Meditation versus Second-handedness?

Quote from Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics:

Jeff chimed in, “And part of being a warrior is going against the stream.”
That term speaks to the revolutionary message at the heart of the meditative endeavor. To “go against the stream” is to refuse to be swept up in the dominant culture of unconsciousness, to carefully examine the conventional narratives and assumptions of the day. As Jeff explained, “The momentum of everyday life is to just continue tumbling along unheeding. To actually stop and pause and take stock of your life and decide to not go along with that is considered to be going against the momentum of the culture. So there’s a warrior quality to that, very much.”

It’s like how Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. But most people don’t regularly do much intentional, conscious examination, and don’t particularly want to. They’d see stuff that they don’t like and they are pessimistic about the prospects for improving that stuff, so they’d rather not see it in the first place. And they’d rather that the people around them not see it either, cuz if other people see problems they might point those problems out, which is almost as bad as seeing the problems for yourself. And so then you have to police the people around you to make sure they’re not at risk of going down paths of thought which might lead to them being more contemplative and seeing problems which they might then tell you about. So then everyone is policing everyone else to make sure their thoughts and habits don’t get out of line, and no one is trying to think for themselves. It’s like Toohey says in The Fountainhead: “A world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought in the brain of his neighbor who’ll have no thought of his own but an attempt to guess the thought of the next neighbor who’ll have no thought—and so on, Peter, around the globe. Since all must agree with all.” And so then people writing books on meditation have to include a chapter in the book called “People Might Think I’m Weird” because people are so afraid of deviating from convention that they’re afraid to take even a few minutes a day to be more contemplative about their own life.

I had seen this play out, to a certain degree, in my own life. I’ve noticed my lifelong susceptibility to the opinions of others diminishing somewhat. The act of sitting and witnessing the insane torrent of my own mind somehow helps me not take so seriously the clamor of the collective mind.

If you get perspective on your own thoughts it can give you perspective on other people’s thoughts. Say you meditate, your mind wanders, and you catch yourself judging someone negatively for their footwear, and then think “Wait wtf? Why would I judge someone according to their footwear? That’s ridiculous, that’s so superficial.” Then the next time you might worry about whether someone else will judge you for your footwear, you’ll think “hey that’s silly, I shouldn’t care about that, and they’re silly to judge me on that basis.” And if you do this 1000X times you gradually start to care less what other people think.

“insane torrent” is kinda ambiguous here by the way. Like the author could be using “insane” as a more generic qualifier for torrent – like if he’d written “The act of sitting and witnessing my insanely torrential mind” – but I would guess that he’s using it in some kind of mental health sense. So maybe he thinks he’s a bit crazy? I guess that perspective could kinda help too…maybe if you come to the conclusion that you’re a bit crazy, then you decide that everyone else is a bit crazy too, and so then other people’s judgments are just the judgments of a bunch of crazy people and so who cares? lol. I don’t endorse that view but I can see it helping reduce how much you care about what other people think.

Discussion With AnneB About Learning Motivation, Honesty About What You Know, Second-handedness

AnneB:
I realized that I need to rethink some things in my blog post on SICP Exercise 2.14, so I reverted it to a draft for now. Was that the wrong thing to do? I hadn’t gotten any comment on it so I don’t know if anyone read it yet. When I repost it, should I mark my changes as edits or just change them? (The big picture is that I forgot about the subtraction procedure and just focused on addition/multiplication/division.)

JustinCEO:
I’ve got a post in draft re: some grammar stuff

JustinCEO:
i made some errors and then have additional comments after the error

JustinCEO:
i’ve got stuff marked as

JustinCEO:
Initial Answer

JustinCEO:
Peikoff’s Answer

JustinCEO:
Answer after further thought

JustinCEO:
that kinda stuff

JustinCEO:
i think one of the ways you can mess up is

JustinCEO:
by fooling yourself about the state of what you knew at different points in time

JustinCEO:
and that the motivation for doing this is not wanting to admit your initial ignorance

JustinCEO:
i’m not accusing you of this btw, Anne, this is just like a general observation of possible relevance

JustinCEO:
generic “you”

JustinCEO:
anyways i think it’s interesting cuz

JustinCEO:
if you fool yourself about the state of your knowledge at the beginning of trying to solve some problem

JustinCEO:
then you can inflate how much you already knew

JustinCEO:
and if you inflate how much you already knew

JustinCEO:
then that can make the learning project look less valuable in retrospect

JustinCEO:
cuz you look back

JustinCEO:
and say

JustinCEO:
“oh well i didn’t seem to learn a lot”

JustinCEO:
but that’s just cuz you lied about how little u knew at the start

JustinCEO:
so i thought that was interesting

AnneB:
Yes, I’ve thought of that too, how if you pretend to yourself that you knew stuff already, you don’t see all the progress you made.

JustinCEO:
it’s kinda like if you lie about what your assets were before doing some business venture. say you had $100 but you say you had $50k. then after doing the venture you have $55k. if you fool yourself with the lie and believe your false estimate of your assets, it looks like the business didn’t do too well, but the reality is different.

JustinCEO:
it’s easier to see the issue in that case, cuz amount of $ is an easier issue to judge than “amount of learning of some set of topics”, which is much squishier

JustinCEO:
so then if you combine the squishiness of judging how much you’ve learned with a bunch of self-lying it can become a real mess

AnneB:
For that post, I’ll try to accurately portray what I thought at first and then what I thought later. There are plenty of other exercises where I write stuff in draft and then later change it as I think about it more. But usually the changes happen before I publish. I wonder if I should be explaining more of that, but I already worry that my exercise answers are long. I’ll think about it some more.

JustinCEO:
long for what purpose

JustinCEO:
if u care about ppl reading your stuff, you could do a short version or mark specific things for people to read

JustinCEO:
for my next post i’m gonna mark one of the answers as a “if u only read one thing read this” cuz i did a whole big analysis re: fused participles and i’d like feedback on that

JustinCEO:
anyways you should consider the goal of your stuff

JustinCEO:
you can’t optimize your stuff for every purpose

JustinCEO:
if you care a lot about accurately capturing your thoughts and the state of your knowledge then that’s going to make it longer compared to something more optimized for getting feedback from other people

JustinCEO:

Yes, I’ve thought of that too, how if you pretend to yourself that you knew stuff already, you don’t see all the progress you made.

JustinCEO:
i think that’s really interesting btw cuz

JustinCEO:
it shows you how insidious and destructive second-handedness can be

JustinCEO:
like you lie to yourself for second-handed reasons, cuz you don’t want to come across as ignorant or newb or whatever

JustinCEO:
and doing so messes up your motivation to learn

JustinCEO:
the operation of the secondhandedness on learning is kinda indirect though

JustinCEO:
like you cook the books re: learning project effectiveness and that has downstream consequences on learning project motivation later

More Secondhandedness Examples

More examples of secondhandedness thoughts/questions (with links) contrasted with rational/reality-oriented thoughts/questions.

Also, for a long form analysis of a great example of second-handedness, read this whole post.

Secondhanded thought Better thought
You shouldn’t claim you’re the best philosopher; you might be proven wrong and embarrassed. I’d love to be proven wrong and learn about someone better than me.†
I should post a bunch of candid moments of my children on Facebook because they’re cute and people will like them. Is getting Facebook likes a good goal? And does my child have any right to privacy?
I want it to appear to others that I am a fast learner.  I want to actually learn stuff quickly and well.
Am I an imposter or fraud, despite being recognized as a successful person? Am I objectively good at what I do?
Will other people judge me for not learning FI? Would learning FI serve my life and values?
What solution to this programming problem does the interviewer want? What solution to this programming problem would work?
Am I coming off as weird or autistic in continuing to talk about this topic? Do I want to continuing to talk about this topic?
Do some prestigious people say Ayn Rand and Sam Harris have similar ideas? Are the ideas of Sam Harris and Ayn Rand actually similar?

†Elliot Temple, in a July 2, 2013 Fallible Ideas email, subject line “Psychology of a Pretzel” (no longer directly linkable online because Yahoo took down its archives), said “I’d be fucking thrilled. If someone could prove me wrong, I would learn something and thank them. And it’d be something particularly useful. Please tell me who is better that I missed. I will read their stuff and get in touch with them. That’d be amazing.” 🙂