Chasing your tail

Warning: thought dump ahead!

Attachment to the outcome of an event leads to a subjective spectrum of measurements of the (usually implicit) metrics that you are using to monitor apparent change. Your preferences about which direction you want these metrics to go in seems to be how the attachment presents itself.

Thinking of ways to game this, let’s explore a few strategies and see what happens.

At one extreme, you could take the position “I have no preferences”. This is kind of self-contradicting since this is a preference in itself. A step further could be to have no preference for having preferences. Huh?

Is it possible to have no preferences? Let’s look at the word “preference” first, starting with a dictionary definition:

a greater liking for one alternative over another or others

We need to go deeper down the rabbit hole. What does “liking” mean? Back to the dictionary…

a feeling of regard or fondness

This is not really helping, we are just arriving at more words that are not objectively defined. Hmm.

Let’s use the facts. To have a preference, we have to have at least two possibilities. We could say that the word preference is a kind of directionality or scoring system for the possible outcomes.

Alright, so one strategy is to weight the scores equally for all outcomes. I can see a few problems with that. As before, this strategy (and perhaps any strategy?) is a kind of preference. By choosing a scoring system, you have weighted that system above all others.

Is it possible to not choose a scoring system? Perhaps…

Certainly, it is possible to not explicitly choose a system. But it seems as if there is always going to be an implicit system in place. Without preference, it would not take long before you got run over by a truck because you did not have a preference for the outcome of crossing the road!

Alright, so it looks like there are going to be at least a handful of fundamental preferences that anyone reading this is going to have. First and foremost would be the self-preservation instinct.

Another way we can look at this is to inspect the “at least two possibilities” bit. What if there were only one possibility? In that case, there would be no preference because there is no choice about what to have a preference for.

So, how could there be only one possibility? Well, I suppose the only way to do that would be to not distinguish between outcomes. The phrase “whatever happens, happens” comes to mind.

Of course, you could argue that the model of not distinguishing between outcomes is a kind of scoring system in itself. In a way, it is isomorphic to the perspective of equally weighting all possible outcomes. Nonetheless, it certainly sounds like a simpler way of framing things.

To not distinguish between outcomes would be something like the absence of chopping and categorising things up. Lack of labelling. A willingness to not know and not understand.

How far could you take this? I think this approach leads to the experience of a lack of agency. By agency, I mean the impression that you have control over the outcome of events. If you have stopped distinguishing between outcomes, it seems that you would also have stopped getting the impression that you were influencing those outcomes.

The suggestion that lack of agency is even possible can be a scary thought for some people. I think this is perhaps tied to the fear of losing control, identity, self, ego, whatever you want to call it.

So, then what? I think the end game is that, with this approach, you retain a fresh sense of wonder about each and every moment as it unfolds. Unsure what to expect and untied to what happens. The most appropriate word that comes to mind is “freedom”.

You are not your beliefs

This one can be quite an eye opener if you have not heard of it before.

When interacting with others, sometimes we can end up defending a particular belief, idea or position. This can be a useful tool, but sometimes it is possible to take it a bit too far.

You are not your beliefs. By attaching the sense of self to particular concepts, you open up a duality of being “right” or “wrong” about something. In turn, this polarization can lead to sticky situations, where you feel under attack when you encounter someone who is pushing an agenda that conflicts with your own.

A great way to work with this is pretty simple: lose. See what that is like. Next time you sense someone is getting defensive about something, try “losing” and see what happens as one of the two fists stops fighting.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying everyone should become a tree hugging pacifist. Fight when appropriate, but at least be aware of the mechanisms that lead you there.