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The Scipionic Circle 89: Deconstructing the Self, Decoding Chaos, and Breaking the Chains of Inner Authority
"You had an experience yesterday which taught you something and what it taught you becomes a new authority – and that authority of yesterday is as destructive as the authority of a thousand years."
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle — I hope you find something of value.
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Food for Thought
I. Decoding Chaos: Finding Patterns in Decision-Making Amidst the Storm of Choices
"We’re continually hit by a blizzard of situations, opportunities, problems, incidents—all of which seem to demand decisions. Yes. No. Go. No-go. Buy. Sell. Attack. Retreat. Accept. Reject. Reply. Ignore. Invest. Harvest. Hire. It can feel like chaos, but the most effective people find the patterns within the chaos. In Drucker’s view, we rarely face truly unique, one-off decisions. And there is an overhead cost to any good decision: It requires argument and debate, time for reflection and concentration, and energy expended to ensure superb execution. So, given this overhead cost, it’s far better to zoom out and make a few big generic decisions that can apply to a large number of specific situations, to find a pattern within—in short, to go from chaos to concept. Think of it as akin to Warren Buffett making investment decisions. Buffett learned to ignore the vast majority of possibilities almost as background noise. Instead, he made a few big decisions—such as the decision to shift from buying mediocre companies at very cheap prices to buying great earnings machines at good prices—and then replicated that generic decision over and over again. For Drucker, those who grasp Buffett’s point that 'inactivity can be very intelligent behavior' are much more effective than those who make hundreds of decisions with no coherent concept.
"One tries to identify and eliminate the things that need not be done at all, the things that are purely waste of time without any results whatever. To find these time-wastes, one asks of all activities in the time records: 'What would happen if this were not done at all?' And if the answer is, 'Nothing would happen,' then obviously the conclusion is to stop doing it.
"It is amazing how many things busy people are doing that never will be missed. There are, for instance, the countless speeches, dinners, committee memberships, and directorships which take an unconscionable toll of the time of busy people, which are rarely enjoyed by them or done well by them, but which are endured, year in and year out, as an Egyptian plague ordained from on high. Actually, all one has to do is to learn to say 'no' if an activity contributes nothing to one’s own organization, to oneself, or to the organization for which it is to be performed." — From The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter Drucker.
II. Deconstructing the Self: The Intriguing Conundrum of Consciousness and Control in Split-Brain Experiments
"Among the most dramatic are the famous 'split-brain' experiments. These were done with people whose left and right brain hemispheres had been separated via surgery that severed the bundle of fibers connecting them. (Typically, the purpose of the surgery was to control seizures in cases of severe epilepsy.) It turns out that this surgery has little effect on behavior; under normal circumstances, people with split brains act normally. But back in the 1960s the neuroscientists Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga devised clever experiments that led split-brain patients to behave strangely.
"The key was to confine information to a single hemisphere by presenting it to only half of the patient’s visual field. If, for example, a word is presented only to the left visual field, which is processed by the right hemisphere, it won’t enter the left hemisphere at all, since the hemispheres have been surgically separated.
"It’s the left hemisphere that, in most people, controls language. Sure enough, patients whose right hemisphere is exposed to, say, the word nut report no awareness of this input. Yet their left hand—which is controlled by the right hemisphere—will, if allowed to rummage through a box containing various objects, choose a nut.
"That finding alone could make you start questioning traditional notions of the conscious 'self.' Now consider this one: when the left hemisphere is asked to explain behavior initiated by the right hemisphere, it tries to generate a plausible story. If you send the command 'Walk' to the right hemisphere of these patients, they will get up and walk. But if you ask them where they’re going, the answer will come from the left hemisphere, which wasn’t privy to the command. And this hemisphere will come up with what, from its point of view, is a reasonable answer. One man replied, plausibly enough, that he was going to get a soda. And the person who comes up with the improvised explanation—or, at least, the person’s left hemisphere, the part of the person that’s doing the talking—seems to believe the story.
"In one experiment, an image of a chicken claw was shown to the patient’s left hemisphere and a snow scene was shown to the right hemisphere. Then an array of pictures was made visible to both hemispheres, and the patient was asked to choose a picture. The patient’s left hand pointed to a shovel, presumably because a snow scene had been seen by the hemisphere that controls the left hand, and snow is something that gets shoveled. The right hand pointed to a chicken. Gazzaniga recounts what happened next: 'Then we asked why he chose those items. His left-hemisphere speech center replied, ‘Oh, that’s simple. The chicken claw goes with the chicken,’ easily explaining what it knew. It had seen the chicken claw. Then, looking down at his left hand pointing to the shovel, without missing a beat, he said, ‘And you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed.’' Again, the part of the brain that controls language had generated a coherent, if false, explanation of behavior—and apparently had convinced itself of the truth of the explanation.
"The split-brain experiments powerfully demonstrated the capacity of the conscious self to convince itself that it’s calling the shots when it’s not." — From Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright.
III. Breaking the Chains of Inner Authority: Embracing Radical Self-Awareness in the Pursuit of True Understanding
"What we are now going to do, therefore, is to learn about ourselves, not according to me or to some analyst or philosopher – because if we learn about ourselves according to someone else, we learn about them, not ourselves – we are going to learn what we actually are. Having realised that we can depend on no outside authority in bringing about a total revolution within the structure of our own psyche, there is the immensely greater difficulty of rejecting our own inward authority, the authority of our own particular little experiences and accumulated opinions, knowledge, ideas and ideals. You had an experience yesterday which taught you something and what it taught you becomes a new authority – and that authority of yesterday is as destructive as the authority of a thousand years. To understand ourselves needs no authority either of yesterday or of a thousand years because we are living things, always moving, flowing, never resting.
“When we look at ourselves with the dead authority of yesterday we will fail to understand the living movement and the beauty and quality of that movement. To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion. It is only in that state that one learns and observes. And for this a great deal of awareness is required, actual awareness of what is going on inside yourself, without correcting it or telling it what it should or should not be, because the moment you correct it you have established another authority, a censor." — From Freedom From the Known by Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Lao Tzu on embracing life's natural flow:
"Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.
"Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.
"Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.
"Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.
"Do your work, then step back.
"The only path to serenity."
II. Ralph Waldo Emerson on inner brilliance:
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
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Thank you for reading,