Chaotic Inversion

I was re­cently hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with some friends on the topic of hour-by-hour pro­duc­tivity and willpower main­te­nance—some­thing I’ve strug­gled with my whole life.

I can avoid run­ning away from a hard prob­lem the first time I see it (per­se­ver­ance on a timescale of sec­onds), and I can stick to the same prob­lem for years; but to keep work­ing on a timescale of hours is a con­stant bat­tle for me. It goes with­out say­ing that I’ve already read reams and reams of ad­vice; and the most help I got from it was re­al­iz­ing that a siz­able frac­tion other cre­ative pro­fes­sion­als had the same prob­lem, and couldn’t beat it ei­ther, no mat­ter how rea­son­able all the ad­vice sounds.

“What do you do when you can’t work?” my friends asked me. (Con­ver­sa­tion prob­a­bly not ac­cu­rate, this is a very loose gist.)

And I replied that I usu­ally browse ran­dom web­sites, or watch a short video.

“Well,” they said, “if you know you can’t work for a while, you should watch a movie or some­thing.”

“Un­for­tu­nately,” I replied, “I have to do some­thing whose time comes in short units, like brows­ing the Web or watch­ing short videos, be­cause I might be­come able to work again at any time, and I can’t pre­dict when—”

And then I stopped, be­cause I’d just had a rev­e­la­tion.

I’d always thought of my work­cy­cle as some­thing chaotic, some­thing un­pre­dictable. I never used those words, but that was the way I treated it.

But here my friends seemed to be im­ply­ing—what a strange thought—that other peo­ple could pre­dict when they would be­come able to work again, and struc­ture their time ac­cord­ingly.

And it oc­curred to me for the first time that I might have been com­mit­ting that damned old chest­nut the Mind Pro­jec­tion Fal­lacy, right out there in my or­di­nary ev­ery­day life in­stead of high ab­strac­tion.

Maybe it wasn’t that my pro­duc­tivity was un­usu­ally chaotic; maybe I was just un­usu­ally stupid with re­spect to pre­dict­ing it.

That’s what in­verted stu­pidity looks like—chaos. Some­thing hard to han­dle, hard to grasp, hard to guess, some­thing you can’t do any­thing with. It’s not just an idiom for high ab­stract things like Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence. It can ap­ply in or­di­nary life too.

And the rea­son we don’t think of the al­ter­na­tive ex­pla­na­tion “I’m stupid”, is not—I sus­pect—that we think so highly of our­selves. It’s just that we don’t think of our­selves at all. We just see a chaotic fea­ture of the en­vi­ron­ment.

So now it’s oc­curred to me that my pro­duc­tivity prob­lem may not be chaos, but my own stu­pidity.

And that may or may not help any­thing. It cer­tainly doesn’t fix the prob­lem right away. Say­ing “I’m ig­no­rant” doesn’t make you knowl­edge­able.

But it is, at least, a differ­ent path than say­ing “it’s too chaotic”.