Skinner Box

Is Earth a form of aversion therapy? In other words, am I punished for improper behavior? And if that’s the case, am I rewarded for good behavior?

Even from a purely physical perspective, you’d likely say that penalties exist for inappropriate actions. For example: if I eat too much, I get a tummy-ache. If I treat others poorly, I tend to suffer negative repercussions. If I allow my mind to wander, I find myself thinking thoughts I don’t prefer. If I consume dour and pessimistic media, I feel bad. In short, there seems to be a direct correlation between careless behavior and discomfort.

Is the opposite also true? Am I rewarded for considerate behavior? If I eat an appropriate amount of nutritious food, do I feel better? If I treat others well, do I benefit from similar treatment? If I guide my thoughts down pleasant paths, do I find myself delighted? If I watch a lighthearted movie, do I feel cheerful? In short, is there a direct correlation between thoughtful behavior and well-being?

In behavioral conditioning, the obviousness of the correlation between cause-and-effect is a key factor for learning. For example, if I fail to realize that a specific action results in a particular punishment, there’s no reason to stop an action. In other words, the amount of punishment won’t matter if I don’t know why I’m being punished. Yet, it would be heavy-handed or even harsh to reprimand for every infringement.

In teaching/coaching situations, obviousness is often sacrificed for gentleness. Instead of correcting every single misstep, a gentle teacher often allows some incorrectness to slide. This puts more responsibility onto the student, who must actively watch for trends in order to grasp the direction of the reward/punishment mechanism. The tradeoff is a greater feeling of agency and influence over one’s own life.

This would explain why actions in life aren’t always rewarded or punished appropriately. Life trades cold mechanical conditioning for a more organic feel. There’s no lever that reliably releases a pellet when pressed – outcomes follow trends instead. Also, intermittent reward is a more captivating circumstance and likely leads to longer, more involved engagement.

Honestly, I’ve been obstinately plowing through life, ignoring any signs pointing in the proper direction. I follow my own assumptions about what’s appropriate. As you might imagine, it hasn’t been an effective strategy. Am I to simply follow the path set forth by the aversion/reward mechanism? Hm, that almost sounds like cheating. Wait, actually that seems like a lot of work. Well, I’ll have to keep this is mind and be on the lookout for trends resulting from my behavior.

Detailed Questions

Why is the sky blue? Why do people do what they do? What does it mean to fall in love? What’s the origin of illness? What’s healthy? What’s free-will? How do you live a good life?

If reasons and explanations to life’s questions vary over time, then perhaps details don’t matter. How can details be so subjective? You might postulate that understanding simply evolves. Well I don’t understand anything! I’ve certainly not received any of this advancing knowledge! Nor do I see evidence of it as I witness people living similarly dramatic storylines to those that came before. Fashions change, but the basics seem the same.

Schooling, amusements, occupations, competition, romance, parenting, complaining, and the search for satisfaction – what really changes? Style varies with era, but the fundamentals remain constant. Every age has its own explanations of why things happen, yet subsequent ages scoff at those antiquated ways. And this current age’s understanding will be mocked by those that follow. In that way, modernity admits its own lack of understanding.

What this adds up to is an obvious conclusion: events do NOT sit atop a solid concrete structure of objective ingredients. In fact, the framework for circumstances is fictional, mere illusion, a concoction cobbled together after-the-fact. Something happens, THEN the “how” and “why” forms based on perspective.

This conclusion obviously implies a dreamworld/simulated-reality in which a dreamer/player has ideas that manifest from imagination/pixels. There really is no “how” or “why”, it’s simply not necessary when dealing with dreams/simulations. Anything can appear anywhere at anytime.

And of course I had it backwards the entire time. I thought I was supposed to seek-out the step-by-step specifics in order to traverse a particular path. If you want to accomplish a task, read the pre-printed instructions obviously! NOPE! You simply “do the thing” and let it unfold before you. It’s a dream whose scenes manifest before your very eyes.

Whereas when you’re lost in the dream, it seems so concrete. The details ARE the reason, and nothing exists beyond what the senses perceive. But that’s such a limited perspective – you’re trapped into inaction and unable to do anything significant. Therefore, you must reset your frame-of-reference, step back from the intensity of a dream created by a wandering mind.

Remove yourself from the chaotic nightmare through discipline. Discipline is specifically focusing the mind. It’s pulling focus away from dissatisfying topics while putting focus on delightful ones. It sounds silly, but life is a silly thing. Tame the chaos you previously created, let it go, replace it with a new world in which you choose to experience contentment. In a dream, time is malleable. It is now the dawn.

Delving Into Details

I’ve noticed that whenever I delve into the details of something, it doesn’t make sense, the specifics are silly, the overall concept is absurd. It’s exactly like analyzing the plot of a movie too closely: if you forgivingly accept the storyline, then things proceed smoothly – but whenever you analyze the details, plot-holes abound.

Not only does this demonstrate the fictional nature of this world, it illustrates that circumstances don’t arise from details. Larger concepts come first then details are developed second – and only when examined. Additionally, these details are not objectively true – they vary depending on who’s investigating them.

For example, if you see someone driving a car, you don’t think anything of it. Cool, maybe he’s going to the store. But if you start to analyze the concept of humans controlling complex contraptions comprised of substantial steel at speeds 10 times that of their normal pace, producing forces that far exceed their normal abilities, yet able to maintain their course with adequate reaction time, it gets weird. Especially when you saw that same person having difficulty pushing their simple little shopping cart through the store’s aisles moments earlier.

And that’s not the only example, it’s EVERYTHING. And the good news in all this, is this: details don’t matter. Imagine a supervisor briefly explaining a task to you, yet he leaves out all the critical details and you’re left wondering how to proceed. This is a common scenario simply because details are NOT critical. Humans aren’t typically taught step-by-step instructions, they’re provided with broad concepts, then kinda wing-it.

In other words, if you attempt to learn the details in order to do something, you’re doing it wrong. You do the thing and IGNORE the details. Humans could never reliably drive cars if this wasn’t the case. In fact, details are dangerous and they’re likely to lead to logical conclusions that shouldn’t be contemplated. Whereas if you stick to the surface, things are more malleable and make a lot more sense.

The devil really is in the details. Do not summon him forth through incessant investigating. You’ll create logical conclusions that’ll trap your mindset. Circumstances change much more readily when they’re not ensnared by technicalities. Never worry how something gets done, it just does! It’s a dreamworld after-all.

Wait Not Want Not

At first I thought I was randomly born into a harsh and brutal world that didn’t care if I lived or died. Then after a few decades of living in abject anxiousness, I realized I misunderstood. I was in no danger, there were no threats – the world simply sustained me without effort on my part. Knowing that, I then surmised that the world must want me to prosper and enjoy myself within its walls. That theory has unfortunately not proven correct – I’m not saying it’s wrong, I simply don’t know if it’s true at this point.

For example, you’d want to keep your lab-rats or livestock alive, but you don’t necessarily care how happy they are. Unhappiness might even be a state that’s encouraged for research purposes as part of an experiment. Or this could simply be a game – and like any game, challenges are built into the world as obstacles to overcome. Games by their nature introduce stressors into a player’s life. Over and over, players jump hurdles and chase fleeting rewards.

I have to surmise then, that existence is like a Role-Playing Game. It’s not a movie in which you sit passively watching the scenes go by. I tried that approach and it doesn’t work. You literally end up sitting there waiting for the movie to begin but it never does. You have to actually press forward and manipulate the buttons here and there. I think life assists you, but you have to deal with challenges along the way.

Think about it this way: participation in sports is most rewarding when you push yourself close to your limit. Who cares if you can do something easily? It’s the training and straining that accompanies difficult tasks that produces the most satisfaction. A larger investment begets a greater reward. BUT: if you take a game too seriously, you’re going to have a bad time. Games are ultimately mechanisms-of-fun and your perspective should be broad enough to include this aspect.

Who Knows

I’m not discounting the possibility that I might be a moron, but if that’s not the case then I believe this world willfully obfuscates its true nature. I’ve spent years attempting to ascertain the underlying principles of my existence – I’ve found nothing. Like a mirage in the desert, seemingly solid answers simply dissolve whenever approached. In other words, close examination of this world will not lead to an explanation.

And that makes sense of course, because you can’t explain how a movie was made by merely watching a movie. Who wrote it? Who coordinated the production? How was it recorded? How were the special-effects done? Who composed the music? The same is true of video-games: playing provides little insight into the underlying programming code and overall construction of the product. Therefore, I can surmise that this world is NOT self-contained – something exists beyond its walls.

But whether it’s movies, video-games, or even dreams, it doesn’t seem prudent to spend one’s time attempting to see-through the illusion. Why not sit back and enjoy the show? Right? But to be quite frank, I haven’t been able to appreciate my time here. It seems like a poor implementation, basically a low-quality movie. And what does one do when presented with a flick that lacks entertainment value? Well, you lose your ability to focus on the story and you sit there wondering who made this crap.

You also wonder if there’s something you can do to improve things. Maybe change seats and get a different perspective? Pay closer attention? Perhaps focus on an interesting aspect that you previously ignored? Maybe stop criticizing, and attempt to appreciate the scenes? But that just seems like a lot of homework. Whereas a well-made movie allows you to simply sit there captivated. Why should the burden of enjoyment be put on the audience? And, is such effort even effective?

In fact, I’ve spent lots of time and effort readjusting and trying to get a better handle on the situation. Meditation? Yep. Reading philosophical, religious, self-help, and spiritual books? Yep. Moving to a new location? Yep. Spending time with loved ones? Yep. Finding a hobby? Yep. Cutting out negativity as best I could? Yep. I’d say there’s some improvement, but it’s also FAR from a good movie.

So now what? Well, I know without a doubt that this world is a concoction, a fabricated fiction that purposefully confounds my consciousness. Why? Who cares about “why” if it’s fun. Unfortunately, I often find myself less than amused by the antics of this world. Is this a challenge to overcome? A puzzle set forth by some other incarnation of my self? Am I a beta-tester of some weakly implemented simulation? Is my origin the mystery I must solve to unlock the next level? I don’t know.

Practicing WhoAmIism

I’m sick of imagining a dumb backstory. “Remembering” isn’t even the word for it since I don’t know if it really happened. Because honestly, who’s to say when existence began? I literally could’ve achieved consciousness this morning and presumed a bunch of ideas and injected a few false memories about who I am and what’s happened thus far. My examination of my situation could be further tainted by a negative perspective, leaving me with incorrect interpretations all around.

So now what? What does that leave me with? For one, it leaves me without ANY baggage to carry along. I’m free of whatever preceded right now. In other words, I can think of the present moment as the start of a dream. Nothing before this moment actually existed, it’s all concocted in an attempt to explain what’s happening now. I don’t have to take it seriously, I can ignore it or even invent a better backstory and believe that instead.

In a sense, I should approach each new moment as if I have amnesia, unsure of who I am or what’s going on. It sounds a bit odd yet it’s closer to the truth. I really don’t know who I am or what’s going on here. Sure, I’ve made a bunch of assumptions but I don’t know if they’re correct, in fact they’re more likely to be wrong. These assumptions I’ve made haven’t benefitted me in any way – and typically, they tend to make me feel bad.

In summation: As soon as I became conscious, I inadvertently focused on a lot of strange thoughts. I assumed they represented a factual reality. I further assumed that following those thoughts would lead me to an explanation of what’s going on here – but doing so only led to more confusion. All those thoughts I invested in turned out to be trash and are therefore unworthy of further attention. The present moment is the only time in which I should invest my attention. Focus on now.

Olden Days

“What a horrible time we’re living in! I wish things were more like they used to be! Things were uncomplicated back then! People were polite! They talked to each another! You could afford things! Politicians weren’t corrupt! Truth and justice weren’t just tag-lines in a comic-book!”

As someone that’s been alive for a few decades and has an interest in history, those kinds of statements don’t make much sense. Even a casual review of the historic narrative reveals a distinct repetition of themes and events. Facades change, but the foundational elements remain the same. Therefore, what the above sentiment is truly referring to, is not some point in history, but to some simpler time in the speaker’s life i.e. childhood.

What such people are really trying to say is: things were easier when I was a child because I was taken care of and I only focused on things that mattered to me at the time. And this is true, things ARE easier when you’re taken care of and when you only focus on the things that are important to you. So now what? Can we go back to a simpler time? i.e. a time when we possessed a childlike view of the world?

Jesus once said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Maybe he’s saying that we should focus on the things that matter to us in this moment, as children do — and in so doing, experience a heavenly time on Earth. Whereas focusing on the “big picture” and global-matters is a means of getting lost in the world, a condition that ultimately leads to dissatisfaction.

But what about being taken care of? Well Jesus also said this: I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body. Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.

So when we lament the modern times we’re living in, perhaps our wish shouldn’t be to time-travel to some idyllic point in history that never happened – but to get back to a childlike perspective. And to do that, we must focus on what’s at hand right-now in this moment. Perhaps we should be focusing on who’s around us and whatever activities are immediately available. A childlike perspective is not dour or disparaging, but wondrous and appreciative of whatever’s happening all around.

In summation: in order to enjoy life, we must not strive to resurrect a fictional past, rather we must strive to attain a level of mental discipline that allows us to focus our attention on whatever evokes delight.

Too Far

Striving for enlightenment might be taking things a bit too far. Instead of overcoming a single challenge, it’s the idea of overcoming challenge itself — thus eliminating ALL challenges in one fell swoop. It’s like sitting in the middle of an arcade and not playing any of the games because you conquered the desire to engage — but the point of a game is to play!!

Imagine exiting the arcade and explaining to the game developers that you didn’t play their games. They ask why. You respond: “Well, after losing a few times I got frustrated and stopped playing. Then I got bored and played some more but kept losing. This led to even more frustration so I proceeded to train my mind to ignore those enticing demo-screens and to ignore the sensation of boredom while sitting still.”

Exasperated, the developers explain that the games are specifically designed to be unwinnable. Winning and losing result in the same outcome: “Game Over”, therefore the games are designed to string players along in an endless series of challenges that are ultimately insurmountable. It’s only a game they say, you shouldn’t get so bent-out-of-shape over it — you’re taking things much too seriously — an arcade is meant to be fun.

So in a sense, the initial quest for enlightenment might be a bad-attitude in which a person wants to give-up on the game and sit quietly until it ends. BUT, if you sit silently long enough, you’ll ultimately come to this conclusion: play the game and have some fun (i.e. lighten-up). You’ll also conclude that you shouldn’t attempt to play every game in the arcade — it’s better to focus on the ones you find most enjoyable.

Whittling Life

Whittling is a subtractive process, meaning you start with a block of wood and remove some bits until you arrive at the shape you want. Whereas carpentry is additive: you keep adding boards until you arrive at the final structure. Carpentry also has a jigsaw-puzzle aspect, where pieces have to fit together just-right. I never bothered to contemplate the difference before, but the other day I noticed that I’m a particular type of woodworker.

I had split a block of wood into tiny planks with the idea that I’d assemble them into a small box — a carpentry project. But I sat there staring at the boards, deciding on how to assemble them. Carpentry is about precise cuts with saws and lots of sawdust — and that’s just not my style. I’m a knife guy — I like cutting into wood and having curls drop off. For instance, I already have a small box made from a block of wood that I simply hollowed-out with a knife and chisel.

So instead of piecing those tiny planks together, I’ve been using them as starting-points for carved pendants. It turns out that I’m into subtractive art, not additive — I wasn’t quite aware of the distinction before. And it’s true: when faced with a blank canvas, I don’t know where to begin — my mind is equally blank. But when presented with a work-in-progress, I can certainly tell you what doesn’t belong. It’s basically a form of criticism: “Nope, that doesn’t look right! Remove it!”. You just keep pecking away until there’s nothing left to criticize.

And this serves as a metaphor for life. If presented with the idea that life is a blank-canvas, I’m frozen with indecision. I don’t know how to proceed — I need something to evaluate and judge. BUT, this criticism needs to be applied with the intent of creating a work-of-art. I had been criticizing and stopping there — I wasn’t actually cutting anything out. Therefore I always see the same bits that don’t belong, every single day.

So instead of looking for what I should add into my life, I should be evaluating what I already have, then actively removing the bits that don’t belong i.e. whittling my life into a work of art. I had been trying an additive approach, which simply didn’t suit me AND I had neglected to remove the bits that didn’t fit. For example, my tendency for general-negativity is something that needs to be sliced away — and my knife in this context is mental-discipline.

Game Goals

Existence is a game whose goal is a life well-lived — I will win this game.

Thoughts are the controls with which I influence my experience.

A better life is achieved through better thoughts. From thoughts streaming by, I’ll select only the finest to focus on while dismissing the rest.

Note: good thoughts are characterized by concepts such as appreciation and delight, comfort and contentment, confidence and competence, lighthearted amusement, and an overall enjoyment of life.

I’ll aspire to believe that ALL obstacles and limitations are SELF-CREATED through my thoughts.

I’ll endeavor to see this as a benevolent experience intended as a source of enjoyment.

To facilitate this enjoyment, I’ll strive to maintain a lighthearted disposition, a positive attitude, and trust in the goodness of life.

So that I’m not lost in the story and swept away in its turbulence, I’ll strive to maintain an awareness of this game-like perspective.

At any time I do feel lost, I’ll remove focus from my thoughts and remain focused on right now.