An Ode to Function
Originally Published on October 14, 2016 – By Leo Perez.
You read that right. Maybe you even suspected it. What you will read here, is without a doubt – in my view – is the only thing anyone, from any background, will ever need to know in order to succeed. I know that sounds like a big claim, and with good reason: the “self-help” industry is huge! Some may think one must read and understand these volumes of elaborate books and talks out there in order for us to become successful or happy. Why then write so many books on the topic? What do Tony Robbins, Robert Kiyosaki and Zig Ziglar have in common? They have all made millions off of the topic, and when millions are made, volume is important to keep the money flowing. That’s all there is to it. Nothing wrong with that, but money must be followed when understanding is desired.
Now, disclaimer: this is simply my opinion; I am not a therapist or licensed professional. This is just my view in the matter and you should only take it as such, and consult with professionals before attempting anything said here. Also, there is nothing wrong with enjoying reading or listening to positive books or talks. Some of us may find these energizing or at least encouraging. That’s fantastic. I mean it. This post is not about devaluing that which a lot of people may find comfort or pleasure in. However, sometimes there’s value in “trimming the fat” and getting to the core of the issues. That’s what I am going to talk to you about.
A note to people who believe in Type A and Type B personalities: If you believe in this A/B approach, you are not alone. I am not going to tell you that this is a false dichotomy; however, If you consider yourself to be a type B “go-with-the-flow”, relaxed type of person, allow me to invite you to read on with an open mind. This stuff will initially look like it’s a gigantic tribute to type A personalities, except it is not that at all. If anything, a type B personality is particularly adept at following this with great success, due to the innate peaceful nature of its personaly traits.
Ready? In the smaller number of words possible, you will reach the holy grail of self-help books by:
Executing the most functional algorithm in every one of your life’s decisions.
That’s it. If you got this, you can even stop reading, and start pondering upon those words, which are deceptively obvious. For the rest us, I know. I said “algorithm”. You must be thinking, wasn’t this going to be about self-help and music? Why is this starting to sound like a computer engineering diatribe? Stay with me, you shall see.
Now, an algorithm is nothing more than a set of conditional instructions. When programmers write the computer code for a video game, they simply instruct the computer what action to take depending on any given event. For instance, if a player presses the “a” button, the character in the screen moves a certain number of pixels (points) in the positive Y (up) direction, giving the impression to the player of a jump; if an arrow or joystick is pressed, the character moves in an X or Z (left/right – forward/backwards); if the character in the screen shares a point in the screen with an enemy graphic (a collision), then the computer may reduce the value of a variable called “health” indicating the player that the character is hurt. This is all you need to know about algorithms; there is really nothing else to them, again, just a set of instructions to be executed depending on the situation confronted at the point in time. Now, I realize we are way more complex than a computer character, so don’t worry, this is not about that type of analogy. However, a basic understanding of what an algorithm is was required.
Now, let’s talk about function. Function, as opposed to dysfunction is underrated. I will even dare say, dangerously undervalued in today’s world. That’s what this post is about. We will be talking about function in all its glory.
So, what is a functional algorithm? One of the golden rules of computer science is that a “good” (functional) program must always use the most optimal algorithm. What does this mean? An optimal – or efficient – decision (whether is made by an algorithm or a conscious being) is that which reaches the goal of the program (or personal objective) with the least amount of energy, friction (decay, entropy, heat, discomfort, damage, ugliness?) with the highest speed and degree of accuracy possible. Some may use “elegant” as an interchangeable word for optimal. You get the point. Now, on the other hand “function” is that which is achieved as a result of the successful application of an optimal algorithm: a goal is reached, while leaving a minimal amount of footprint in the environment, or even better, improving it in the process.
An optimal algorithm is not the same as a functional algorithm but the former is rather a requirement for the latter. You may have an optimal algorithm that distributes viruses in a system (biological or artificial), but we can hardly say that its goal is to reach a state of “function”. On the contrary, such an algorithm is one of the most dysfunctional algorithms known to man. (This is a big topic. Some may argue that such an algorithm is functional for the virus propagation or even other purposes, but this is ultimately untrue once a certain point of propagation is reached. The idea here is not to discuss this in detail, but instead focus on what the title of my post points to).
Now, why the world algorithm? You may be thinking, why not simply use words such as decision, choice, strategy or instruction instead? This is important. As a matter of fact, I think it’s a big deal. The reason I use the word algorithm, is because that’s exactly what it is, it’s not something general as a strategy, a list of decisions, or some simple advice or instructions. An algorithm is something that engineers constantly update and design meticulously so that whatever goal of the program is reached without exception. An algorithm leaves no room – or at least it shouldn’t – for uncertainty. Whatever you happen to run into, you must have a decision or path that executes depending on the goal of the program. That’s why telling the difference between simple “advice” or “choice” and algorithm is essential. I think this is easier to understand if we work with an example. Let’s say that your goal, the program for your life that you have set out to do involves achieving and adequate physical shape for your health and personal look. First, I am going to give you an example of what a strategy, advice or a description of simple choices looks like:
- Avoid high calorie foods.
- Work out.
- Eat slowly
- Avoid temptation
- Practice mindful eating
- Have multiple meals during the day
- Reward yourself.
And now I will show you what an algorithm looks like:
- Enjoy the journey
- Do not worry if the algorithm doesn’t execute 100% correctly.
- Be open to new information and experiences.
- Relax again, and take deep breaths.
If I go out at night:
- Avoid going with Ryan and Sabrina, because they tend to enable me to consume high calorie foods. Instead, go see a movie with them instead.
- Also stay away from wine, since it makes me hungry and prone to overeat
- Always have healthy snack # 1 and 2, in case I become hungry
- Have my cell phone remind me of doing so to avoid future temptation.
- When the night is finished, if I successfully achieved all points above, make a note on my diary indicating that I have successfully done so, and that I have earned 3 points towards becoming eligible for reward A.
If at anytime I become eligible for reward A:
- Have a snack of no more than 300 calories while watching favorite TV show.
- Get a massage.
Etc, etc. See the difference? An algorithm is a meticulous plan of action where accounting for all contingencies is key. I know what you Type B personalities are thinking: “FORGET IT! There is no way I am going to plan my life this much in detail. This is hell, it makes no sense!” Well, I understand if you are thinking that right now, and I honestly don’t blame you. I would invite you to realize that this is not something that you will have to continuously do all of the time; the idea is that these processes become automatic for you for a relatively long time, until you have to change them again after they become obsolete. Not only that, but for type Bs, you have to realize that time for relaxation, enjoying the journey is essential for any and all functional algorithms. So give this a shot!
The immediate question that follows reading this definition is: how do we know what the most functional algorithm for our lives is? That’s where we actually get started with the real content of this discussion and where things get actually interesting. This is also where you see why the line: “Executing the most functional algorithm in every one of your life’s decisions” is actually deceptively obvious. You may think you understand this by reading it one time without pondering on it, but there’s much more to it than it seems.
There is plenty of evidence that shows how situations of a “win/win” nature – where each agent involved “wins” after any given process executes – as opposed to “win/lose” or “lose/lose” are in general more conducive to the health and prosperity of the agents in it. Evolution is a perfect example of this: cooperation generally pays more than conflict and after millions of years of evolution, in our present time, cooperation is markedly more prevalent than aggression in most ecosystems that include agents endowed with sophisticated cognitive abilities. We may even argue that our bodies are the epitome of cooperation among agents. This is where music is very useful for understanding this from another point of view: what is the definition of Aesthetics? What is considered beautiful? What music can be said to be universally accepted as the most aesthetic or masterful? The answer is: music which contains and/or inspires more function to our senses. This is what all masterpieces have in common: harmony between its parts, or the capacity of inspiring in us an emotional response directly correlated to the juxtaposition of chaos/order, entropy/function. (I recommend playing some Bach fugue right about now).
There are some pieces of music or art that are easily associated with this concept of function; the Sistine Chapel, Bach’s Mass in B minor, and any classic or romantic work of art you could think of. Now, what about those art pieces of darker and destructive tones? Think about something as majestic as the Mozart’s Requiem or a piece as devastatingly poignant as Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony (or even some Death Metal). They both relate to themes of death (decay, sadness, chaos?). Are these pieces proof that function – understood as cooperation among agents and the opposite of randomness, chaos or disarray– is not really the ultimate goal of all art? Most certainly not. The reason we intuitively and unconsciously enjoy tragedy, drama and otherwise non-positive pieces of art or stories, is precisely because we are acutely aware of the importance of function in our lives, if not in the entire universe. Sad or dark music reminds of this, and makes us long for function.
Function, as derived from the above paragraphs, is the ultimate reason for our existence. Not only that of conscious beings (animals, bacteria, etc), but it is essential to the existence of all that surround us. You may have heard physicists saying that matter in the universe has a tendency to stay in a state of greater entropy. This means that atoms in general have a tendency for randomness. This being said, LIFE EXISTS!! Life is certainly the opposite of randomness, and in a way, the opposite of entropy. Life is the most beautiful (functional, harmonious) system – mother’s nature most beautiful masterpiece- we know of. It’s not perfect, but it points out to such a high degree of organization or function that the mere thought of it gives us goose bumps if not euphoria at contemplating it.
As you may imagine, I have a lot of creative friends. People who work in the arts or fields of creativity often look for extreme experiences that most folks wouldn’t dare to. Some of these friends are very close to me, and I have discussed these ideas with them. A common response from a creative mind such as these goes like this: “nonsense! I need a healthy dose of dysfunction in my life, otherwise is not worth living. I need my drugs, cigarettes, risk, unsafe sex… etc. etc. We need to know the limits of experience to have a life worth living, otherwise, there is no point. Life is too short!” This is a clear misunderstanding of the message. I am not arguing against the personal choices someone would have in their lives. This is not about judging how you live your life, but how you can do whatever you want to do in the most functional way possible. Humans, like everything else in nature, come in all types and sizes, and we all have our own path to live and experience, I am not here to tell you how to live your life, but I am here to tell you that there is a functional ways to do it, and many that are not. For instance, some people are born to do kite diving; the risk is huge, but they can’t seem to find rest and purpose in their lives unless they dedicate their lives to this. Who are we to judge? Again, such a person would have a number of functional ways to enjoy their passion, and dysfunctional ways to do so. In general, we can all agree that we value our lives, and the longer time we have to enjoy the things we like doing, the better. So again, this is not about making anybody into saints, but rather, into the best possible version of ourselves that can manifest what we want in our lives.
I could write pages about this, exemplify endless situations in which high levels of function is clearly the maximum stage any system or person can ever hope for, and it would in fact be a highly pleasurable activity; however, this is a blog post, and I think keeping this short is necessary in order to move on to the rest of it.
There is only one more concept that we must approach in order to see why this is truly the one and only directive you need in your life, and perhaps even that of a country or any system in existence in the universe. That concept is Trust. The common definition of trust is actually quite apt for our purposes here. Trust is the result of an evaluation which occurs when there is evidence of cooperation or lack of aggression between agents. I don’t think this requires much explanation, you know when you trust someone, and you know when even a computer doesn’t trust you to be a human, and requires you to prove it by doing an internet “Captcha” test. You see trust and distrust everywhere in the universe: in our immune system when white cells accept or attack bodies in the blood stream, in our elections when we vote for a public official, in our personal life when we become emotionally involved with someone, and even on the road, when we drive without stopping at the green light, trusting that no one will collide with us since they are respecting the red light intersecting our road. Trust is in fact a bet an agent in a system makes that another agent in relationship with it will behave in an expected manner.
Trust is essential for function. We cannot lead functional lives, unless we have trust. The more trust, the more function there is, and the more success is experienced. This should not be one bit controversial. I dare you to come up with any system in existence, in which trust is not essential. I don’t think you will have much luck. I don’t care what you want to achieve, pleasure, universal peace, elevated or altered states of consciousness, abundance, joy, love… Trust is the most important prerequisite for all else.
Here’s another word that involves trust and function: Love.
Now, here’s the interesting part: “low trust” systems (those in which agents have comparatively low synergy between agents, or where aggression among them is prevalent) are benefited in the short term by individualism, somewhat aggressive and selfish algorithms, while in general all systems benefit in the long term by altruistic, cooperative (win / win “high trust”) algorithms. It’s important not to confuse competition with low trust. Competition is generally functional, as long as it’s based on a cooperative common goal. The more trust a system has, the better competition works. This phenomenon is the basic mechanism by which function is reached in any system.
Music, as always, is particularly useful in understanding this at a deeper lever. As we mentioned earlier, when you listen to a piece of music, you always find it pleasurable because: it either gives you a direct mental metaphor of function, order (or even love), or it gives you one of pain which may leave you “sore” in an abstract way for unfulfilled love, function or order. Tonal music (Mozart, Bach, Pop Music, Classic Jazz) in contrast with atonal or dissonant music (Avant-garde, contemporary, free jazz) is particularly useful in this discussion. Tonal music gives you a high dose of “sonic trust”, because our brain is naturally attuned to the chords and harmonies in it. When you listen to Beethoven’s 9th symphony (Ode to Joy) your mind is massaged with an overwhelming tapestry of beauty in the form of pure function. On the other hand, when you listen to a piece such as Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question, you are confronted with disorder in juxtaposition to order. Another example could be music with predominantly major keys and fast tempos (joyful) versus minor and slower (sad) piece; both approaches can be potent doses of emotional triggers for your mind, but they serve different masters; the tonal/joyful music advocates for the anti-entropic, “high trust” nature of our existence, while the dissonant/sad music reminds us of the role violence, aggression and “low trust” situations in our lives which endanger the function that we highly seek after.
The beauty of music is that is by its very nature abstract. It can help you contemplate feelings of sadness or joy, without necessarily making you actually happy or sad. Music is an abstraction of reality that speaks to you without words in extremely meaningful and powerful ways, but never in the same way an actual life event or a visual stimulus would; music is therefore a perfect way to explore this topic, since it can both exemplify and illustrate at an emotional level the importance of this topic in all aspects of our lives. Do yourself a favor and listen to some music now (no lyrics) and put this to the test. You will find it quite revealing.
At this point we have established two basic concepts where all of this derives: Function and Trust. These are pillars of a successful system, and therefore, the pillars of any successful enterprise, human or not. We can also think of them in this particular order: Trust – Most Functional Algorithm – Function/Success. More in detail, we could say that in order to lead a successful life (or to reach the goal of any particular system) we must:
- Realize that you only have one goal in your life, and that is to reach the maximum level of function you possible can before dying both for yourself and others. Now that you have accepted this, determine the specific goal desired in your life, depending on the trust levels of the system you are working with. This is not easy. Entire volumes can be written about this topic. However, in general, the most functional goal based on a long-term ideal scenario tends to be caring to the environment, to others, selfless and as non-invasive as possible. Selfish goals rarely work, as they are dysfunctional by definition. If you find yourself utilizing this for a selfish purpose, note you will eventually get permanently stuck on step 3. These goals need to be very specific; however, don’t worry if at first your goals are too general, since as you move to the nest steps, you will naturally and inevitably narrow them down. For instance, you may choose to improve your financial situation. That’s a very general goal, which can be broken down in many sub-goals. The purpose of the next steps is precisely to help you break it down, until you can have an algorithm designed for every minute of your life, which helps you move towards your goal.
- Assess the amount of trust of the system. Identify where each and every agent trust and distrust connections and write them down. For instance, for improving your financial situation, can you trust other people to give you money just by asking? The answer is evidently, no. Therefore, you need to find other agents that would be willing to give you money in a trusting environment. What about money for a service you offer? Can you be trusted to operate on a patient? Can you be trusted to pay off an education loan for medical school? Can you trust the school you plan to attend to give you the adequate training you need? Little by little this trust assessment will take you where you need to.
- Design the most optimal/functional algorithm for it based on the definitions provided in previous paragraphs and the levels of trust you have assessed. How do you know which one will be the most effective algorithm? Always look for decisions/solutions that generate the maximum levels of trust for everyone involved in the system. For example: if your goal is to lose weight or achieve better health, when it’s time to eat outside, you know that some places or people can’t be trusted to offer or encourage you to have healthy food options. Therefore, the most functional decision tree logic would indicate that you should not go out with these people to eat, at least for the time being. If your goal is to learn a new language, and you know that you trust yourself to concentrate more in the morning, then plan ahead your life so you can do the heavy bulk of the studying in those hours. Again, trust is key. The idea here is to allow your systems of behavior reach higher levels of function, which in turn create elevated levels of trust, which allow new algorithms to be even more efficient. Function has its own momentum; all you need to do is allow it to continue.
- Re-assess step # 1 and levels of trust constantly as changes occur in the systems.
- Re-determine the most optimal algorithm as new levels of trust occur.
- Repeat 2-4 indefinitely
- Reach happiness/success/enlightenment/pleasure/aesthetic experiences/love/function… what’s the difference?
I should note that these steps have a prerequisite: you must allow yourself to be calm. You can blame it on the reptilian and instinctual brain we still carry in our skulls, or you can attribute it to divinity if you want to. It doesn’t really matter, the only thing that you have to be aware of is that fear, anxiety and general unrest are extremely dysfunctional emotions in the long-term, and nothing will work if you don’t start from a calm state of mind. These things are the opposite of trust, and your defensive primitive mind will always take control reduce your cognitive capacity and isolate yourself from all perceived danger. That’s why the first step towards function, is to reach a trusting set of mind in the universe in which there is no room for fear.
Remember: trust is the most fundamental property of function, and a calm mind, is the most basic from of trust you need to have for anything else to work. Imagine early life on earth, all primitive forms of life competing for resources and eating each other at the first opportunity; does this sound like a trusting environment to you? Evolution couldn’t have taken place unless there were progressively higher levels of trust reached among the agents (living creatures) on earth. Without this, survival was impossible; fear would have been a temporarily functional emotion (it helps you survive), but eventually, only the most aggressive agents were only able to survive, and the trust needed among aggressive agents was evidently not present to allow higher and more complex cognitive abilities we see today in mammals.
Your mind, world and life work in the same way, you need trust in your system (customers, partners, friends and coworkers) in order to succeed, and none of it will occur if you have fear and you don’t trust yourself. So once again, trust yourself, love yourself and accept yourself as you are. Nobody is perfect, but the only fact that you are alive should be enough reason to be thankful, joyful and calm about having this brief instant of consciousness in the universe. Even if at first you can’t feel it, acknowledge this, breathe deeply and practice calming your mind before doing the steps above. Little by little you will notice the difference.
Photo credit – Nicolas Raymond – “Organic Winter Decay – HDR Texture” under a cc license.
Here’s another extremely exciting part about this approach: you must train yourself to “smell” and seek function in every aspect of your life. Not only this is extremely useful, but it’s the most pleasurable thing you can ever do. Your constant striving for it will never disappoint. In my case, music is my window to function; every time a need a good dose of it, I listen to the great masters, analyze a piece of music or write some of it and it always helps. You may have a resource of your own, that’s fine. Just be sure to expose yourself to the form of function that most appeals to you, enjoy it, bask yourself in all its glory, and repeat. That’s what makes this process so enjoyable. And best of all, it’s everywhere; from the trees in your backyard to the equations ruling heavenly objects in the cosmos. The real fun begins when the poetry of function not only comes from your surroundings but from your own life. There’s hardly anything more exhilarating than this.
At this point you have the basics of what I have been trying to say here. How do you see this playing out in real life? You can put this to the test in literally any area of existence. Think of politics: regions with low levels of trust (Venezuela and their failing government, Africa and their terrible and recurrent episodes of extreme violence, Argentina and Colombia in South America drowning in corruption) don’t benefit – as a matter of fact, may even hurt in the short term – with “high trust” solutions such as socialism, altruism and other similar supposedly loving, progressive, “soft-handed” approaches that ignore or even undo existing structures of trust.
This happens because the high level of distrust in the system makes it impossible for these new solutions to work, especially when old ones are dismantled. This is why dictators arise, gangs form and easily spread and wars often break out, because there is not enough trust in the system to allow for function to occur and develop. Getting back to our early life example, imagine a much more primitive stage of evolution in which living beings only survived due the effects of fear on their environment. Imagine now, an extraterrestrial life form imposing trusting and loving laws upon these individuals. Even if they could understand them, it would never work! When trust of the system is highly placed in aggression, nothing else would work, and prematurely destroying the existing trust structures is always dysfunctional. This may be hard to hear, but often times, at least for the shortest term possible, the most functional algorithm for a situation like this in a low trust environment, is a “conservative” approach, where self reliance often work best, while working – through functional algorithms – to progressively elevate levels of trust. Once a sufficient level of trust is gained, such “conservative” algorithm would inevitably become obsolete, and a more altruistic approach (socialism, cooperation, and accessible superior education, healthcare and universal income solutions) would be needed. Such more “loving” or progressive algorithm would bring the system into higher degrees of function, also inevitably.
In my native country of Colombia, as I write this, the population just voted “NO” on an unprecedented opportunity (a plebiscite) to make peace with its largest rebel, terrorist-guerrilla group FARC. I, as you can imagine, was all for a YES. However, I knew in my heart that whatever the people chose would be the right decision because, again, you cannot force function on a system, unless their trust “nodes” (“points” where agents interact) are ready to be replaced for better ones. I was saddened the people voted NO, but on the other hand, if democracy has any value, is precisely for informing the architects of the system (often ourselves) what trust structures can be replaced, and which ones must exist for a little longer, no matter how painful they may be. There was great distrust for the government and the deal, and distrust is always dysfunctional. The most functional algorithm for any situation like this would need to involve the never-ending quest for creating additional levels of trust. Then, and only then can change occur.
We have something similar occurring right now in my adoptive, my one and only country – my beloved United States of America – where I have spent all of my adult life, where nearly half the country is willing to vote for an authoritarian figure (Donald Trump) out of fear for nearly all aspects of daily life (unemployment, terrorism, crime, immigrants), and the other half voting for Hillary Clinton out of fear that Donald Trump may win. Again, fear ruling our decisions; how dysfunctional of us. Here’s the thing: trust can never be forced upon anybody, it can only be inspired, earned and learned by imitation from people we trust. Our government is so dysfunctional that both sides have forgotten the gigantic importance of trust in our lives. This election is proof of that.
Another example of this being applied to geopolitics could be seen in places such as Canada or the Scandinavian countries, where the harsh winters and other difficult conditions “forced” the population to gain levels of trust that other geographical locations didn’t need to have. For instance, in the tropics of Colombia, where food and water is relatively easy to find without much concerted effort and synergy between agents, high levels of trust are not required, at least initially. In the case of a country like Canada, which would rate highly in trust levels, the failure of trusting each other and to prepare for such harsh winters and scarcity could prove literally fatal for the entire population.
Our environment shapes the way we think and act, and algorithms that invest in the trust needed will always take us to higher levels of function. Thus, it’s not like there’s a right or wrong in what’s perceived as opposite poles such as being “conservative” or “liberal”, “left” or “right, etc, etc; on the other hand, each approach represents the spectrums of various possible algorithms (public policy, social choices, etc.) that could be applied to each social context. Following our train of thought here, it’s clear that any conservative algorithm (not giving health care to the population, being tough on crime and defense, not providing for the poor, etc, etc.) is not really wrong per-se (sorry, bear with me), as long as it is understood only as a temporary solution (with the shortest possible term), in order to generate higher levels of trust, and bring larger function to the system it is applied to.
There will be moments in which a formerly functional conservative algorithm will become obsolete, to the point of becoming dysfunctional. This is, in my view, the case of what is happening in the United States with Health Care; it has become so dysfunctional, that even people who sorely need affordable health care sometimes campaign against their own interest and reject solutions such as Universal, single-payer care, due to lack of understanding of what is being discussed in this post and blind allegiance to authoritarian or conservative ideologies and tribes. In the past, when the costs of health care weren’t this high, people could afford to have a conservative approach (a formerly functional algorithm) which allowed families to have adequate health care. Things have definitely changed though; there are advances in medicine which allow for much more effective treatments (higher levels of trust in creating function for patients), but it has also become much more expensive for patients to afford it (the old algorithm has become obsolete and is therefore dysfunctional). There are, of course, several functional solutions that would take advantage of levels of trust among progressives, which would benefit the entire population.
It is not the scope of this post to discuss healthcare solutions, but needless to say, we are at a tipping point in American society, in which things are so polarized and we are so divided right in the middle, that letting the levels of progressive trust permeate to the majority proves to be a great challenge. Choosing a solution that works for all will never be reached if we continue to cling to the past, since doing so is generally dysfunctional and anti-natural; everything in the universe is in motion, and being conservative is only functional (and could be in fact VERY functional), if we understand such approach can only be temporary, never permanent.
Now, think of your personal relationships. Have you developed enough trust in yourself to let any relationship be a functional one? Do you trust him enough to go out with him? Do you trust her enough to keep seeing her? Do you trust him enough to introduce him to your family? Do you trust her enough to decide to move in with her? To buy a house? To have children? To die for him/her? Is it functional to remain with this person? Is it functional for me to let him/her go? To lose him/her? Is it functional for me to abuse my partner or let myself to be abused in a relationship? Once again, regardless of how difficult executing the most functional algorithm in your life could be, it must be done, once you have a sufficient level of confidence the trust in the system (in this case, your relationship and society around you) allows you to do so. This may include divorce, marriage, having children, renouncing or embracing opportunities, etc, etc. The same universal principles apply here.
Now, this is important. This is not a cheesy, cringe-inducing pseudo-romantic message. There is of course an answer to all of this: love. There is no function with love, without love and trust, dysfunction occurs and the flow stops. Love is not some abstract concept of trivial importance; love is the pinnacle of millions of years of evolution telling us we need to take care of each other in order to take care of ourselves. Love is a synonym of functional intelligence; hate is a marker of a dysfunctional system, while love is the highest proof of success of any system. It is no accident that loving and respecting yourself is essential for a functional relationship. Love is the cornerstone of every relationship, and it begins with self-love. Lack of love for your own self invites fear and insecurity, which leads to dysfunction in the form of aggression, possessive behavior, jealousy, neglect and disconnection. I have been saying that trust and love could be used interchangeably, well, in personal relationships it’s even more so.
When choosing the correct algorithm to reach higher function in your relationship, you must, as always, evaluate the levels of trust in all involved individuals, and decide accordingly. Sometimes these decisions are hard, such as a separation, or moving to a more committed state we previously feared, but failing to execute the most functional algorithm always results in everyone involved paying a high price in pain.
Now, think of how much you value your own self. Do you trust yourself to progressively lead a more functional life? Do you need to set hard-line (conservative, individualized, less cooperative or free) algorithms that can temporarily allow you to reach higher levels of trust? Do you have a healthy (functional) level of self love/trust to embrace new levels of happiness and abandon dysfunction in your life? Are you constantly depending on what your fears dictate? Are you ready to abandon a dysfunctional environment in order to allow more trust and love into your life?
The reason mindfulness practices and meditation are so powerful, is because they allow us experience the innate function we all have built into our selves and consciousness. By ridding the mind of noise and fears, you allow trust, love and therefore function to enter it. Meditation and mindfulness behavior is nothing other than the application of step 2 to your own self. This is not just some cheap self-help overused line; you cannot expect to bring function into the life of others if you don’t welcome it on your own self. You must love, respect and trust yourself in order to bring higher levels of function (success, resources, satisfaction, love, etc, etc). Not trusting your own self will simply create dysfunction at all levels, since distrust is a synonym of fear, and fear leads to aggression, resentment and prejudices.
Most important than any of what has been mentioned already, the whole meaning of your life depends on it. We all want the same: love, order, harmony, to have aesthetic experiences, to experience pleasure, function. Again, I don’t care what you want in your life. Do you think being a corporate employee is boring? Do you want to be a rock star? It doesn’t matter. Regardless of your wishes, nothing will happen until you surrender to the fact that you, since you were born, have been craving for function, and that only through function you can achieve whatever it is that you need to achieve.
If you re-assess your life decisions as much as possible as in: is this decision a functional one? Is eating this donut functional? Is dropping school functional? Is refusing to wind down and “smell the roses” every now and then functional? We must always ask ourselves at every moment of our days, until it becomes automatic: is the decision/word/attitude/action I am about to take or not take, functional or dysfunctional? You see the pattern. Only you can determine the path you take depending on your own levels of trust and the skill set you have developed or gifted with at birth; however only functional decisions will take you where you want to be.
We all reach for aesthetic experiences in the form of art, food, poetry, sex, religion, spiritualism, drugs, and of course: music. Why is that? We do this because all conscious beings have an innate and overwhelming need of experiencing function, order, harmony or synergy in their lives. Our universe may be always tending towards higher levers of entropy, but our conscious selves instruct us to do otherwise. Some may argue this is an evolutionary advantage (it helps us survive), and some will simply point out how spiritual is to strive for the best possible functional state we can reach. Listening to a masterpiece, enjoying the harmonious order of nature and art is a perfect way to do this, and of course creating poetry with our own lives (by achieving higher levels of function) is even better. A religious experience, or a secular euphoric experience is never absent from this. In fact, God can be defined as the ultimate form of function, the highest level of function a system can reach, or perhaps simply infinite function or infinite love of all systems.
When ancient traditions or religions point out to “getting closer to God” this is what they are referring to: reaching the highest level of function possible in our lives and around us. When you understand this, this should be as evident as the stars in a clear night. We are not separate from God, but we are part of it, in the infinite fractal that our world is made in its semblance, reaching little by little (perhaps infinitely and ever) to it. You can be an atheist, a Muslim or a fundamentalist Christian, and none of it would make any difference; regardless of what you may believe, our universe has a vector that can be clearly observed, a definite direction that goes towards harmony or function right in the face of entropy. Ignoring it, or working against it is evidently highly harmful, and working with it, synchronizing with it, dancing to it, is wonderful, aesthetic, pleasurable and of course, functional.
Other than decisions that create higher levels of trust, how do we know which algorithm (decision) is the most functional?
I started this post pointing out how there are so many volumes of self-help books around. Most of them focus on step 3, and a minority of them on step 2. Again, all of this is helpful. However, with the advent of the internet, all you really need is to research on your own the answers you need to choose what the best functional algorithm is for each situation of your life. I didn’t say this was always easy. Sometimes designing the direction of our lives gets challenging, but it doesn’t really have to be. Where to get from here? How can you trust what information to use in designing your most functional algorithms? These are my recommendations:
- Again, look for solutions that create the maximum levels of trust. This is so powerful, that I can almost say that if you get this right, all other steps will come on their own. That being said:
- Consult research that has reached scientific consensus. This is not infallible, but it’s dysfunctional to ignore large numbers of overwhelming results that centuries of applied science can bring (never ignore knowledge obtained from high trust systems such as what scientific consensus provides). Never hesitate at going here first. Don’t jump at every piece of news, new fad, new study. Be patient, inform yourself well and assess your options based on your personal context.
- Don’t be afraid of imitating highly functional people (function as defined in this post, for example: Albert Einstein, Johan Sebastian Bach, Mahatma Gandhi are all highly functional individuals, while Hitler, Bin Laden and Stalin are spectacularly dysfunctional ones). Think, “what would (fill in the blank your favorite role model)do in this situation?” When imitating role models, be open to people who are different than you, people who may have other (even opposing) interests, but generate high levels of trust around them, and lead functional lives. Don’t push aside corporate/artsy/hipster/hippy types just because they are different than you; again, follow evidence function and trust, everything else is just irrelevant.
- Consult with your most loved and trusted friends and family around you. Don’t be afraid of listening to those functional individuals around you who display high levels of trust and love towards you, others and themselves. Also, abstain from consulting with low trust and fearful individuals in relationship to you.
- Consult with yourself! Meditate, and visualize the best version of your universal self. Relax and imagine yourself in your favorite nature spot where you can be calm and unperturbed. Imagine how your past, future, cosmic, physical, transcendental, infinite, biological, pedestrian and current self would best react in the specific situation you are trying to design an algorithm for. (oh, this is fun to do!).
- Pay attention to all of this, compare it to all other 4 points and get busy getting your best life possible.
I realize it’s tempting to see all this as words that are too general, but I dare you to find one are of life where one could observe that this wouldn’t overwhelmingly apply. Not only that, but I have noticed how most individuals or people in charge of systems are often unaware of this, and go along with their lives and responsibilities never contemplating any of this. Someone once said to me: “Turn off automatic in your Life!” this is what this is about. Our lives are ruled by automated responses that we rarely care to change or adapt, mostly due to fear, which is the most dysfunctional long term emotion we can have. This is how we get rid of fear and improve our lives. The opposite of fear is not peace, but trust, and there can be no function where trust is not present. A calm and peaceful mind is fertile ground for a highly functional life, so start there. Don’t focus on anything else, don’t judge yourself (am I too crazy? Too lazy? Too stupid? Too slow? Too old? Too young?) simply focus on reaching inner-peace, and the best decisions will almost always come all on their own. After all, a great master once said: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
The last thing that I want to do is lecture you on how you should behave, how great I am, and how you should live your life in the way I tell you so you can be as awesome as me. A lot of self-help authors do this, they try to give out a highly successful image, so you can in turn trust everything they say. I can respect that. However, in my case, is all the opposite. Nobody, including me (perhaps, especially me!) is perfect. I am painfully aware of my shortcomings and fears. I can honestly tell you, that if I had discovered this before in my early years of life or if my mentors had instilled me the incredible degree of control such a framework for our lives gives us, my life would have been completely different. I want you to learn from my mistakes, not just my achievements. Learn from the times I made terrible decisions, for ignoring the value of trust and decisions in our world. I want you to trust me not because I want you to see how cool I am, but precisely for the opposite: trust me for making many mistakes that allowed me to see a universal truth which everybody can benefit from; a loving, free and functional world full of trust and ever-growing beauty.
Lots of Love,