You Are Likely To Be Eaten By A Grue

Previously in sequence/​sequence index: Living Luminously
Next in sequence: Let There Be Light

Luminosity is fun, useful to others, and important in self-improvement. You should learn about it with this sequence.

Luminosity? Pah! Who needs it?

It’s a legitimate question. The typical human gets through life with astonishingly little introspection, much less careful, accurate introspection. Our models of ourselves are sometimes even worse than our models of each other—we have more data, but also more biases loading up our reflection with noise. Most of the time, most people act on their emotions and beliefs directly, without the interposition of self-aware deliberation. And this doesn’t usually seem to get anyone maimed or killed—when was the last time a gravestone read “Here Lies Our Dear Taylor, Who Might Be Alive Today With More Internal Clarity About The Nature Of Memory Retrieval”? Nonsense. If Taylor needs to remember something, it’ll present itself, or not, and if there’s a chronic problem with the latter then Taylor can export memories to the environment. Figuring out how the memories are stored in the first place and tweaking that is not high on the to-do list.

Still, I think it’s worth investing considerable time and effort into improving your luminosity. I submit three reasons why this is so.

First, you are a fascinating creature. It’s just plain fun and rewarding to delve into your own mind. People in general are among the most complex, intriguing things in the world. You’re no less so. You have lived a fair number of observer-moments. Starting with a native architecture that is pretty special all by itself, you’ve accumulated a complex set of filters by which you interpret your input—remembered past, experienced present, and anticipated future. You like things; you want things; you believe things; you expect things; you feel things. There’s a lot of stuff rolled up and tucked into the fissures of your brain. Wouldn’t you like to know what it is? Particularly because it’s you. Many people find themselves to be their favorite topics. Are you an exception? (There’s one way to find out...)

Second, an accurate model of yourself can help you help others deal with you in the best possible way. Right now, they’re probably using kludgey agglomerations of self-projection, stereotype, and automatically generated guesses that they may not bother to update as they learn more about you. I’m assuming you don’t surround yourself with hostile people who would use accurate data about you to hurt and manipulate you, but if you do, certainly be judicious with whatever information your quest for luminosity supplies. As for everyone else, their having a better model of you will avoid a lot of headaches on everyone’s parts. I’ll present myself as an example: I hate surprises. Knowing this, and being able to tell a complete and credible story about how this works, I can explain to people who might wish to exchange gifts why they should not spring unknown wrapped items on me, and avoid that source of irritation. Most of the people around me choose not to take actions that they know will irritate me; but without a detailed explanation of exactly how my preferences are uncommon, they’ll all too easily revert to their base model of a generic person.

Third, and most germane to the remaining posts in this sequence: with a better picture of who you are and what your brain is up to, you can find the best low-hanging fruit in terms of hacks to change yourself. If you keep going from point A to point Z, but know nothing about the route in between, then the only way you can avoid a disliked Z is to try to come to a screeching halt right before it happens. If you could monitor the process from the start, and determine what pattern your mind follows along the alphabet, you might find that you can easily intervene at G or Q, and never have to deal with Z again. Similarly, if you try to go from alpha to omega but tend not to wind up at omega, how are you ever going to determine where your obstructions lie unless you pay attention to something other than the bare fact of non-omega? There could be some trivial omicron-related problem that you’d fix in a heartbeat if only you knew it was getting in the way. Additionally, your faulty models of yourself are already changing you through such miraculous means as cognitive dissonance. Unless you find out how it’s doing that, you lose the chance to monitor and control the process.

An analogy: You’re waiting to be picked up at the airport. The designated time comes and goes, and you’re sitting by the baggage claim with your suitcases at your feet, your eyes on your watch, and a frown on your face. The person was supposed to pick you up at the airport, and isn’t there! A clear failure has occurred! But if you phone the person and start screaming “The airport, you fool! I’m at the airport! Why aren’t you?” then this will tend not to improve things unless the person never left in the first place out of forgetfulness. If they’re stuck in traffic, or were sent out of their way by road construction, or have gotten hopelessly lost, or have been identified by the jackbooted thugs that keep watch at the airport parking lot as a terrorist, reiterating that you had this particular goal in mind won’t help. And unless you find out what is keeping them, you can’t help. You have to know where they are to tell them what detours to take to avoid rush hour; you have to know what diversions were introduced to tell them how to rejoin their planned route; you have to know what landmarks they can see to know where they’ve gone missing to; you have to know whether to go make Bambi eyes at the security guards and plead misunderstanding. Without rather specific, sensitive data about what’s gone wrong, you can’t make it right.

In the next posts of this sequence, I’m going to illustrate some methods that have helped me learn more about myself and change what I don’t like. With luck, they’ll assist you on the project that I’ve just attempted to convince you to want to undertake.