Training Regime Day 19: Hamming Questions for Potted Plants


Sometimes, when thinking about a difficult problem, it helps to pretend that the problem is much simpler—to abstract away the complexity and consider only the core elements.

Hamming Questions are questions designed to get you to think deeply about your life problems. However, you are a human being. Human beings are complicated. Human beings have complicated life problems. Complicated life problems are both hard to think of and hard to solve.

Potted plants are simple. Potted plants have simple life problems. Simple life problems are easy to think of, although they still might be difficult to solve.

You are now a potted plant. This will help you think of major life problems by abstracting away complexity.



One of the things that plants need is water. Naively, you’re supposed to water your plants. However, if you water your plants too much, they suffer from being overwatered. (Maybe potted plants aren’t so simple after all.)

Suppose that you-as-a-plant is receiving too much water. What is the water a metaphor for?

Are you spending too much time doing any particular activity? Consuming too much of a certain type of content? Thinking too much about a particular concept?

Sometimes, there’s a problem that you think you can solve with more of something. Sometimes, this is correct. Sometimes, it is wrong. Sometimes, you should stop adding more and start adding less.


Another thing plants need is light. Naively, you just put your plant next to a window. However, plants have different sides. If you don’t rotate your plant, one side will grow faster than the other and it will become lopsided. (Maybe potted plants aren’t so simple after all.)

Suppose that you-as-a-plant is receiving light in an uneven distribution. What is the light a metaphor for?

Are you getting too much of a resource from a particular person? Are you too dependent on a certain activity? Is there part of your routine that’s too load-bearing?

Sometimes, there’s something that you want, so you try to get a lot of it. Sometimes, you don’t realize that there are different forms of that thing. Sometimes, optimizing for getting a lot of that thing means you only get the form that’s easy to get. Sometimes, you need to drink something that’s not soylent.


A thing that plants produce is fruit. Naively, you allow your plant to produce fruit. However, plants have finite resources. If you allow your plant to produce fruit, it won’t grow as much—nipping some of the flowers before they turn into fruit can let your plant grow stronger. (Maybe potted plants aren’t so simple after all.)

Suppose that you-as-a-plant is producing too much fruit. What is the fruit a metaphor for?

(Sometimes, the problem happens in the opposite direction—you’re growing too much and not producing enough fruit. Think about this case also.)

Are you spending too little time on scholarship? Are you trying too hard to get stronger? Do you have the right distribution of meta/​object work?

Sometimes, you want something so bad that you just try and get it directly. Sometimes you need to grow up first. Sometimes, the most direct path doesn’t involve direct action.


Another thing plants need is a pot. Naively, you just put your plant into a pot. However, plants grow. If you don’t take your plant out of the pot, the roots will hit the sides—your plant will be confined by the pot. (Maybe potted plants aren’t so simple after all.)

Suppose that you-as-a-plant is in too small of a pot. What is the pot a metaphor for?

Is your physical space too small for you? Are you in a relationship that is preventing you from growing? Is your culture supporting you or confining you? Would you even be able to tell if your pot was too small?

Sometimes, you need to grow out to grow up. Sometimes, you need to leave something safe in order to find something bigger. Sometimes, you need to improve, which means you need to change.


A thing that hurts plants is bugs. Naively, you remove all bugs from your plants. However, there are good bugs and bad bugs (ladybugs and aphids, for example). If you remove the good bugs, then the bad bugs might hurt your plant. (Maybe potted plants aren’t so simple after all.)

Suppose that you-as-a-plant has some good bugs. What could these bugs be?

Are some of your bugs justified defense mechanisms? Are you uncomfortable for a good reason? Do some of your bugs cancel each other out?

Sometimes, so-called “irrationality” makes your life better. Sometimes, you are about the enter the uncanny valley. Sometimes, knowing about biases can hurt people. Sometimes, you should wait until you are ready.


Plants need many things, but humans have needs too. Sometimes, the human needs to go away for a while. Naively, you just ask your friend to take care of your plants. But plants are complicated—if you don’t explain, you’ll come back to an over-watered, lopsided plant with too much fruit in too small a pot and no good bugs. (Maybe plants aren’t so simple after all.)

Suppose that you need to go away for a while and you need to ensure you-as-a-plant remains healthy. What is “ensuring” a metaphor for? (This scheme is breaking down slightly, but I think you get the point).

Are there processes that you need to personally oversee? Is your routine heavily depending on your current location? Are there people that depend heavily on your presence?

Sometimes, it feels good to be needed. Sometimes, putting out fires makes you feel important. Sometimes, this means that you don’t implement systems to stop fires from starting. Sometimes, you need to make yourself not needed.


Pretend to be a potted plant.