Category Archives: meditations

The Unintended Consequences of Obsessing Over Consequences (or why to support youth risk-taking)

Developmental psychologists love to remind us that the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until humans are in their mid-20s. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for our ability to assess the consequences of our decisions, our ability to understand how what we do will play out into the future. This is often used to explain why teens (and, increasingly, college-aged people) lack the cognitive ability to be wise. Following from this logic, there’s a belief that we must protect the vulnerable young people from their actions because they don’t understand their consequences.

This logic assumes that understanding future consequences is *better* than not understanding them. I’m not sure that I believe this to be true.

Certainly, when we send young people off to fight our wars, we don’t want them to think about the consequences of what they have to do to survive (and, thus, help us survive). It’s not that we want them to shoot first and ask questions later, but we don’t want them to overthink their survival instincts when they’re being shot at.

Reproduction is an interesting counter-example. There’s no doubt that teens moms do little in the way of thinking about the consequence of getting pregnant. But folks in their 30s spend an obscene amount of time thinking about what it means to reproduce. Intensive parenting is clearly the product of constantly thinking about consequences, but I’m not sure that it’s actually healthier for kids or parents. I would hypothesize that biology wins when we don’t overthink parenting while the planet (as a delicate environmental ecosystem that can barely support the population) wins when we do overthink these things. Just a guess.

Creativity is another interesting area. We often talk about how older people are more rigid in their thinking. I love listening to mathematicians discuss whether or not someone who has not had a breakthrough insight in their 20s can have one in their 40s/50s. Certainly in the tech industry, we’re obsessed with youth. But our obsession in many ways is rooted in risk-taking, in not thinking too much about the future.

As I get older, I’m painfully aware of my brain getting more ‘conservative’ (not in a political sense). I am more strategic in my thinking, more judgmental of people who just try something radical. I spend a lot more time telling the little voice of fear and anxiety and neuroticism to STFU. I look back at my younger years and reflect on how stupid I was and then I laugh when I think about how well some of my more ridiculous ideas paid off. I find myself actually thinking about consequences before taking risks and then I get really annoyed at myself because I’ve always prided myself on my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants quality. In short, I can feel myself getting old and I think it’s really weird.

Most people judge from their current mental mindset, unable to remember a different mindset. Thus, I totally get why most people, if they’re undergoing the cognitive transition that I’ve watched myself do, would see young people’s risk-taking as inherently horrible. Sure, old folks respect the outcomes of some youth who change the world. But since most people don’t become Mark Zuckerberg, there’s more pressure to protect (and, often, confine) youth than to encourage their radical risk taking. And, of course, most risk-taking doesn’t result in a billion dollar valuation. Hell, most risk-taking has no chance of paying off. But it’s a weird, connected package. The same mindset that propelled me to do some seriously reckless, outright dangerous, and sometimes illegal things also prompted me to never say no to other institutional authorities in ways that allowed me to succeed professionally. This is why I don’t regret even the stupidist of things that I did as a youth. Of course, I’m also damn lucky that I never got caught.

I’m worried about our societal assumption that risk-taking without thinking of the consequences is an inherently bad thing. We need some radical thinking to solve many of the world’s biggest problems. And I don’t believe that it’s so easy to separate out what adults perceive as ‘good’ risk-taking from what they think is ‘bad’ risk-taking. But how many brilliant minds will we destroy by punishing their radical acts of defying authority? How many brilliant minds will we destroy by punishing them for ‘being stupid’? It’s easy to get caught up in a binary of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when all that you can think about is the consequences. But change has never happened when people simply play by the rules. You have to break the rules to create a better society. And I don’t think that it’s easy to do this when you’re always thinking about the consequences of your actions.

I’m not arguing for anarchy. I’m too old for that. But I am arguing that we should question our assumption that people are better off when they have the cognitive capacity to think through consequences. Or that society is better off when all individuals have that mental capability. From my perspective, there are definitely pros and cons to overthinking and while there are certainly cases where future-aware thought is helpful, there are also cases where it’s not. And I also think that there are some serious consequences of imprisoning youth until they grow up.

Anyhow, fun thoughts to munch on this weekend…

the last few days have been spent writing my final buddhism paper. (ok, so it has taken me more than just a few days… my writing WILL get better; determination is the key!) each nite, i have been reading school girls as a bedtime story. while reading mark’s comments on writing, i realized that i have always used the pronoun “he” when talking about a single non-gendered person. thinking back, i know this is because i always got in trouble for using “they” and “she” was never allowed in my formal writing classes. why? so as i was reading school girls, i also realized that even though i used “he,” the non-gendered character i envisioned had neither breasts nor penises. in addition, “it” never had hair. i firmly believe that this forcing of “he” only created a feeling within me emphasizing the super-importance as men, that they are the default sex. biologically, i know that is not true (as humans start out as women). how frustrating. i am determined to use “she” as much as possible now.

(Note: school girls is a non-fiction book about the confidence gap between men and women at puberty. it is an inside look at the difficulties that women experience and why they are so far behind men in many areas. it is a suberb book.)

last nite was an odd nite, my last nite of restfulness till i am done with all work. but it was a thinking nite. so much thinking that i could actually feel the pain in my brain. what an odd feeling. thoughts sped at a million miles a minute as we all wished we had a hypertextual tracker to keep track of each of the paths. certain things were constantly revisted: dan needs to get some; we need a hyptertextual tracker; what is thought? of course, we never did figure that one out but we ran thru philosophy as though we were reading Sophie’s World. even now, i don’t think that i could explain all that went thru my head so i am only going to transcribe the one passage that i managed to write down during my crazy thoughts…

there is an odd sort of reality that goes on with mind altering substances. each of us has a though in our mind. we follow that thought through and through without shit. i am doing it right now. you go and go and progress all of a sudden wham!!! a reality hits you and then in each one’s mind things fall off and hell, i cannot convince anyone of this since it is really hard to have a fluid thought… like he is disturbed that he is not a part of a converstiaon and that boggles him in hishead but the reality is that they are going off in a different trail.

weird constructions of reality.

like when he is talking now: great writers… total flow of odd augmented reality

my strange things: thinking how things will affect tomorrow, thinking about thinking.

a strange thought… when do you want to be a part of a conversation?

stop and reality just hits!

paths diverge and the path is ultimately interesting

ah.. solved… he gets to converse…

and it is so hard to make a point while here.. so hard to finish a thought and to say for sure this is reality

sociology.. where do these thoughts go? am thining about thinking…

we stop and make our points and go on with them until it bothers us…

yesterday i ran across a begger. he was standing on the side of the road with a sign saying “Homeless: need work.” it devastated me. every day at brown, i get to experience teenagers in pop-culture clothing begging for money for cigarrettes but this was different. as he passed, i could see that his boots were completely worn thru. he was about my mother’s age with a long grey beard and a sad and aged look on his face, standing in the cold. it broke my heart. i wanted to stop and honestly, had i been driving, i would have. what do you say or do for people less fortunate then you? why has the deceipt of this country forced me into automatically thinking that every begger justs wants money for drugs and alcohol? why has the frequence of this horrid site numbed me to it? i have no desire to give money to large organizations because i constantly hear that they are just making money off it themselves, rather than helping people. what can i do? my heart cries in anguish.

i have spent the last four days working on a puzzle of a wizard surrounded by windlings (little faeries). it is a difficult puzzle but my mind is enjoying it. not because it is the world’s hardest thing to do but because i have been able to have complete focus on it. for me it has been a sort of meditation, a working meditation of sorts and i have enjoyed it utterly. i forgot how great puzzles are…

i practiced formally today (first time of formal mediatation in a while). it felt odd. i don’t think my focus is strong; my mind still wanders terribly. i have decided that it is important to focus intensely on counting in my mediations. if i can focus on the counting, my mind will be clearer and that would be good. patience.

Shoe and I spoke at length tonite and an interesting thought appeared: “What is romantic language and how should one deal with it?” It is an interesting question in light of Buddhism. In Japan, monks who marry do not marry individuals they love; they love individuals they marry. In the West, people are obsessed with romantic love. So what is it and does it conflict with the idea of compassion- love everyone no matter who they are. The more I thought about it, the more this idea appeared:

Romantic love is when two individuals decide to share every aspect of their life together- emotions, sex, child rearing experiences, etc. Any two individuals could fall in love with one another (assuming that they accepted the idea of compassion and practiced it). Thus, the Japanese marry and develop the love. Westerners feel that they need to find the perfect person before they can marry. Less compassion exists amongst Westerners. Although any two individuals could love one another, often it is more desireable to find someone with similar interests.

Romantic love is not bad; it is one form of compassion. Regardless, it is very important to avoid attachment in a romantic relationship. Attachment can occur whenever dependence is formed. Expectations and dependence can only aggrevate any relationship and can only shatter love or create unhealthy attachments.

An odd thought for the day…

I created a group of New Year’s Goals and here they are:

– Not allow others to define my priorities and ruin my goals. I want to practice diligently and relax at my house without stress over computer science

– Develop patience skills, both with myself and others.

– Meet new people and strengthen my relationships with current friends. There is no reason that friendships should falter because of stress. Friends deserve more.

– Determine my priorities and devote 100% effort into each one. No overextension of any sort. Time should be allotted for:
— practice
— exercise
— three meals per day including dinner AT HOME
— reading time
— calling home

– Save money. There is no reason to go into debt or spend more than $20 per week. One half of all money earned shall be saved for a rainy day.
– Write with vigor. Bland emails and half-worded thoughts plague my days
– Volunteer.

last nite it stormed; two feet of snow fell from the sky in confused hysteria. in attempt to see his friends, he braved the weather and for one and a half hours was on the foad. during that time his mother and i talked about many things, especially what caused his parents’ divorce and what she could have done to prevent it… the conversation was great insight to Jon and his family. i firmly believe that a child is a replication of her parents with some personal adjustments based on her view of her family. without realizing it, one mimics her environment.

after he returned, the nite continued on with fun until we crawled into bed. we started discussing what i had learned from his mother. unfortunately, i scared him. like me, his father defines evil to him. what scared both of us was that his mother’s description of his father could have described him. all of the traits jon has- quietness, unexpressiveness, emotional confinement- all of these were the attitude of his father (although he appears to be better than his father at expression…), the attitude that resulted in divorce. the more we talked about it, the more it killed him. he knew what i was saying but did not want to be anything like his father.

modern american society is such an odd thing. no longer do women need men for monetary survival. i have a philosophy about divorce. pre-children, every iota of a couple’s attention is devoted to his/her partner and there is a constant feeling of ecstasy. when a women gets pregnant, her attention is diverted and her large belly becomes her obsession. since the husband is not nearly as attached (biology), he has two options.

1. accept this new attention and work to appreciate it at the highest level by being a pillar of support for the wife.
2. run away. seek attention outside of the home and look for other people to give him full attention.

if the husband chooses the latter, the marriage is over. not only do children unintentionally force their parents into a degree of repulsion, more often then not, if a faterh is jealous from pregnancy, he will never be an intricate part of the children’s life. a parent doesn’t just go thru the fun (playing ball, teaching how to ride a bike), a parent must also deal with the not-so-fun stuff (diapers, refusal to eat, fighting and temper tantrums). when parents do not work out a way to satisfiably share the responsibilities and joys of children, the child/parent relationship will always be uneven. both his and my father chose to seek attention elsewhere and neither of us knows our father.

peeking in a marital relationship’s decisions is thinking zen thought. the attachment to complete attention from another human being only destroys that bond as natural changes occur. wrong mind creates jealousy of children; wrong attitude destroys marriages. accept changes with a clear mind and resolve any wrong thought before it wreaks havoc.

i realized something about the CS department. i figured out what scares me about it. the department produces damn good CS students who know their shit but it does so at the expense of the students. in order to get a CS degree, you have to go thru hell. see, the classes are very time demanding and each professor expects your soul to be devoted to their class. students who want to get a degree have to give up much of their personal lives and well-roundedness. the basic requirements for the core classes do not allow flexibility for the students. the product is either CS burnout or CS obsession.

i’ve come to a realization that i am not the best at computer science nor do i want to be. i enjoy teaching and learning but i don’t want to give up my life and my well-roundedness to be the best of the best at one thing. i often feel that i have given up so much to do computer science and that is frustrating. i still need to figure out how to successfully do this.