The Power of Fiction & The Slytherin Component

Or perhaps in Slytherin,Sorting_Hat.
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means,
To achieve their ends.
—The Sorting Hat

I am a firm believer in the power of fiction. Books of fiction often have the power to convey ideas that nonfiction books never could hope to attain. If nonfiction can be regarded as handbooks, information deposits, a source for references, then fiction is a journey of the mind.

Reading a smart book is the same as having an intelligent conversation. A person (or a book) gives you ideas, some of them are new for you, and some of them are not. After finishing reading the book, and after finishing your conversation with a smart person, it is impossible to walk away unchanged: the mere process of having been exposed to new ideas is enough to change. If you approach these ideas with an open mind, then you change a lot.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
— Winston Churchill

Fiction is powerful because it is not only an information depository. It is an initiation of a process of thinking. If you follow the narrative presented in the book, the ideas that the characters think about, the challenges they face, the decisions they make, their ways of behaving and doing things – you absorb much more than you would in a nonfiction book. The personal nature of books of fiction brings not only information, but also inspiration. The information you get, you have higher chances of applying it. The ideas you not only learn, you internalize them. Take the Dune series, for example: it is a story about the interaction of politics, religion, economy and ecology. I have taken so much from Dune I cannot even begin to describe its influence on me. Is this blog not a blog about becoming a Bene Gesserit (a faction in Dune)? Yes, I have named it Becoming Overhuman, but what true difference is there between an Overhuman and a Bene Gesserit?

Some fiction books haven’t had a big influence on me, and some haven’t had an influence at all. These books I will not name because I tend to remember the remarkable, not the unremarkable. Maybe one day if I read them again, I will find greater value and greater pleasure in reading them.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has played a great role in my development while I was in elementary school, but its use hasn’t ended even today. I reread it in another language and then I read the fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and discovered new and wonderful ideas and thoughts that found their way into this very blog. So, today’s subject will be The Slytherin Component.

(For those that haven’t read the Harry Potter series, there are four Hogwarts Houses where young wizards and witches are sorted into: Gryffindor, the House of the brave, Ravenclaw, the House of the wise, Hufflepuff, the House of the hard-working and Slytherin, the House of the ambitious.)


Slytherins. Evil, power-hungry, they will stop at nothing to gain what they wish to gain.

This is simply not true.

These are some of the wrong answers to the question “What makes a Slytherin?”

The more true answers are being ambitious, being cunning, seeking greatness, will to improve, intelligence, practicality, ingenuity, knowing how to navigate the world of humans, achieving goals…

Being evil has absolutely nothing to do with being Slytherin. Even the word cunning has an undertone of evil, which is a reflection of the general populace’s stance on intelligence, the same with the word “manipulation”, even though education of their children is nothing more than manipulation. Not being lawful good is not the same as being chaotic evil – there is plenty of room in between, and the fact that the Slytherin sees rules as an arbitrary deal between people, not as divine law that is its own purpose, is by no means the same as being an evil person.

So, what does a Slytherin make?

Ambition, yes. Cunning, yes. A thirst for greatness, yes. But a Gryffindor can also be ambitious, a Ravenclaw cunning and there is no reason for a Hufflepuff not to wish to be great.

Francis Underwood

No, the unique feature of a Slytherin is that s/he has a plan. The Slytherin is ambitious, and wishes to see his/her ambitions realized. A Slytherin doesn’t linger in simply wanting things, s/he actually does things to get his/her goals. Everything happens for a reason, and if there is no reason for something to happen, then it doesn’t. There is no time to waste on uncertainties and on not working on your goals. There is always an agenda, and a Slytherin always has this agenda in mind. This can be a purely evil agenda, gaining power and not stopping at anything in order to get it, like Frank Underwood, a true Slytherin if there ever was one. Or the agenda can be a neutral one. Or the agenda can be a good one, change the world for the good. But this ever-present agenda, proactively doing stuff to achieve your goals using intelligence and good planning – that is a Slytherin. A Slytherin may decide to be secretive about his/her plans, and that often happens. Sometimes, s/he will be completely honest and open about them. A good Slytherin will circumvent irrational laws and obsolete rules, a bad Slytherin will break what the rest of us call moral codes.

Do you have an inner Slytherin? If you do, I would advise to use it, because Slytherins get things done.

The eating conundrum

In the post The Overhuman Diet, I describe what I eat and why I eat it. I mention that I eat a lot of protein and that a lot of that protein is animal protein. Dabbling in vegetarianism and knowing quite a few vegans, I’ve started reconsidering my opinions on food, trying to see if there is any new piece of information that might induce me to change my eating behavior. (note: this type of thinking, always reconsidering your own behavior, criticizing your patterns and being prepared to change – this is absolutely critical for an Overhuman). This is what I found.

NOTICE: This is going to be a long and somewhat complicated post. At times, it will seem that I’m splitting hairs. What I am doing is trying to get as pure an ethical image as possible. The big problem with ethics in eating is that it’s not as simple as omnivores want it to be and definitely not as simple as vegans want it to be.

Reconsidering ethics

You all remember that story about Cecil the lion and how he was killed by an American hunter?

Well, a couple of days later, Tim Shieff, a well-known vegan freerunner posted this on his Facebook:

Click for full size

Click for full size

Both his text and the comic itself make a good point from an ethical perspective: given that you can take everything you need from vegetables and their derivatives, it is unethical to kill animals – or is it as simple as that?

To be able to respond to this question, we must go way, way back into the domain of values, starting with life in general. So here goes:

Nothing is important of itself, everything is just matter and energy and we (conscious beings, who are, by the way, also only matter and energy) decide that some things are important. One of these things is life. Some conscious beings might decide that life isn’t important, and they wouldn’t be wrong. It would just be their decision, which is completely OK. Right. so far, so good.

If you’re one of the group that decided that life (like, generally) was important, things get sort of complicated for you. If you decided that life wasn’t important, alright, if you kill to eat (or pay to kill to eat), you know that you can also kill yourself? Or at least not care if somebody kills you – because you decided that life in general isn’t important.

So, let’s continue with those that believe that life is important – i.e. almost everybody in the world.

Life is generally important.
I am a life form.
Therefore, my life is important.

This is the train of reasoning that follows from the decision that life is generally important. If you believe this, then it also follows that sustaining your life is important, and the primary method humans utilize for sustaining their lives is food.

Food (calories, macro and micro nutrients) comes from two main sources: fruit/leaves/animal byproduct and killed life forms.

Fruit, leaves and animal byproduct

Fruit, leaves and some animal byproducts are the only foods that entail not killing directly, even though you can support killing if you buy certain fruits, so not even fruit is, by definition, kill-free. Take, for example, a tomato, which gets killed after it has given its yield in fruit, or, for an animal byproduct example, hens that get slaughtered after a certain age when they stop laying eggs “efficiently”. In general, eating fruit from fruit-bearing trees is often kill-free, especially if you eat organic fruit which doesn’t entail the use of chemicals which kill life forms. In that respect, pears, oranges, apples, grapes etc, are the only sources of food that are completely kill-free every time. If you are a human, eating exclusively a wide assortment of fruits can give you sufficient calories (immediate survival) but not enough micronutrients and even macronutrients (protein and fat) – meaning that long-term survival is not guaranteed because of illnesses that could arise from lack of nutrients. Some fruits will give you enough fat (for example an avocado) but if you eat only regional fruit, chances are that you are not able to get a very wide assortment of fruits. It follows that you must decide if you will buy fruit from a very faraway place (and still risk not to have all micronutrients covered) or you will add killed life to your diet.

What is helpful that some vegetables are kill-free and will help you with micronutrients. For example, you can harvest kale, cabbage, Swiss chard and other leafy greens by the leaf so as to not kill them. What is definitely impossible is to buy vegetables that have been harvested by the leaf, so here you must grow your own or assure some way of procuring leaf-harvested greens.

And again, animal byproducts come to the rescue: eggs and dairy. Most eggs and dairy are a result of industrial torture systems that get the most out of a chicken or a cow and then slaughter them. Even free range eggs often mean that, after the hen stops producing a regular quota of eggs, it gets slaughtered. You can, however, eat kill-free eggs or dairy: the same principle as with plants – don’t buy it in markets, grow your own or buy from somebody you know isn’t going to kill the animals.

At this stage, you must decide if your life is worth more than the life of other life forms. We have already established that your life is important, but who will you choose, yourself or a different life form? Time plays a special role here, and this you must also take into consideration, because you might choose a course of action that doesn’t instantly bring your health down, but that might do so over the course of some months or years. For example, if you decide to go completely kill-free and eat only fruit, but you eat only regional fruit, let’s say plums, apples, pears and grapes, this will, over time, cause significant health problems (correct me if I’m wrong here). Buying of exotic and faraway fruit also has several ethical problems tied: you need a lot of fossil fuels to get it to your habitat, and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels also cause death on a wider, global scale through global warming. It thereby follows that as a completely kill-free vegan, you should also not buy fruit from far away.

If your decision is that your life is important, but other life forms are more important, your diet is to consist exclusively of fruits/leaves that come from your region – and we do not include fruits or vegetables that, after being picked, have their original plant killed (zucchini, tomato, cucumber…) – and of leaves, eggs from free-range, not-killed-afterwards hens, and dairy from not-killed-afterwards cows and goats.

If your decision is that your life is important, and that it is more important than (at least some) other life forms, continue reading.

Killed life forms

Killed life forms are both plants and animals. If you eat bread – you support killing wheat. If you eat seitan – you support killing wheat. If you eat pasta – you support killing wheat. If you eat meat – you support killing animals.

Many vegans draw the line between animals and plants: the claim is that it’s ok to kill plants, but not animals. This reasoning is often based on the fact that plants do not experience pain. Indeed, it has not been proven that plants experience pain because they do not share the nervous system capable for pain. But on the other hand, there has been some research that points to the conclusion they might have analogous systems and actually be intelligent.

In any case, we do not know yet.

We may act on the assumption that plants don’t feel the same neurobiological phenomenon we describe as pain, but we also know that plants try to sustain their own lives. To be completely honest, we have to admit that the difference between killing a plant to eat it and killing a bug to eat it is not a big one. The difference between the two organisms is one of grade (of complexity, or genetic proximity to humans), not of category.

The only reason for this entire paragraph is to make clear one thought: If you don’t eat animals because of ethical reasons, you are actually not eating them because they seem close to you, and plants don’t. They’re one level lower on your empathy list.

The best part of it all? It’s actually ok, even though it is an elitist perspective. If you value your life more than the life of other organisms, you’re bound to certain moral choices, and genetic proximity is as good a reason as any.

Now, the real question is where do you draw the line? Where do you stop empathizing? When do you not care about killing a certain organism? Is it at nuts (tree embryos)? Is it at bugs? Is it at fish? Is it at birds? Is it at dogs, cats, cows and sheep? Is it at humans?

I’ve thought about this really long and hard, and came up with a complicated algorithm to ensure maximum ethical eating while preserving my own health. It goes something like this:

If you can, eat only kill-free. If not, add life forms from the lower empathy levels (wheat, nuts). If you’re still risking low health, add more killed life forms, but keep them on a low empathy level (i.e. it would be preferable to eat a fish instead of a chicken (because genetic proximity makes it easier to empathize with a chicken than with a fish) and preferable to eat a chicken instead of a cow). At some point, you will find the point where you stop valuing your life more – maybe it will happen with cows, maybe you’ll have to go all the way to humans, maybe not even then.

This is the only really good ethical algorithm for dietary choices that I know of. Take all your dietary choices, pull them through this algorithm, and you’re reasonably certain you’re eating ethically. Provided the fact that you in fact want to complicate things as much as I do. But the truth is rarely simple…

Technological innovations – a new perspective?

Lab meat

Lab meat

One way to eat meat without killing anyone is in-vitro meat. One day, when the technology advances sufficiently, it will be commercially available and widely consumed. Many object to growing meat in laboratories because it is “unnatural”, but this is the type of argument that would object to cars, computers, bicycles, electric power, bows and arrows, and fire. Just because humans created something with their brains instead of relying on what is immediately available doesn’t make it bad. I would gladly eat lab-grown meat, provided there aren’t any health side effects.

Final thoughts 

The reason for this post was mainly so that I clear my mind as regards ethics in eating. Not eating meat has always been clear to me from an environmentalist perspective, and not eating industrial meat has also always been clear to me from a health perspective. But I have always tended to ignore the ethical aspects of it and I never thought them through. Ethics tend to be a habit of learned behavior, not a result of conscious deliberation. In other words, most people (me, at least) will form their ethical standpoints on a combination of inert, learned behavior and a certain amount of natural empathy, instead of thinking and then making decisions. For most people, ethics are not conscious. For Overhumans, everything is conscious.

Thus the adage: “Never do anything unintentional.”

Environmental factors in planning

This is going to be a short post on how you might make your planned activities better through the use of environmental factors. For some, this isn’t going to be news because it’s probably common sense to many, but I am still going to present it because there might be some that don’t know about it.

Environmental factors are anything in your environment that might make a difference towards your planned activities. It could be purely physical (heat, wind, altitude), but it could also be more abstract (amount of money you have, perceived stress, etc.) For example, you plan a bicycle trip, and you take into calculation the heat, the state of your bicycle, the amount of time you have, and so on…

When you plan your activities, it is wise to take into consideration not only what you wish to do, but also the things that the environment presents to you. My personal example is this: I wish to become more resilient toward cold, so this is why I planned cold-resilience exercises when it is cold – in the winter.

Not only do you plan and just then take into consideration the environmental factors, you actively look at what your environmental factors have to offer. For example, you see that in the following months you will have no money and a lot of time. What activities can you plan for that period? How do you make best use of such a period? Or you have an upcoming period of very little sleep, a lot of work and high levels of stress. How do you make most use of that? Do your self improvement goals change? Maybe your general goal is incredible physical fitness, but you know that from lack of sleep, a lot of stress and no time (because of work), you won’t be able to work on this goal effectively (if at all). Maybe you change this goal into “being kind and polite despite the stress and overworkedness”. Maybe you change this goal into something else.

If you’re injured, how do you best make use of that? I know that in Parkour, if I have one limb incapacitated, I just go on with training – the only thing I change is I adapt and train with only 3 limbs. What is interesting is that this sort of training wouldn’t have been available to me if I hadn’t injured myself.

All of this is basically practical Stoicism: every misfortune is a chance to learn something new and to improve. Every sort of hinder is actually an obstacle that will definitely improve a certain aspect of you. If you cannot use a car when you would normally use it but you have to walk – then everything that can improve while walking, and not while driving, should improve. If you hurt your right hand and you’re right-handed, is this not the best opportunity you’ll ever have to learn to be ambidextrous? If your Internet connection is off and it absolutely won’t work, is this not the best chance you’ve had in months to read books?

Change your perspective and you will honestly change your life.

You are exactly where you want to be

Right now, you’re probably sitting or lying. Maybe you’re standing. You are somewhere, maybe outside, maybe inside. Life is happening around you. Maybe there is some music in the background, maybe only cars, maybe silence. You have some things you have to do today, or tomorrow, or in a week from now. You’ve also had some obligations today, or yesterday, or a week from now. You also have things you want to do, not just things you have to do. The things you have to do you don’t want to do, maybe all of them, but probably some of them. These things can be relatively unimportant (i.e. errands) or they could be important, but you still don’t want to do them.

If you have too much things you have to do, and not enough time to do the things you want to do, you probably get stressed. If you have a lot of things to do, you might procrastinate, do other things instead of some things.

In the post Where does stress come from, I describe that one of the main reasons for stress is a conflict in motivation, and that this conflict can be solved by deliberately deciding a certain course of action and sticking to it, not doubting yourself or your choice.

In this post, I want to explore this concept a bit further and see how exactly it is that our own internal motivation conflicts lead us to live unfulfilling lives, and how those that have no motivation conflicts (or at least solve them early-on) lead lives packed with greatness.

So, first things first: honesty.

This is a prerequisite for the continuation of you reading this post. You have to be able to be honest with yourself. If you lie to yourself, you won’t get far in self improvement. What is it that you don’t acknowledge about yourself? Have you heard several people comment on a certain characteristic you believed you didn’t have? Maybe you do have it? Have you seen yourself behave unexpectedly in various situations? Does this unexpected result maybe tell you something about yourself? For example, if your friend got into a fight and you didn’t rush in and save him (even though you always thought that you wouldn’t hesitate a second), does that tell you something about yourself? If people always comment how you’re so lethargic and unenergetic, do you think about that?

If you’re a dishonest person to yourself, you should listen to what other people say. Sometimes they’re wrong, sometimes they’re right, but their explanation is countered by something you know and they don’t, but often, they’re right and you’re just fooling yourself.

You can’t try to become successful if you do not first acknowledge that you’re unsuccessful. You can’t try to become strong unless you admit that you’re weak. So on, and so on. Consider this:

All your actions up to this point have led to this very day.

How fucking terrible an idea is that, huh?

Everything you did, from your birth to the moment you’re reading these words, has led to this exact moment. And this here… This moment right now is the tipping point.

Now you decide what you’re going to do further.

If you’re like “Dude, what’s with the drama, I’m just going to have a shit and watch some cat videos, I’m not that important, what I do isn’t going to make a big difference” then you’re wrong.

For you see, your life is important.

At least, it should be important to you. And what you do with it should, by extension, be ever more important. And thus – what you do is going to make a big difference.

I repeat:

This moment right here, the moment while you read these very words, is the tipping point of your life. It is now that you make the decisions that will define the rest of your life.

Maybe some of these decisions can be changed afterwards, so it isn’t all a big drama as it looks like. But what if some of them cannot be changed? Use of time cannot be changed.

If you just spent half an hour of watching skating videos on Youtube, that half an hour is gone. If you’ve just exercised half an hour, that half an hour is gone. You can’t have it back. And seeing that life time is (at least for now) finite for humans, it would make sense to make good decisions about how we use time, wouldn’t it?

Now we come to the secret piece of advice I will give you, and you will struggle with accepting it:

You are exactly where you want to be.

If you are honest with yourself, and as I said, it truly is a prerequisite for this advice to work, then you will either accept that you are exactly where you want to be or you will change your life so that you get there, stop doing things that you know aren’t going to bring you to where you want to be.

Example: you study a certain subject, but you feel the whole time like that particular subject isn’t at all what you want to do, or you feel that studying in general isn’t what you want to do and that it won’t get you where you want to be. What you do, naturally, is you stop studying that subject.

But… What if you have a family to feed, and they rely on you obtaining a degree and then a job and then money? What if what you’re studying could prove to be useful in the future, even though you do not wish to dedicate yourself to it all the time?

As I wrote in the last post, this is a conflict of motivations, and you solve it through being honest with yourself and deciding a certain course of action. Is feeding your family more important to you than leading a fulfilling life? Is feeding your family possible if you do something more fulfilling? Is the problem of feeding your family a false one, i.e. can they actually rely on themselves and the task imposed on you is actually an illusion? These questions, alongside many more require honesty to be answered, and you must answer them.

You must decide and give weight to your decisions.

If you decide that you’ll continue on pursuing that college degree because of you need to feed your family, and if you truly investigated other options, and none are available, then that is your decision, and your decision alone. If you feel like you’re being forced into it, do not, because you’re not forced into it. You can always decide something else, but you won’t: maybe because of moral obligations, or love. Some people would have other options available. Some people wouldn’t have to make that decision. Some people have it easy all the time. “I wish I was one of those people”.

This kind of thinking leads only to frustration and rarely helps you towards your goals.

If you have no legs, it is completely unnecessary to fantasize about having legs. If you have no money, it is completely unnecessary to fantasize about having money. So on and so on. Fantasizing about things you do not have will not lead you to have them. Objective appraisal of your situation, a firm decision between conflicting options, a coldly rational plan of action – these things actually will get you towards your goals, and maybe solve the problem you were ruminating on. Maybe you’ll invent a revolutionary type of bionic prosthetic limb and then you’ll have legs. Maybe you’ll create a brilliant start-up and have money. You most certainly will not do that if you only fantasize of having something you believe “you deserve to have”.

So what do you do with your college degree, with your studying? I don’t know, but I know you must decide and stick to that decision and NOT BE BITTER ABOUT HAVING TO CHOOSE IT.

This is what you were given, this is what you get, some people get more, some people get less. Learn to deal with it and make the most use of it. That way, the idea that “You are exactly where you want to be” becomes something else, something even more revolutionary…

You are right now in the perfect position to create the rest of your life.

Whatever misfortune life has brought to you, look at it as limits to a game. Some people play easy arcade games with their lives, and some people play really difficult puzzles, and whoever you might be, you’re in the perfect position right now (as in AT THIS VERY MOMENT) to make use of it – and create the rest of your life.

Where does stress come from?

Everyone knows that odd feeling. You’re kind of tensed, unfocused, probably biting your lip, scratching your face and your neck, your abdominal muscles are rigid, you breathe shallowly… It’s stress.

The evolution of the human brain has given us many benefits. Indeed, the neocortex, “the logical brain” is what differentiates between us and our animal comrades. We have the capacity to think, to plan, to analyse, to deduce. This is what allows us to make bridges, build instruments, write books and surf 9gag. But the original feeling of stress every animal experiences is still here, and there is something weirdly annoying going on with it.

If you look at the symptoms I listed, and if you google the medical definition of stress (“a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension” source), you see that these are the manifestations of the same “fight or flight” response, namely, “a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems.”

So in a nutshell, stress is when something makes your body produce a lot of weird chemicals in order to keep you strong and fast, and thereby, alive.

Let’s see what’s wrong with this picture.

On the left hand side, this is your genetically more or less identical great-great-great-(…)-grandmom. On the right hand side is what caused her stress.

I credit Wait But Why with the idea of drawing ancestor stickmen in Paint.

I credit Wait But Why with the idea of drawing ancestor stickmen in Paint.

You would be pretty callous to blame your great great great grandmom for being stressed out with no reason. During her time, it was good that she’d feel stressed because if she ever got into contact with an animal instrument of death and destruction, that stress would be what got her out of that situation. She would be stronger and faster, and quite honestly, that’s what made us survive in the first place.

Now let’s see what’s usually going on today. On your left hand side is you. On your right hand side is what is (usually) your greatest stressor.

Notice any similarities?

Notice any similarities?

Do you ever notice the connection between thoughts and stress? Usually, stress is accompanied by a disarray of thoughts – stupid, unnecessary thoughts. Many claim that getting in control of your thoughts (through meditation) gets you in control of your stress.

I think it’s only a part of the equation.

You see, this sort of stress, which is not induced by big fucking animals trying to eat you, is basically always perceived stress.

Usually, a situation is not stressful in and by itself: it’s perceived as stressful. Some people do fine in situations other people see as stressful. It’s pretty clear-cut: we create our own stress through our perception of the world.

If you see the world as inherently stressful, you will be stressed out by it. If you see the world as inherently peaceful, you won’t be stressed out by it. Sounds simple, but it’s a bit hard to get there.

Studies like this one have shown that mindfulness meditation helps with diminishing our perception of stress and increasing the sense of control. So if it were only as simple as meditating and starting to perceive the world as non-stressful, it would be all the solution we need.

But I fear not. You see, there is another component to stress, at least in my personal case. It’s the problem of conflicted motivation. I’ll explain on my personal example with time:

The first and basic conflict is this: I want to have free time, and I want to have fulfilled time. Obviously, this is not possible, for if you have one, then, by definition, you cannot have the other. The second conflict is this: when doing something, I want to do another thing. And since it would be highly ineffective to try to do both at the same time, I must do one or the other, thereby losing time for the thing I’m not working on.

For some reason, I feel stressed by this. I feel as if Time flies by, and I’m slow in doing whatever I’m doing and I’m losing my time and I’m wasting my life.

This kind of thinking is dumb. Pure and simple. It’s dumb because it’s not true.

Buddhists would say that in order to solve this problem, I should get rid of my wants and wishes, for they are the cause of my suffering. I don’t think so. Wanting something means that you have a will for something. If you never want anything at all, it means that you have no will for anything at all, and such a life I’m not inclined to live.

The solution to this problem (which I believe many people have, but not all are aware of) is actually pretty simple:

Give weight to your decisions.

You basically freak out because you think you should be doing the other thing, and if you were doing the other thing, you’d freak out because you think you should be doing the first thing. Stop doing so through DECIDING for one course of action and acknowledging that it was the best decision and that anything else is just lying to yourself.

If you have to do A and B, and you can only do one, give it some thought, figure out which has the priority and then proceed with doing whatever it is that has the greater priority. Simply forget about B if your working on A. Give your decision to work on A some weight. Don’t treat it like “oh… but maybe I could have gone with B… I dunno…”


If you chose A, then you chose A, period, full stop, end of story. If you chose B, you chose B.

Do not fret over if it was a bad decision and do not falter in your decision – unless you get new information that makes you change your mind.

Otherwise, chose one or the other, and stick to your decision. This technique, however, has a problem in it. It demands complete honesty. If you are not capable of admitting to yourself why you are choosing a certain course of action, you might not do the good thing if you employ this technique. It is key that you are always absolutely honest in why you decide A and not B, and B and not A.

For example, this morning, I was presented by a choice: write this blog post or study for an upcoming exam. I find that both are equally valuable choices and I can only do one at a time. I want to write this post because I haven’t written any in the preceding weeks, and I want to study for the exam because I want to get rid of it. Both are good options, both are necessary, both are valuable… Seeing that I do have some time on my hands before the exam, I decided to write the post. I did not stop every 5 minutes thinking if I should maybe stop and go study. I will study afterwards (and while doing so, I will not wonder every 5 minutes if I should maybe be exercising).

Decide and then do, don’t question yourself. Change your course of action only if you have new information that changes your mind. Otherwise, keep going.

The idea for the Paint drawings was taken from the page Wait But Why which I wholeheartedly recommend as it is both hilarious and highly educating.

Plotting in the real world

Okay, first things first, if you’re a Harry Potter fan (and quite honestly, if you’re not, I don’t understand you as a human being) there is this incredible fanfiction called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and believe me when I say it’s one of the best new things I’ve read in a long, long time. And I do not say such things lightly. The reason why this fanfic is so great is that it challenges my ideas about the world. Might be that I’m just getting old and my brain is getting calcified, but I’d wager that there’s not so much out there that is challenging – not to read, but challenging to the mind. (There are, naturally, a lot of books challenging to read, but absolutely debilitating to the mind – complicated doesn’t necessarily mean smart.) This is a gem and I mean it.

So anyway, go and check it out. You might like it, you might not, I personally don’t like the writing style, but there are many wonderful things on that website and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Inspired by this fanfic, I’ve thought about today’s problem – plotting.

Plot (noun): a secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, especially hostile, unlawful, or evil purpose: a plot to overthrow the government. (source)

I’ve never been much of a plotter. Whole my life I’ve lived in a world where people are nice when they want to be nice and where they are rude when they want to be rude. In a world where you get invited to a cup of coffee because that person actually wants to hear from you, not to accomplish some hidden goal. As I grow older, I grow wiser, and I begin to see that around me, people have hidden agendas, hidden goals, hidden wishes and wants. And they plot. Without being cynical and saying everyone does it – even though, quite honestly, everyone does it to a certain extent – I’ll say that there are real plotters among us and that they do plot.

First thought that comes to mind: who gives a fuck? Let them plot, I won’t be a part of their game.

Response: not so easy. You can chose to remain on the outside, but if you don’t understand what’s going on around you, you’re a pawn and that means you’re the weakest figure in their game.

So the only responsible thing for an aspiring overhuman is to understand plotting. I’m not saying practice it. Practice it, maybe yes, to a certain extent, somewhere, sometimes. But simply understand it as good as the best plotter would.

Petyr Baelish - one of the best plotters I know.

Petyr Baelish – one of the best plotters I know.

Who are these plotters among us? Well, obviously, politicians and men of power. But also people around you, people you wouldn’t even suspect. I’ve written a post on the matter: The secrets of the everyday. Just to give you a short version: there is always something around you to discover, something other people don’t want you to know, and you have to 1. accept this fact, 2. perceive what goes around you and 3. ask the right questions. There are secrets to unveil in this world. Some might find this worrisome, but I find it beautiful. This means that your little stupid boring everyday is everything but not that. But I digress. Politicians. They do actually plot and you’re an idiot if you think you’re not a part of their plot. Do you want to be blindly carried and pushed and controlled? Or do you want to actually understand the game that’s being played? Because even if you live in a cottage in the mountains, having no contact with the state, the state can still decide to make a mine of your precious mountain, or cut down your precious forest. Ignorance is never a good strategy. You might be thinking “well, it’s not fair, why do I have to know about these things? Why can’t I just live my own life and have fun and enjoy?”. Why indeed. My response is more or less the same as for the question of martial arts (“Why do I have to learn the martial arts, why must I give away precious time and energy to learn to fight when there are many more interesting and better things to do than to fight other people, like reading, or building a house, or discovering a cure for cancer? It’s not fair!”)

It is not fair. It would be better to do these other wonderful things with your time, and not, well, waste it on plotting or fighting. But you know the cliché: the world’s not fair. If you just accept it right away, it’ll make the transition much easier.

But there is a catch. Nietzsche says:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

If you do decide to do the only rational thing and learn to fight and learn to plot, do not become a person who solves their troubles through fighting or plotting. These things are bad, but they must be known. They must be understood. But they really are very bad.

One big issue with plotting is that it becomes the cultural norm. This relates to the previous quote – people that usually wouldn’t resort to plotting do it but then it becomes something normal to do, the regular way to do things. Let me be clear on this: plot only when you have to. The truth is a better weapon than empty lies. Open dialogue, truthfulness, discussions, honesty – everything should be tried before escalating to plotting, that is the only way plotting doesn’t become the norm, and we don’t want a bad thing to become a norm. In other words, if you’re in an organization where there is a culture of open dialogue, make sure that you do not destroy that culture. If however you’re in a plotting culture, try to turn it away from the dark side and begin a practice of honesty. Plotting is the last resort, something you do if you have no other way.

Plotting is always a way to gain power. It basically goes like this: I have a great idea, I want to change the world to fit to this idea, I see I need power to change the world, I go after power, I plot to get power. Some do it because of their ideals, others because of money and self-interest, but basically everyone goes through these steps and one might argue that the worldwide political-economic-religious net is a result of plotting, and one wouldn’t be in the wrong.

Let’s summarize:

Understand that there are plots around you. These plots are “big” (as in big businesses, politics, etc) and “small” (as in, people you know, people you live with and so on).

Understand who benefits from what.

Learn techniques and strategies that really good plotters would use.

Identify the smartest people around you and among them, identify the smartest plotters. Keep an eye on them.

Question all motives.

Don’t become paranoid.

Plotting is always a way of getting power, so understand the relations of power around you.

Some practical exercises you might do:

  • Read the politics section in the newspaper and imagine that what happened is the intended result. Ask yourself who benefits from this result.
  • Whenever somebody wants something, question their motives and try to discover true motives if you have a feeling that they’re lying.
  • Identify powerful people around you and discover how they rose to power.
  • Whenever there’s a confrontation, ask yourself if that’s  just a part of a bigger picture i.e. if somebody provoked this confrontation deliberately.
  • Look for signs of deliberateness everywhere around you.

It is indeed a thin line between someone that sees the world clearly and a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Do not make the mistake of becoming the latter at the expense of the former.

Become the best plotter you can without actually plotting and you will see that it’s a whole new world that just opens up if you look at it the right way.

No rest for the wicked

If I still have a noticeably weak side, it’s sleep. Man, I have to get my beauty sleep. Going without food or water can make me a bit cranky, still being all under control and cool – but man, I become a different person without my sleep. So that’s an issue I’ve been working on for some time now and I feel like it’s going well.

One of the things that needed to change was not only how much I sleep but how I sleep. I have a natural ability to fall tight asleep and not hear my surroundings while sleeping which is probably OK and even a good thing for a peaceful city dweller, but it’s a strategic weakness that has got to go – or I have no place talking about becoming overhuman.

You know how you always hear about supernatural abilities of ninjas? One of their amazing abilities is their capacity for light sleep. Even while resting, even while sleeping, there is still an awareness, a trained primal awareness that expects an imminent attack. Not claiming that all of it (or any of it) is true, I would say that it’s a thing worth examining and trying before rejecting as impossible. And that’s what I’m doing at the moment. To be sincere, that’s what I wanted to do before, but I didn’t know how. How can you train something while you’re sleeping?

And after some time I found the technique, and the technique is as follows:

Listening meditation.

So firstly, you’re going to have to accept the fact that this thing is no quick fix. If you’ve never meditated before it’s not going to work that well for you, so I suggest you start meditating on your own (or you can wait for my 30-day meditation program to get you through a month, but you might wait for some time in that case. :) )

Secondly, even if you’re an experienced meditator, it’s going to take some time in order for the technique to really show itself while you’re sleeping. It’s like training your body an entirely new trick, and that takes time and effort.

What you do couldn’t be simpler: you focus your awareness on sounds you can hear. It’s what you naturally do as a kid when you’re afraid in the dark, and you heard a weird cracking sound in the room next door. Only this is deliberate, whereas a child’s fear is by no means under control. You listen, and then you listen some more, and you take time to acknowledge each and every sound you hear, be it indoors, outdoors, near or far away from you – you acknowledge it and listen on.

As you go on through your listening meditation, your thoughts will start to wander naturally because there’s basically nothing interesting going on – or apparently nothing interesting is going on. Here’s where your experience in meditation kicks in – you are (or at least should be) able to put these first few waves of wandering thoughts under rein.

Then you’re slowly falling asleep, losing awareness and letting thoughtdreams flow over you – this is a natural process. Let’s just take a moment and appreciate the word ‘thoughtdreams’. Okay, we can go on now. What then? Well, at this point you’ve lost control and it’s going to happen for a while, better just accept it than try to fight it. Just keep on listening every night and you’ll realize that at one point, even though you’re not conscious, even if you’re fast asleep, you’ll be able to hear what goes on around you.

Test it: ask your friends and family to walk around at night at random times if they’re the night type, or if you have someone to train this with, ask him/her to sneak around you at night at random times. Later during the day, talk about when they sneaked around you, how many times during the night and so on. You’ve heard the person 2/3 of the times? Good job. Keep on training.

The quality we’re after here is that shallowness of sleep which let’s us go from full rest mode to full fighting mode in a matter of seconds. Naturally, sleep comes in stages and in some stages of deep sleep, I’m not even sure it’s possible to do this, but in all other stages, I’m pretty much positive that we can be much more strategic about them.

Stages of sleep. In stage 3 and 4, I think it's going to be near impossible or impossible to make this technique work, but I have to do some research on that before claiming anything.

Stages of sleep. In stage 3 and 4, I think it’s going to be near impossible or impossible to make this technique work, but I have to do some research on that before claiming anything.

As for the health implications of such sleep habits, I have yet to experience drawbacks. I get the same amount of rest – but that might be because I’m new to this technique and it’s necessary for some time to pass so that I can evaluate this. I don’t know if it’s healthy, but I think it’s worth a try. What I know for sure is that getting killed while you sleep is certainly not healthy.

Good night!