THE (incomplete) OVERHUMAN CURRICULUM

Okay, so we all know that there’s an awful lot of things to learn if you want to become Overhuman: martial arts, meditation, languages, mnemonics, deductions, strategy… The list goes on and on and on, and it doesn’t seem to stop.

Obviously, we are in need of prioritizing: deciding what gets learned and in which order. Otherwise, you might start by learning new languages, which is cool by itself, and it’s cool if that’s what you’re into, but if you’re into the whole Overhuman business, you’ll probably want to learn how to choke someone out before you go into your third foreign language.

This article is to serve as a guidepost if you’re improving yourself in this particular way. I tried to explain why this particular order is better than any other order, but if you disagree, it’s up to you to decide which order you’ll follow. I’ll just say that I wish I had something like this four years ago when I was starting out. Without ado, here is the (incomplete) list of what you should learn and in which order:

1. Always go back to the basics.

This is a sort of meta-rule, a rule about rules, and about itself. Always return to this very rule – it is by far the most important thing you can do. Remember that the most important thing in your journey is rule number 1, “Always go back to the basics”. Then think about the basics, and redo them. I cannot overstate the importance of this rule. I’ll give an example. You know that being constantly aware (hyperaware) is the cornerstone of your development as an Overhuman. You know this, you talk about this, you believe in this, but the problem is that you also forget this. We humans tend to forget the very things that got us somewhere in the first place. When was the last time you fully appreciated the fact that there such a thing as public transportation which can move you 10+ kilometers under 20 minutes and you don’t have to maintain it or do anything except pay a small fee and simply be taken somewhere? Never, right? That’s just the way the world is: there is a thing called “public transport” and it’s simply there, it always has been. Well, it hasn’t. But maybe you’ve never actually experienced a world without public transportation, so you’re not to blame for not fully appreciating it. But look at another example: your smartphone. You probably have one. You probably didn’t have it when you were a kid. This is an incredible device. You can complete financial transactions with it. You can communicate with a person on the other side of the planet with it. You can read books, listen to music and watch films on it. You can record your experience of the world. You can learn languages or play games. You even have a flashlight.

You probably do not appreciate the full value of an artifact of such immense power. Much the same with the basic notion of Overhumanity: hyperawareness. You know that you should be listening and watching intently the world around you, but you start thinking when you’re walking, or somebody comes into the room and you simply glance at them instead of studying them meticulously. You don’t listen deeply to what people are saying, you simply note their words. You forgot how important it is to be aware of your surroundings, despite the fact that you believe very firmly that it’s important.

This is something that you must remedy, and I am telling you this because I myself am most guilty of forgetting what the important things are. Repeat after me: always go back to the basics. Always go back to the basics.

Always go back to the basics.

Always go back to the basics.

Always go back to the basics.

If only I had a bigger font, I swear I’d use it.

So what are the basics then?

2. Hyperawareness

There is a term “hypervigilance” and it is usually meant as something bad, due to it being a key part of PTSD. Some people call it “condition yellow”, according to the Cooper Color code. I simply call it hyperawareness, from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

TV Tropes has a good description of it (bold added by me for emphasis):

“The Bene Gesserit use their hyper awareness as a tool for manipulation. Descriptions of Bene Gesserit thought processes in the novels are often comparable to chess masters watching the world around them like one big chessboard, and calmly noting their accruing advantage. At one point a Bene Gesserit correctly deduces that there is a hidden room on the other side of a large banquet room by noting the subtle geometry of the walls of the room and the objects in it as being specifically designed to produce a slight echo where those in the hidden room can listen in. ”

It’s simple: the very basic notion of Overhumanity is hyperawareness, or condition yellow, or hypervigilance (in a positive sense). You do actually need to pay very close attention to what’s happening around you, and do so at a conscious level. It is largely a matter of habit to train yourself to be hyperaware on command. But first, you need to qualify your senses in a different way, for example:

  • You do not watch, you scan. Walking around, you’re not meant to lazily turn your gaze to some things and ignore the many others. To scan is to frequently observe everything around you, look up, down, left, right, behind. It means to watch the faces of humans passing you and then observing the position of their hands. Are their hands concealed? Do they have perspiration on their skin? Do they stare at you? Do they also scan the environment? It means to look at the environment, not in an everyday manner, but as if you are deliberately trying to detect danger, or detect anything (hyperawareness should not be a stressful event, or, it should be intense and demanding, but in a calm way and relaxed way, not as something that produces anxiety). Have you ever been really high up (like on a rooftop or a tree) and observed people? If you have, then you know that you can be invisible without any special cloaking devices, because people rarely look up. So observe the windows of a high building as if looking for a sniper, then quickly observe the traffic as if looking for a suspicious looking car, then observe the people on the street, then observe everything else in between, and do so quickly. Scan instead of watching.
  • You do not listen, you monitor. So many sounds pass our attention because they get filtered out too soon. It is probably the fact that we feel very safe at all times in our lives, mostly because we all live in cities where there is a certain order to how things function and people mostly don’t die. catExcept, they do, but still not enough for the rest of the population to start paying real attention to the world that surrounds them. Observe, for example, the everyday street cat. All the athleticism aside, the feat that is most impressive with this animal it is almost impossible to sneak up to. Yes, their ears are bigger, so certainly they do experience sounds more intensely than we do, but there is also another thing: they have to pay more attention to their environment, lest they be attacked by a dog or something else. They actively monitor what’s going around them, while humans don’t even need earphones not to hear the surrounding world. I’ve found that spending some time in nature, alone, in the woods, is the easiest way to get yourself to listen. You don’t even need to try: some animal-like quality awakens in you and suddenly you hear every animal that passes close to you. you hear every crack, you notice every noise, and it happens because, suddenly, the sounds around you are much more relevant for your well-being.

3-MINUTE BURSTS: An exercise I’ve found useful is setting a timer for, say, three minutes and then simply watching and listening to the world around me. After three minutes, the idea is to write down everything I saw or heard or felt: the position of books on my desk, the number of cars that have passed down the street, the duration of dogs barking outside, was it a bark of a big dog or a small one, the coughing of my next-door neighbor, was it a regular cough like when you take a sip of coffee in the wrong direction or was it a wet cough, when you’re really sick, then what’s the color of the first car that passed my street, what’s the model of the third one, then have I felt any odd emotion that simply popped up, like, for example, a very short burst of anxiety when I heard the car pass, what was that about, then noticing a short craving for ice-cream, then noticing the regional accent of someone yelling outside…

WATCH YOUR PARTNER: Another exercise I find useful is personal awareness, or deductions: you get a stopwatch and a partner. One minute of chitchat. Partner leaves the room, changes one aspect of their appearance: adds a hairpin, puts a knife in pocket, unties shoes, puts a dot on hand and so on. Again, one minute of chitchat, during which you try to figure out the change. If after one minute you did not figure it out, the partner tells you, and then you leave the room and do the same thing. Repeat. This gets you in the habit of observing people intently.

ZEN MEDITATION is another basic exercise that you must practice daily. It really is basic: when you meditate, you let go of thinking and start only observing. Since we have great need of just raw observational power – we need the eyes of an eagle or a fly, instead of the eyes of an amoeba – Zen meditation is very useful because it is pure observation, untainted with thought. There are many introductions to Zen meditation, and I have written extensively on it myself; this and this might help.

There are a million things you could observe – you should.

3. Rationality

(resources: CFAR, HPMOR, Less Wrong, 12 virtues of rationality)

Do you generally believe that maps should reflect the territory they depict? Like, if you take a map of a city, you would want a map that corresponds to how the streets really look like and how they stand in relation to one another. You definitely don’t need a map that shows every street name wrong, and half the streets are missing, and the remaining streets are misplaced, misdirected or otherwise don’t correspond to the real streets in the city.

map

A napkin-level map. You don’t want this.

Well, if reality is territory, then your mind is the map. And we spend little time drawing correct maps. Most people have those napkin-level maps, with a couple of streets and some directions, but few have detailed topographical maps of reality in their heads. Why? Because they either don’t realize how important it is to have correct maps or they just don’t know their maps are very wrong or incomplete. (I was both.)

I have a story about not knowing about not knowing. Some 7 years ago, I started training Parkour. As my training progressed, I read more and more about physical exercise, about nutrition, strength and conditioning. At a certain point, I thought I had experience enough (and knowledge!) to speak openly and give advice to people about training, be it Parkour or general physical training. I didn’t think I knew everything – I definitely didn’t know the intricacies of human anatomy, or the minutiae of micronutrients – but I felt that I knew enough to give sound advice.

I was wrong.

My advice, nutrition and workout plans that I would propose to people were intuitive, made on the spot, very general: “Do 50 push ups, 70 squats and 100 crunches every day, and eat less calories, around 80% of your regular intake,  and run 5 km every second day.” I would simply blurt it out, you know, just throw it out there, no matter who I was dealing with. After all, everybody would benefit from such a regimen, right? Another thing I used to think was that muscle soreness was good and “burning” the muscles each workout, going to failure every time was also good.

“It is difficult to appreciate your own level of ignorance on a topic about which you are ignorant.”

Then I read “The 4 Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss. Then I listened to Pavel Tsatsouline talk. Then I listened to Charles Poliquin talk. Then I listened to Christopher Sommer talk.

I realized that I didn’t have a clue, and the most frightening thing was I didn’t have a clue that I didn’t have a clue.

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

“An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. ” (Dunning-Kruger effect)

Believe me this: you don’t know how much you don’t know about the art of rationality. You don’t know how much you need the art of rationality. You don’t know how complex the art of rationality is. You don’t know that the art of rationality truly is an art, and a very difficult one, at that. It is NOT simply knowing about biases and putting “critical thinking” in your CV. It is not something you add to your mind; it is an entirely different way of thinking. And it is the only thing that will allow you to get things right, or at least LESS WRONG.

However, you pay a massive price.

The first price you pay is your certainty. The rationalist does not live in a world of certainty, but probability. This will be the first shock. You will not want to accept how much you don’t know. You will not want to accept the implications of what you don’t know. You will want to flinch away from this realization, not think about it. The world will suddenly become a much more complicated place, filled with caveats and balancing probability at every single step. Everything will become horribly difficult and slow; you have to use MATHEMATICS to check if something is true, and even THEN you don’t know for sure, but only have an estimated probability? WTF? Without certainty, life will cease to be simple.

The second price you pay is your affiliations. What will you do if you find that a group you’re a member of is probably wrong about something? Of course, now you think that they certainly won’t be, because you would know about it, right? You are making a classic mistake, because you do not yet know true rationality, and how full of doubt and uncertainty you should be. Even now, you’re reading this and thinking “yeah, he’s talking about Christians or other religions”, smirking and at the same time being, for example, a green activist. What if, for example, your stance on ecology and green policy is put into question? What if you know that GMOs are bad, and you know you’re right – and then you find out the opposite? Will you simply change your mind, or will it hurt to do so? Will it be easy to say “Ah, I was wrong for the last 8 years and all my effort to protest against GMOs was a waste of time”?  Will you do so even at the expense of losing friends?

Because the third price you pay is your relationships. Most people are not rationalists. They have napkin-level maps of reality and they don’t know how much they don’t know. However, they are very certain of that which they think they know. You will receive anger, disappointment and even hate when you change your mind about a thing your friends think is true. Most of us have been there with our parents: we thought differently and had our share of fights with them (religion, career aspirations or sexual orientation are some of the usual reasons). Some of us received angry words and beating for thinking and speaking differently. We know the emotional price of thinking differently. We know how it is to be despised or to be a disappointment in the eyes of our parents. But many of us think differently despite the whole drama, and grow up, and don’t start agreeing with our parents just to get acceptance. Are you a lesbian and your parents are disappointed and resentful? You know that it is okay to be a lesbian, but they do not agree. They want you to change. They tell it directly. They put you in an emotional hostage situation. It is even worse when they control your resources: they feed you and clothe you, so they have power over you. You do not submit anyway, and grow up and forget about it, but you remember how hard it was.

Are you willing to go through this again, this time with your friends, colleagues, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife? Are you willing to go through this ALL THE TIME,  ALWAYS CHOOSING TRUTH INSTEAD OF ACCEPTANCE AND FRIENDSHIP?

Because the fourth price you may pay is your happiness. The truth might not be something that makes you happy. And the process of finding truth might alienate you from people that do not share your love of truth. You will have to accept that this is a possibility – not a certainty, definitely, maybe your friends will enjoy seeing you grow into a different person, and not hate you for being less wrong than they are – but it still is a possibility. A possibility you have to accept. (And, obviously, find a way to be happy with the truth).

Do you care to imagine what the final price is? Well, one needs only look in history books and see how society deals with those who think differently. Freedom and life, these are the final prices you might pay for being more right and less wrong than the people around you. Fortunately, today it’s 2016 and it is a good day indeed because we do not burn people alive anymore. Well, Europe doesn’t, anyway. But if you are an atheist in a morally corrupt society like Saudi Arabia, you may expect punishment of such sort. The world has grown to be a kinder place, all due to the thinkers that spread their ideas and called them the Enlightenment. But there are still dark corners of the world, where light does not shine, ignorance abounds and evil thrives. There are still quests to be had, Dark Lords to be defeated, ignorance to be exorcised. The battle is still not won.

4. Self-preservation

When I say self-preservation, I mean all skills and knowledge that directly contribute to your survival and well being, especially if you are endangered. In practical terms, you can divide this in two categories: prepping and martial arts.

Prepping

A prepper’s mindset is basically this: shit can always happen, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. You have survivalists too, and they are more into bushcraft type skills , but preppers simply think about the possible bad things that could realistically happen to them – and then they prepare. It just, you know, makes sense: if you drive a car, you put a seat belt on and you have air bags. You know that you might get into an accident, and so you make a small investment now so that you increase your chances of future survival and well being.

You can go into great detail as to what could go wrong and which specific steps you should implement, but even small adjustments are incredibly useful. The usual list of problems is this: lack of money, lack of food and water, shelter, disease, violence. That’s it. Maybe you want to go into detail as to your plan on how to survive a nuclear strike – and that’s fine! But big dreams of nuclear shelters and evacuation protocols might distract you from the more common, lurking danger of not having money. What do you do if you suddenly lose your job? How much do you have in savings? Could you live normally for two months without a job? One month? A week?

This is a general beginner’s list that everyone should think about:

  • MOST IMPORTANT: Make a bug-out bag. It should be a normal-looking bag filled with medicine (antibiotics if you can find them), dry foods (like peanuts), water, extra socks, maybe a multitool, stuff like that. So if at anytime you do need to actually evacuate your home and you have only minutes to do so, you know you can at least survive for a week. backpackA bug-out bag shouldn’t be a big, army camouflage bag that attracts attention. Just a normal, regular-sized backpack.
  • Increase income and increase savings. Also, diversify income and diversify savings. Always have some cash in your house. Maybe even have a batch of cash, say 500 dollars, that are hidden somewhere safe, like a buried jar in your backyard.
  • Have at least two months worth of food at your home. Rice and oats don’t spoil easily, and neither do cans of beans. This is your insurance policy: pay a small price now so that you don’t have to pay a big price if something bad happens.
  • Have a plan: where do you go if you have to go? Do you have another apartment? Is there an empty house you know? Don’t just be stuck or improvise, figure out in advance what’s your fallback line.
  • Keep medicine in your home. This should go without saying. Aspirin, painkillers, band-aids, antibiotics, ethanol.
  • Keep weapons in your home (if you know how to handle them; a gun is useless if you don’t know what to do with it). Sticks at every doorway; maybe a gun in a safe place.

A small amount of paranoia goes a long way.

Next:

Martial arts

Violence is prevalent in our world. And even though humans have gotten less and less violent through history, violence still happens. As it doesn’t hurt to be prepared and have a ready bag and some food supplies at home at all times, it also does not hurt to know how to defend yourself. In other words, if you want to prevent or stop violence, be skilled at violence. I have trained in several arts and I have changed my opinion on violence a lot during the last few years. I will not go at length about the virtue of martial arts when it comes to cultivating spirit and body, but I will simply try to give a few guidelines:

  • Weapons beat fists. I am not an advocate of carrying a gun, but I would learn how to use it. Focusing exclusively on unarmed combat is like getting really good at horseback riding in an age where we have cars. Guns are a more effective way of killing, so if you’re looking to defend yourself from someone literally trying to kill you – guns.
  • Not all conflict necessitates escalation to guns, not all violence is killing. I suppose that most people still do not carry guns on them (except certain places in the US, I guess), so unarmed violence happens. Learn MMA. Seriously. When it comes to physical violence, aggressiveness and athleticism beat specialized skill. Be a well rounded striker and grappler, with enough aggression and athleticism, and you’ll probably fare well. After you’ve reached a level where you feel like you can stay “afloat” in a fight, after you’ve felt what fighting feels like, then start doing more self-defense scenarios that include groin, throat and eye strikes, thereby getting more realistic. Maybe you’ll do Ninjutsu. Maybe you’ll do Krav Maga. Maybe Wing Chun. Whatever. First get a feel of how fighting really is, get enough mileage, enough experience with handling violence, and only then go into self-defense: I don’t recommend the reverse. Experience first, refinement second. (And also, many self-defense schools are somewhere between useless and dangerously bad. If you have a couple of years of MMA under your belt, you learn to differentiate. If you start out in a self-defense school, you’re taking an unnecessary risk: MMA will really teach you more than enough for street scenarios.)

5. Acting

Now, this might come as a bit of surprise because I haven’t written about this topic yet, but I assure you that acting is one of the top skills you can gain. This skill revolves around the fleeting concept of identity. Every Zen master knows that a person is not their story, their name, their political dispositions and so on. A Zen master knows about the duality of the self: there is the story and there is the awareness of the story. This is a thing that actors naturally use, maybe even without any knowledge of this duality: they simply slip into different personalities and stay in them for as long as necessary.

Think about this for a second or two: acting is the ability to instantly become a different person. Acting is actually being somebody else for a given period of time. Naturally, this ability must be at the heart of what Overhumanity is: switching between faces as necessary, and as fits the occasion.

Now, this may sound all evil and stuff, but it really is not. I’m not advocating intentionally deceiving people where something can be done with honesty, and I’m not advocating changing your ethics at a whim. There still is the one true person behind it all, the controller, and that is who you are.

Ok, let’s say you need to do something that requires a lot of confidence, and let’s say that you’re not a naturally confident person. If you can overcome the initial weird feeling of being a different person, then you could totally switch into, say, Conor McGregor and actually BE Conor McGregor for as long as you need. Or let’s say that you need to sell something, but you are not a salesman, you are not silver-tongued and you simply feel you don’t have what it takes. Why not become Jordan Belfort from “Wolf of Wall Street” for a couple of hours?

jordan

So, learn to act: learn to do accents, learn to do impressions, read books on acting and get into an acting class, get mentors, train and hone your art. There is nothing inherently immoral in being more than one person, if you don’t do immoral things. It is only the conventions of society that see this as a bad thing if it happens outside of a stage or theater (despite the fact that everyone enjoys and laughs when you do a really spot-on impression of someone ). We all have some ability to act, some are more gifted, some less, but most of us never get in touch with the weird feeling of actually being somebody else, because we’re raised that way. Get comfortable with putting one face on and then changing it for another one when the opportune time comes.

However, the true importance of acting lies not only in being able to imitate, but in being able to think like they think. The true importance of acting lies in…

6. Strategy

The greatest art humans are capable of. To be able to play out different scenarios in your head, without them having to happen in reality… This is a formidable power. It really means to have a portion of the universe in your head, with all its probabilities and possibilities.

Strategy is a key skill in politics, in war, in business, but also in everyday life. Strategy is what takes you from an indefinite view of the world to a definite worldview: understanding that you actually do make a lot of difference, and that you are not a pawn to be moved, but a mover of pawns. Strategy is what gives you power to steer the course of your life, and do so smartly. Because truly many of us lead lives of unfulfilled potential, oblivious to the forces that shape our existence. However, in strategy, you are aware of forces. If life is an ocean, without strategy, you are floating on a raft. You have some control, but not a lot, and the ocean carries you easily around. With strategy, the ocean still carries you around, but you’re in a boat, or even a ship: you find ways to navigate the treacherous currents and winds. Sometimes, life still happens to you, despite your best effort. Nature simply doesn’t care. But sometimes, it is you who happens to life: you navigate the currents smartly and get nearer and nearer your desired destination. However it may be, the best chance of actual control is to be in a ship, instead of being on a raft, or simply floating without any help.

So, how does one go about learning strategy? Well, there are many things to consider. One is being another person (acting). The other one is thinking deeply. Third one is reading books on strategy. I have much to learn and improve myself, so bear in mind that if you do go along with what I say, you are listening to a beginner.

When I say acting, what I mean is to put yourself so deeply into another person’s shoes that you start to think like they do. Obviously, in a competitive context, this is a valuable skill to have. “Keep your friends close, but enemies closer” can be interpreted in various ways, one of which is simple, physical proximity. However, to keep your enemy close will in this case mean close in mind. It means to have a mental model of the enemy that is so natural to you that you can practically spontaneously put on the face of your enemy and actually become your enemy for a given time, in order to explore his thinking.

When I say thinking deeply, I mean to simulate: going through scenarios in your head in extreme detail, all the time calculating probabilities and plan B, C, D, E, F… It is an extremely complicated sequence of “if-then’s”, every “if-then” branching into more “if-then’s”.What is important to think deeply (simulate) is, of course, practice. It seems obvious in words, but many things are obvious in word, but not action. Constantly trying to predict the behavior of others, what this situation will cause, what that situation will cause, observing the many individual sequences that stem from a single action as they branch out. Understand the consequences and always try to understand implications, additional consequences, reasons. Understand the forces. This will necessitate raw intelligence (computing power), among other things.

Alongside pure computing power, certain heuristics, mental models and techniques will help in your thinking: Bayesian probability estimates come to mind. (They are mentioned in the chapter about Rationality). Another thing you will have to develop is mental fortitude, or willpower: to sustain deep, focused thought, for a long time.

And, as always, read books.

7. Learning to learn

Learning is at the heart of Overhumanity. We who try to become better humans are differentiated from everyone else by our skills, our abilities and our knowledge. We must learn how to learn better. We must not only know different languages – we must know how to learn new languages faster than average people do. We must not simply excel in a physical skill – hard as that is by itself – we must learn how to be able to excel in any physical skill. We must not only read, think and know – we must read about reading, think about thinking and know about knowing.

You understand the principle – it’s recursion. Don’t only improve on X, improve on your improvement of X. I would also like to advise you to improve on your improvement of your improvement – the more “back” you go, the more anterior levels you improve upon, the more results you get at the level of X. Not to let this stand at such an abstract explanation, I’ll try to give a real-world example:

X = cognitive psychology. If you want to improve your understanding of X, you will probably read books and studies. Now, how would you improve your improvement of X? You would find a way to read more effectively – maybe speedreading. Okay, so that’s one anterior level of improvement. How about improving the improvement of improvement? For that to happen, you would need to improve yourself in a certain way that would make speedreading easier. So maybe you could improve your general attention through a disciplined meditative practice. So the final scheme looks like this: meditate (to achieve attention/focus) so that you can speedread better so that you can learn about cognitive psychology. Three levels, three layers of improvement.

This is the main principle, going one level “back” if you can. From this principle flow certain techniques that work for practically everybody, and they are:

Speed reading

Books are little objects of magic: a person pours their thoughts into a paper-box-thing, and then you look at the paper-box-thing and then you can read their thoughts. It’s magic, pure and simple.

Normal reading is okay, but to find things out, it’s very useful to know how to speed read. If you can read a 500 page book in 5 hours instead of 5 days or weeks, that means that you have more time to read other books. (And nothing is stopping you from slow reading them again, if you like).

Start by reading any of the popular books on speed reading and develop your own system from there. I currently go through a 100 pages in around an hour. I say “go through” instead of “read”. Why? Because the truth about speed reading is that what you’re actually doing (at least in my system) is rushing through the text and discarding as much information as possible. Why would one want to do that, as it defeats the purpose of reading? You discard information already known to you. All the speed reading I do is based on this idea: go as fast as allows you to generally have an idea about the content of the pages you’re looking at and discard everything you already know. Simply put, when I speed read, I aim to track down the bits of information that aren’t already known to me. (There are several ways to do this; read a couple of books and you’ll get the idea… Or leave a comment and I might write a detailed article on speed reading).

Example:

“In this sentence, because we are talking about speed reading, and more generally, about improving your skills in life, I will try to explain the following principle, which I already mentioned before: speed reading is nothing more than eliminating all you already know, and finding things you don’t.”

The words in bold are what would be considered new information: everything else in the previous sentence is just repeating already mentioned knowledge. If you apply this principle to entire books, instead of just sentences, you save a lot of time.

It goes without saying that some books are not really speed readable… I don’t think you would want to speed read poetry, for example, or Musashi. I reserve speed reading simply to get information faster.

Read the right books

Your number two strategy for learning how to learn will be books on learning and thinking. Some of the books that have helped me:

Understanding how your brain operates and then taking advantage of this knowledge to learn better in general is a very important thing. Cognitive psychology will be your primary resource – Kahneman’s work is, as I understand it, the best there is (haven’t read it yet, but Thinking: Fast and Slow seems to be on everyone’s must-read-list).

And the commonsense advice also applies when it comes to learning to learn: if you want to remember something, repeat it; socialize with people smarter than you are if you want to get smarter; don’t do rote memorization but understand the material.


 

Some finishing thoughts:

A lesson to be learned: go and find specialists, and then learn from them. A master grappler will teach you better grappling than a general strategist; Kevin Spacey’s acting Masterclass will make you a better actor than my post will. Break everything into tiny pieces and then find people that are really, really good at those little pieces.

If someone is really good at something, it doesn’t mean that they are really good at a different thing. Yes, some skills are transferable, but what does this mean? It means that if you are really good at, say, boxing, you will learn wrestling faster than someone that doesn’t know the first thing about fighting. But it does not mean that you’re automatically good at wrestling too – it simply means that it will come faster to you.

Nobody will openly claim that they know everything, but many will act like that. A martial arts teacher should not be revered as a life guru. A good businessman should not be consulted for much else besides business practice. This very blog should be considered not with a grain of salt but with piles of salt: make your own judgement and don’t listen to everything I say.


 

The good thing about all these things you can learn is that they help each other to a certain extent. For example, Bayesian probability estimates are something that belongs to Rationality, but you will benefit enormously from it in Strategy. The prolonged focus in Strategy is the same one in Hyperawareness, though the latter one is toward the outside, instead of the inside. Things help themselves, a bit. Skills are transferable.


 

That is it.

  1. Go back to the basics. (because you just have to)
  2. Hyperawareness. (because you don’t want to be blind if eyes are an option)
  3. Rationality. (because Google Maps are better than sketches on napkins)
  4. Self preservation (because living is a good idea)
  5. Acting (because you suddenly become a multi-tool instead of being just a knife)
  6. Strategy (because you don’t want life just to happen to you)
  7. Learning to learn (because you want to actually achieve things in your life)

This curriculum is not complete, but it should help.

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Mindfulness for the unmindful

Angry birds.
Dog shaming.
Dubstep.
50 shades of grey.
Paleo diet.
Twerking.

What do all of these things have in common?

cdn2-content-compendiumblog-com_

Move switfly as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and fuck shit up.

They are all fads, specifically, fads from the 2010s. Do you know another big fad? Sun Tzu’s Art of War. This book is probably the most read and most referred-to book of all time in the entrepreneurial section of society. Every manager, director, corporate executive, EVERYONE – seems to have read the Art of War and found wisdom therein.

And just like Crossfit and Paleo diets are new fads in the world of sports and exercise, the world of entrepreneurs has seen the emergence of a new fad too: mindfulness meditation.

Just google “mindfulness meditation entrepreneur” or “meditation business” and you’ll get scores upon scores of results where people claim that meditation will make you a better businessman, a better CEO, a better leader, a better everything.

And it’s not only the entrepreneurs, even though I personally find it amusing to see such fads emerge in the entrepreneurial sector. There are many studies that are trying to research meditation and try to quantify the results, measure correlations and do all the work needed to draw evidence-based conclusions. This fad is actually so strong now that we have even seen anti-meditation articles, criticising some aspects or even the whole of meditation.

FAD

noun
1. a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group. 

1825-35; noun use of dial. fad to look after things, busy oneself with trifles,back formation from obsolete faddle to play with, fondle.

Well, I don’t know about Angry Birds or dubstep or twerking, but I kind of like dog shaming memes. They’re funny. And I like to eat not completely Paleo, but Paleo-ish. Makes me feel good. And even though I haven’t read it yet, I have a hunch that the Art of War is a good book. And I know for a fact that meditation is probably the most impactful of methods for living a better life.
So the problem with fads is not that they are trifles, as the origin of the noun implies. Very often, fads are very good ideas, useful things, stuff that people actually should do in their lives. The problem with fads is that a fad will fade. It just gets pushed over by another one. Why? I don’t know. But I do know that we should try to stick to certain fads, such as mindfulness and meditation.

 

How to explain mindfulness to someone that’s not already mindful?

Explaining mindfulness to someone that isn’t mindful is like explaining the beauty of Japanese poetry to someone that doesn’t speak Japanese. They understand that if they had a skillset that allowed them to understand Japanese poetry, they would be able to appreciate it. They also understand that there is something there, but it’s not relevant for them – they just can’t get it, so they don’t try.

Or explaining to someone how exciting it is to skydive. A person will certainly have an image of what it must be, but this idea is nowhere near the real thing, the real experience of jumping out of a plane and diving towards the ground at 200 km/h. There is simply a limit to how vividly you can image something that you’ve never experienced.

To fully appreciate Japanese poetry, you kind of have to read it and experience it yourself.

To fully appreciate skydiving, you also kind of need to do it.

And meditation is similar in this respect, with a difference that it doesn’t demand a skillset (like Japanese) or it isn’t sudden, life-changing, extreme intensity (like skydiving). It’s very boring and it takes a lot of time to come to a state where you can appreciate it. You need to try it, and keep doing it for a long time, and you need to do it right – just unfocused thinking and semi-sleeping don’t really count as meditation.

And oftentimes people don’t want to bother with it because they don’t feel they need it. I’m not a “meditation evangelist” so I don’t go around convincing people to start meditating, but I really do think that meditation is good. Notice I said “good”, not “useful”. It can be useful too, but it’s more than just useful.

Useful implies that you’re going to live your life normally, as you would do without meditation, and that meditation has its use, its purpose. For some people it’s stress relief, for others it’s to calm their thoughts. If you see meditation as only useful, you think you are a certain person, let’s call you Bobby, that has an identity composed of many different things. Bobby is a man, he drives a car, he likes to drink coffee with cinnamon, he works at an IT company, he plays drums, he is under stress sometimes and he meditates to relieve his stress. Meditation is a technique Bobby uses within his identity. This is Bobby:

bobby

Some Bobby

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with Bobby. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Bobby is a much better Bobby because of his meditation. He is probably doing better at his job, he doesn’t get so nervous when his deadlines are approaching, he’s not angry when he’s sitting in his car on a crowded highway. He’s, like, cool with things he can’t influence. Good for Bobby.

But many meditation practitioners see meditation as something else rather than a technique to aid you in your life, or, ONLY a technique to aid you in your life. This is where we first start seeing the word spiritual and where an instinctive allergic reaction appears on the skin of every skeptic, atheist or advocate of the scientific method. Let’s say that Bobby, after many years of meditation practice, has come to a certain realization. He still has his job, loves cinnamon in his coffee, drives a car, works at the same company – his life is mostly the same. But let’s say that he has been meditating more and more, and that he isn’t meditating because of meditation’s usefulness. Let’s say, without defining it yet, that Bobby attained enlightenment. This is Bobby now:

no bobby

No Bobby

If you don’t see him, that’s good, because Bobby went from some-Bobby to no-Bobby.

I assume that with this, I pissed off even the most forgiving of skeptics and rationalists.

What the hell is this cryptic, woo-woo nonsense? What you’re saying is undefined, it can’t be understood! 

Well, I shall endeavor to explain.

Some-Bobby is a person that has an identity. He has a story. Car-driving, IT-working, cinnamon coffee-drinking, drum-playing – these things make up who some-Bobby is. They are the building blocks of his identity. Then also the fact that he is male, and that his name is Bobby, and that he was born in America. All these things make some-Bobby who he is. They are what he is known for. If you were to list out these things to his acquaintances and ask them if they know a person that fits the description, people would point at Bobby. Even practicing meditation is a part of his identity. And Bobby, he thinks of himself in terms of his identity. In his mind, his name is Bobby, he drives a car, works at an IT company etc, etc. and that makes up who he is.

The second Bobby (the no-Bobby) doesn’t think of himself that way, though. He doesn’t think of himself, in fact. Actually he doesn’t think at all. No-Bobby just is. Or isn’t, depending on how you see it.

Wha… you…whaaaat?

In order to understand how Bobby came to be no-Bobby from some-Bobby, we have to meet his transition form: the maybe-Bobby  (also known as “I dunno-Bobby”, “not sure-Bobby”, “potentially-Bobby”, “probably not-Bobby”). We shall picture maybe-Bobby like this:

maybe bobby

Maybe-Bobby

This is what maybe-Bobby is thinking for the brief second he exists in between some-Bobby and no-Bobby:

“Dude. Like, my name is Bobby, but would I be me if I were called John? And if I didn’t play the drums? Yeah, I guess so. I don’t even have to have the same address or birthplace or car or job to be me. So what does make me – me? Is it my gender? Like, if everything else was the same and I was a chick, would I be me? Like, the same friends, same family, same life experiences – but just me being a girl. Yeah… Well sure, then it’s still me. But wait… If all of my identity is negotiable like that: my gender, race, possessions, activities in life, NAME – then do I even exist?

[at this point a break happens in Bobby’s line of thought and some-bobby and no-Bobby arrive at the scene]

Some-Bobby: ‘Yeah well, I guess that each individual element of my identity IS negotiable, but the relations between them aren’t, and my complete identity is also not negotiable. So you can change maybe one or two things, but not all of them, and you can’t switch the relations between them.
No-Bobby: [listens to some-Bobby talk]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Who is this person listening to me talk, that is, think?’
No-Bobby: [listens to maybe-Bobby ask the preceding question]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Wait, did I just say that there is someone else in my head except me?’
No-Bobby: [listens to maybe-Bobby ask the preceding question]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Duuuude, this is sick. So I can listen to myself think. Lol wtf. I can see my thoughts as they form and listen to them as if I were a different person. But what kind of person is this?’
No-Bobby: [listens to maybe-Bobby ask the preceding question]
Maybe-Bobby: ‘Aha, I get it. This person that listens to the thoughts in my head is capable of only listening, but can’t produce anything. It can only perceive things. It’s just conscious. It just… is.’
Some-Bobby: ‘Dude, you remember those woo-woo bullshitters that talk shit like You are not you. You are a walking field of consciousness?? This must be it man!’ ”

We said that Bobby attained enligthenment – and enlightenment is understanding that you’re not some-Bobby but that you’re no-Bobby. You’re just a group of atoms capable of perceiving itself, no less, no more. All of your identity – your house, your friends, the language you speak, your name, the very thoughts you think – all of this belongs to some-Bobby, and it is only an upgrade to the walking consciousness that no-Bobby is. In other words, the story about Bobby is not Bobby. Bobby is a group of atoms that can perceive the story of Bobby.

Let’s say that one more time. There is:

A. Bobby’s story. This is what we would call his identity. All the thoughts he thinks go here, ranging from work related problem solving to him remembering a prank he pulled in high school. His name goes here. His familial relations. Basically, everything goes here, and we call this Bobby’s story (or some-Bobby).

B. Awareness or consciousness. This is what the part of Bobby that can’t think, but can register thoughts, the same way it can see, hear, smell and touch. The best way to understand what no-Bobby is, is this: the next time you think of something, try to ask yourself “Who is it that is thinking this?” And when you ask yourself that question, try to simply perceive it, just as if you were looking at a bird flying by, or heard a noise. Just try to register your thought, but don’t think it.

And as long as this whole meditation business stays within the confines of A, many skeptics and rationalists will be okay with it. But as soon as it hits B and we start seeing words like awareness, consciousness, spirituality (this word is the closest word that comes to describe the state of being no-Bobby) – as soon as we get there, disagreements arise.

Skeptics and advocates of the scientific method often regard themselves as superior to those that are “spiritual”. You need only see the Facebook comments on The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and similar places. They often mock spirituality and advocate that we should accept and live by rules of logic, science and empiric evidence. Of course, they are right. There are a lot of quacks and there is a lot of pure bullshit in the world of the “spiritual”. However, skeptics and rationalists – among which I count myself too, by the way – often don’t understand that they don’t understand.

When you try to explain the importance of mindfulness or meditation, the reaction is sometimes sheer lack of understanding, undertones of sarcasm, accusations of “woo woo” and so on. Naturally, there are woo doctors and quacks, using scientific terminology to create “sciencey” words that in their essence, mean nothing. By the way, here is a Deepak Chopra quote generator. However, there is importance in mindfulness, and there is a materialist, rationalist, skeptic way of explaining why it is so important.

According to this research, our actions are not really initiated by the conscious part of our minds. Our subconsciousness dictates our actions, the words we speak, the friendships we make, the jobs we take – and our consciousness simply observes what is going on. To quote:

“From this perspective, it is concluded that in both phylogeny and ontogeny, actions of an unconscious mind precede the arrival of a conscious mind—that action precedes reflection.”

Here’s an article explaining this a bit more. Here’s a study.

It is like we are a passenger in a driverless car. We think we’re the driver. It’s very intuitive to think so because we’re in the front, we see when the road is bumpy, or curved, or straight, or full of other cars. So we must be the driver.

But let me ask you this: have you ever been in a situation where you just did something, and afterwards thought “Jesus Christ, why did I do that”?

Of course you have. We all have.

You didn’t understand the reasons you did something, but you maybe rationalized it, or simply forgot about it. But what happened exactly?

Let’s say you’re being pulled over by a police officer. There’s nothing wrong, you haven’t been speeding or drinking, your car is in perfect order – there is absolutely no reason the cop needs to pull you over. You have absolutely no reason to be upset about it.

Then why are you nervous?
Why do you fumble while searching for your licence?
Why have your hands gone cold?
Why have you said that stupid awkward joke that was meant to ease the tension?

Well, the answer is obvious. You are not being controlled by the conscious part of you. You are being controlled by your subconsciousness, and your subconsciousness is a dumb animal that knows how to fight, run, eat, laugh, have sex – but it doesn’t understand that 2 + 2 equals 4. And your consciousness is all like “I’m just gonna watch this stupid motherfucker and tell him how stupid he was.” It kind of looks like this:

consciousnesssnes

Did you cheat in a relationship despite thinking that you wouldn’t and that it was against your principles? Bam, subconsciousness.

Did you play computer games for 3 hours instead of doing what you needed to do? Bam again, and yes, subconsciousness again.

So no, you’re not the driver. Your body is the car and you’re a passenger. At least that’s how it is most of the time.

It seems highly counter-intuitive, because we have been conditioned to see ourselves as the creators of our own destinies, but it goes hand in hand with – laws of physics!

We are made of atoms.
Atoms obey physical laws.
That means that our brains obey physical laws.
Furthermore, that means that our decisions are chemical reactions in the brain.
And seeing that chemical reactions follow physical laws, our decisions follow physical laws.

You could say that we’re predetermined. Which might go hand in hand with M-theory in which time would be a “flat circle”, and all events exist at once, while we simply cycle through them.

One chemical reactions means raising your left hand, another means raising your right hand, yet it was impossible that one came instead of the other, precisely because it didn’t. It is like saying that water spilling out of a cup could have not spilled – of course it couldn’t have. Gravity has precisely the same effect on matter – it pulls it. The water had no choice in the matter – it was simply pulled down. Much the same with our actions. We are simply governed by the very rules that govern the rest of the universe, and our brains are no exception. It is the illusion of choice we have, not true choice.

However, this is not fatalism. I argue that even if it is true that we have no choice, it absolves absolutely no responsibility. It simply means that, if we do something, we were, so to speak, destined by the factors of the universe to do just that, but it doesn’t tell us anything of the future. Even if it is predetermined (which we don’t know), the future is always unclear to us, and we should regard our illusion of choice as true choice.

How does mindfulness play into all of this? The answer is quite simple. When you practice mindfulness, you stop having the feeling you’re the driver. You’re simply a passenger, looking out through a window and observing what your car does. You observe what it thinks when it does certain things, and how its thoughts change upon changing environments. This is the true value of meditation and mindfulness – the genuine understanding that you’re not driving the car – the car is driving you.

Horrible, isn’t it?

When you’re deep in meditation, you might even come to worse realizations than not being a passenger. Maybe you also realize that you’re not even a car. Or that numbers are a human invention and don’t exist in nature. All sorts of weird, feeling-based realizations can come up when you’re meditating really deeply. Some of it can be explained, some of it has to be felt.

And yet it is not all that horrible. It is what it is. AND it also might be useful. Because imagine this:

You practice meditation a lot so you’re a lot more mindful of what your thoughts are doing, real-time, during interaction with people. You are about to make a dumb decision.

BAM

You are aware of what you are about to do.

You start thinking of it. 

You think some more.

You don’t do it.

BAM

MEDITATION BITCH

It could have been you cheating on your girlfriend, or drinking too much alcohol, or using drugs, or buying a new car or any sort of decisions you would later be sorry for. Because you were much more aware of your thoughts and of yourself thinking these thoughts, conscious of your own urges and wants, this awareness translated itself into action – that is, non-action, not doing a stupid thing.

Isn’t it funny that we end with this Zen-like, logic-defying paradox, where the illusion of choice actually gives you a choice?

Well, Zen. Can’t get enough of it:

A monk asked Zhao Zhou to teach him.
Zhao Zhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl,” said Zhao Zhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

How to be evil

So, my New Year’s resolutions were these two:

  1. Be more easy-going and less critical, less imposing.
  2. Read 200 books in 2016.

My average for the last two years has been around 15 books a year – just over one a month. This is a sad statistic for someone that can speed-read, and it’s disheartening for someone that has over 300 books on his to-read list. (If you wan’t to see what I’ve read or what I’m reading or planning to read, you can check out my Goodreads profile. I don’t really leave reviews and when I do, I do it in Croatian, but that might also change one day.)

Thus I started the year off with a book a day influence(or almost a book a day). I read them in no particular order, as they spark my interest at the time. It is mostly non-fiction, books I can extract useful information quickly and discard the rest, but I don’t discriminate against fiction. Somehow it happened that, after reading How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie, a book that has been recommended to me time and time again, I got interested in “people skills” – and so I started reading Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Now, this book is really good. It is based on scientific research on human psychology and how we make the decisions we make, and also how people use flaws in our decision making processes to make us do what they want us to do.

Naturally, I had a feeling that this was nothing new. We all know, at least intuitively, that salespeople have their “tricks” that make us comply with their sales requests. But the problem is we see their techniques as tricks, not as well-tested, research-based methods that use our weak spots to hack our brains. Simply put, as it so happens very often in life, we do not take certain things seriously enough. We just buzz past them, without noticing how deliberate, how studied, how professional – these techniques really are.

Anyway, the whole point of the book seems to be how to protect yourself from the bad effect these techniques might have on you. What I have done is the opposite: I have compiled a list of techniques based on fixed action patterns that can be used to influence and manipulate people into doing things they wouldn’t have done before. This is real grey area here, but it’s the same thing as learning to punch someone in the face.

I will not go into detail here; for that, you have to read the book. The author lists all the studies that he bases his conclusions on and you can check the studies out too. What I will explain is what fixed action patterns are and how they can be exploited to manipulate people, and I will list out all the possible practical applications of these findings. It is on you to decide if you will ever use them. I plan on field-testing them – not using them on a daily basis, but on trying them out and seeing how they work for me, and if I am able to use them in an efficient manner.

evil

So, what are fixed action patterns?

Fixed action patterns are actions that a certain species does in presence of a certain stimulus, and rarely (or never) differs from the fixed course of action. These are so called “instinctive responses”, but them being instinctive is not enough. They are simply fixed. If a certain stimulus is present, the animal does exactly the same thing over and over again, despite it not being a good decision. For example, some birds will roll any egg-shaped object into their nest because they have a fixed action pattern that says: “I always have to roll eggs back into the nest.” They simply cannot decide otherwise. They just perform an action without any will of their own. It just happens, the pattern takes over the brain and any brain processing whatsoever.

Needless to say, humans have also exhibited fixed action patterns in their behaviour. Despite it being a bit more complex and despite our wonderful ability to rationalize afterwards, we have our own ways of turning off the thinking brain and just completing the pattern that has been ingrained into our nervous system by evolution.

Here are the ways a knowledgeable person can exploit these fixed action patterns:

  1. Use the word “because” often, even if your reasons are just repeating something you just said, or saying something non-related. Science says that if you hear the word because, you are more likely to comply to whatever was needed, even though the reason itself might not be a good reason. It just suffices to have A reason.
  2. Do favours and give small gifts that are difficult to turn down. People are more likely to comply to your requests if they feel they owed you something, even though your original gift might be an order of magnitude smaller and insignificant compared to what you’re asking for.
  3. Make people commit to things. If they commit to what you’re asking them, however small it may be, it makes larger commitments possible. Want not to be robbed while you use the toilet in the café? Ask somebody to watch over your stuff. That way, they commit to a certain role they have now assumed.
  4. Commitment is best achieved not through spoken word but through action. If your commitment makes people DO something, anything, just writing a couple of lines of text for example, it is a much stronger commitment than without the action.
  5. “Lowballing” – if you want to enforce or sell something, you offer it for a small price (monetary or any other kind). After a test period, you raise the price, saying that you’ve mistakenly thought the price was lower. Because of the test period, people have committed themselves to a certain product or whatever it may be you were trying to sell/enforce. They are much more likely to accept the raise in the price. Car dealers routinely lowball people.
  6. If you want someone to do something, be as similar to them as possible. Profess to have the same hobbies, wear the same clothes, speak in the same way. The more you are similar, the more people are likely to comply with your request.
  7. Look good.
  8. Flatter. Flattery, even when perceived as flattery, is often just as effective.
  9. Create an image of authority, be it through the way you speak, through a title you might have, through the clothes you wear. People are more likely to comply if they feel a request is coming from an authority, despite it not being an appropriate authority.
  10. The less something is available, the more people want it. The less the information about the unavailability of something is available, even more the people will want it. This is amplified if this something was previously in abundance.

There you have it, ten techniques to manipulate people into doing things you want them to do. Statistically, they should work with most people. Naturally, this information is of greatest interest to people that want to sell things, but many other uses are possible. Read the whole book for additional information and for greater understanding and appreciation of these techniques.

A final word of caution: be wise in your use of these techniques. It is better to tell the truth instead of lies. It is better to work in the open instead of plotting. And it is better to be honest instead of manipulating people’s fixed action patterns. But as you go through life, you will undoubtedly find yourself in situations where lying is necessary, where plotting is necessary and where using fixed action patterns is necessary. You might still decide not to use them but when you find yourself there, it’s better to know these things than not to know them.

 

Problems “beneath” an Overhuman

I didn’t know how to name this post and this is the best I came up with. Problems “beneath” an Overhuman are problems that are so commonplace and low-level and ubiquitous that an Overhuman does not deign to bother with them. (S)he is simply above them and considers them trifles, things not worth his/her time, things that – this is going to sound bad – are reserved for the “ordinary” people.

An Overhuman assumes what might be seen as a condescending attitude toward many things that other people worry about. Fortunately, this condescending attitude is not condescending at all because it is coupled with high emotional intelligence and, thus, empathy.

An Overhuman understands his fellow humans’ pain and suffering and anxiety, an Overhuman understands its causes and the mechanisms why these negative emotions come about, but the Overhuman does not share in their pain.

I shall give practical examples:

You have a bad relationship with a parent. Your parent is very controlling and has bad physiological influence over you. You are stressed because of your parent’s expectations, you are unsure of yourself and you seek your parent’s approval for everything you do.

You can be the best deductionist in the world and also speak 7 languages and be an incredible fighter, but if that is what’s bothering you – you are not yet an Overhuman.

An Overhuman cannot exist with problems that usually come up in normal human affairs. Why? Precisely because an Overhuman is not normal. Merely possessing Overhuman skills is not enough – it’s like having a Ferrari and not knowing how to drive it, or driving it badly, or only driving it during daytime. Skills are nothing without the state of mind that employs them.

Another example:

A war breaks out in your country and thousands of people are starving because the supply lines to your area have stopped. You starve too – primarily because you never stocked up on food in case of such events.

Or another example, based on that very same war I just mentioned: You are forced to take to the streets and because it is cold, you cannot bear it and have to change plans that involved you staying out.

What do these two examples have in common?

Well, generally speaking, the correct answer would be – weakness.

An Overhuman is an Overhuman because (s)he is not weak in any form, neither in body nor mind. For these two examples it is a certain weakness of the mind that has assured us that you are not yet an Overhuman: failure to prepare.

You see, an Overhuman is a prepper by default. Stocking up on food is done as a matter of course. It takes no thinking through – being a prepper, and – nota bene – a good prepper – is just something that goes without saying, something that is so blatantly obvious that it needs not be addressed.

And an Overhuman is also a practitioner of the Wim Hof method – by default. It goes without saying.

Are you starting to see the bigger picture?

Well, if no, I will outline it clearly.

The very foundation of an Overhuman, its base – is a high success level in other disciplines. What some may consider as the pinnacle of achievement in their art, an Overhuman considers as merely a starting point for his/her own art.

Thus fighters will strive to be incredible fighters and will consider it a great success when they become incredible. Overhumans are incredible fighters by default. For fighters, it will be their end-goal. For Overhumans, it will be their starting point.

Thus Zen monks and Stoics will strive towards mental clarity and acceptance of whatever life brings, and they will see this as “enlightenment”, as their final phase. Overhumans are enlightened by default. It’s their starting point.

Thus survivalists and preppers will strive to be as prepared as possible for various events, ranging from bad, to catastrophic to apocalyptic. Overhumans – you guessed it – are good survivalists by default. What the community of survivalists and preppers sees as high capability and preparedness, an Overhuman sees simply as a necessary base for other things.

And so, the problems “beneath” an Overhuman – being too fat or out of shape; having insecurities; not having enough money for strategical investments; speaking only one language; having a bad immune system; having bad people skills; having unresolved family disputes etc. – are truly “beneath” an Overhuman. An Overhuman simply has no time or patience to deal with such matters he or she considers as trifles. Naturally, (s)he will show empathy and give advice to those that need it, but in his/her personal life, such problems simply do not arise. They are just too low-level.

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.

Thinking

Modern common belief, especially amongst the wisdom-seeking population, would have it that we’re thinking too much. After all, if meditation is removing thoughts or at least distancing yourself from them, and meditation is what you should be doing if you’re looking for self-improvement, then the conclusion that we’re thinking too much and feeling (or meditating) too little is quite logical to make.

But I disagree. I think we’re not thinking quite enough. What meditation proponents call for “too much thinking”, I would call “too much non-mindful thinking”. See, when have you last spent some time just thinking? If you haven’t, do you know someone that has, or does on a regular basis? Do we actually have a specific time, designated solely for the purpose of thinking? It is my belief that for the most people, thinking just happens along the way and that nobody has a time for thinking. Maybe it’s not that we don’t have time for thinking, we just don’t have a time for thinking.

le penseur

Thinking is an evolutionary gift, a necessity imposed to us by our environment. Instead of running away from thinking, we should strive to improve it, and meditation is, among its other uses, a way of improving our thinking. Through meditation, we learn mindfulness, and mindfulness in thinking is what stops you from analyzing a problem and making a mental turn towards that funny cat video you saw yesterday or imagining what you would say in an argument with that jerk that you dislike so much. Of course, meditation is only one of the ways we can improve our thinking. Designating a specific time for it, stating “Now I’m going to think” and seeing what happens is also one of the tools. Nootropics, chemicals that enhance your cognitive capabilities are also one of the tools. Surely there are many other tools people use. Maybe you think best while playing an instrument or while just picking at the strings, or maybe you think best while walking or while knitting, but the point is that there is a way to improve your thinking in terms of results.

Don’t avoid thinking and rely on feeling alone. Feeling is great, but it’s not all there is to the human mind. We have these cold, logical machines inside our heads, each and every one of us, yet many of us don’t use them as much as they could, or maybe should. Some out of pure inertia or ignorance (bluntly put, because they’re stupid) and some out of personal conviction, because they believe the thinking, cold, logical mind is not good. Neither are commendable, but the people that intentionally lessen the importance of logical, analytical thinking are blameworthy, in the same way that exclusive reasoners shun feeling and emotions. Only through accepting the both sides will the mind flourish in its entirety.

Think!

Unworm your ear

Earworm: A song that sticks in your mind, and will not leave no matter how much you try. (source: Urban Dictionary)

If you’re okay with earworms and they don’t bother you, stop reading and go on with your day.

If you mind earworms, if they bug you (wow much pun amaze lol wow), then keep reading.

I'm getting better and better at this stuff.

I’m getting better and better at this stuff.

I dislike earworms because there is essentially nothing different between an earworm and a thought. And I haven’t been meditating for the last 3 years for nothing. Nagging thoughts that repeatedly resurface and you can’t seem to let go of them – meditation is for you. You learn to observe and not think; perceive and not judge; feel and not reason. This is all good, but how do you meditate, how do you do such a thing, if there is a tune stuck in your mind and whatever you do, you just keep hearing it over and over and over again?

Well, luckily for you, I’ve come up with a technique (two actually). And they both work.

The first one is sleeping: I’ve come to realize that I have earworms when I’m tired. And what should you do when you’re tired? That’s right, rest. So rest. Sleep. That’s number one.

The second one is a variation on classical Zen meditation. In Zen meditation, you observe the feeling you get from your breath. In your “unworming” meditation, you close your eyes and listen to the world around you. To the birds, the trees, the wind, the cars, the people. If it’s silent, you just listen to silence (silence actually has a sound, that was amazing for me to realize, there’s this extremely silent constant beep or screech that you never perceive because it’s so impossibly silent. But I digress.) If you do this, you don’t listen to the song in your mind but to your surroundings, which also has a tactical positive side: you learn to mind the sounds around you. Think of cats – have you ever seen a cat that ignored a sound? I haven’t. They always react to sounds, even when they’re sleeping their ears move around, listening for danger. Try to be more like a cat.

That’s it. Next time your earworm starts bugging you (oh I’m just so funny), do one or both of these things and you’ll be fine in no time.