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.