Food for thought

A quarter of a century ago I looked at some of the deep questions of our existence: Why are we here? Why do we do what we do (whatever it is that we do)? Where are we heading? Why? Today they seem current because we’ve become accustomed to trying to understand the fundamental causes that drive our motivation and affect our decision making. Back then, it was a little out in the wings of mainstream thinking.

We are troubled by the world because we intuitively understand that the reality we experience is not necessarily the reality that exists outside the realm of our senses. This makes our sense of confidence in our judgement waiver. More than that, it makes our ability to predict the next moment of our lives; which is ultimately what our brains have evolved to do, an iffy proposition at best. It’s unsettling.

It should be. When we can’t even agree on the fundamental question of “what is the universe made of?” The answer to which may be “other universes” we realize that what is ultimately at stake when we consider the truth behind cosmological questions is stability and how we perceive it.

I totally get that it’s of little practical use to say that the universe is “turtles all the way down”. Infinite regressions suggest indefinite interconnectivity that leads to complex results out of even the tiniest interactions. When cause and effect become non-linear and the butterfly effect appears the norm everything devolves into a relativistic tangle that makes sense only at a local level. In other words context is all that matters and there is no universal truth or universal reality we can apply.

I am not convinced that is correct. But that is, I admit, my own desire to make sense of the universe at large. I feel that I, and by extension “we”, should be able to use the power of our brains to understand everything that we see. That is, after all, what gives us power.

Evidence to that effect however is, admittedly, thin on the ground. Augustus De Morgan, who thought deeply about these things, gave us a set of laws that anyone who is remotely familiar with Venn Diagrams will understand. He also gave us the far less helpful, though way more endearing Siphonaptera where an infinite regression makes local sense, locally.

Why does any of this matter? Why waste time thinking about it at all? What is the value of such thinking beyond the ability to use our brain to think about it? Well, there are some serious practical implications, not least the way we approach the things we do professionally from a first principles basis.

Thermodynamics, the branch of physics that studies the physical laws governing flow processes and the transference of energy also determines human activity and, by inference, human development and human thought. When everything is information the limitations we face (and the issues that arise from it) may indeed be what Claude Shannon theorized as limitations of the channel of transmission determined by bandwidth and noise.

In other words our capacity to communicate as well as our capacity to understand may just be determined by the individual processing power of our human brain and the level of distraction we encounter in the process.

This limitation may define our perspective to the degree that we become incapable of processing (and therefore perceiving) anything other than contextual realities and contextual truths. This, sad as it would be if proven true, would be consistent with Godel’s theorem of incompleteness that broadly states that proving some things is impossible without stepping outside the framework of their reality. In the plainest English possible it is impossible to see us as others see us without stepping outside our own skin.

In retrospect my professional writing career has plumed the depths of information, philosophy and human behavior to deliver insights that help us better understand what to do. This becomes next to impossible if we first don’t understand why we do things.

In a world where what is possible is defined by what we perceive as possible; where information comes with inherent limitations defined by the channel through which it is transmitted thoughts matter because they lead to actions. Actions define values and determine intent. Intent gives rise to purpose. Purpose defines effort. Effort allows us to allocate attention. Attention creates priorities and assigns importance. Priorities and importance are what is actually real to us.

Unpack all this and there is a marketing formula there that will work with your prospects regardless of what it is you’re selling and will work with search irrespective of what Google does with its algorithm updates.

First principles are constants. They become our North and, as such, provide the one and only fundamental, universal truth that may be available to us: our reality is fluid, but our efforts remain a constant.

Coffee and donuts. Cookies and croissants. Ice cream and chocolate cake. These are the constants on Sunday, with the Sunday Read. I hope you have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.

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