It’s not about failing. It’s about getting feedback, fast.
As creatures who move in one direction in time, events spread across different spots of time-space could be lined up and explained with cause and effect. It’s how neurones work. Strengthen the repeated connections and destruct the singled-out ones.
Human being is certainly not the only kind of animal that is good at finding logical patterns among events, but we’re certainly the best at it. It gives us an upper hand at navigating the environment we live in. We see that certain parts of the land produce more food, we find a common pattern of those areas, and only spend our limited time and energy collecting food in areas that fit the pattern. Time saved, lives sustained, DNA passed on, massive win.
Of course, it doesn’t always work.
Birds develop strange sets of movements because they happen to link some of them with the event of being fed. They keep doing their moves, in the hope that bird treat would materialise in front of their beaks. It “worked” in the past, so it must still work in the future. Not surprisingly, human beings are also super good at making false connections.
Which is why it’s so important to fail fast. Coming back to this in a minute.
Time flow—or “life”, for us—is about finding logical patterns among events. We see all the mess, all the dots, come up with a theory, test it, get feedback, adjust our theory, and try again.
I don’t believe in the ultimate truth. What we’re discovering throughout the spectrum of human cognitive history is largely coming up with broader theories that not only summarise the patterns of special occasions. Triangle containing 180 degrees doesn’t work any more when plane is no longer flat; time being constant doesn’t work any more when speed is no longer way below that of light.
We are expanding our repertoire of “correct” patterns, and it has served us well enough. Life has improved a great deal now that we have increasing knowledge to navigate our environment more safely and efficiently. Also with broader patterns that fit more situations, we’d be able to make use of the newly acquired knowledge, build sharper tools and go explore the wider world further, so we could sum the newly discovered part of our mysterious world up with a new pattern and an even broader theory.
Therefore, it’s such a shame that the feedback loops we’re having right now, regarding world discovering, is so excruciatingly long.
I would love to know what we make of the world a thousand years from this point on! Simply looking back on what lives we were living a millennium ago gives me a sense of pure wonder and amazement. Alas… This hundred years is the limited time-space that confines me.
Which is also part of the reason why I admire scientists so much. Oftentimes a theory can’t be proved or unproved in several lifetimes. Combine that with our natural instinct of self-justification and the need for logical connections even with events that are not connected in any sense whatsoever, a scientist’s whole life could be spent on proving a “true” theory that’d never be proved “false”, or worse, proving a “false” theory that’d never be proved “true”.
The mere knowledge of it is painful.
So it’s a real privilege to have the ability to accelerate feedback loops we’re having in our lives, by consciously trying more, failing faster, and get those damn feedback faster than they originally would have been.
It’s not surprising that activities that naturally provide the experience of flow tend to be the activities that have more succinct feedback loops set in. Shoot a goal. If it falls right of the hoop, try a bit left next time. Sing a song. If it sounds a bit too low, try higher next time.
Which brings up the topic of the right kind of feedback to have:
- Short. Completed in seconds, minutes or hours rather than years.
- Centred around an essential point, graduate from one before going on to another, instead of having them splattered across every area you’re trying to figure out and improve.
- Comes from someone with experience, instead of feeling around in the dark alone. The path you’re trying to cut through in the dense woods? Someone else has gone through the whole thing before and could point you a better way.
If it works, go on. If not, research, adjust, try again.