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Mind Macros 64: Triangulating your views, intelligence and pessimism, and self-observation
"The only way someone can be of help to you is in challenging your ideas. If you’re ready to listen and if you’re ready to be challenged, there’s one thing that you can do, but no one can help you."
Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Triangulating Your Views
"This approach of triangulating the views of believable people can have a profound effect on your life. I know it has made the difference between life and death for me. In June 2013, I went to Johns Hopkins for an annual physical, where I was told that I had a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus with high-grade dysplasia. Dysplasia is an early stage in the development of cancer, and the probability that it will turn into esophageal cancer is relatively high—about 15 percent of cases per year. Cancer of the esophagus is deadly, so if left untreated, the odds were that in something like three to five years I’d develop cancer and die. The standard protocol for cases like mine is to remove the esophagus, but I wasn’t a candidate for that because of something specific to my condition. The doctor advised that I wait and see how things progressed."
"I felt fortunate because this prognosis gave me enough time to ensure that the people I cared most about would be okay without me, and to savor life with them in the years I had left. I would have time to get to know my first grandson, who had just been born, but not so much time that I could take it for granted. But as you know by now, rather than following what I am told is best, even by an expert, I like to triangulate opinions with believable people. So I also had my personal physician, Dr. Glazer, set up visits with four other experts on this particular disease. The first call was with the head of thoracic surgery at a major cancer hospital. She explained that my condition had advanced quickly and that, contrary to what the first physician said, there was a surgery that could cure me. It would involve removing both my esophagus and my stomach and attaching my intestines to the remaining little bit of my esophagus I’d have left. She estimated I’d have a 10 percent chance of dying on the operating table and a 70 percent chance of a crippling outcome. But the odds were in favor of my living, so her recommendation was clearly worth taking seriously.
"Naturally I wanted her to speak with the doctor from Johns Hopkins who originally diagnosed me and recommended a watch-and-wait approach, so right then and there I called the other doctor to see what each would say about the other’s views. This was eye-opening. While the two doctors had told me completely different things when I met with them in person, when they were on the phone together, they sought to minimize their disagreement and make the other look good, putting professional courtesy ahead of thrashing things out to get at the best answer. Still, the differences in their views were clear, and listening to them deepened my understanding.
"The next day I met with a third doctor who was a world-renowned specialist and researcher at another esteemed hospital. He told me that my condition would basically cause me no problems so long as I came in for an endoscopic examination every three months. He explained that it was like skin cancer but on the inside—if it was watched and any new growth was clipped before it metastasized into the bloodstream, I’d be okay. According to him, the results for patients monitored in this way were no different than for those who had their esophagus removed. To put that plainly: They didn’t die from cancer. Life went on as normal for them except for those occasional examinations and procedures.
"To recap: Over the course of forty-eight hours, I had gone from a likely death sentence to a likely cure that would essentially involve disemboweling me, and then finally to a simple, and only slightly inconvenient, way of watching for abnormalities and removing them before they could cause any harm. Was this doctor wrong? Dr. Glazer and I went on to meet two other world-class specialists and they both agreed that undergoing the scoping procedure would do no harm, so I decided to go ahead with it. During the procedure, they clipped some tissue from my esophagus and sent it to the laboratory for testing. A few days after the procedure, exactly a week before my sixty-fourth birthday, I got the results. They were shocking to say the least. After analyzing the tissue, it turned out there wasn’t any high-grade dysplasia at all! Even experts can make mistakes; my point is simply that it pays to be radically open-minded and triangulate with smart people. Had I not pushed for other opinions, my life would have taken a very different course. My point is that you can significantly raise your probabilities of making the right decisions by open-mindedly triangulating with believable people." — From Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.
II. Why Intelligent People Become Pessimistic
"Arguably, all great philosophies and religions incorporate some degree of pessimism in their foundations. What reason would philosophies and religions have to exist if they did not first admit the existence of the pains, confusions, and uncertainties of life. The philosophy of Stoicism suggests that the universe is indifferent to what we want from it. Buddhism says that life is suffering. Existentialism and Absurdism say that we are stricken by our need for meaning in a life that is inherently meaningless. Christianity proclaims that the condition of humankind is inflicted with temptation and imperfection. Along with many others, these schools of thought realize that life contains fundamental pessimisms. However, what is powerful, important, and lasting about any good philosophy or frame of thinking is what it attempts to do with these pessimisms. A helpful philosophy first realizes and admits the sad, troublesome, and often tragic conditions of our life, and then attempts to grapple with and overcome them so that we might live in spite of those conditions. A healthy dose of pessimism is necessary in our ability to adequately deal with this life. It helps us mitigate our expectations and serves as padding that protects us from life’s constant attempts to beat our spirit out of us. Pessimism counterbalances the ridiculously overly optimistic expectations of the culture we live in and helps us adapt out of the deeply detached, unrealistic perspective that we likely formed as children. It reminds us that things won’t always go our way or always be that nice, but rather, things will go wrong a lot, but despite this, we can still be ok.
"To give up on life entirely would be like refusing to play a game because we lose sometimes, as if the game would even be worth playing if we knew we were going to win every time we played. There is courage in facing the realities of pessimism and there is strength to be formed in its name. We must be pessimistic about life’s conditions in order to face their realities, but we must also be optimistic about our ability to face their realities and form strength, meaning, and experience through them.
"Rather than being optimistic about the possibility of finding things and ideas that will rid us and our lives of disorder, defectiveness, confusion, and vulnerability, perhaps we should attempt to be optimistic about the potential value that we can find in accepting and enduring these things. We should be optimistic about our ability to turn the ups-and-downs into an interesting and beautiful ride. In the dirt of life, it is up to us to plant the seeds, watch the flowers grow, and enjoy their beauty, even in spite of the fact that we know that they will die." — From The Art of Living a Meaningless Existence: Ideas from Philosophy That Change the Way You Think by Robert Pantano.
III. The Importance of Self-Observation
"The only way someone can be of help to you is in challenging your ideas. If you’re ready to listen and if you’re ready to be challenged, there’s one thing that you can do, but no one can help you. What is this most important thing of all? It’s called self-observation. No one can help you there. No one can give you a method. No one can show you a technique. The moment you pick up a technique, you’re programmed again. But self-observation—watching yourself—is important. It is not the same as self-absorption. Self-absorption is self-preoccupation, where you’re concerned about yourself, worried about yourself. I’m talking about self-observation. What’s that? It means to watch everything in you and around you as far as possible and watch it as if it were happening to someone else. What does that last sentence mean? It means that you do not personalize what is happening to you. It means that you look at things as if you have no connection with them whatsoever."
"Do you want to change the world? How about beginning with yourself? How about being transformed yourself first? But how do you achieve that? Through observation. Through understanding. With no interference or judgment on your part. Because what you judge you cannot understand. When you say of someone, “He’s a communist,” understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on him. “She’s a capitalist.” Understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on her, and if the label carries undertones of approval or disapproval, so much the worse! How are you going to understand what you disapprove of, or what you approve of, for that matter? All of this sounds like a new world, doesn’t it? No judgment, no commentary, no attitude: one simply observes, one studies, one watches, without the desire to change what is. Because if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand. A dog trainer attempts to understand a dog so that he can train the dog to perform certain tricks. A scientist observes the behavior of ants with no further end in view than to study ants, to learn as much as possible about them. He has no other aim. He’s not attempting to train them or get anything out of them. He’s interested in ants, he wants to learn as much as possible about them. That’s his attitude. The day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle. You will change—effortlessly, correctly. Change will happen, you will not have to bring it about." — From A Book of Life: Daily Meditations by Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Khalil Gibran on anxiety:
"Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it."
II. Rumi on embracing change:
"Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?"
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