Tag Archives: Thought Experiment

Contemplating The Lies, Sincerity, And Dishonesty Of Public Figures

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When you lie down in bed at night, alone in the dark with your thoughts, I believe that’s when you’re most honest with yourself. Whether you sleep alone or with a lover, this is one of those few times when we can allow our minds to wander freely. Sometimes, we find ourselves thinking things that make us uncomfortable. While it may be distressing, I would argue that’s healthy.

I freely admit that I find myself contemplating a lot of strange things when I lay down to go to sleep at night. I doubt I’m alone. I would question the honesty of anyone who claims their private thoughts perfectly match those they contemplate in public.

With this in mind, I’d like to pose a relevant question. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a thought experiment because this is one of those questions that may have a definitive answer. Granted, it’s an answer we’ll probably never know for sure. However, I still feel it’s worth asking for the sake of the bigger picture.

It has to do with public figures. By that, I don’t just mean major celebrities like movie stars, musicians, and what not. I’m also referring to well-known politicians, political commentators, and even popular social media figures on sites like YouTube and Tik-Tok. To all of them, I pose this question.

When these people lie in bed at night, do they genuinely believe the things they do, espouse, or support?

I think the answer to that question, even if we cannot know it, is incredibly revealing.

Let’s face it. These are all people who have a very public persona. Most people who know who they are know them only through that persona. Whether they’re a politician known for saying dumb things, a celebrity with a nasty reputation, or religious preachers with controversial views on certain subjects, they have a public face and a public personality.

It’s also incredibly common for people to not be honest with themselves. Most of us have done that at some point in our lives to varying degrees. We carry ourselves as someone we’re not. We convey feelings, ideas, and emotions that are not entirely in line with our true selves. Why we do this varies, but it can be incredibly damaging if taken too far.

For certain public figures, though, there are many additional layers of complications. For some people, especially politicians, shock jocks, and social media personalities, they have to present a certain version of themselves to the public. That version is almost always carefully crafted and refined. It rarely reflects a completely honest version of that person.

On top of that, this version of themselves is presented as a means to obtain money, power, influence, attention, and everything that comes with that. They say and do whatever reaffirms or builds upon that persona. If it gets any level of attention, be it positive or negative, it gets reinforced.

It can quickly become a cycle, but one that’s reinforced with money, power, and influence. At that point, a public figure doesn’t just have an incentive to keep up this persona. They have incentives to double down and take it to new levels. Even if it makes them infamous and hated, they still get enough out of it to justify the effort, no matter how dishonest it might be.

With those incentives in mind, I often find myself wondering how much or how little certain public figures are aware of them. Perhaps when they lay in bed at night and are alone with their thoughts, they acknowledge that hard truth to themselves, but wouldn’t dare acknowledge it to anyone else.

Think about someone like Bernie Madoff. Before he got caught in his infamous Ponzi scheme, he knew what he was doing. He knew he was a fraud. How much or how little did he realize that when he was in bed at night before he got caught?

Think about some of the most radical, right-wing or left-wing politicians you know. Think about some of the craziest beliefs they espouse. When they lay down at night, do they realize how crazy they are? Do they even truly believe what they say? Do they just say what they need to in order to keep their persona going?

Think about some of the radical religious preachers who bilk money from the faithful. Do they truly believe the terrible things they espouse? Do they really believe that they are somehow more holy than everyone else? When they lay in bed at night, do they realize that what they’re doing is antithetical to their religion? Is it possible that some don’t even believe and are simply doing what they do because it earns them money and influence?

We’ll probably never know the answer. Regardless of how you feel about these public figures, especially the ones most decent people find deplorable, the question is still relevant. It should also inform our perspective about certain public figures. If someone has a powerful incentive to keep being who they are in public, then expect them to keep doing what they’re doing. The only time they may acknowledge it is when they lay in bed at night.

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Filed under Current Events, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, religion, Thought Experiment

Being Blessed Vs. Being Lucky: The (Major) Difference And Why It Matters

Picture, for a moment, the following scenario.

You’re at a prestigious awards ceremony. The nature of the ceremony and the award aren’t important. The only factor that matters is the awards are granted to only a few individuals who have achieved feats that few human beings have achieved. It’s an honor just to be nominated, but an even bigger honor to win.

With that in mind, imagine two different winners for two different feats. The first winner comes up onto the stage, accepts their award, and gives a heartfelt speech that’s something along the lines of this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I’ve been so blessed with wondrous gifts and amazing support. To them and to the higher power that blessed me, I am eternally grateful!”

Chances are you’ve heard a speech like that before. We hear it all the time with athletes, celebrities, and major public figures. They achieve something spectacular and their first inclination is to say they are blessed. They don’t always thank a god for it, but it’s such a common refrain that most come to expect it. Some even joke about it.

That being said, try to imagine your reaction for the second winner. They come out on stage with the same immense joy as the previous winner. They also give a heartfelt speech of their own, but it goes like this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I was just really lucky to be born with talent and amazing support. I like to think I’ve made the most of it. This award is just part of it. For that, I am so proud of myself and those who helped me!”

I doubt a celebrity has given an acceptance speech like this before. If they did, chances are it would either be a joke or an elaborate act of trolling, which some celebrities are known to do. For the sake of this little thought experiment, imagine the person was sincere. How would you feel about them? Would be different than the first?

I crafted this scenario as a way of illustrating the difference between being blessed and being lucky. These terms tend to get used interchangeably. In common language, they’re somewhat synonymous. Even though dictionary definitions have some key distinctions, the standard usage of these words carries a particular meaning.

Part of that meaning stems from the general discomfort we feel about the universe being so chaotic and meaningless. We’re wired to seek patterns and surmise order. It doesn’t even matter if the patterns or order is real or an outright trick. When people can make sense of the world, we’re better able to function. It’s a big reason why humans have been able to adapt and survive with such success.

The ideas being lucky and being blessed reflect opposite sentiments of a similar principle. We see luck as a fluke. There’s no meaning behind it. It just happens randomly and without any defined goal.

A kid is randomly born with talent that makes them a great athlete.

A person randomly picks the winning numbers to win a big lottery prize.

A person just happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet the love of their life.

None of these situations are inherently right or wrong. That’s part of what makes it so distressing on some levels. The people who benefit from luck do nothing to deserve or warrant their good fortune. It goes against that innate sense of fairness that most sensible human beings have wired into their brains.

Being blessed, on the other hand, carries a very different connotation. To be blessed implies that some person, deity, or sentient force chose to grant someone such benefits. It’s not random. It’s part of a larger plan. It may not seem like one on the surface. It may even be an outright illusion. That ultimately doesn’t matter. The semblance of a plan is enough.

To be blessed also carried with it a sense of humility. Someone who just says they’re lucky doesn’t come off as moral or gracious. Even if they’re entirely ambivalent about it, they won’t inspire respect or admiration for acknowledging their luck. If they say they’re blessed, though, it changes the context.

A person who is blessed with talent means their achievements have a greater meaning.

A person who is blessed with picking winning lotto numbers means their good fortune is part of some larger plan.

A person who is blessed with meeting the love of their live means their love is somehow pre-ordained by fate.

The difference lies within the meaning. Being blessed conveys influence from a source greater than the person receiving the blessing. To show gratitude to that force is to accept that it’s not just about you. There’s a larger plan and you’re just part of it. That sounds humble, but at the same time, it detracts from the true extent of an achievement.

Luck or no luck, it takes effort and dedication to achieve something of value. Whether it’s an award for world’s largest nose ring or setting a record for most pop tarts consumed in a day, an accomplishment still requires work. Even lottery winners have to go out of their way to pick the numbers, get the ticket, and claim their prize.

To call that process a blessing is to dehumanize the actions involved. It undercuts the countless other factors in play. Some are entirely controllable. A champion of any sport usually has talent, determination, and a willingness to refine their skill. Others are simply beyond their control, from the conditions of an event to just the general randomness of a particular moment.

To assume these factors as part of some over-arching plan is to assume there’s a governing force that consciously cares about these random happenings. Whether that force is a deity or some idea of conscious fate, people will consciously devalue their own worth to believe they’re part of something greater. It might not be real, but that’s beside the point.

It helps us wrap our brains around incredible achievements and improbable events. It shows in how people can resent those who are just deemed lucky. Again, just look at lottery winners. Those who have enjoyed that rare level of luck can attest that they are generally looked down upon by those who gained their fortune in other ways.

This isn’t to imply that the whole concept of being blessed is inherently wrong. There may actually be a higher governing power behind certain peoples’ fortunes, be it an all-powerful deity or the shape-shifting lizard men of the Illuminati. There’s no evidence of it now, but as believers and conspiracy theorists will often point out, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

That said, I believe the dehumanizing aspect of blessings over luck does more harm than good in the long run. Humility is an admirable trait, but there are better ways to encourage it that don’t involve assigning some arbitrary meaning to random events. In addition, saying someone or something is blessed has some indirect implications that are even less desirable than a random universe.

If one person is blessed, then that implies other people were deemed undeserving.

If one moment is blessed, then those that came before it are nothing more than prelude, no matter how much they meant to those involved.

If a people or society are blessed, then that basically declares that everyone else is somehow beneath them and that mentality rarely brings out the best in people.

Human beings are capable of remarkable feats. Many of those feats don’t require a higher power or some conscious force. They simply require an opportunity and a willingness to strive for something greater. Granted, opportunities can be random and there’s only so much anyone can do to control the luck they get. However, I submit that gives it even more meaning in the grand scheme of things.

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Jack’s World: Understanding And Appreciating The Power Of Boredom

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a brief exploration of the power of boredom. It’s something I’ve touched on a number of times and will likely do so again. While writing about boredom has helped me appreciate its impact, I feel like this video helps get the point across even more. Keep it in mind the next time the power goes out. Enjoy!

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Thought Experiment: What Would You Do If You Could Relive Your Life With Your Current Memories?

The older I get, the more I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that things weren’t as hopeless as they seemed. I would’ve loved to grab my 15-year-old self by the shoulder, looked him right in the eyes, and told him that I had many wonderful experiences ahead of me. I would’ve maybe told him some winning lotto number as well, but that’s beside the point.

Most people who survived adolescents and found ways to thrive in the adult world appreciate the perspective of hindsight. It can be sobering for some, but bittersweet for others. When we’re young, ignorant, and inexperienced, everything just seems more overwhelming. We struggle to make sense of it all. You really can’t hope to understand anything without time, experience, and perspective.

I suspect most people have entertained the idea of sending messages to their younger self at some point in their lives. Even if it’s just to tell them who will win the Super Bowl this year, there’s a lot of wisdom we’d love to impart. Movies like “Groundhog Day” and “Happy Death Day” demonstrate the power of having such hindsight. However, those movies only go so far.

It’s one thing to relive a single day with all your memories intact. An entire lifetime is on a much larger scale with far greater implications. It makes for an interesting thought experiment. Now, after a certain X-Men comic told a remarkable story with this, I’d like to pose it as a formal question.

What would you do if you could live your entire life over again with the same memories, knowledge, and experiences you have now?

It’s a question that is likely to inspire many different answers. Everyone’s life, circumstances, and experiences are different. Some people wouldn’t want to change much. They like how their lives turned out. Others would make significant changes, both for their lives and for others.

Since a scenario like this has so many implications, here are a few specifics to consider before answering this question. I’m going to try and answer it for myself, but I think it’s worth establishing a context, if only to avoid the kind of time travel paradoxes that make the timelines in “Back to the Future” so confusing.

With that in mind, here are the rules for this little experiment:

  1. When you’re reborn, you have all the memories you have up to this point in your life
  2. You’re aware that you were reborn and don’t suffer significant shock from being in a younger body
  3. You keep the fact that you have the knowledge of your future self secret
  4. You assume consciousness in your younger self at around five-years-old, which is when most children start to form lasting memories
  5. You can only be reborn and re-live your life once
  6. Your ability to recall your memories is consistent with your ability to recall general memories at this very moment
  7. You have no hint of knowing how different decisions affect the future course of events for yourself and the world as a whole
  8. The course of events still unfold as you remember them and don’t change unless you directly influence them

With those rules in mind, take a moment to contemplate how you would live your life the second go-around. What would you do initially? How would you change the course of your childhood? How would that change the course of your teenage years? What points in your life would you make radically different decisions?

For me, personally, there are many general aspects of my life that I would change, even from a young age. I would take a very different approach to how I went about everything from school to friends to my little league baseball career. Life experiences has shown me how flawed my mentality was during that time. I focused so much on outcomes over the process that it caused more frustration than growth.

I also developed a very negative outlook for much of my youth and during my teen years. In my defense, I had terrible social skills and some irrational anxieties that only became absurd with the benefit of hindsight. Armed with the experience I have now, I would’ve been a lot more hopeful and optimistic in approaching school, friends, and challenges. I think that would’ve helped me achieve more and learn more.

In terms of specifics, I freely admit that I would use my knowledge of the future for personal gain, albeit to a limited extent. I can’t remember specific lotto numbers for specific dates, but I can remember which teams won the Super Bowl and the World Series. I also remember which companies made the most gains in the stock market. As such, I would invest whatever I could in Apple, Netflix, Amazon, and Google.

That would’ve made paying off my student loan debt a lot easier. It also would’ve spared me some very unpleasant experiences I had when it came to finding decent housing, both in college and after I graduated. Not having to worry about money would definitely have helped with a lot of things. I could use it to take additional classes, invest in my writing career, and avoid some major missteps, of which I’ve made plenty.

I imagine a lot of people would take advantage of that knowledge. Now, there are some arguments that making those kinds of investments and bets often end up changing the outcome, resulting in a time paradox of sorts. That might be the case if you randomly invested a billion dollars in Apple at a time when it was on the brink of bankruptcy, but I imagine it would take a lot to significantly change something like that.

This brings me to the most sensitive aspects of this thought experiment and one I’m sure more than a few people have already imagined. Having the benefits of hindsight means you can fix the mistakes you made in your youth, both in terms of decision and attitudes. What about decisions that might affect the entire course of history?

It’s one thing to profit from a bump in stock prices. It’s quite another to change a key moment in history. It’s the inescapable implications behind the butterfly effect. However, even movies like “Back to the Future” show that you can only affect the course of history to a limited extent. Even in the worst scenario, Marty McFly only messed up Hill Valley in “Back to the Future II.” He didn’t cause a nuclear holocaust.

If you only have your memories of the future and no other abilities beyond that, you’re still going to have trouble changing certain events. A lot of people would probably try to prevent the events of September 11th, 2001, but how would you even go about that? Would calling someone at the FBI or warning the airports be enough? Would going there and trying to stop it directly be effective?

At best, you’ll only delay it. At worst, you might get yourself killed. The same goes for any event. Say you wanted to change the outcome of the 2000 US Presidential Election or, depending on your affiliation, the 2016 Election. These events have many moving parts. There’s only so much you can do to influence them. Even if you shout the warnings from the highest rooftop, you’ll probably won’t be taken seriously.

There’s also the distinct possibility that changing these events will lead to something much worse. That’s what happened in the Stephen King novel, “11.22.63.” In the story, Jake Epping stopped the Kennedy Assassination, but that indirectly led to a nuclear war. There was even an episode of “Family Guy” that explored this concept.

It’s a difficult decision that I’m sure most would wrestle with. Personally, I would make an effort to avert something as terrible as the September 11th, 2001 attacks. I don’t know how I would go about it, but I certainly would try. I would probably do the same for things like the Columbine massacre or other school shootings, if only to save the lives that wouldn’t otherwise be saved.

As for other events, it’s hard to say and even harder to know the implications. If someone has a specific method they would use, please share them in the comments. I think they’re worth discussing.

These are just some of the issues you would face if you had a chance to relive your life all over again. Hindsight offers many benefits and perspectives, but it also comes with risks. You might be able to avoid the mistakes you know about, but you also might end up making others you didn’t anticipation and those could be far worse.

It’s still an interesting though to consider. As we get older, our perspective on the past and present changes considerably. We can never know how we would’ve acted with some added foresight. I like to think that I, along with most people, would’ve used it to become better.

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Jack’s World Thoughts Experiment: How Much Money Do You Need?

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It explores another thought experiment, something I’ve done plenty of times before. This one just happens to involve money. Given the recent events with the stock market, I think the time is right to contemplate money and how it guides our lives. Enjoy!

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The “Perfect” Sex Robot Thought Experiment

There’s a good chance that you’ve encountered someone who has a very strange kink. It’s probably not illegal, disgusting, or damaging. It’s just something that would make most people cringe if said out loud with a straight face. I won’t speculate on what that kink might be. I’ll just trust in the lurid imaginations of anyone reading this article to fill in the blanks.

With that in mind, I’d like to add another detail to that concept. Say you know this person’s kink. It rightly disgusts you. You believe it could be harmful to both the person and whoever they’re doing it with. However, you also know that they’ve never acted on this kink with anyone. On top of that, you know they’ll never act on it. Would you still trust them?

I know that last part is a bit of a stretch. We can never truly predict how anyone will act in the future. They could be the most disciplined person who ever lived, exercising restraint every day of their lives for years on end. They would only have to have one lapse to undermine others’ trust in them.

That’s why I’m framing it as a thought experiment. This is the sort of thing that just has no analog in the real world. It’s still important to contemplate because it can provide insights into who we are, who we trust, and how we conduct ourselves as a society.

Now, I want to throw sex robots into the mix. I promise there’s a legitimate point to that. This isn’t me speculating about the future of sex robots and other technology that’ll likely impact our sex lives. In fact, for this thought experiment to work, I’ll have to push the concept of sex robots to an extreme that is probably beyond any technology we’ll see in our lifetimes.

That’s because it requires that we envision the concept of a “perfect” sex robots. Now, I put “perfect” in quotes because perfection is subjective, especially when it comes to complex issues like human sexuality. It’s just a useful way to envision a form of sexual expression that goes beyond just sex with robots.

For the sake of the thought experiment, here’s a quick definition of what constitutes a “perfect” sex robot.

The robot is of a humanoid form and composed of universally malleable matter. It can effectively shape-shift into anyone, taking on any appearance the user desires, including that of celebrities, fictional characters, or private citizens. The robot can also take on inhuman forms. It can have fully functional sex organs of any gender or entirely new genders.

It also has an artificial intelligence that allows it to perfectly mimic any identity, role, or personality the user wishes. There are no restrictions or taboos. The robot is completely obedient, cannot be harmed, and never suffers.

In essence, the perfect robot is like Mystique from the X-Men combined with Rosie from “The Jetsons.” It can look any way a user wants. It does anything the user wants. It’s basically the ultimate sexual outlet. It doesn’t matter how tame or perverse your kink is. This robot will act it out with you whenever you want.

Why does that matter?

Well, it matters because horrible sex crimes and abuse still happen. As disgusting as it is to acknowledge, people do horrific things to other human beings to obtain sexual gratification. While most people aren’t like that, those deviant individuals still exist. These twisted desires still exist. There are those who don’t act on them, but if the desire is there, it’s still worthy of concern.

I think it’s relevant, given how much concerns over sexual assault and sexual abuse have become in recent years. On top of those concerns, there are other taboos and cultural attitudes that have been skewing our collective sexuality for centuries. From organized religion to sexy video game characters, there are many forces influencing our desires.

That brings me back to the essence of this thought experiment. This is where we have to both use our imaginations and speculate on how we conduct ourselves in a society.

Imagine that this perfect sex robot exist.

Now, imagine that everyone has one or several as soon as they reach an age at which they can consent to sex.

Everyone can carry out whatever depraved sex act they wish with this perfect sex robot, even if it’s illegal.

It doesn’t matter what their income is, where they live, or what their background is. Everyone has access to this perfect sex robot.

People can still form relationships with real people. They can still have children and raise families, like they always do.

What would change in this scenario? How would everyone conduct themselves in a world where they always had an outlet for whatever sexual desires they wanted? From decadent billionaires to working class people, they can all live out whatever fantasy they want with whoever they want.

Take it a step further. Imagine you met someone whose predilections you knew. Maybe they share it with you or you find out. Whatever it is, you find it abhorrent. You believe that, if they did this with anyone other than a sex robot, they’d be guilty of a horrific crime. However, they’ve never done it with anyone other than the robot and never would. Would you still associate with that person?

Even if you had a guarantee that nobody ever acted out their perverse desires on anyone other than a sex robot, would you still be comfortable around that person? Hell, flip the roles. Imagine you told someone about your kinks and they found it horrifying. How would you feel if they resented you, even if you never acted on them with real people and never would?

Keep following the possibilities.

Imagine someone uses their perfect sex robot to sleep with your spouse, parent, sibling, or child.

Imagine someone who claims to be heterosexual, but engages in homosexual acts with their sex robot.

Imagine someone who is never abusive with anyone, but horrifically abuses their sex robot.

I’ll stop short of adding more layers to this experiment. I think I’ve gotten my point across. For now, I encourage everyone to contemplate this. Think about how you would conduct yourself around people in this scenario. Think about what it would mean for society, as a whole.

There are no wrong answers, but the possibilities are as profound as they are kinky.

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Filed under health, human nature, sex in society, sex robots, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

Jack’s World: A Balanced Outlook On Artificial Intelligence

The following is a video I posted on my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s my attempt to offer some perspective on artificial intelligence, a topic I’ve covered many times before. I hope you find it informative and engaging. Enjoy!

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Thought Experiment: How Should Peaceful Aliens Look?

The following is a video on my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a thought experiment about aliens, first contact, and how to ensure the human race wouldn’t freak out. I hope it’s both thought provoking and engaging. Enjoy!

As always, I welcome comments and feedback. If there’s a topic or idea you’d like me to do a video about, please let me know. I’d be happy to explore it.

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How Much Of What We Know Will Be Wrong Years From Now?

Take a moment to consider all the things you think are right, true, and valid. Please note, I’m not referring to opinions. I’m talking about things that are, in your mind, unassailable fact. These are things like certain laws of physics, certain assumptions of politics, and a general understanding of how the world works. To us, they’re both common knowledge and common sense.

Historically speaking, it’s a guarantee that at least some of what you believe to be completely true will one day be proven completely wrong or at least only partially true. It won’t happen to everything you think you know. You may not even live to see it. However, that day will come and you’ll have to consider the painful possibility that you were wrong about something.

I pose this little thought experiment as a means of refining perspective. We like to believe that we live in a time when the great mysteries of the universe are either known, unknowable, or within our grasp within our lifetime. Every generation likes to believe they have a firm grasp of everything they need to know, more so than any generation before them. The idea that another generation might be better than them is untenable.

Again, history says we’re destined to look foolish to the vast majority of people 100 years from now. It’s not just from changing social attitudes. It’s not just in the workplace, either. Rest assured, there are things you accept today that will be wrong, rejected, or scorned in the future.

It’s hard to know what those things are. From a societal standpoint, our current attitudes regarding wealth disparity, the treatment of animals, and how we care for the elderly could be subject to categorical scorn. In some cases, it might just be a product of circumstances, but that wouldn’t make it any less wrong.

In terms of science, it gets even trickier. Over the centuries, there have been a multitude of well-accepted theories that were subsequently proven wrong. If you’re a creationist, don’t get too excited. Those theories were wrong because we uncovered new information that helped us craft better theories that nobody even thought of. It’s how we got things like germ theory, the big bang theory, and quantum theory.

Many of these revelations began with us looking for evidence that we were right. Even though confirmation bias is a powerful force, it can only do so much against an unforgiving reality. Even the likes of Albert Einstein got a number of key issues wrong when seeking to understand the universe.

Years from now, our smartest scientist will seem like a mediocre college student. It’s just a matter of time, effort, and discovery. Every time we think we understand something completely, we uncover information that reminds us just how little we know in the grand scheme of things. It can be frustrating, but it also is what helps us progress as a species.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of tools like advanced artificial intelligence. Everything humanity knows is limited by how much humanity can collectively understand. Our primate brains are driven by primate instincts. That limits our ability to understand things beyond a certain point. In theory, an advanced artificial intelligence could understand things in ways our brains literally cannot process.

That’s why it’s such an important perspective to maintain. You are going to be wrong about something at some point in your life. Years after you’ve passed away, your children and grandchildren will find out that you were wrong about much more than you thought. It’s inevitable. It’s also humbling and worth embracing.

We’ll never know everything about everything, but knowing more than we used to is always valuable. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.

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How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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