortex, which gave us rational thinking. Thus, higher consciousness was born, and humans could plan into the future and do all these other cool things that let us create our societies and provided the tools to create smartphones, highways, etc. Watch Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist on Big Think, explain this concept much more eloquently here: . (It is 5 minutes long.)

So the paradox is that we as humans enjoy and desire violence to a certain degree because of our primal instinct, but our higher consciousness conflicts with our desire for violence because modern society has provided a level of security that negates the need for violence in daily life for the purpose of survival. So how do we resolve the paradox of listening to our higher consciousness while also filling the desire for violence without breaking societies’ rules? We do so through productive outlets of aggression that can aid society and the individual rather than break rules and cause mayhem.

On the one hand you could have a martial artist who becomes an MMA fighter, provides entertainment to the public, develops the self-discipline to control their own violence, and can now teach other people how to control their violent nature. Society wins, the individual wins, other people can be taught self-control, and everyone is happy. On the other hand, you could have someone who watches a violent and popular TV show to satisfy their desire for violence, but it’s not enough for that individual. Instead of being productive with their violent nature, they start fights on the street with random people. Society loses, and the individual wins in the moment by satisfying their desire for violence but ultimately loses long term, whether through a run-in with law enforcement or any other consequence that society has put in place for people who disobey the law.

What I am really alluding to here is the “state of nature” described by Thomas Hobbes. Our violent nature was developed as a survival mechanism because in the “state of nature” anything goes and rules didn’t exist, at least at a very low “dog eat dog” level. To exit “the state of nature”, humans created the “social contract” upon which society was built; fast forward, and we have skyscrapers and highways. What helped humanity create the all important “social contract”? Well, I would argue higher consciousness from our pre-frontal cortex! However, our violent nature came with us, and was not left in “the state of nature”. Look at the way we use many aphorisms in life such as, “kill the competition” or “outgun your opponent”. Humanity might have left the all-encompassing violence of the “state of nature”, but I don’t think violence has left our nature. Be that as it may, that fact should only highlight the importance of finding productive means to an end that doesn’t include mindless and unavoidable violence.

4) Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist who recently helped demote Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet (but that is besides my point). Bruce Lee, as mentioned above, was a world-renowned martial artist and philosopher. He developed a unique martial art called Jeet Kune Do. What do they have in common?

Well, let’s explore. Here is a hilarious and informative dialogue between Steven Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson; the whole video is awesome, but my reference comes at 18:00 minutes. Here’s the video link:, and here’s the quote, “The atoms and molecules in our body are traceable to the crucibles of the centers of stars that manufactured these elements over its life span /…/ that scattered into gas clouds that would ultimately collapse and make a star and would have the right ingredients to make planets and people, which means we are part of this universe. /…/ Not only are we in the universe, the universe is in us. That is a profound concept. /…/ We are start dust that connects us to the universe like no other fact that is beautiful.” How beautifully poetic science can be (too bad I didn’t feel that beautiful poetry in my high school science classes, but I digress).

So on to Bruce Lee. I’ll jump right to the chase: here’s an excerpt from Lee’s Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (2000) edited by John Little: “If thought exists, I who think and the world about which I think also exist; the one exists but for the other, having no possible separation between them. Therefore, the world and I are both in active correlation; I am that which sees the world, and the world is that which is seen by me. I exist for the world and the world exists for me. … One sure and primary and fundamental fact is the joint existence of a subject and of its world. The one does not exist without the other. I acquire no understanding of myself except as I take account of objects, of the surroundings. I do not think unless I think of things — and there I find myself.” Again, the idea of interconnection between the world and the individual, or the universe and people. Nothing acts alone; even the inward pursuit of self-discovery involves the outward experience of the world.

Do you see the similarities between Tyson and Lee’s ideas? I hope you do so I can pat myself on the back, and I hope it helped in some way big or small on your journey, whatever that may be, or wherever it may lead you. As one of my favorite B-boys, Nasty Ray, likes to say, “INSPIRATION IS FREE”. I really believe that to be true, and all the information I’ve just provided I didn’t pay a cent to obtain, and I learned none of it through formal education in a classroom. The outlets for knowledge such as BigThink, Freakonomics, Wikipedia, Youtube, and your own brain’s ability to “synthesize information” (as Bill Clinton likes to say) and create new innovative ideas is the power of the 21st century! So that concludes my first post. I have no set schedule to release new ones, (honestly I’ll do it just when I find the time, energy, and inspiration) but I hope you enjoyed the collection of my thoughts so far.

“The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he has given to others. The more he has for his own.” -Lao Tzu