merely just having the experience itself, and, technical debt is good, actually

Pre-notes:

  • [Thank you to at least three different interactions amongst collaborators and students for inspiring this post and for some fun pieces.]
  • [This is a draft.]
  • [All my posts on “technical debt”: https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/?s=technical+debt ]
  • [There is a P.S. at the bottom.]
  • I wanted to make sure that people don’t get too afraid of “accruing technical debt.” It’s a leaky abstraction, for one thing, even though it really, really fits.

***

Trying out a bunch of things, having a ton of plates spinning, keeping a lot of balls in the air, being in a new job, a new relationship, a new hobby—these kinds of things will tend to accrue technical debt. Prior to having put in tons and tons of meditation time, there’s sort of just too much going on to easily “integrate” in real time (or in stolen moments, or on long walks, or in meditation), because integration, when needed, takes real time, and sometimes a lot of time.

One can tell they’re maybe accruing technical debt (accumulating karma, in another model) if they have to kind of use a bunch of willpower, or push through a bit, to show up for things or to get things done, some of the time—or, even if not being “pushy,” if one’s “mental checklists” kind of go into overdrive.

There’s an arguable phrase in the software industry world, “always be shipping.” Maybe, here, it’s something like, “always be living.”

Part of having a good life is sometimes doing a ton of stuff, that gets really ragged around the edges, and/or you get really ragged around the edges. But, that’s ok:

Have all the experiences, so you know what’s out there and what you want!

There’s a real/fake way in which there’s always enough time—like, even if things feel crazy, if you were to sort of put everything on your calendar and just show up to everything, that would just work, in some abstract fake world, that ignores how minds work. Everything fits on your calendar.

But the mind doesn’t work like that, and you don’t work like that, and something would maybe break, somewhere, sometimes (demotivation, forgetting things, who knows). The felt complexity is sort of the “inelegances” bursting at the seams, the puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit because the bodymind hasn’t had time to kind of whirl it all around into settled-yet-shimmering elegance. Life sensemaking.

And, so, sometimes, one needs a break, a weekend, long walks, a full-on retreat. And sometimes one needs periods of their life where they’re doing less, or, say, putting e.g. meditation first.

But, when that’s not going on, maybe, then—”always be living.”

It’s ok to bumble through, sometimes at max crazy complexity. Have all the experiences.

***

If one takes the meditation journey, which does require some time and space, during some periods, for various kinds of nonmonotonicities, including making it over various technical debt payback humps (this is is one place I sometimes equivocated-ly use the term “escape velocity”), then here’s what eventually happens:

There’s a simplicity on the far side of complexity—successive “elegance collapses” (though it’s, on net, much more incremental than dramatic “collapses;” it’s tiny changes over a very long period of time, with maybe a few big whooshes).

Most people, at first, have a few big “mind zones,” two to five, at least: different, big parts of mind space, or, like, maybe everything “in here,” and then everything “out there.” (Also, here’s another thing, too, that’s barely a metaphor: minds are also composed of layers and layers of “virtual machines”).

What happens, through meditation, is that the whole thing starts to integrate and unify (cf. nonduality). There’s just eventually just “one thing,” and, rather than these “zones” having to spend a lot of time sort of translating back and forth across interfaces and impedance mismatch, with gazillions of buggy microservices all bumbling along, runaway processes spinning, with periodic reboots—over time, there’s just one single integrated thing, humming along.

Further, mind (bodymind, memory, something), becomes more and more “content addressable.” [1,2] That is, the mind rearranges itself, more and more, so that “the right surfaces are exposed at the right times,” and information is shipped to where it needs to go, more and more efficiently, with less and less hops and, so, less and less time needed.

(So there a way in which there’s dramatically less and less need for cognition, over time.)

And, so, over time, more and more, MERELY JUST HAVING THE SENSORY EXPERIENCE ITSELF completely replaces “cognition.”

Experience is memory is integration is anticipation, loosely speaking.

Context switching, pre-prep, “post-prep,” becomes less and less of a thing. “How do you do so much? / I never leave my meditation cushion.”

And so when the monk returns the marketplace with helping hands, they are vastly less likely to accrue technical debt, because everything is operating more efficiently, in this simplicity on the far side of complexity.

In the steelmanned ideal, they’ll be able to do so much more—more responsibilities, more details, costlessly, effortlessly, easefully. (And they’ll be, proactively, both solving and dissolving that complexity along the way.)

And, if they do accrue technical debt, as everyone does, in the course of even a single day, they can pay it down much more efficiently, because of extreme practice and skill at omni-directional “refactoring,” as it were.

When things are too fast, too intense, too surprising, in a bad way, or a good way, technical debt will accrue and that’s fine! Over minutes, hours, days or weeks!

It’s about having a good life, and that’s about having concrete, sensuous experiences, with other people, in all their messy contingency. And/but, one is more and more prepared for that, and it gets easier and easier, to just get lost in life in a good way.

***

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content-addressable_memory

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Associative_array

***

P.S. What of the cliche of “broken monks?”

I’m claiming, long-run, meditation makes one more effective.

But, if meditation has been around for thousands of years, where are all the Gandhi-Elon-Musks [sic]? That’s a really long conversation, involving sociology and epistemic viciousness, but here’s part of it:

A key thing is multidimensional, relatively phase-decorrelated, nonmonotonicity. That is, things are getting better and worse along different dimensions and timescales, and, with enough complexity, something is always in a valley, some of the time: For a meditator in the middle of their journey, something’s always broken, at any given time, generally speaking.

And, if a system is relatively fragile, in a technical sense, that is, if, say, four out of five or five out of five pieces are working, then system output is 90-100, but, if only three or four pieces out of five are working, then system output is two or three, then you get “broken monks.”

Instead of five, you know, substitute millions, and so on. Anyway, that’s one piece of this.

But, the whole journey is practically finite, and people do pop out on the other side, and so on. This is just a model, it’s messier than this, and there’s room for proactivity and slack, and so on, but most people will still have hard-to-predict, rough ride, in at least some places.

And this is part of why there can be claims of effortless complexity, while at the same time having broken monks, while at the same time keeping an eye out for Gandhi-Elon-Musks.