18 Apr Patterns and Uncertainty
While I was meditating this morning, I heard a bird’s call. It was beautiful. Every five seconds, I listened to its pitch and tone and smiled at its complex nature. But then it stopped. After four calls, there was no more. Yet, my mind wanted another to come. I had detected a pattern, and tried to ground it into nature. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.
The experience got me thinking about why we try to detect patterns in our world. I think that we do so in order to lessen the uncertainty which life throws at us. If we can detect a pattern, then we will not be surprised. But there is a trade-off. When your mind starts detecting patterns everywhere, that is all it sees. Reality becomes obscured. Perhaps this is how ideologies form. We find a pattern and start seeing it everywhere, but are unable to realize that the pattern we see is an abstraction.
I also think that seeing patterns everywhere is the root of anxiety. When we are anxious, we worry about what will happen, given the circumstances. We know the chances of our failure. We see how others’ efforts before us have been disastrous. Yet this is all destructive. Placing ourselves into patterns distances ourselves from the present and what actually is before us. We turn into anticipating, anxiety-riddled machines.
So, what is the solution? I don’t know fully, but I believe it starts with the realization of two things.
The first is our biology, our evolutionary origins in the savanna. In the deep past, when we encountered a lion, we would know to stay away from similar creatures until we died. The downside of an encounter hugely outweighed the upside. In Nassim Taleb’s terms, such an encounter was concave. Concave things are destroyed by uncertainty. Because of this evolutionary fact, we are risk-averse. We will put patterns on everything that we can in order to save ourselves. Our monkey minds can’t help it.
So, patterns are hard-wired in our brains, but what can we do? I think that the second practice that allows us to understand our pattern producing selves is meditation. There are lots of varieties of meditation, but the one that has worked for me is to just describe in detail every sensation which I feel in the moment. I have found that this practice allows me to appreciate the moment much more greatly than I normally do, and find enjoyment in that concentration. I narrow my eyebrows and make a “concentration face” in order to trick my mind into focusing on the present. The result is awe. I try to separate sounds, describe pains in myself like they were outside forces, and note all the pictures and comments my monkey mind produces. By doing this, I am trying to be present, to turn my prediction machine off.
Yet, these realizations and techniques can never truly turn it off. Our mind is programming to continually anticipate. However, just the realization that it is doing so is the first step to mental freedom. You cannot overcome yourself if you do not know yourself. Knowledge is the first step towards a solution. It is strange to think of the insights a little bird can give you.
P.S. If you want to read about my method of meditation, check out this book.