Matt Perryman

We aren’t optimizing for wood chips

By Matt Perryman

There’s few times that I feel more alive and content than when I’m focused on something deeply interesting.

I mean focused. Total engagement.

As fortune has it, total engagement happens during many useful and productive activities, such as reading books, writing, cooking, lifting weights, and long walks.

It’s no coincidence that my mind works at its best under those conditions. Yours probably does, too.

There’s a reason for this. We aren’t “thinking stuff” cut off from our bodies, our feelings, our actions, and our surroundings.

We’re embedded in our worlds, in our bodies and bodily experiences.

Not that you’d know it from the way that some folks talk. Our culture organizes itself around the total separation of mind from world.

If you look through the history of ideas, you see a different story.

Thinking follows two different paths.

One of them says, look for what is universal. The truth is found in what is the same for anyone, anywhere, no matter where they are.

Two plus two always equals four.

That’s a truth that needs no context.

The other path tells us to look at this thing, happening right here, right now.

Unlike universal thinking, the second way of thinking is concerned with a specific situation.

Contextual thinking deals with phenomena, with how things appear to somebody. That can’t be wrapped up in a universal formula. A contextual truth depends on the situation.

We have here two entirely different modes of thinking and ways understanding the world.

The universal path is out of balance with the contextual path.

We’re trying to explain people and their behaviors with universal thinking that has no room for context, situation, and what appears to individual people.

Everything aims at optimizing resources.

Instead of carving a beautiful sculpture out of a piece of hardwood, dump it into a wood-chipper and press the chips into Ikea particle-board furniture.

That’s how we’re treating everything now, including people. Take it apart, and put it back together as we see fit.

Those moments of total engagement with a world, the ones where you feel most alive and satisfied, don’t figure into the optimal calculations.

Those AI thingers are out there right now spitting up gibberish that looks kinda-sorta human. But everybody knows it for what it is.

The machine optimizes existing words and images.

The machine has no world to lose itself in.

The universal path of thought is useful for some things. But that’s it — some things. It isn’t everything.

If you treat the universal as everything, you have nothing.

Matt Perryman 

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