Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Are You Eatin' It, Or Is It Eatin' You?

Check out this great blog post about agency and, perhaps more important, our perceptions of it. Here's just one of its cool insights, something I'm definitely going to try during my next few deadline crises:

    All of us are fighting distractions – web sites, noises, snacking, minor tasks, watching episodes of Bad Lipreading: – anything that momentarily seems more attractive than the task we are supposed to be working on. It is slightly paradoxical, but I have found that endowing these distractors with agency helps me to politely but firmly dismiss their attempts to grab my attention. Maybe it’s not so paradoxical – if resisting distractors requires willpower, it is not so fanciful to think that it is easier to resist an agent than an inanimate attractor, if only because we have lots of practice and techniques for opposing other agents.

A major theme in the piece—or at least, one I took away from it—is that we Earthlings have a truly dizzying multiplicity of different ways to misperceive reality, and what's worse, we can and often do develop emotional attachments to our particular flavor of delusion—and I posit that those attachments, and that multiplicity, are why any vision of universal human harmony is pure fantasy. (If it should ever be achieved, then those who achieve it would probably be posthumans, not humans.)

This in itself is no great revelation, but the various ways we frame agency are listed and dissected systematically in the post, to great effect. I always enjoy reading the ruminations of people who are much smarter than I am but whose perspectives and preoccupations are mostly similar to mine (in this case, the ongoing effort to reconcile the seeming stability of science with the obvious chaos of human nature).

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