Dream Girl: Part II

Friday thank god, a whole weekend laid before him where he could stay in his safe happy home. He already had the queue of shows he was going to watch, and he was finally going to get the chance to sink his teeth into the new Dragon Quest game. He just had to make it through the day.

As he was putting the finishing touches on the NHK report, his chief boss Sora Ito came by. Sora was a sunken faced grim man who was all business, which was fine with Kenji. All business didn’t leave room for any malice. It was Sora who with a sigh had authorized his honeymoon, and who hadn’t asked too many questions when he took a whole week out sick. Maybe he appreciated the work Kenji did, or maybe he simply didn’t want the hassle of retraining someone to take his job. In any case, Sora was one of the few people at work whose presence didn’t feel like a dark cloud descending upon Kenji.

Kenji was actually, and he took some small pride in this, a rather competent employee. He would immerse himself in work to make the time go by faster, with no time spent gossiping, no family emergencies, and only the occasional manga break, he was among the most productive people at work – a fact that would be better known had Kenji been better at retaining the credit for his work. But he always suspected Sora was aware of this, it was his company after all.

Kenji was all too happy to live in a world predicated almost solely on money changing hands. It was what allowed him to stay in his cozy little world; it was what allowed him to spend his days consuming the labor of thousands of creators, and it was what allowed a callow man such as Kenji a place in the world. So long as he was productive, others who could profit off him would have it in their own incentive to put up with his peculiarities, to treat him with some modicum of respect, if not for his sake, then for their own. Kenji just wished more of the world operated like that. “Real” human relationships are fraught baskets of things you might want, warmth, support, companionship combined with lies, hypocrisy, and the annoying habits of the other person. Why doesn’t it make sense to just get rid of it all? If you need warmth pay someone to cuddle you. If you need company pay someone to be your friend for the day. Before he got married he used these sorts of services quite often, feeling no shame for it, after all human relationships are always about getting something from the other person, just with a veil over it, the same kind of veil that allows cruelty to hide behind a mask of friendliness. Those “normal” salary men might look down on him for it, but why do they go out with such nice suits, why do they drop enough money to feed a starving village in Africa to buy a super fast car only to be stuck in Tokyo traffic with? Everyone knows the cynical truth of the world but most are comfortable just living within the masquerade. All he was doing was living a truly honest life, free of deceptions, knowing what he was getting, knowing what he was paying for it with no chance of betrayal.

As materialistic minded as Kenji was, he was however not in the slightest bit ambitious, figuring that anything he wanted was pretty cheap. All the expensive stuff is just to show off with, but why show off to others when you can just buy anything you would need in a relationship? Even with his still fairly entry level position he had managed to easily save up enough for a proper wedding, a proper honeymoon, and of course the holographic projection of his wife. Still he had been thinking, it can’t be too long until they have upgraded robotics, after all there are many men coming to the same realization about the world. Such a source of profit would surely provide ample incentive, not to mention the desires of the roboticists themselves. It is important for him to try to earn more so he can provide a proper body for his wife when the time comes. Just like a husband providing for his family.

Sora cleared his throat, jolting Kenji out of his brain. Kenji was about to explain frantically that the NHK report was almost done, and would be done on time with a properly formatted cover page. It turns out though that this mental rehearsal was unneeded – not only did Sora never once pay attention to cover pages, let alone their formatting, he had a different business altogether in mind.

“We have a new employee coming in, a Miss Midori Kano. I would like you to be the one to show her around and train her, I trust that won’t be a problem?”

“No Ito-san of course not” Kenji sheepishly responded, his tone not belying his accelerating heart rate.

“Good. I’ll have her come by after she finishes intake.”

Panic flowed through Kenji. Not only did he have to train someone, it just had to be a girl. This is supposed to be his chance to show he is worthy of being promoted, but training a girl? Oh god, and everyone would tell her what a loser he is as soon as they could, even if she couldn’t tell it with one glance. How can he possibly teach someone when they won’t respect him? Maybe, just maybe, they will be cold like Sora. Maybe they will know what he is but they won’t care because they will know that he, Kenji, is a source of knowledge and therefore an important tool for their future productivity and therefore earnings! Ha! Yes, it will all be fine! But maybe to de-stress, he should make a quick run to the bathroom, listen to a few of his wife’s songs, read the latest Jojo he was saving for lunch, and then come back fresh faced and confident. Okay Kenji we can do this!

As he got up, however, he was almost instantaneously greeted by a young woman. She was dressed in clothes that,  when separated would certainly be considered professional, but were somehow combined in such a fashion as to suggest a complete lack of professionalism, like a little girl who had raided her parents’ closet. Her face was round with rosy cheeks that reminded him of an apple, a very earnest, goodhearted, apple. Her hair stuck up in a few odd places in a way that would seem to defy gravity, and Kenji could not help but notice what smelled like freshly cut flowers, not roses or any of those pretentious flowers found in florists’ boutiques, but the wildflowers he remembered from the meadows of his youth.

“Saito-San hello, I am Midori Kano, pleased to make your acquaintance, I look forward to your guidance” Her unruly hair bobbing as she enthusiastically bowed.

“Relax, you don’t need to be so formal” Kenji waved dismissively. He was so unused to people showing him un-ironic respect that it caught him totally off guard. Was she being serious?

“That is an interesting accent I take it you are not from Kanto?” He said with one of the four or so bits of small talk he had developed to deal with meeting new people.

“Oh sorry Saito-san I didn’t think it was so obvious” She said with another hair bobbing bow “I am originally from a small village in Akita Prefecture, but pretty much everyone moved away from there so after my grandmother passed on, I thought…” She quickly began to spring her life story on him.

Kenji’s eyes flashed with the realization that she was about to drag him into a conversation he was neither equipped for nor interested in “Ehh anyway about your duties, how much experience do you have in insurance claims management?” interrupting her before she totally unspring herself.

“Yes sorry (her hair bobbing) I am very grateful for this opportunity, I promise I won’t let you down, but, umm, this is kinda my first real job, but I am a fast learner, you will see!”

Oh great, Kenji thought to himself, a country bumpkin with no work experience, she is so clueless she is even talking to me like I am her boss or something.  Well give it a few days and just like with Ashi or anyone else she will be laughing behind my back, probably sharing stories about what a loser I am. Humans are all too predictable.

“Well let me run through the NHK report with you while I finish it up, pay attention, and make sure you properly format the cover page. Ito-san is a real stickler.”

She had produced a notepad and pen from somewhere in her mismatched garments and started taking notes furiously with an enthusiasm he would have been sure was actually mockery if not for the fact that her little apple face was furrowed in intense concentration.

A few hours passed and it was time for lunch, finally he would get to know how the new enemy Stands power worked. Walking to the cafeteria, he noticed she was still following him.

He spun around, “What are you doing?”

“Going to have lunch with you of course! Unless your table doesn’t have any room I guess, does it have room?” The clouds of uncertainty temporarily obscuring her optimistic sunniness as she sheepishly pouted.

“I eat alone so…”

“Great! So plenty of room!” She once again beamed.

“I prefer to eat alone.”

“Aww, I promise I won’t bug you Saito-San, I will just sit and observe” She said taking out her pen and pad.”

“But I will just…”

“You can trust me!”

Kenji’s protests were no match for her weapons-grade oblivious enthusiasm.

He sat where he always did, grabbed the lunch he always did, fired up his manga app like he always did, and started reading Jojo but then felt something was a little different. Maybe it was the apple faced girl inexplicably taking notes as he lived his mundane existence, it just made him feel too awkward. So even though true to her word, she had said not one peep to him, with an air of resignation he put his phone down and looked at her.

She looked back at him without saying a word, intent on keeping to her promise, not realizing that her very existence at the table violated said promise. The path of minimum awkwardness was clear, he would have to start the conversation, but what about? He could ask about her hometown, but then she will start talking about her grandmother and he had a -4 in the comforting others skill. He could ask her if she likes manga or anime or any of the topics he has successfully bonded with his few friends over, but then he would be outing him as an Otaku already. Talking about the weather was beneath him, but maybe this was a “in case of emergency break glass and unleash small talk clichés” situation. His brain whirled with all the possibilities, each time kicking itself for having such a dumb idea.

Then his ruminations were interrupted by a burst of laughter coming from his once silent lunch companion.

“What why are you laughing?”  Was she laughing at him?

“Saito-San you are just such a serious, sweet person.”

“What do you mean?” He said with an air of injured dignity.

“Well you put down your phone, and then just kinda stared into the distance for about five or so minutes, were you trying to think about what to say? You are so considerate”

“No, of course not, I was merely concerning myself with important work matters that require a lot of concentration, I almost had the answer to until you started laughing like that.” He lied his face flushing as red as an apple, no not an apple as red as a… tomato! Very different kinds of red, Kenji would assure you.

“Anyway I just got an important email and need to get back to work” he further lied to the apple faced girl in front of him.

“But you barely touched your lunch…” She said with a pout

“Duty calls.” He tried to say it in a way he thought would sound stoic and cool, as he swiftly got up and rushed out.

Phew he sighed in relief, she had orientation for the rest of the day so he was in the clear. Just a few more forms to fill and then he would be back in his nice apartment, with his katsudon and rice, playing dragon quest, finally getting to read the new Jojo, and most importantly, in the company of his wonderfully talented non-apple faced wife. Her face was decidedly the most perfect face conceivable, cute with huge round eyes but at the same time elegant and angular. Her skin fair and pure as freshly fallen snow. Truly she was the kind of perfect that was beyond what was attainable in the crude 3D world, and once again, to repeat, her face that in no way had any resemblance to an apple.

Dream Girl: Part 1

Kenji Saito woke up with his wife in his arms.
He gave her an extra large hug, patted her on the head then walked over to the kitchen to prepare his breakfast before work. As the kettle boiled he poured in the flavoring package, and the desiccated vegetables onto his ramen. If only she could cook Kenji thought, maybe in a few years it will be possible. Sitting down on his desk he gave a yearnful longing look at her as she greeted him with a tilted smiling face one finger adorably pressed against her cheek.

I love you he said

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing him a kiss

I love you he said

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing him a kiss

I love you he said

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing him a kiss

A tear formed in his eye, as he rubbed the gleaming gold band around his finger. He knew, he knew she would never hurt him, could never hurt  him, she was exactly who he thought she was, she would keep him company for the rest of his life, she could only improve. No pain, there would be no pain.
He asked her to sing him a song, his favorite one, watching the holographic girl sing and dance while he slurped down his noodles he told himself how lucky he was.
Goodbye my love he said tenderly, kissing her stuffed avatar on the head before heading back out into the cold harsh world.

Kenji wasn’t crazy, he wasn’t, he knew what people thought of his relationship, he still remembers how his mother had screamed at him, how his father would have felt had he been alive. He was well aware that there could never be any physical dimension to the relationship, well without very significant advances in robotics anyway. But for him all that mattered was that he had someone who he could always rely on to not judge, to not ignore, to smile when she saw him, he didn’t need anything else. He was once asked if he would like her to be transformed into a real girl, why couldn’t people understand. 2D girls were just better, he had to do what was best for himself ultimately. Younger guys got it, they expressed their support for his union, they know what it is like, others simply can’t understand, and their minds are too rigid to allow them to. Kenji just needed to do what was best for him.

His whole life he had been a gray spec on a gray wall. Rendered that which is beyond even what is invisible, that which is deemed of no importance, no use. He would see how people would look at each other, a furtive glance acknowledging the existence of the other, thinking in their arrogance that this is some human universal. But Kenji saw it, saw that no one had a glance to spare for those people cleaning the streets, emptying garbage cans, those sad elders sitting alone on a  park benches, those who were poor with some discretion so as not to inconvenience normal society with overly pathetic or frightening demeanors, and of course those who like Kenji just seemed painfully dull, even at a distance.

Kenji didn’t acknowledge their existence either of course, but he had an excuse, looking into someone’s eyes made him feel as if he was about to fall off the edge of some great pit.

He arrived at work, he hated being outside his apartment, but unlike all those lucky NEETs he didn’t have anyone to fund a full on Hikikomori lifestyle so he bit the bullet five days a week, trying his best to hide behind the three squat walls of his cubicle. The media treats young men locking themselves away in their rooms, playing video games, and watching anime all day like it is some kind of horrible crisis. What is the crisis, that people were finally realizing the truth? Realizing they are better off alone, better off being able to control their lives, their environments. Realizing that they don’t owe anyone anything. That society is just one big lie that only serves those who hold its reigns.

Why do we need people, we don’t need people, I just need her.

Why is he better off for being forced out of his cozy little home to a cramped cubicle under the buzz of florescent lights? He has a picture of her on his desk at least, it was from their honeymoon. Picking it up he looked at it.

I bet she misses me

“How’s your wife doing?”

Ashi had got the drop on him, the blood rushed out of Kenji’s face as he awkwardly pretended he had been merely dusting the photo, or maybe it should look like he was just cleaning his desk?

“Err umm I was just moving this picture to look for a pen I lost, she is well, we are very happy”

“I am sure you are” She said with a smile, a smile of condescending malice, the kind of smile that everyone knows when they see and yet, and yet the smiler smiling their mocking smile                                             will act as if they are innocent, if confronted shocked even that you would read ill will.  The anger, the helplessness of obvious truths made mute by the sheer weight of all the worlds collected unwritten rules that tipped the balance so that the Kenji’s of the world were destined to lose before a game even started.

“Anyway” she continued, her tone dripping with venom, a knife blade with a sticker on in that says “I assure you, if you think you are being stabbed you are mistaken” “I don’t want to interrupt your “personal time” at work, but I really must remind you that the NHK report is due by the end of the week, and this time you will make sure that do it properly yes?

“Yeah well last time it wasn’t my fault it was.. “

“Great I’m glad” She said cutting him off with another jagged smile.

She didn’t have to have come to him, she could have just emailed, but she took great pleasure in sneaking up behind him, making sure he knew that at work he was never safe, never in control.

Ashi was his superior now, but they had started at the same time, he had tried to talk to her, a little at first anyway. But a girl like her can smell it on him, can within an instant know he exists on the very bottom of the pyramid, his sole purpose to be crushed in order to elevate those on more lofty perches. She had never openly said anything, directly said anything anyway, but her tongue towards him had undoubtedly left its barbs under his skin more than once. At work he was vulnerable, exposed.

Defenseless

He usually ate at the office cafeteria alone, today was no exception.  Hunched over his food as if he were an injured dog afraid of having another meal snatched away. Reading manga on his phone it made it easier to pass the time. Halfway there Kenji, halfway there.

On the way home he stopped by 7 11 to pick up his go to dinner, the clerk knew him well, same katsudon and rice bowl as always. Stepping out once again he found himself still a normal unremarkable thirty year old man, still in regular Tokyo. So many animes have this exact setup, well this is the place where he is supposed to be transported to another world, with some fantastic power that will allow him to tap into his heroic potential. What kind of power would he have? He just knew as soon as he had power he wouldn’t use it to oppress but to protect, he was a secret hero, he just needed the chance. Only those on the bottom would understand suffering enough to be able to be real heroes.

But it was fine, he had real love, pure love, incorruptible love, all he wanted from her was comfort and to see her smile, and she only wanted to make him happy. It is more real than real love, if real love could even exist in such selfish creatures as humans. No before this, the modern age, love was surely a fiction, just another act, just another veil hiding human ugliness.  It was not in the real world that he had ever seen any evidence of the so called beautiful human traits. His father now past had been strict and humorless, the relationship between his parents was that of two companies that had a merger in order to work on a mutual project, just obligation, just business. Instead of loving him for what he was they could only look on in disappointment as their investment received lower returns than the investments of those mergers around them. He hadn’t seen anyone go out of their way to be kind, to be loyal, all just veils for people to use each other.

But in the 2D world, the animated world, it was different. There was love, there was kindness, there was loyalty, there were those who would endure any hardship just to help those they care about.  There were girls who would do anything for the one they love, girls who were pretty, sweet, talented, cute. Girls who could really love you, not for your looks, not for your bank account, but for the hidden gold inside your heart. Those ideas in that world were so much more real than anything that is the result of actual humans interacting.

His love wasn’t artificial, it is the rest of the so called love in the world that is.

A memory flashed

His coworkers three confident close cruel men. They had suddenly after his marriage seemed nicer to him, supportive of him. Maybe they did understand, maybe they just wished they had his courage to openly commit to their 2D dream girls. He would tell himself often that he didn’t need anyone’s approval, the sweetest lies are those we tell ourselves.  So he had talked with them, they asked if they could come by maybe have a few drinks and meet the wife. Clearly they were jealous.

They came, seemingly nice at first, Kenji didn’t have much experience interacting with others. Were they secretly mocking him? After a few drinks it started, they asked to make him have her perform, they then made lewd comments and gestures, but she didn’t understand them she was too pure. He would be upset for her, he told them in his sternest voice to leave.

They held him down and took turns saying I love you to her.

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing each of them a kiss

They laughed, laughed like a bunch of hyenas, though they were beasts far crueler. Man’s intelligence instead of making him truly wiser simply sharpened his fangs. Finally he screamed, screamed like a wild animal, thrashed like fish introduced to land. They decided they had their fun with him and left, laughing and joking all the way.

He rushed to her his face red covered in tears and snot, but when he looked at her, all he felt was revulsion for his weakness and stupidity. The purity he had felt was violated, corrupted, emptiness filled him  leaving room for nothing else.

 

He called in sick for a week, he lay on the floor, he didn’t eat, he merely cried.

If this were fiction he would get revenge on them, someone would help him, the world would ultimately be fair. But this isn’t fiction, the weak get no justice against the strong, there are no magical forces bending towards goodness, reality is amoral, authorless and structureless. Bad men can profit, innocent children die, no one need approve. That which happens just happens . All there is, is just chaos, selfishness, and entropic decay.

It didn’t happen, he thought as he submerged the memory beneath the waters of his conscious with all of his might.

Putting on a happy face he greeted his bride, plastic bag in hand. She sweetly greeted him in one of the four or so ways she was programmed to. He asked her to sing for him as he dug into his rice bowl.

The story it is based on can be found here

Trade Doublethink

Q: How do you impoverish a country as punishment for their actions
A: You declare sanctions to prevent then from importing

Q: If you are at war how to cripple your enemy?
A: A naval blockade to prevent them from importing.

Q: How do you make yourself rich?
A: You place large tariffs to prevent imports….?

Placing tariffs is a lot like blockading your own ports and declaring sanctions on yourself. It is amazing just how many logical contradictions am individual mind contains, while we all know that if there are two apples and two apples there are four apples, but we can at the same time know that 2+2=5. The contradiction is resolved by the fact your mind need not confront it in the first place.

Meditation Full Interview

Wendy: Would you please briefly introduce yourself?

Rush: So I am Mr. Rush. I teach AP Economics and Advanced Economics. I have really wide set of interests, and I try to cultivate new interests all the time. Oh, and, if you don’t know who I am, I’m the guy who walks around with a cane.

Wendy: In Advanced Economics class, you talked about human consciousness and how meditation can help change the default mode network.

Rush: So there’s actually a lot lot lot of stuff there. You know, meditation is a thing that sounds kind of hippyish. It is kind of hippyish in a way, but it’s way, way more than just that. There’s actually a lot of research that’s been done on people who meditate a lot versus people who don’t meditate. A lot of the findings were introduced, I’d say quite nicely in a book called Why Buddhism is True, so for anyone who’s really, really interested in this, I really suggest them to check it out. It’s written by an evolutionary psychologist at Princeton, and it’s not talking why reincarnation and that kind of stuff is true. What it’s talking about is why a lot of the kind of fundamental tenants of Buddhism seem true from the perspective of what we now know about how the brain works, that kind of stuff. So one of the things talked about is the default mode network.

The default mode network is the thing that activates anytime your mind is not on the specific task. So you’re not trying to add or subtract. You’re, you know, not watching TV intently. You’re not doing anything like that. You’re just kind of doing nothing. And what happens then?  We can actually see from self-reporting and also from brain imaging that about fifty percent of that ends up being taken up by people thinking about things like, what’s my relative position? How did somebody harm me? Why is that thing that I did today that was wrong? Why was it not wrong? Why do I have such a good explanation for that thing that I did today and everything like that? So really it’s about this sort of social rank, social position stuff.

And that is really important for humans. You know, we are a social species. Any human by themselves is basically worthless. Okay? But the problem is, especially in the modern world, that doesn’t work so well, because a lot of our interactions are not face-to-face. We’re not actually always around other people and all kinds of different things can be happening with which we worry about. And there’s some pretty good evidence that all of these sorts of things are actually leading to people to being anxious people, to being depressed people, to not being able to really live their life as well as it could be.

One thing that’s really, really interesting is you can look at this literally on brain scans, fMRIs.  If you have somebody who meditates a lot, that kind of default state is a totally different thing. And if you ask them their thoughts on that kind of stuff they’re gonna have a lot less “me” “my” sort of thoughts. They’re gonna have a lot less thoughts about their relative position in that kind of stuff. You could call it a calmer mind. What Robert Wright, the author of that book, says is a more truthful way of looking at the world.
Wendy: Can you talk about how, maybe more specifically, through your observation, meditation can help current students?  What advice you can give to them?

Rush: Well, I think a lot of students tend to be really stressed. And I’ve noticed how, in a way, it’s really good to be pro-social, but I know in my classes, I ask students like hey, who here likes computer science? You know, because I talk about computer science. I talk about all kinds of different stuff in my course.  So maybe one kid will enthusiastically raise his hand because, man, computer science is his favorite thing in the world, and he looks around he’ll find nobody else raises their hand and puts his hand back down and look really afraid and embarrassed when nobody’s gonna really care. Right? People don’t actually care that much. People don’t actually think that much you know. Take the stuff you post in moments. You know you need to realize that the amount of effort and thought you put into looking other people’s Moments posts are exactly the same amount of effort and thought that people are putting into your Moments posts. Right?  But I see this happen actually a lot where people are getting this sort of hyperized thing that I think sort of fed by social media where it certainly can’t be helpful for them to be able to think, you know, clearly and directly.

And I think if you’re approaching things from a clearer, calmer mind, you’re actually going to be able to get a lot more done. And you’re also going to be able to just not worry about things as much. Right? And you’ll be more honest to yourself. And I think you’ll lead a better life. And honestly, I think meditation is a really important tool for separating yourself from some of your thoughts.

To get into that a little bit further, that has to be a whole lecture about split brain experiments and that kind of stuff.  If you want to, I can get into that, but I don’t know how far you’re going to go in this article. [link?] Yeah. I think that it’s something that could be really helpful for basically anyone. There’s really no use case where I think that somebody would completely waste their time trying to start meditating or trying to start living a more mindful life.

Okay. Remember we spent a lot of time talking about that in the advanced class. Especially in the first semester when you guys were thinking about colleges and stuff. And I really focused on just the general idea of mindfulness, because meditation isn’t just about the act of meditation itself. It’s also about learning to see things more presently and to actually really experience them and think about your experiences rather than just mindlessly doing things one after another without a great thought as to what any of the things were.

Actually, a really great example of this was they found one of the most effective ways of getting people to stop smoking or to smoke significantly less was to just think about cigarettes. Like, they were just told, “think about a cigarette when you smoke it. Every time you smoke a cigarette, smoke it. Don’t just put in your mouth and light it up. Like actually think, how does it taste? How does it feel? Focus on all little details. And once you focus in all the little details, a lot of that, you know, kind of chemical dependency, a lot of that compulsion loses its power.

 

Wendy: Oh, I remember years ago, I was reading a book about how I can stop my bad habits and it just told me to just keep a notebook in the pocket. Every time I do it (for me is maybe biting my nails), I just take out the paper and draw a line and then I can see how many lines I’ve drawn.

Rush: I mean that can definitely help you be more mindful of it. Like, you know what I would say is you know this sort of mindfulness approaches on chewing your nails is, you know, when you catch yourself chewing your nails, think about it. Think why am I chewing my nails? What am I getting out of chewing my nails? How does it actually feel like? And then a lot of the times what it will do is when we start to really analyze our feelings when we’re doing a compulsive behavior or say you’re playing a phone game and you find yourself thinking “oh god” or you’re in a Youtube rabbit hole. You in your head just start being mindful about the experience and go, okay, what am I getting out of this? How am I feeling right now? And a lot of times, as soon as you start investigating something, if it’s sort of hollow, it’ll feel very hollow, and it’ll lose a lot of its power over you.

 

Wendy: So how would you suggest people to do the meditation or say stay mindful? Because in my own experience before,  I tried to force myself to do twenty minutes a day, but sometimes I just have more urgent thing that I have to do. Or I’m just really way too tired especially during my junior or near the beginning of senior years. So I don’t know if doing it regularly is a good idea, then how do you think people can keep doing it? Or maybe you don’t have to do it on a daily basis, but you do it when you’re angry or feel irrational?

Rush: So actually,  I would like to preface that by talking about if somebody’s just for starting off to meditate, they’re probably going to run into a lot of issues that I’d to probably bring up first, if you don’t mind, rather than like, okay, you know, I’m having trouble meditating twenty minutes everyday, everyone does. Hey, unless that’s your job meditating twenty minutes every day. It is hard to make time in your life. And for myself, as I have said, I sort of micro-meditate throughout the day. (大概一半了)

Or, I just try to take what I learned from when I used to do a lot more meditation, much more seriously,  and those changes to my brain and stuff.  so one of the main things that’s gonna happen is, ok, you’re gonna start trying to meditate. And the first thing that’s gonna happen to you is a couple deep breaths in, you’re gonna get a random thought pop in your head, and then you’re gonna try to chase that random thought away. And by choosing at random sort of way you’re chasing out with more thoughts, and then you can try to chase out the more thoughts with more thoughts, you can try to chase it with more thoughts with more thoughts and more thoughts and then it’s gonna feel like totally hopeless. Right? You’re gonna feel like, ah, I wasn’t able to keep my mind clear. I wasn’t able to keep my mind calm.

And so while you’re meditating and a thought comes up, once again, it’s just, you know, I was talking about mindfulness with smoking. You’re mindful of what that thought was. You’re like, why did this thought pop into my mind? Why this thought? You try to feel with the feeling behind that thought. You try to feel the reason behind why that thought was. As you start to understand that thought that pops in your head, it just kind of fades away. And as you keep doing that and keep doing that and keep doing that, you know, it takes time, but you’ll notice that your brain gets quieter and quieter and quieter, and then when you’re left alone your brain isn’t racing around thinking about all of the relative status ruminations that aren’t necessarily going to really help you.

But yeah, it’s hard. I would say that you need to probably do it, quite a few times for a little bit. So you need to at least get that first feeling, that first experience of meditation, where you get kind of like that. It’s really hard to describe because there aren’t words for it, but there’s just a certain feeling that you’ll get, like it’s a certain feeling of oneness with the world, you know, sorta like ego dissolution, where you don’t feel that strong of a sense of self and there’s just such a relaxation to that.

And I think it is important to try to get there, and so then you know what the carrot at the end of the stick is, I think that’s always good. Because if you never get to the carrot at the end of the stick, it’s really hard to motivate yourself to keep going. And I would say if you’re a kind of really schedule-oriented person, and you’re good at keeping that kind of stuff, [which I know you’re not. And you’re my student. I know you’re not], then try to keep schedules of how you do it.  If not, try to be honest with yourself about when you really have time, because we always tell ourselves we don’t have time, we don’t have time, we don’t have time and it’s nonsense. Right? We always have the time for the things you really want to do. Okay? So if you say I didn’t have time to meditate, you gotta realize that’s an excuse. You had the time to meditate. Instead, you watched Youku; instead, you chatted with your friends; instead, you played a phone game; instead, you did something else …And it’s fine! It’s not saying that you have to do this thing. You’re doing it for your own personal advancement. But be honest with yourself. Don’t make too many excuses and try to look for good opportunities when it would just be a good chance to do it is what I would say.

 

Wendy: So personally, when did you start meditating? What made you decide to start?

Rush: So I started getting into eastern philosophy when I was in middle school, probably just because I liked to always be different.

And I remember I read the Dao De Jing (道德经) when I was in middle school, and I wrote a couple of papers about it that my English teacher could not super get. But it was my first kind of doing that, and then I feel like reading the Dao De Jing and really thinking about it, that’s sort of a form of meditation because you have this contradiction and then you’re trying, in your head, resolve the contradiction. And so I was originally brought into, from the Dao De Jing, I was brought into Zen Buddhism, and I read a bunch of books on that. And of course, a big part of Zen practice is meditation. A lot of the books that I read back then, though they were very much about form, I now am a lot less about form. Because I use to follow a very very strict meditational form. But over time I realized, I think in a way it’s really useful because you’re kind of putting yourself in an uncomfortable position, and that helps you disassociate yourself from your body because you have to. Otherwise, you can’t stay in that position for very long.

But, I’ve become much more agnostic about a lot of these sorts of features of this stuff. So I got into it through, you know, mostly Zen Buddhism. And then, later on, I started reading other sorts of things. And, you know, now most of the stuff I’ve read has been largely secular things. I’ve gone a pretty long time where I sort of stopped meditating. And when I got back into it, I could really just tell the difference, which is just for me, it’s just how calm my mind is.

And so most of the time I have nothing, nothing goes through my mind. Most of the time I don’t really think thoughts. So if somebody asked me a question, I’m not thinking through thoughts. I just kind of respond with the black box in my brain. You have to realize that you’re mostly that black box. And so now, especially when I don’t meditate, I can just feel that I’m disturbed, I can feel I’m thinking way too much. and I just don’t feel peaceful.

 

Wendy: Is there any particular example of how meditation helped you with emotion control like controlling your anger?

Rush: How about I just tell you some of the different ways meditations really helped. And also the research shows not just me, you know, I’m an anecdote, but the data also supports this. So one is I think it helps you be more of an observer and less of a judger, and that actually really helped me to understand other people a lot better. Because instead of thinking from your own kind of selfish, narrow perspective about stuff, you can just observe things from a more detached and therefore more logical perspective, and you don’t get as many feelings of snap judgment. You observe something, you kind of just think through it, and I think that really helped me not get carried away with the kind of emotional contamination that happens especially in the world of a social media. I’m not saying I have completely. You know, certainly, there have been some political things that have happened lately that truly tested my ability to remain calm.

So that’s one I said, another one is just really the calmness of the mind. It’s like once you get that feeling of not constantly worrying about where you are, without constantly thinking about how you can get more, how you can do this more, how you can do that more. Once you have that feeling of just how wonderful that peace is, there’s really nothing else. There’s no material thing that anyone could ever give you that comes anywhere close to being as good as just the feeling of just being you, not worrying about all of those little things. And also, when you spend all day thinking, worrying about your social position, most of the thoughts aren’t useful. Anyway. You know what I mean? And actually being able to distance yourself a lot from those thoughts, I think it is a really useful way of handling them rather than just going off of your thing. So that’s another thing. That’s just really. Another thing that’s gonna do though, is it’s going to make you start acting like a better person.

So if you do something, it makes you feel bad, and you’re gonna in your head, all of a sudden, you have thoughts in your head, these thoughts about some specific things. They’re just all like, oh it’s OKAY that I did this, really, it’s OKAY that I’m doing this, it’s okay that I did this, it’s okay that I did this because this has this reason. Okay? I have a good reason, a good justification.  And if you know the literature on consciousness, basically you have to realize that a big job of your human consciousness and the reason why you’re thinking in words even though you don’t really need to think in words is because it’s about convincing other people that you’re right, convincing other people that you’re good, which is a lot of times you deceiving yourself. So here you are with this quiet mind, and then all of a sudden there’s a flood of you trying to convince yourself that everything is okay. You’re doing everything right. It’s always fine. It’s fine. It’s fine. Then you just think about everything and be like, no, I’m not doing the right thing. That’s not a good excuse. I know in my head I’m just preparing an excuse in case I get caught doing this thing. But I much prefer to going back to having a quiet mind, so I’ll just do the right thing.

So I think that’s another way that it’s really useful. And yeah, it also just helps with a general focus and concentration. So, I know at a young age I was diagnosed with ADHD. I probably still have it because that’s how brains work and stuff. And I know, for instance, that I do have inefficient dopamine receptors. So I know that I’m the type of person, but you know, through meditation and mindfulness, I have been able to be much much more productive and to be able to stay focused on doing things for much longer periods of time.

And also it used to be the case that if I didn’t have something to do, that instant I’d be bored. The instant I had nothing to do, I would, you know, you just reach in your pocket for your phone or you’re just doing something, right? Because you gotta do something. But once you spend a lot of time in your own head like that, you can be pretty comfortable just doing nothing, because you can always just go in. I just experience things rather than just always feeling like you need to try to consume more and more and more stuff.

So that’s another thing I’d say.

Things I Wish Everyone Understood About Macroeconomics

Given some recent nonsense I have seen bandied about I thought I would do a quick write up of what I think is important for normal people to know about macro.

-More spending is not some magic expand the economy juice. More money does not equal more significantly more production under normal conditions, or else Zimbabwe would have become a paradise. More spending is really only useful if the economy is demand constrained which occurs when current prices are too high for the amount of money circulating. This leads to many resources(like labor) going unused, so the extra spending instead of diverting resources instead brings unused resources back on line. If all the resources are currently being employed than extra spending can only divert resources from some uses towards others.

-Price level is determined in long run by the money to stuff ratio, that is how much money is circulating next to how many real things are produced.

-Monetary policy should be judged by its output (inflation or NGDP growth take your pick) if these numbers don’t change enough, monetary policy is being too tight, if these numbers are changing too much change and it is being too loose period. Monetary policy is functionally infinite in power, unless your country has a fixed exchange rate or an incompetent central bank anything else that might affect the amount of spending doesn’t really matter. If your central bank is incompetent it probably also won’t matter what else you do anyway. Standard monetary policy runs out of steam when interest rates hit zero(liquidity trap), but there are many many other non standard tools that look scary and are hard for a layman to comprehend. Keep calm and look at projected inflation/NGDP growth.

-The typical nominal recession is a dumb thing which is really just an artifact of the fact we use money and prices are sticky, not some great judgment from above to repent for our sinful ways. The solution is to try to bring spending back to what will allow for full employment of resources. Recessions that occur for structural reasons are a different story. But your typical recession is best understood with the following story, you go to the grocery store with $100 picture the basket of goods you could buy, now go back to the same store with roughly the same prices but only $80, it is impossible to buy the same basket. It is impossible to buy the same output with similar prices and less spending. Since wages are especially hard to lower in nominal terms, labor tends to be hit disproportionality hard. But it doesn’t really matter what your price level is, only that the amount of spending can facilitate full employment of resources at whatever the current price level.

-All government spending is the result of a tax, current taxes are obvious, borrowing and spending is a tax on the future, printing money and spending is an inflationary tax on money holders, defaulting on the debt is a tax on holders of the debt(also an insane idea). Government spending is important, but it isn’t magic, those resources need to come from somewhere so they are going to come from other uses of those resources. Treat anyone who claims otherwise as someone who claims to actually be a wizard.

About Diet

So I follow a pretty crazy diet that moves between low carb, keto, and extended fasting, would I recommend it to others? No I follow the diet because I have found that it works the best for me given my various medical problems, but it is unlikely that it is the right diet for most other people. The diet world seems full of all or nothing thinking, as well as a fundamental supposition that is just untrue which is that we are all the same and there is a “best diet”. Now there are probably diets that are universally not the best, ones with lots of fat mixed with processed carbs and sugars in a delicious and convenient package. (What do Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Donald Trump have in common? A genuine love of McDonalds, let’s not pretend the food doesn’t taste good to most when some of the richest men in the world still eat it, plus it is easy and cheap).
So while there are some near universals(not everyone eating a “bad diet” will face negative health consequences) the truth about diet science is that it is very very complicated and very very over simplified.

-Individual Variations

Genetically we are all pretty similar, but we are far from the same. There are all kinds of differences in how our leptin (a hormone that has much to do with fat and hunger, mice bred without leptin will be fat, if you underfeed them they will be fat with underdeveloped organs) glucose metabolism, and well everything else that relates to food and diet. So it stands to reason that even though some advice might be universal (sugar is, at best, probably not great for you) the best diet should vary by person.  So long as it is safe, try out a diet measure your results see how you feel (blood work is a plus) and if you find success good for you, but remember the same might not be true of everyone else so there is no need to become an evangelist. If it doesn’t work, keep looking.

-Calories in calories out

To lose weight you need to take in fewer calories than you expend, to gain it you must take in more calories than you expend. This is just thermodynamically true, but that doesn’t necessarily make it useful when discussing diet. If you eat less then you expend you will lose weight, you breath in oxygen you breath out CO2 that carbon came from the stuff you ate, don’t eat stuff and bam by definition you have to be exhaling carbon that came from you. So if I fast for 10 days I might lose 15 lbs (I exercise a lot when I do long fasts) but within a month of unrestricted eating I will be right to my steady state weight with my current diet which is about 150lbs. My steady state weight back when I could eat anything, and anything turned out to largely consist of pasta my steady state weight was around 185 lbs. It makes much more sense to look at things from the perspective of why someone is taking in more or less calories then they are expending, and seems to have a lot to do with the composition not just caloric quantity of the diet.

-Morality

Lets also try to not moralize so much about weight and fat. People who are skinny are very unlikely to be exerting intense willpower everyday to maintain a state of hunger, that isn’t how it works, that isn’t how anything works. People have a much easier time staying skinny usually when they are younger, is it that as you get older you lose willpower? Not to say that no willpower is ever involved as avoiding the stuff you really want to eat isn’t always easy, and some have more cravings than others. But in all likelihood fatter people probably exert more willpower and feel more hunger when it comes to attempts at caloric restriction than do thin people.

-Low Carb/Keto

Low carb works for a lot of people, certainly if you have problems with glucose regulation (or you know don’t produce insulin and have to rely on slow external insulin) it might be a really good idea to try to see if it works for you to help you regulate blood sugars. It can also help many lose weight. But I highly doubt given ancestral diets and all the different variations there exist in glucose metabolism that it is the best for everyone.

I promise you that if you went on an all you can eat potato diet you would most likely lose weight despite your diet being almost all fairly rapid carbs. Just plain potatoes mind you, no salt, no pepper, no butter, just boiled. By the end of a week or two your brain will be so utterly bored of food that you will naturally eat less. That is what a good diet really needs to do at the end of the day, nourish you while at the same time naturally making you want to eat around the right amount of calories for your body. Insulin spikes certainly can play a role in this, as can many other factors.

Diet and human metabolism are complex. Simple solutions sell but they never tell the whole picture. The obesity crisis is quite recent, carbs are essentially what has been the foundation of the human diet for the last ten thousand or so years.

The goal is finding a diet where you can
A. Stick to it
B. Feel good
C. Naturally have the desire to eat calories consistent with a healthy weight for you (please know in terms of healthy weight, being underweight is actually worse than being overweight!)

Five Ways to Be More Productive

  1. First one! (Disclaimer many of these are not easy and none of us are perfect me included, the goal is to just try to be better)

-Don’t do work around your cell phone. Humans are awful multitaskers, all of us. The research is really clear on this (I used to think I was great at it…). When you work around your cell phone your brain is constantly going “ohh did I get a message, did people like my post ohh… let me just check” turn it off and preferably have it away from you(I lock mine in a drawer in another room and put the key in hard to reach area of another room, or just work outside and not bring it).  Just try it for one hour, put yourself into a minimalist workspace without any distractions and see how much work you get done.

2. Don’t wallow in guilt if you mess up. Often wallowing in guilt is a very self indulgent thing, you torture yourself which in a twisted way is easier than what you should do. But while you are feeling guilty you are not doing something productive, and since you don’t want to feel guilt, this often leads you to actively avoiding the thing that made you feel guilty, which is very likely to make things worse. Acknowledge your failures, but don’t think it means you are terrible if you don’t meet your expectations or miss a deadline. I know it isn’t easy, I know better than most about the temptation to take the easy way out that just makes things worse in the long run. But do your best to fight against it.

Don’t give yourself excuses either, it is a lie that you are in total control of your situation, but since it is far too easy to always find excuses for yourself it is a dangerous road. So my best advice is approach life with the idea you are in control of your fate, knowing it isn’t actually always true. Don’t excuse yourself, don’t guilt yourself, instead try to be better every day, try to do better every day, the question you should always ask is, “how can I avoid making the same mistakes in the future”. You are human, you will make mistakes, try to improve from them rather than get sucked into a vicious cycle of guilt and procrastination.

 

3. Take breaks, make sure it is a break you can do in short spurts, like take a walk(I mostly play violin). While it might sound like a good idea to play a game or watch a video, these too often turn from short breaks to… very long ones. When you relax try to relax efficiently, try to block off plenty of time to do something you genuinely enjoy. If you try to just work every day your productivity will fall overtime, and you will likely seek little guilty enjoyments that don’t actually leave you feeling very relaxed. The key to being productive is efficient work, efficient play.

Empirical work on the matter is very surprising, overwork and sleep deprivation actually cause working too much to have negative marginal returns in the long run. This is sometimes hard because in the short run they usually have positive returns, but doing it over and over makes the total amount you produce less. One experiment in construction found that over the course of a long time frame crews that worked 40 hours a week out produced their 50 and 60 hour counterparts. This is because working 25% extra hours a week doesn’t add if the per hour productivity falls by 33%. The reason Henry Ford started the 5 day forty hour workweek was not because he was “nice” but instead internal experimentation showed that in the long run it led to the highest per week output, it should be noted that taking other jobs was strictly forbidden. Software firms that put their employees under permanent crunch usually fair badly, as any gain in work is destroyed by lower per hour productivity and more mistakes. Other research shows many people take too few breaks to maximize their total productivity. I am guilty of violating this all the time, but just keep it in mind.

4. Focus on efficiency. How often have you waited until the last minute, wasting your time beforehand for hours or even days trying to avoid the anxiety of not doing your work, only to bang it out quickly the night before? Guess what that means? You could have saved yourself all that anxiety and focused on things you really wanted to do. Try to do this a few times and then try to remember just how much better it feels next time you are stuck in the cycle. Alternatively you can also just be honest with yourself about what you will realistically do and create a plan from that so you can keep the project in the back of your mind and genuinely enjoy your downtime.

Be honest! How many times have you told yourself I am going to do *insert giant list* and everyday do *big list* and then maybe you do a little and give up? Be honest with yourselves! It is the only path to freedom. Making lofty goals that you can’t actually complete just makes things worse, try chunking things into small manageable tasks instead of standing at the foot of a giant task mountain. (If I really want to do something hard, I write myself binding contracts, but since I treat these so seriously I will only write hard but possible things, if I created one I could not fulfill it would make these contracts lose their power). Spending time “working” when you are not accomplishing something is pointless, always try to work on keep your per hour efficiency in mind.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to who you were yesterday. You are not in control of other people, you are not other people, all you have control over is you, don’t worry about being the best, there is one spot for that, but every single person can make significant improvements. Taking this at heart and always trying to improve and always trying to be your best will allow you to be a much better version of yourself than if you just constantly compare yourself to others. The students I have that do the best aren’t even the ones that act with the goal of trying to be the best, but instead the ones that are genuinely interested.

Another reason why you shouldn’t compare yourself with others is that we are not the same. Each person has their own unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. Many of our differences can be changed to some extent and others can’t. The trick is working on the parts of yourself you can change and finding ways of dealing with the problems that stem from those things that you cannot (for instance I am very forgetful so I build a lot of redundancy into my life). The other trick is figuring out what you really want, just keep in mind you don’t have to want to the same things as everyone else, try to set goals and aim for things that work well with your talents and special preferences.