On Reframing

There’s power in switching mental models. In my work, switching from “there might be a vulnerability in this software” to “i just haven’t found the vulnerability” was a game changer for me. I get nervous prior to presentations; one switch that helped me was that instead of thinking “my goal is to look bright” I try to remember that my goal is to teach the audience something and it doesn’t matter who stupid I look as long as they gain something from me.

Recently I’ve reread Viktor Frankl’s recollection of his internment in german Konzentrationslagern/death camps. Its english version is named “Man’s Search for Meaning”, which sounds a bit more pretentious than its original german title “Trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager”. For me, the books defining moment was a passage that converts the Sinnfrage/search for life’s meaning from asking life what its meaning is, into “life asks each of us countless small questions all the time; the way you choose your personal answers and actions gives meaning to your life”. Very Kennedy-an.

Sometimes switching between languages offers glimpses of insight. For example, to be satisfied/happy/pleased in German means “zufrieden” which I’ve seen badly translated from “zu-frieden” into “at-peace”. And that made me thinking. Since childhood I fear being “zufrieden” as it signifies a lack of motivation — lack of drive — to me. A final state, akin to resting in peace and thus having nowhere to go or grow. I cannot live in this state but I can live being at-peace, at least with myself. If I hear Zufriedenheit my mind’s eye pictures lethargic statis; with at-peace I associate something being centered, ready to spring into action if some need warrants it. Hopefully this model gives my mind more peace.

Last year I’ve reread Tim Parks’ Teach Us to Sit Still. On a side note, the book being marketed as “a vintage self-helf classic” made me feel very old. The thesis of the book IMHO is that we disassociate the mind from the body and use the latter as a disposable and sad vessel for our grand mind; as well as using our crystal-clear mind to obsess about imperfections and thus blow them out of proportions. I am very guilty of doing both. I noticed some change after years of climbing/bouldering – an activity where my mind is at rest and my mind/body perform as one (or rather gently fail as one). Starting from a place of latent self-hate, slowly changing to accepting one’s own body and gently arriving at something like actually enjoying being in one’s body. Writing this feels weird. With that change, another one of my mental creeds clicked into place: “An it harm none do what ye will”. It took me 35 years to extend this to my own mind and body; I’m a slow starter but with that realization I stopped my self-harming smoking addiction.

Another one: in either Franics Fukoyama’s The Origins of Political Order or Nick Bostroms’ Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, there’s a passage about artificial intelligence and it’s ethical (and legal) implications. The question “is an AI intelligent enough to allow for sentience which would warrant identity rights” was exchanged with the more meaningful statement “if an AI can experience pain/discomfort, would it be ethical to do harm to it? If not, identity rights should apply”. While this passage was about AIs, it might be easier to apply to animal rights; I think it’s hard to dispute that animals can experience pain or discomfort. In Austria, it’s criminal to inflict unnecessary pain upon animals or to kill certain animals without reason (while being very unspecific what “certain reasons” are). Still wrangling with what this implies on my food consumption.

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