Note: This is part 5 of a multi-part series. In part 1, I outlined a model of emotion: namely, that our emotions give us information about the implied structure of future possibilities. In part 2, I explored some mathematical properties of this model. In part 3, I analyzed economic activity in terms of this model. In part 4, I looked at politics through the lens of this model. In this, part 5, I tie things together.
Houses and Food
In the midwest, that’s basically what it’s about. Houses and Food. My family has been in the housing business for a long time now. They are building houses for businesses, true – but businesses need somewhere to live as well. Just as life evolves naturally in physical systems near heat baths because the existence of life allows heat to move faster, business evolves naturally anywhere there is life, for the same reason. It’s physics, all the way down.
What would food for businesses look like? As I’ve written about this before – food for businesses is money. Human food comes from the sun. A really hot, bright thing far away sends warmth and heat to us, and plants capture the light of the sun as chemical energy, which we later eat. Financial energy is captured in largely the same way: The hot, bright thing far away – the source of our financial energy – that is merely the future. Instead of photosynthesis, the energy imparted on us by the future is captured by people who save and plan for the future.
Consumption plays a role, sure, just as the consumption of plants plays an important role in the photosynthetic process. If we weren’t eating plants, we wouldn’t be growing them. Just as the social purpose of the agricultural system is to feed people – to move heat energy from the sun to our bodies, the social purpose of our financial system is to shape our future; to move structure from possible ways it could be in the future, to embellishing the definite way it is now.
Too much Photosynthesis
There is an idea that too much saving is bad for the economy – this is like saying ‘too much photosynthesis is bad for agriculture’ – it’s kind of, vaguely, sort of true, in the sense that if you are not eating the food, just growing it, then you could go hungry. But it’s absurd in the sense that ‘too much photosynthesis’ is a very backwards way of talking about ‘not storing enough food to last you through the harvest season.’ If a country had the problem of running out of food before the crops were ready to harvest, people would stop growing their crops to eat them – unless only a few people grew food, and most people traded for it. And then ‘too much photosynthesis’ could be a real problem.
Imagine a situation where, periodically, the crops would start to grow faster, way faster than normal. A farmer might be tempted to sit there and let the crops she has keep growing, rather than harvest any to sell them today. A bigger tomato is worth more than a smaller one. If there were way too much of this, would people really go hungry waiting for giant tomatoes tomorrow? If everyone kept a stockpile of food and grew their own garden, no, that wouldn’t happen. But when growing food is just one of the many tasks people do, and people without farms didn’t stockpile enough food to last through one of these “super tomato!” seasons, then yes, that would be a serious problem. And then some analyst would come out and say the issue was ‘too much photosynthesis‘, as if ‘food now grows way faster’ is a bad thing.
The problem was not the photosynthesis, just as the problem is not savings. The problem is “not saving” – that people didn’t save enough food to make it through a temporary shock. The political solution that people arrived at was to have this crazy complex system to ensure that the food we grow tomorrow will always be less nutritious than the food we grow today, so that nobody thinks it’s a good idea to just sit there and let a tomato ripen – because it won’t get bigger.
A Reason to Hate Mondays
So what would another solution to the ‘problem of photosynthesis’ look like? As I said before, if everybody grew their own food, or had a stockpile, then a ‘super growing season’ would not be a problem. Translating that back into the language of people, if everybody had their own business, or a pile of savings, then deflation would not be a problem. It would be awesome – because then everybody’s savings would buy them more. It would suck for people who owed a lot of money, yes, that’s true. But being in debt will always be unpleasant, and our society’s solution to this has been “ok, make debt slightly less awful at the cost of having our entire socioeconomic system structured around putting as many people into debt as we can.”
A society where everyone is expected to either run a business or have large amounts of savings would be awful if we enforced this expectation on each other by being assholes to people who didn’t have those things. We kind of do that already. But the same could be said of a society that used negative reinforcement to teach people social skills.The expectation that those are skills adults have isn’t the problem, it’s the antisocial way that the expectations are expressed, coupled with the lack of education around them. Imagine living in a world where adults were expected to know how to do algebra, but there were no classes on this because it was just seen as something you either ‘get’ or you don’t. That is how i feel about our world now, except it’s emotional intelligence, and not algebra. It’s expected, but never taught. I’m writing this theory so I can share what I’ve learned with others.
There’s a difference between children and adults. This is well recognized. It would be absurd to claim that children were worse than adults, or that children didn’t deserve to eat, or that children should be beaten to teach them right from wrong. A lot of people made these claims in the past, but they’re all dead now, and most of them were in favor of slavery, too.
One of the primary differences between children and adults is that adults are expected to structure their emotional experiences. Nobody really teaches people how to do this, but that is a primary expectation of adults. The main way most adults structure their emotional experience is with work. When you give someone a job, you are not only giving them money – energy – you are giving them structure. And this matters. A lot of the goodwill trucks where I live say “giving people a reason to hate monday mornings” – and this is meant as a joke, but there’s truth to the idea that ‘weekends are different from work days’ is an important aspect to having a job.
We expect adults to structure their emotional experiences, and our culture expresses disdain (an emotion!) towards people who express negative emotions, unless it is for an “approved reason.” “My son died of cancer” is an acceptable reason for a man to express sadness. “The world is often a hostile place to people who are good” is not. As an adult you are expected to have found a way to deal with this unpleasant fact. You are not expected to have a source of savings adequate to support you, though. “Having a job” is considered a perfectly respectable way for a human being to go through their entire life, the same way “repeating an old set of beliefs” is considered more respectable than “trying to make sense of the world in your own way.” I think this low expectation is a problem. I say this as someone who has never run a company, not because i think we should idolize entrepreneurs, but because I think people who have their own sources of income are in a better position to negotiate for power than people who are dependent, as I currently am.
Imagine “jobs!” losing weight as a political argument. It currently stacks right up there with ‘for the kids!’ and ‘terrorism!’ – do you see the pattern? They may as well be saying “but reality is unstructured, how will you plebes deal with THAT without us to guide you? you could get hurt!”
Can you imagine the turmoil and chaos we’d have if there were no expectation that people eventually find a way to deal with the depressing facts of our reality? Maybe we’d be more comforting towards people who struggled with this, but we’d all be struggling with it a lot worse. I think it’s horrible the way we treat people who are stuck on the problem of suffering – which is largely why I wanted to write this theory. I think I’ve got it figured, and I’d like to help people who are still stuck on it, too. Even though I think telling people to shut up about suffering is horribly painful, I can see why it was necessary in the past. We come from a dark place. My dad beat me less than grandpa beat him, and my guess is that grandpa’s dad beat him even more than that. The entire israeli-palestinian conflict is best interpreted by believing that everyone in the region has PTSD.
It’s dark without the sun, too – but we aren’t afraid of the sun, or the darkness – because we know how that whole system works. Emotion should be in the same category. Of course, the sun priests won’t like that.
A Shared Story Is Hard to Write
When a person takes a job from someone else, they are accepting a structure to their future. “You’re going to move this box here over to that pallet there, and then I’ll give you this money.” That structure is a story about how the future will play out. It’s believable because it’s boring. The story of ‘the man who moved the boxes’ is one part of the larger the story of “ACME SHIPPING” and how it diversified from shipping not just industrial appliances from small manufacturers in southwest Ohio, to larger commercial staples across most of Ohio and some of Kentucky and Indiana as well. What a boring story, right?
The boredom is what makes it wonderful. Boredom is an emotion associated with predictability. You feel bored when nothing new happens. The flipside of this boredom – it’s home. Home is boring. Safe, predictable, and boring. You can’t stay home for ever. You need to go out and eat. You gotta hunt, you gotta build, you gotta make something of yourself, hustle hustle hustle until you are exhausted with sweat, to see your will made manifest upon the world – or to fail.
When a person writes the story of their life, they need to import ‘shared symbols’ so that they don’t have to do all the work themselves. If you wish to bake an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
“What did you do all day?”
“Well, I moved a box from this place to that place.”
“Because I was paid to do so.”
It’s as if the point of everything we humans are doing is to be able to explain to a child why the world makes sense. If you can’t explain it, there’s a problem. No explanation means no integration into a reality model, which means the world remains unpredictable, because the child’s reality model has integrated the idea that inexplicable bad things happen, which means the kid starts crying and then nobody can sleep.
A sufficient amount of money can explain anything. If there’s some crazy awesome technology in a movie, “well, the guy was a billionaire” – that’s enough to explain it to most people.
A place without any rules, where all things are possible, full of intense emotion – that could be awesome if you have the ability to structure a world for yourself. It could be terrifying if you don’t. But for all of us, it’s inevitable, because we’re going towards the future – a place where all things are possible, full of intense emotion, and fewer rules than we have now.
The Importance of the Truth
The model of emotion I have developed predicts that the more a person’s internal understanding of reality corresponds with the truth, objective reality, the more stable and consistent that person’s emotional experience will be. When your reality model is aligned with objective reality, you will not hope for things that never come to pass, and you will not be surprised when things you hoped for fail to manifest – because you understood that they were only possibilities, not certainties. I am not the first person to make this conjecture – that suffering is due to delusions – but I believe that my explanation for this relationship is novel in that it doesn’t rely on any innate knowledge. It can be reformulated in strictly mathematical terms.
How can we be sure we have the truth? For centuries, mathematicians believed that they could derive Euclid’s fifth geometric postulate from the first four. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the advent of Non-Euclidean geometry showed the world that what everyone had insisted must be true was, in fact, wrong. This change in our understanding – and the emotional fallout – was possible because of the system of academic publishing that existed at the time. People talked, they shared their experiences, and they worked together to find the truth. Talk about this theory. See if it makes sense of your internal experience, see if it allows you to accurately make predicts about future emotional experiences you have. Share it with others if it makes sense to you, and share your doubts, questions and concerns with me.
Throughout this series of posts, I have expounded and developed a simple model of emotion. This model uses sterile mathematics to explain emotional dynamics, with the goal of moving emotion from the ‘list of things we cannot discuss in polite company without becoming upset’ to a thing we can discuss the same way we discuss heat transfer, momentum, inertia, and mass.
Emotion, as I have discussed it, corresponds to fluctuations in our internal models of reality. When our reality model changes drastically, this corresponds to an intense emotional experience for us. The fact that discussing emotion publicly leads people to become intensely emotional arises naturally from this model: too much recursion leads to stack overflow. If we do not understand emotion – if we believe that it is an inherently unstable, fickle, dangerous, subtle, non-empirical thing – then we have ingested into our reality models a fundamental error which becomes self manifesting. We tell ourselves emotion cannot be understood, refuse to understand it, and damn ourselves to have confusing, unpleasant and painful emotional experiences. I’ve had enough of those, and my guess is you have, too.