Ran Prieur Watch

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candide
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Ran Prieur Watch

Post by candide »

Ran Prieur is a Howlie whose work has been noted here a few times. Here's his website:

http://www.ranprieur.com/

His site is under creative commons attribution, so my plan is to copy things he writes that might be of interest to our little group. Feel free to beat me to the punch or go through his older work to find stuff.
Last edited by candide on Tue Jun 07, 2022 5:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes
June 2. The Buddha, the story goes, was a rich kid who indulged in every pleasure until he burned out and became enlightened. You'd think, with so many more pleasures now, and so many more people, there would be Buddhas popping up on every street corner.

Instead, there are more and more depressed people. And it occurs to me, depression and enlightenment have similar symptoms: not enjoying the things that ordinary people enjoy, and preferring to do nothing all day.

Maybe enlightenment was invented by ancient people as a way of framing depression, so that they could see themselves with more pride and less shame, and so that other people would see them with reverence, instead of trying to kill them for being unproductive.

What I really think is, "enlightenment" is a modern buzzword loosely based on a lost culture. The word has too much baggage and should not be used. Instead, we should talk with precision about the many techniques under the umbrella of meditation-metacognition-mindfulness, and the many specific benefits of those practices.

Personally, I have three goals in mental health: 1) An unshakeable sense of well-being. 2) More overlap between what's good for me to do and what I feel like doing. 3) Better body awareness so that I have better physical health. Over the years, I've made some progress on number three.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes
June 6. I almost didn't make last week's post about enlightenment, but I got some good feedback. Eric writes:

| A friend went on a mindfulness retreat once where the exercise was to fully experience a thing that you were eating. The instructor gave everyone a segment of a tangerine to savor. My friend told me that later he tried the same practice at home, and he discovered that it was impossible to savor an Oreo. |

I read a similar story about an exercise to stop overeating, where people were told to completely savor one Hershey's kiss. It's not that it was impossible to savor it, but it had never occurred to them to do so. They'd eaten hundreds of chocolates and 100% of the time they had gobbled them down.

I think we're talking about two distinct mental states, one where you're holding tension between what you're doing and something else, and one where what you're doing is self-justifying. And these two states come into clearer focus with that eating exercise.

Coming back around to "enlightenment", that concept, in western spirituality, is framed as an achievement, something you strive for. Paradoxically, the mental state people are seeking is already inside them, but they can only see it by not striving. That idea is thousands of years old, and we're no better at putting it into practice.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by candide »

Image

Ran writes:

June 9. One of my projects, before I move, is to go through my Complete Far Side and photograph all the best ones. Yesterday I saw this one, "Life on cloud eight", which fits right in with the last post.

I've heard it said, if you can enjoy being in hell, you're in heaven. But some of us don't even have to enjoy being in hell -- we just have to appreciate second-rate heaven.

More explicitly: whether you're talking about making more money, or having more fun, or being a better person, there's always a way to reach the next level. But the higher you get, the harder it is to stay there, and the more likely you are to notice: the good feeling of achieving a higher level is less than the bad feeling of not being satisfied with the level you're at.

This helps explain a cryptic line I read years ago in a Cynthia Ozick story: "Heaven is for those who have already been there." It also seems vaguely related to a cryptic line I read the other day in this Reddit thread [1]: "Life does not give a rat's ass who lives it."
[1] https://old.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comm ... ddit_what/
Last edited by candide on Mon Jun 27, 2022 6:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by unemployable »

More explicitly: whether you're talking about making more money, or having more fun, or being a better person, there's always a way to reach the next level. But the higher you get, the harder it is to stay there, and the more likely you are to notice: the good feeling of achieving a higher level is less than the bad feeling of not being satisfied with the level you're at.
There's a hippie children's book, Hope for the Flowers, about this concept. I mean it's one of those books for adults that looks like a book for kids. I remember being read it in nursery school. In what may well have been the least hippie town in the US.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

We suffer for the simple reasons that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature's preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it's the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that's going to do the most work to innovate and survive. We are wired to become dissatisfied with whatever we have and satisfied by only what we do not have. This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering. So no- our own pain and misery aren't a bug of human evolution; they're a feature.
- Mark Manson- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by Lemur »

One last anecdote is in Atomic Habits by James Clear, I recall Clear writing about how people will change their perfectly good working systems for the simple reason of becoming bored with them and/or wanting to squeeze out just a little bit more efficiency...

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes:
June 11. Moving is terrible. Back in the nomad days it was probably lots of fun. But never in history, until now, has it been normal for people to have this much stuff, without being rich enough to make other people deal with it.

So for the last several weeks I've painfully going through stuff, looking at ten thousand things from matchbooks to grain mills, deciding whether to haul it across the state, use it up, sell it on Craigslist, take it to a thrift store, or throw it away. And then there's the cleaning.

I'm now in the terminal phase. The last time I was this busy was my final week of college, when I put a sign on my wall that said "WORK EAT SLEEP" because if I did anything other than those three things, I wouldn't finish.

But this time, something peculiar happened. I wouldn't call it a "flow" state because it's not something I would seek out. A better word is inertia: near the end of my second straight 14 hour day, I reached a state where having one more thing to do was no longer painful. I was like, wow, this must be how highly productive people feel all the time.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by candide »

Ah, I haven't checked in a while. . .

Ran writes:
June 21. The reason I stopped writing about social issues is I got tired of fighting. Twenty years ago, when I started writing on the internet, I wanted to slay dragons. Gradually I shifted from warrior to scout, from fighting to trying to understand stuff. But lately I'm thinking, what's even the benefit of understanding stuff? For example, if I have a good understanding of why gas prices are high, or if I have a bad understanding, what difference does that make to anyone?

Now, there is value in seeking understanding just for the intrinsic pleasure of seeking understanding. But if that's my motivation, I might as well be gaming. If I understand ship loadouts in Starsector, that benefits the world exactly as much as if I understand gas prices -- but it benefits me more, because I play the game better.

Another value of seeking understanding is that I can develop habits of thinking that are generally helpful. That's why it's good to study philosophy, not because those dweebs were right about anything, but because you're getting practice in precise thinking.

But if I'm writing for an audience, there's one big factor that affects whether people even notice how I'm thinking. If they already have a strong opinion on the subject, the only thing they're going to notice is whether I'm right or wrong.

So now I can formulate a better rule than "Don't write about social issues." If it's a subject where people already have strong opinions, don't write about it. And if it's a subject where there's no practical benefit to better understanding, don't write about it unless the process of thinking is interesting.
Also, Ran writes:
June 23. Continuing from the last post, Eric points out that there is value in seeking understanding because "if I observe a pattern in one field, it's likely that similar patterns pop up elsewhere." That reminds me of a Charles Fort line: "One measures a circle beginning anywhere."

I got a lot of feedback from people who are moving away from negativity as they get older. I think this is because old people have less stamina, and also because they have the accumulated experience that it works better to focus on what you're for, than to focus on what you're against.

Personally, I've added the Uplifting News subreddit to my daily links, as an antidote to regular news. Aaron writes:

| I keep looking for the obscure people who are coming up with real solutions to our problems.
| They build things quietly and then all of a sudden, when the time is right their solutions take
| over the world and nothing can stop it.

That reminds me of a quote I read back in the 90's, from an old Soviet dissident: "History is like a mole, burrowing unobserved."

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by zbigi »

Ran Pieur wrote: Now, there is value in seeking understanding just for the intrinsic pleasure of seeking understanding. But if that's my motivation, I might as well be gaming.
Hah, I guess that's why people often ignore philosophers or think of them as stupid - it can take them (philosophers) twenty years of mental effort to conclude something that was intuitively obvious from the start for regular people.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

But lately I'm thinking, what's even the benefit of understanding stuff? For example, if I have a good understanding of why gas prices are high, or if I have a bad understanding, what difference does that make to anyone?

Another value of seeking understanding is that I can develop habits of thinking that are generally helpful. That's why it's good to study philosophy, not because those dweebs were right about anything, but because you're getting practice in precise thinking.
I'm reminded of the Zen koan: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

The meaning of this is that even after enlightenment, even after realizing the answers, you still have to live your life in basically the same way as before. Nonetheless, it is still worthy pursuing enlightenment/philosophy because it's the act of the pursuit that matters, not the end destination, in much the same way the entire point of therapy is learning the working through.

That is to say, understanding is an act of doing, and it is the act of doing that overcomes existential anxiety. This is why gaming isn't really a replacement for philosophy. Understanding basically allows you to deepen your conscious experience of life, even if you find you end up having to live a very similar life before and after.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by Lemur »

@Zbigi - But the philosopher's work is to figure out why something is "intuitively obvious." I think there is value here to question base truths. Though being humans with limited life span....it may or may not be the most efficient use of one's time. Maybe that sort of thinking is what led to empiricism to begin with. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by jacob »

Lemur wrote:
Fri Jun 24, 2022 11:55 am
@Zbigi - But the philosopher's work is to figure out why something is "intuitively obvious."
The "why" is the least asked of the 5/6 W-questions. Most humans live in a concrete and parochial world of who, where, and what. Some (engineers, ...) also consider how and others (managers, ...) consider when. But most take why for granted. It's the water the fish swim in.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Lemur wrote:
Fri Jun 24, 2022 11:55 am
@Zbigi - But the philosopher's work is to figure out why something is "intuitively obvious." I think there is value here to question base truths. Though being humans with limited life span....it may or may not be the most efficient use of one's time. Maybe that sort of thinking is what led to empiricism to begin with. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism
I dunno, given how people in the humanities (or even social sciences) can't seemingly agree about anything, the track record of philosophy isn't great. Science and maths may be the most useful thing that came out of philosophy, but problems beyond that seem too complex for our rational minds to tackle. Of course, it doesn't stop us from trying, as it's just so much fun.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes:
July 5. Yesterday I had a visit from a long-time reader, Ryan. This is some of the stuff we talked about.

Of all the predictions I've ever made, my best was about a song: that when people of the people of the future sing "tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999," it will have a new meaning for them, looking back at the golden age.

During the decline of Rome, so I'm told, people didn't know they were in a decline. It happened so slowly that every time the roads got worse, they thought they were just going through a rough patch. Right now, I don't know anyone who thinks we're just going through a rough patch, that in a few years the world will return to prosperity and peace, under the same political and economic systems we have now.

It follows that the present decline is happening faster than the decline of Rome, and that future historians will see it as a relatively fast crash -- even though it's still pretty slow to us. The common people of the future will strip it down even farther, imagining a vibrant civilization destroyed by a single event, probably something that hasn't happened yet.

When we imagine the future, our first thought is that either the whole world will be techno-utopia, or the whole world will be postapocalypse. Then we learn to see it with more granularity, with one country in techno-utopia and another in postapocalypse -- or one city, or one neighborhood, or one block.

Now I'm thinking the techno-utopia/postapocalypse divide will be smaller than one person. Surely this has already happened, that someone has used their smart phone to look up how to butcher a road-killed animal, so they don't go hungry.
There are many of us in ERE land who represent at least some piece of "collapse now, and avoid the rush."

Note: Ran has other posts he has written between the last ones I have copied and this one. It was never my intention to copy everything he has written, just pieces I thought might jive with the group.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

Post by AnalyticalEngine »

Ran writes:
July 13. Continuing from Monday, it's nice to know I'm not the only one thinking about solipsism. Adam sends this 2013 essay, Absolute Typhos. Typhos is an ancient word for vapor, and was used by the Cynics "to denote the delirium of popular ideas and conventions." The key paragraph:

"Live as though the only people that really exist are those you have met face to face; every other person, from politicians to celebrities, internet acquaintances and the populations of distant lands, are then something like fictions or simulations. Imaginary persons. Clumsy masks. That is, it is not so much that the spectacle, ideology, or what you will distorts their appearance, messages, or reality, but that it constructs it wholesale. To live out this quasi-solipsism, I think, will be an experiment that maximizes my own autonomy."

When I'm being philosophically careful, I try to avoid the concept of objective truth. So, "This is real, that is not real" is better expressed as an instruction: "Pay attention to this and not to that." And if we're talking about instructions, and not truths, it's easier to change them.

That's a good place to draw a line, between people you've met and people you haven't met. But there are two lines I like better. One is between what's in front of me right now, and what's not in front of me right now. A classic essay on this subject is "This is IT" by Alan Watts.

The other is between the human-made world, and the non-human-made world. Since I started framing it that way, I can see things more clearly than I ever saw them with the words "civilization" and "nature". Look around where you are right now. It's likely the only thing you can see that was not made by humans, is your own two arms sticking out from your shirt sleeves.

The spectacle is that part of the human-made world that is designed for the human gaze. And yet a lot of it is ugly. Meanwhile, nothing in the non-human-made world is designed for the human gaze, and a lot of it is beautiful. Sunsets, the rings of Saturn, bare tree branches -- how did they come to look so good, when they don't even know what eyes are?

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes:
July 15. Matt comments:

| I've been listening to some dharma talks by Joseph Goldstein lately, and he mentions that his meditation practice improved when he stopped reading the sutras as if they contained wisdom, or claims about the universe, and started reading them as instructions. |

| Food for thought: the Visuddhimmagga, from the 5th century, presents something like 50 different ways of meditating (at a time when paper was expensive), but most modern meditation teachers are teaching the same technique -- as if the same instructions will work for everyone. |

When I was eight years old, I took piano lessons. They were a chore, and I went nowhere. Forty years later, I figured out my own way to learn piano, and since then I've been having a great time and making steady progress. Here's a piece I recorded yesterday[1], improvising on F G G# C.

So I wonder if there's something similar for meditation, that for any given person, if you find the right practice, it will click and you'll get good results. I think what all practices have in common is that you're doing stuff with your attention that you don't habitually do. That could be anything from sitting still and focusing on your breath, to walking around and focusing on your peripheral vision, to watching a movie and focusing on your flow of emotions.
[1] link to the piece:
http://www.ranprieur.com/music/2022-7-14.mp3

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes:
July 18. The Far Side 10/29/84: look at all the little black dots Loose ends from last week. Jesse sends the website of Dr. Jeffery Martin [1], who is surely not the only one trying to reframe "enlightenment" in terms of brain science and not metaphysics, but he has a great term for it: Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience.

Like "inner peace", that's a description that doubles as an instruction. Inner peace means the voices inside you are being nice to each other instead of fighting, and persistent non-symbolic experience means you're stripping the symbolic overlay from your senses, and trying to stay in that state. I like the way George Carlin said it: "The nicest thing about anything is not knowing what it is."

And on the subject of what's not in front of you not being real, Kevin sends this bit from a New Yorker article [2] about a tribe in the Amazon:

| ...the Pirahã perceive reality solely according to what exists within the boundaries of their direct experience - which Everett defined as anything that they can see and hear, or that someone living has seen and heard. "When someone walks around a bend in the river, the Pirahã say that the person has not simply gone away but xibipio - 'gone out of experience'," Everett said. "They use the same phrase when a candle flame flickers. The light 'goes in and out of experience'."July 18. The Far Side 10/29/84: look at all the little black dots Loose ends from last week. Jesse sends the website of Dr. Jeffery Martin, who is surely not the only one trying to reframe "enlightenment" in terms of brain science and not metaphysics, but he has a great term for it: Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience.|
[1] https://drjefferymartin.com/research/

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007 ... erpreter-2

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes:
August 4. My big project this week has been reading through the last five years of my blog archives to prep for a podcast interview. These are some good short bits I found:

In squirrel heaven, would there still be winter?

"Laziness" means holding out for activities that you find intrinsically enjoyable.

A ritual is an engine for turning activity into motivation.

Your mind is like a web browser, and mindfulness is like changing your preferences.

Right now, the phrase "women's voices" implies voices of the oppressed. Only when it no longer has that meaning, will we know who women are.

Every time the human-made world drifts farther from human nature, there's another group of people who can't deal with it, and they're diagnosed with some disorder that makes it their fault.

Money is zero-sum. If you hang meaning on it, then meaning is zero-sum, and it gets sucked up by people at the top. The poor become NPC's in the quests of the rich.

What a delicate balance, to be alive enough to set a good example for others, but not so alive that they kill you.

On social media: At the zoo, every cage has a sign: don't tap on the glass. We have yet to give ourselves that protection.

On space travel: The deeper humans go into outer space, the deeper they will go into their own minds.

On Communism: Someone should write a manifesto that refers to humans as players.

On lying: Most liars are not thinking, "Ha ha, I'll fool them all," but "Oh shit, if I don't tell these people what they want to hear, I'll be in so much trouble."

On disinformation: Nobody ever believed anything unless they got something out of it.

On imagination: Maybe humanity's great mistake is trying to make our dreams physically real.

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Re: Ran Prieur Watch

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Ran writes:
August 8. Three bits of practical psychology. The first I'm pretty good at, the second I'm working on, and the third I haven't touched.

Last week I did a dogsit, and it struck me again how similar dealing with dogs is, to dealing with your own mind. If there's some kind of thinking you know is bad for you, then when you notice yourself slipping into it, it's just like noticing your dog messing with some hobo trash, and saying "leave it!" The quicker you can do that, the better your mental health.

I've added a quote to my quotes page. When NFL pass rusher Michael Bennett was asked which offensive linemen were easier to beat, he said, "If you go looking for ducks, you'll never find them. You have to assume they're all ducks." Spelling it out: if you go looking for the situation where it's easy to feel good, you'll never find it. You have to assume you're capable of feeling good anywhere.

A while back I said there's no good definition of enlightenment, but I thought of one, or at least a metaphor. It's like riding a bicycle, but with metacognition. You go from short bursts of awareness of what your attention is on, to being there all the time and steering around. Another metaphor is those magic eye images, where once you learn how to shift your perspective in that way, it becomes easy.

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