April 4. Since the subject seems to be in the air lately, I'm going to write about getting older, in the context of how we think about society and our place in it. The cliche is that young people are rebellious and old people join the establishment, but that's not quite how it works.
When you're young, you expect people older than you to have it all figured out. So when the world sucks, it makes sense to react with righteous anger. Now that I'm old, I look at the world and think, "Those poor kids, they don't know what they're doing."
Young people are impatient. They want to see Utopia in their own lifetime. Now I think it's going to take hundreds of years, maybe thousands, before being human is even half as much fun as being a squirrel. I used to want to slay dragons and now I want to plant seeds.
Young people have lots of energy and little tolerance for complexity, so they look for meaning in things that are mentally easy and physically hard. As we get older, we learn to make ourselves happy with less energy and more subtlety. For a young person, the difference between living well and living badly is entirely in what you do. For an old person, the difference is more in how you look at it.
One thing that was not obvious when I was younger: motivation is a really hard problem. If you live a conventional life, that problem is mostly solved for you by other people telling you what to do all day, and if you're really lucky, it will be stuff you want to do anyway. To the extent that you're able to do your own thing, motivation becomes your own responsibility, and I see no sign that it gets easier. Doors are always closing and opening, both out in the world and inside you, and it's a permanent challenge to keep looking and moving.
April 9. One month ago I finally had a good LSD trip. A few months earlier, when I tried it the first time, I stayed home and listened to music, and it was nice, but inferior in every way to strong cannabis edibles. The second time, on the same dose, I did two things differently. The first was to vape some weed to overlap the peak of the trip. Cannabis-acid synergy is controversial, because some people get bad trips from both, but for me, the cannabis put a glow on the acid's altered perception.
The second thing I did was to go outside. Immediately I noticed how beautiful the trees were, from the whole shapes to the tiny bifurcations of the leafless twigs. I saw that nature looks like Dr. Seuss -- or really, Dr. Seuss took the weird beauty of nature and made it obvious.
There was never any distortion of senses, but I interpreted things differently. Cars in the distance seemed like tiny cars in a model. It was a trillion years in the future, the whole universe was dead, and I was getting a precious look back in time to when it was alive. I was the protagonist of a fairy tale, with such plot armor that it seemed I could get away with dangerous risks -- but I knew this was an illusion because other people have tested it.
I sat under a footbridge watching the rapids in a stream, and understood that streams are alive. I stopped to look at a cluster of shriveled cloudberries, and they were more beautiful than any human art. I passed through a developed area and saw the obvious crudeness of the human-made world compared to the world that made us. It reminded me of the Heraclitus quote: "The Aeon is a child at play with colored balls."
I once saw one of Monet's wheatstack paintings in a museum and wondered: how can a painting of a wheatstack be more moving than an actual wheatstack? Now I know the answer: because we don't know how to look. If we did, the actual wheatstack would always be better. A month later, that aesthetic sense has mostly stuck with me.
April 11. The Tyranny of Convenience. I would make the argument like this: Technology saves time and labor with total indifference to whether we enjoy spending time doing certain things. It assumes that we never do -- that sitting and doing nothing while machines do the thing, is always preferable to doing the thing ourselves. Taken to its logical extreme, the message is that nonexistence is preferable to existence. A milder conclusion would be that everything useful should be done by technology. No wonder we increasingly feel that life is meaningless.
Related? Japan's Prisons Are a Haven for Elderly Women, who are shoplifting because they like prison better than the outside. I think this is good news. Modern society is already a constructed environment that we can't leave. Let's look at the sub-prisons for ways to make the big prison better.
April 13. Start a text message with "I want" and then keep choosing the first suggested word after that. What does your phone think you really want? The top answer is "I want you in the same room and all you want is a good day." This describes every couple I've ever known, and it's a rare example of artificial intelligence producing a profound insight.
The last few weeks I've been playing the best game in the Civilization series, Alpha Centauri. I always play as the Gaians, and my strategy is to use lots of formers to plant forests. Anyway, I noticed something about the difficulty levels. The AI is not smart enough to do better management than a good human player, so the higher levels are made challenging by letting the computer opponents cheat and build lots of powerful military units.
This means, the higher level you play at, the less the game is about subtle adjustments to make things run smoothly, and the more it's about conflict. And it occurs to me, real life is exactly the opposite.
April 17-19. I have a few thoughts about "being in the moment". I used to think it was like quitting smoking: eventually you make up your mind to just do it, and then you're doing it all the time. But it's like riding a unicycle: you do it for just a second, and then you fall, but you keep trying, and after hundreds of repetitions, you start to develop some technique.
My latest techniques involve lying to myself: pretend you've just now awakened from a long coma; pretend you're looking back on this moment from the end of your life; pretend your point of view is a video that the whole world is watching; pretend, with absolute horror, that this moment is as good as it gets.
Leigh Ann says those techniques don't count as being in the moment because I'm still aware of some external context. We also figured out that what she calls "zoning out" is something I've never experienced, a stable mental state of broad attention focus. My default mental state is narrow-focused, and I have to fight hard to keep it wide.
I'm also wondering how much other self-improvement comes down to being in the moment. For example, "ego". I avoid that word because it's hard to find a good definition, but how about this: ego is holding onto a sense of who-you-are, that served you in the past, over the one that you need right now.