Foolish Journey
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Foolish Journey

Goals vs opponent processes

Dear Jon,

I think you’re on to something here and I wanna see if I can connect the dots. There are a lot of things that are commonly understood to be a bit tricky to acquire directly. Like happiness, or a high-functioning city plan, or a funny joke. We’re so entrenched in hero-mindset (we’ll see if that sticks) that we have become blind to the idea of processes that require opponent mindsets to thrive. Let’s call it fools-mindset, because it feels like our only option remaining is to wander aimlessly about hoping to bump into happiness. And there’s some truth to it!

But what you said here about focusing on relationships between diverse interests is more specific than aimlessly wandering about. What I think you’re tapping into is that when a problem or question space is too chaotic or ambiguous to handle with a single perspective, it’s possible to try to triangulate it with multiple perspectives. This doesn’t guarantee that any one perspective will ever see the whole problem, similar to how one camera can’t see the entire Earth, but the relationship and communication and overall dance between perspective can have a “free-floating” understanding or mindset that exists outside of individual people. Culture is a free-floating mindset that we all partially contribute to but never fully contain. Happiness and funny jokes are free-floating mindset that exists between individuals and their environment and social connections.

Daniel Dennet introduced the idea of a “free-floating rationale” that can exist in nature (this episode recently reminded me of it) where animals can act in rational ways with being rational (like the deer that jump super high to demonstrate fitness to prowling lions). I think it applies to much more than just rationality.

The other dot I want to connect is about how free-floating mindsets are created. These free-floating rationales and mindsets can have emergent qualities that don’t exist in any of the people/animals contributing to them. The people/animals/contributors are usually arranged in an oppositional manner, challenging the weaknesses and being challenged by the strengths of the other contributors. They may dislike each other, or even hate each other. They may wish that their mutual struggle would be resolved once and for all, removing the influence of the other contributors so they can have their way. But if this opponent process happens to sharpen or strengthen a free-floating rationale or mindset, then it will produce the side effect of a higher-functioning city, a funnier joke, a happier life, etc. And, perhaps, maybe that’s why going after those goals directly is counter-productive… it means that the goal is captured by a non-opponent process, and therefore can’t emerge as easily. Or something.

Is there evidence that indicates that individuals can adopt a goal that enables the sharpening of a free-floating mindset, without accidentally acting against it? It is tough because it requires some serious wisdom to strive for something by seeking out its opponents and acting in self-interest against them. At the same time, we think of scrimmages and training and practice as this exact thing. Can fools-mindset be one that adopts scrimmages as not only practice but the real deal? John Vervaeke calls this “serious play” and points to ritual as another venue where these practices can occur. There must be more here worthy of exploring.





A group blog about questions that might not have answers.

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