Who controls the economy?

The economy shapes much of our lives. It determines what job we can or cannot get; it determines what we can buy or cannot buy; it determines where we live; it determines what healthcare we can get; frankly there is little in our lives which is not influenced by the economy.

With something so important for us, it makes sense to ask what power controls it. For instance, if the economy is going well, usually well-being indicators point upwards; if the economy is doing poorly, misery ensues when hospitals cannot afford drugs or the government cannot afford to pay pensions. But who decides if the economy is doing well or not? Is it our modern democracies? Hardly. Politicians like to promise economic growth and jobs but, as a matter of fact, the economy is largely out of their control; since, though they may have some influence on the workings within one country through taxation and legislative frameworks for conducting business, no single political entity has any control over the world economy. And, if the world economy is doing poorly, so will the economy of individual country.

We might say that money is the driving factor of the world economy. After all, money tends to go where it can generate the highest returns. For instance, if you had one million dollars in an account at Bank A and Bank A would give two percent interest, you would quickly move your money to Bank B if this bank would offer three percent interest. This forces companies and countries to be competitive in the sense of being able to attract money. But this does not warrant to say that money would rule the world economy. If that were the case, it would be far more predictable. Money does not invest itself but is invested by people and these people often do not follow predictable pattern in investing their money. Furthermore, the flow of money and investments is limited in many ways by laws and governments.

I think that the economy is not shaped by any of the factors listed above but by all of them. Indeed, there are many more factors which shape the economy, such as the weather and technological development. The economy is very, very complex and we do not posses the knowledge or ability to steer it. I think this is a very scary situation. For something which is so important for us, why do we allow to have so little control over it? Since there are many ways in which we could exercise more control, such as by directing the flow of investments, I think this should be one of our foremost goals; to get a better understanding of the economy and empower ourselves to oversee it.

Since the economy is global, and has been this way for a very long time, we need to build global political systems in order to control it. We need to assure that the drive for high returns is used for the interest of the people and not against it.

Habit Tracking January

I found the system for habit tracking I adopted in July last year overall quite insightful and useful for keeping me on track for simple habits. I thus decided to continue following this system in the new year.

Due to travel around Christmas and New Years it took me a while to get back into following my habits regularly. Here the overview of all habits for January:

Habit Tracking January

And some comments on the individual habits:

  • Exercise and Stretching: I exercised a total of 13 times in January. Overall I am quite happy with this. We got the Nintendo Switch RingFit Adventures game, which provides a nice alternative way to my normal exercises.
Playing RingFit Adventures
  • Emails: During our travels my email inbox got quite out of control. I regularly worked on reducing the number of emails in my inbox but it took me until the 11th until I had reached my target of less than five emails.
  • Meditation and Learn: Since I had to get straight back to work after our return from travels and was not overly successful at waking up early, I did not follow my usual morning routine and thus failed to do my regular five minute meditation and touch typing practice.
  • Posture: In January I tried a few times to take my Upright Go to work but more often than not forgot to take it in the morning rush.

Here my results for my touch typing practice this month. I think it is fair to say that my efforts are plateauing. The following inspirational quote keeps me going in my endeavours.

Whether you like it or not, there will be plateaus, which in my experience tend to occur right before a breakthrough. Weight lifting teaches you to embrace them, or at the very least accept them. This is an important outcome, with consequences extending far beyond the gym. “In the land of the quick fix it may seem radical,” writes George Leonard, a pioneer of the human potential movement in the 1960s, “but to learn anything significant, to make any lasting change in yourself, you must be willing to spend most of your time on the plateau, to keep practicing even when it seems you are getting nowhere.”

from The Zen of Weight Lifting in the NY Times

Learning January

I also did not write quite as regularly as I used to. I think writing is very important since it fosters clear thinking. I think in January and December I was not quite as successful since a lot of my free time was take up by another project: To move my collection of quotes from unstructured word documents into a structured database. This involved a lot of copy and pasting. But I am happy to say that I finished going through all the quotes I had haphazardly put into Word documents and moved them to Airtable.

Collection of quotes moved to Airtable

Unfortunately the quotes I collected in Word documents are only the tip of the iceberg. I have many more I collected on my Kindle as ‘clippings’. I am now in the process of moving these into a database, so that I can categorise and tag them. I started with writing a small tool that can extract the information from Kindle clippings files: kindle-citation-extractor. However, there is a long way still to go and this might keep me occupied for another one or two months.

Personality Types: Given or Chosen?

Since the ancient times, we were interested in categorising people into categories based on their personality types. Hippocrates distinguished between the four fundamental personality types of sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic. More modern approaches identified different categories, such as Popular Sanguine, Perfect Melancholy, Powerful Choleric and Peaceful Plegmatic from the popular book Personality Plus.

Generally I think there is an inherent danger in categorising people since this may lead us to be biased towards others. For instance if someone exhibits some of the characteristics of a choleric we may falsely assume that they will share all the characteristics of cholerics.

I tend to agree that there are certain pattern of personality and behaviour that emerge from looking at larger populations. For instance, there is the popular Myers–Briggs Type Indicator shows that people from different cultures usually have similar viewpoints along a number of dimensions. I just think it is more often than not better not to put individual people into buckets since each one of us is too unique to fit neatly into any category.

World Personality Map

Still I believe thinking about temperaments or personality types has some advantages and one of them is that they encourage self-reflection; they may help us to be more mindful about our own strengths and weaknesses.

Not so helpful in this regard is that these temperaments and personality types are often portrayed as something which is given to us, rather than something we choose. Indeed, this has been identified by Myers-Briggs as one of the main advantages of their classification and test; that we may feel liberated once we have discovered that it is ‘normal’ to be the way we are, since we neatly fit into a personality category. So if you are a choleric, identify the constraints and enablers this places on your life and accommodate for these as good as you can.

I think that is a dangerous way of thinking. If anything, humans are adaptable. We often underestimate the rate of change we undergo during our lifetimes and are subsequently prone to underestimate the change we can achieve. Thus I believe we should focus on the type of person we want to be rather than the type of person we were made to be.

It is good to think about some of the tendencies that are present within us currently but also to think about the type of person we aim to be. In the following I list some temperaments we may find within us as well as personas we may wish to adopt:

Temperaments

  • Relaxed
  • Hard Working
  • Creative
  • Energetic
  • Outgoing
  • Smart
  • Introverted
  • Strong
  • Confident
  • Cautious
  • Loyal
  • Honest
  • Calm
  • Patient
  • Angry
  • Ambitious
  • Brave

A temperament is something we express naturally, without even trying. A temperament might be rooted in our genes but also in our experiences and habits in our life so far. Just because we express a temperament naturally does not mean that we are born with it. We are not born with the ability to ride a bicycle – but if ride one often enough, it will come naturally to us.

Personas

  • Leader
  • Parent
  • Follower
  • Scientist
  • Artist
  • Politician
  • Monk
  • Teacher
  • Healer
  • Manager
  • Student
  • Innovator
  • Engineer
  • Friend
  • Explorer
  • Writer
  • Worker
  • Cook
  • Athlete
  • Soldier

Personas are roles we play in our lives. We sometimes think of ‘playing a role’ as being inauthentic to ourselves but we must keep in mind that we are naturally playing roles throughout our lives. There is ample evidence that people behave differently depending on the persons they are with. Also we behave differently if we are given a role, such as manager, teacher or policeman.

Personas are not about being fake and inauthentic but instead about becoming mindful that we do play roles in our lives and making which roles we play into a conscious rather than an unconscious decision. They can be a useful blueprint for us how we may choose to live our lives and provide us with specific goals to strive for.

We do not have to choose one persona for ourselves. We can adopt multiple ones. Furthermore we can change the personas we have adopted if we like.

It seems obvious that certain temperaments align with certain personas. However which temperaments you observe for yourself should not limit which personas you may wish to adopt. After all, temperaments can be changed. But there is also nothing wrong with choosing personas which align with your temperaments.

I think it is interesting to consider which temperaments we wish we would have and which personas we could identify with given the different situations we find ourselves in. For me this is a much more fruitful endeavour than to unearth which personality types we belong to and try to organise our lives around them. I hope that in the future I will find some time to write about individual temperaments and personas and which habits and approaches may help us in adopting them. If I do so, I will link the follow up articles in this one.

Picture credits: lisa runnels from Pixabay

Habit Tracking December: Lost in Travel

I think I was on a good track in respect to sticking to my habits in November. Alas, things didn’t go so well in December:

Habit Tracking December

This December we were travelling first to New Zealand for a week and then to Taiwan. That made it very difficult to keep up with my usual habits. I am quite happy that at the very least I was able to exercise here and there.

A Street in Taipei

I think my habits work quite well as an indicator of my overall well-being. I think that when things on my habit board turn green, I generally feel better than when they are not. I don’t know though where the cause and where the effect lies here; am I able to stick to habits better when I am feeling well or does sticking to habits help me feel better. I think it is probably some of both with the former probably having the larger effect.

I hope that things are going to improve for January – but it might take some time to get back to it.

Immortality

The less time you know you have, the richer the experience of living becomes. And your whole perspective changes. All of the little, petty things fall away and you realize how truly wonderful it is to be alive, even if just for a moment. The way I see it — life is all the more beautiful knowing that it can’t last forever, accepting that all of us eventually pass away. If I had all the time in the universe, I couldn’t truly appreciate it. But knowing that my clock is ticking and that every new day brings one fewer sunrise for me to gaze upon, that makes every sight more colorful, every smell sweeter, and every song lovelier. I want to make the most of every moment. Then, when the end finally does come, I will be ready for it.

from The Phoenix Rising by Richard L. Sanders

I was wondering the other day of our innate desire to gain immortality. I myself have long thought that it would be great if indeed, I could be immortal or at least live a lot longer than a normal human lifespan. I figured that maybe within the course of my life our technology would evolve to a degree that we could prolong our lives indefinitely. However, recently I have started to doubt if immortality is a desirable goal at all.

The television show Altered Carbon, and the series of books it is based on, centres around a group of extremely wealthy people which have gained immortality. It explores the moral depravity of this group. Having seen everything, and having seen it many times motivates them to explore more and more extremes to make themselves feel something. I think I have too positive a view of human beings to think such a scenario likely. However I do think that there is some grain of truth in that with longer lives it can become more and more difficult for us to enjoy our lives and keep our sanity. Certainly if our lives stretch into eternity, we might be prone to loose our minds.

I have long been thinking that one of the most likely ways in which we may gain immortality is by digitising our minds. However, rather than plugging a cable into our heads and downloading our consciousness, I find it more likely that it would be possible to reconstruct our personalities and knowledge from data available about us. One example in literature for this is the Illium/Olympos series by Dan Simmons. One of the main characters is Dr. Thomas Hockenberry, a scholar that is ‘resurrected’ by extrapolating from what can be know about him from the books he wrote and other records available about him.

This made me think about what would result if someone took my writings and things known about my life to reconstitute me in the future. I am thinking that the result could be a better person than I am now. I believe that when we write we become our best selves. We see things in perspective and are more immune to petty emotions than we usually are. Now given that, doesn’t that make what we write, and the contributions we make to the world with the best part of us more valuable than ourselves?

I think we are prone to overvalue the importance of ourselves and the continuation of our conscious self. I am sure we also overvalue our uniqueness. Given a big enough set of data, we may become very predictable and in many ways a lot like each other. What is the most amazing about us as a civilisation are not the individuals but what the individuals have created together. In the long run, the law is more valuable than the judge. So, if we have taught kindness during our lifetime that may be more valuable than our continued existence as a living, breathing being.

Image credit: jarmoluk

Habit Tracking November: Getting There

After having done very poorly on keeping to my habits in October, things have greatly improved in November. Here the overview for November:

Habit Tracking November

Some things to note:

  • Exercise: While in October, I was only able to do exercise twice due to being injured, I exercised eleven times in November. For some time, I thought that I would be able to go running every day. Unfortunately my muscles got too stiff and I needed to take a break (that would be between 21/11 and 25/11). We went on a short trip to Brisbane around the 7/11 and I am especially pleased I was able to exercise notwithstanding the travel. I went running on the beach which is nice in itself as well.
  • Meditation: I still was not too successful with meditating. To some degree this was due to me not being able to find a bit of quite time in the morning.
  • Emails: I was quite successful at keeping my email inbox empty. I like spending a little bit of time every day rather than having to ‘clean up’ the inbox in one go on the weekend, which feels more like a chore. Sometimes I still get frustrated though if I find 15-20 emails in my inbox after having cleared it the previous day (this excludes work emails). Most of these are not spam emails and require me to do one or the other thing.
  • Posture: I feel like my back pain is getting worse. I was able to use the Upright Go quite frequently but I think I need to take further action, such as doing specific stretches and exercises.
  • Learn: My speed for doing my current touch typing exercise (lots of special characters, see below) was between 43 and 50 words per minute in October; in November, it was between 43 and 53 words per minute with a higher average as well. I also did a touch typing test for typing more common words (typingtest.com/); my speed was around 50 to 55 – still not as fast as my wife, who gets 60 plus.
Touch Typing and Writing

This is the text I am currently practice to touch type. I upload this to speedcoder.net as custom code.

(p)
(p)
(elem)
(elem)
(a, b)
(a, b)
(a, b)
(a, b)
(x, y)
(x, y)
(x, y)
(x, y)
=>
=>
=>
=>
=>
a => b
a => b
a => b
a => b
{ al }
{ al }
{ al }
{ al }
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b(p1); };
(a) => { b(p1); };
(a) => { b(p1); };
(a) => { b(p1); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };

Apart from this, I started a larger project in November about organising the quotes I have collected. I had collected them in multiple Word documents (organised by topic). I realised this was a very poor way to organise them and are now working on bringing all quotes into a database using airtable.

For the next months, I again want to focus on exercising as much as possible and also to work on my posture.

Touch Heaven

By objective standards, our lives are rather drab and pointless. We are biological machines forged by billions of years of natural selection, programmed with the purpose to ensure the propagation of our genes. On a cosmic scale, our lives are insignificant and extremely short. There is little doubt that, in a few thousand years, we ourselves and everything we did, will be completely forgotten by the direct descendants of our children and also by everyone else.

We have long tried to console ourselves from the fact that we will inevitably die by the promise of an eternal afterlife. Unfortunately, there is no evidence we have found as of yet to indicate any belief about this afterlife may be true. And, to be honest, it is a pretty outrageous claim that our consciousness will continue to exist even without our brain and bodies. So I would say the burden of proof should not be on showing that there is no eternal soul and afterlife but rather to find evidence that there is.

There is moreover little evidence for the existence of a divine being or force which imbues our lives with purpose. Therefore it cannot be assumed that if we follow a set of simple rules (such as don’t kill, worship regularly etc.) our lives will be good and purposeful whereas otherwise they will not.

It cannot be denied that considering these things being facts to the best of our knowledge makes live look bleak. If there is no relevance and purpose to our existence, why bother existing at all? If there is no way to tell good from evil, why bother being good?

In the American Declaration of Independence it is written that men are endowed by their "Creator with certain unalienable rights". I do not believe that there was a single conscious being (at least according to our current understanding of consciousness) that created us. As such, we also could not have been endowed with rights, since for something to give rights, they need to be conscious. I do however believe that we have been endowed by that which created us, Nature, with certain abilities and limitations. Among these, I believe is the ability to touch heaven.

For instance, every human culture studied appears to include elements which require a belief in the supernatural (see Human Universals by Donald Brown). I think this is due to each of us having a sense of the supernatural world, in which magic and gods exists. This is no indication that magic and gods actually exist. However, I think that this sense is our single most source of consolation, and it must not be one that is grounded in untruth.

Since I believe that our ‘spiritual’ sense, for lack of a better word for it, can guide us towards actions which generations before us have identified as good and noble. If we seek out our connection to the divine, it often becomes especially powerful if we do so in the context of sacrificing our self interest and aim to bring good into the world.

Thus I think it is critical that we engage with our spiritual sense, to reach out high with our minds and touch heaven, a sphere of existence that cannot be seen or measured but that we can feel. I believe this can bring warmness, colour and strength into our lives. However, we must also be cautious. As much as our spiritual sense can be used in the interest of what is considered good, it can also be used to great ill effect; many wars have been fought and many crimes committed which were fuelled by our imagined connection with a higher power.