Monthly Archives: May 2014

You are in an important conversation. The person on the other side is critical to you. You are paying attention. You hear every word they are saying. You are processing at a high rate and throwing every resource available at the situation.

And what they are saying simply isn’t making any sense. They may as well be speaking another language. You know the conversation is going poorly. It is clear that they believe that their point is so simple that not understanding isn’t possible. And 20 minutes later you’ve lost something that was important to you. The deal is off the table. The sure thing is now a memory.

Analyzing the situation after the fact you realize that you were never really communicating with each other. What was obvious to them was hopelessly complicated to you and your attempts to better clarify what didn’t make sense to you seemed like lack of comprehension to them.

You were both operating within your own frameworks but neither of you could see that there was no overlap between the frameworks. And so an opportunity is missed.

Have you had this happen to you?


I go to the doctor far less frequently than I go to the dentist. Twice a year for the dentist. The doctor is only when I feel poorly or have an injury. Every few years for a checkup. That kind of thing. I suspect that this is a pretty common pattern. My health is quite variable in some senses though. I get the occasional headache. I’ll pull something while exercising. I’ll get a cold. My stomach will be upset. All sorts of things happen on an ongoing basis with my health that never make it to the point of having my doctor know about it.

Why is that? Lots of reasons. Too expensive and too time consuming to go for a visit for every ache or cough. Most things pass given a night’s sleep or in a few days time. One reason though is no existing habit or process to act differently than I currently do when these things come up. I was never taught, and I don’t know anyone who acts differently for these kinds of things so there is no model for a different way to approach them.

What should look different? It seems to me that I should be logging a lot more of this stuff to have it available to my doctor. Rather than my doctor only getting the few data points available when I am infrequently physically at his/her office (based on what I can remember right then) and then, most likely for a specific complaint, a lot more data about my ongoing health. If I have a headache logging that. Bad food episode? Log that. I could see this extending to weight, pulse, blood pressure and beyond depending on a person’s preferences. What would it cost me to perform common activities once a month and other issues as they occur? Not very much. The cost is in the logging and trying to get it to my doctor. That part seems easily resolvable.

That would provide my doctor with a lot more ongoing baseline detail about my health. I assume that would be useful. My doctor or someone in his/her practice and/or algorithms could get back with me with some targeted advice when necessary and/or when I should be coming in. From a practical standpoint, there is a lot of value to me in smaller scale interactions. Here is how I should deal with this achy knee. There seems to be a correlation with something causing a headache etc. Moreover, when something bigger happens, there is already a communications channel for monitoring the issue and providing more updates.

So why doesn’t my health care look like this?

The New York Times had an article a week or two ago that had an expert in comparative religion talking about what Buddhism requires. Within that article he was touching on some generalizations about what some of the core points are to help explain some of what he was talking about. One of those points was that the notion of rebirth isn’t necessarily one about post this life but rather rebirth in every moment (presumably that you are alive). For whatever reason this got me to thinking about what rebirth in every moment would look like. A literal physical rebirth in the form of as a baby makes little sense but there is cellular rebirth going on all the time. It is an often listed item that we are not the person we were even a few months ago. Ignoring the physical aspect, it does seem that mental rebirth is possible though exceeding difficult. Heading along this path, what would mental rebirth moment to moment look like? It seems like the nut here is that at any given time you could head off in a new direction than where you previously were going. It is only all the constraints through habit and culture etc that directionalize you towards your highest probability behavior(s) heading forward from that moment.

This sparked a whole digression in to a question of how far can you push in any direction your probabilistic behavior and a higher level question of how far can we push in any direction along any of the vectors we control. This is where light cones came in. Light cones describe a 2 dimensional event of a 3 or 4 dimensional item of a light source turning on. The cone is defined by how far light can travel as represented against time. Causality cannot exist outside the cone as there is no ability for information to travel faster than the speed of light. Turned on its edge, at a very specific point in time, you get an area. For some reason this notion seemed interesting in this context in that it seems we have a similar cone based on the vectors we control that defines where at any given time we can be. This is most easily seen geographically. Starting right now you could begin to what I will term push against your current location and head in a number of directions with the goal of pushing as hard as you can against your current location. There are limitations to how far you can push against your current location based on the condition leading up to the words right now in the preceding sentence. If you are on your couch you are limited initially to personal locomotion. If you were in your own plane you are limited to what it can do. This strikes me as being the same case mentally. If at the ‘right now’ point you were to experience rebirth or perfect clarity or whatever and become unanchored from your present thinking and chose to push in a different direction you still have a (conceptual) cone of where you can get based on time and where you are starting. Rebirth (or whatever) in a subsequent moment only would mean to realize again that you can choose a different direction (or none) from a slightly different spot, ignoring for the moment that you are using mental process and time at each rebirth to rehave the epiphany.

So if the point is recognition that at any point we have a much wider range of options than we typically think about fair enough. If the notion is that from moment to moment we should always hold that all options mindset in our consciousness, I’d be curious to understand the benefit of that given the cost in our exceedingly limited conscious capabilities.

Frontline had a show the other night regarding prisons in America. I only caught a bit of it. Sometimes someone says something that sticks with you for a while and that is what happened here. They were talking to a prison official (I think) in Kentucky (I think, hey I was falling asleep). I’m going to probably misquote him but he basically said “we are jailing people we are upset with and not people we are afraid of”. That struck me at the time as a good sentence. Given that this person looked to be in and dealing with prisons all day most days, I think his thought deserved some consideration. (Additional context, some of the people that were a focus for the program seemed largely to have behavioral issues.) My first temptation was to think that while it was a catchy thought it surely was oversimplifying things.

My next thought though was about why we jail people in the first place. Jailing people we are afraid of makes sense in that context. We want to separate someone who has shown that they represent a danger to others. So we can carve off a piece of the prison population that is easily explainable. I think you can have an extended argument about who we are afraid of but that isn’t where I want to head. Of the people who don’t fall into the group of ‘afraid of’ that are in jail, a chunk of that doesn’t unreasonably fall in to the category of people we are upset with. I think the key follow on thought here is that for people that we are upset with, we don’t know how to deal with them. Obviously in putting them in jail we are punishing them. That seemingly is the extent to which we are able to imagine dealing with them. I know this unfairly generalizes some options that exist apart from prison.

I don’t really have a point beyond this other than to underline that thought. We are responding to people that we aren’t afraid of with the same tool that we use for people we fear. I understand that we either haven’t thought of good alternatives or have been unwilling to embrace them. It is a very difficult area. This seems like an interesting place to look.

I’d be curious to understand how others dissect the thought about upset/afraid. Is it a misframing? Too simplistic? It feels to me like it comes at this item from a slightly different angle than normal. I’m sure there is plenty of ink that has been spilled on the topic of punishment and jail but I wonder how much really wades in on the not knowing what to do. Holding ourselves in uncertainty is not something we are good at.

PS In looking back at my misquote, I don’t think he was saying that we aren’t jailing people we are afraid of but rather that we are jailing people we are upset with in addition to people we fear.