One Step Beyond Logic: Linear vs. Exponential Causality

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”

― Frank Herbert, DUNE

The greatest handicap in my own growth was not personal baggage or trauma, but simply that my perception of “how things work” was stuck in a very narrow, very mechanical framework, based on the cultural values I absorbed, and “common knowledge” (which is common, but not knowledge, usually). That isn’t to downplay my history or sufferings, but no one event has been as impactful on me as the decades long immersion in the many flawed ideas about life that the overculture of modernity propagates. The chief idea I hold culprit is that all things happen in a rational, observable, casual A to B linear progress based on our perception of time as linear, rather than the principle of Exponentiality – that things in motion expand rapidly in whatever direction they have been pushed, sometimes other directions, and that these outcomes often cannot be predicted or immediately understood on the surface (or at all). 

Expanding my perception to allow for the unpredictable, inexplicable, and mysterious has unequivocally benefitted my life on every possible level. I have some ideas about these principles and how they work, some of them very strange, but the most grounded and observable one, is in this metaphoric context, Exponentiality (I don’t know if that was a real word, but it is now). There are limitations within this framework as well, but it’s still better than pure Linear Time Causality. These things are not opposites, but different perceptive lenses for how we think about our own capacities and growth.

(Side note, because it is only our perception of time, growth, and decay that seems to be linear, there’s no reason things that appear to be “past” aren’t actually things proactively affecting us now; or aren’t subject to change in the imaginal-mind sense, which, of course, affects the body-spirit complex in the present. Anywhosit.) 

LINEARITY PLACES LIMITS

We all run our conscious and unconscious minds on default assumptions and beliefs, and this belief in Linear Causality as the primary driver of life can be particularly limiting.

Belief that every event in life has a logical cause and effect progression, based on our perception of linear time, and that everything that will happen in the future therefore must be something that we can predict, map out, and “control,” is a huge limiter on our capacity.

This assumption also hinges on two things:

One, the belief that you think rationally and make decisions rationally; that we critically examine our choices. We do not, most of the time. There are plenty of long term studies that demonstrate this, but even a cursory glance at past and present historical events will display an obvious blind-eye to logic. WWI, an event that irrevocably wreaked havoc on western civilization, is on the surface, an illogical and irrational event to a tragic degree. Perhaps there were unseen exponential forces of destruction at work that have their own internal “logic,” but it certainly was not a product of world “leaders” sitting down and deciding what course of action made any kind of sense in the big picture, even though I’m sure many of the shot-callers were convinced of their own rationality. I digress.

Two, that knowledge of perceived past events gives you the remote capacity to predict your own future. I don’t know how many crises, Black Swans, or examples we need to stop trying to predict the future, but I know for my own part, I have relinquished any illusion (and it is an illusion) that I can guess the likely outcomes for anything but the smallest, most immediate scale.

Our brains love to feed us a narrative that we are in control of far more than we actually are – this leads to all kinds of thwarted expectations and disappointments, as we frequently pin our hopes on some hypothetical “someday” when things will be easy. It’s a comforting mental safety blanket with all the resilience of tissue paper. It’s helpful for the day to day to some degree, but inhibiting in the big picture. 

We cannot predict the future. We can, however, come to deeper self-appreciation and awareness of our blindspots and potential, and create probability opportunities. A probability opportunity is born out of the forward momentum of positive actions.

Linear Time Causality assumes that we can predict and plan all outcomes, when the reality is that the possible outcomes are past the billions; in numbers un-trackable by any human mind. This is not a framework that allows in the energy of positive momentum and how radically it can shift our lives.

Our conscious-thoughts are a pinhole that can only feed us small slivers of information at a time in our day to day life. Our unconscious beliefs, emotions, and values, are the real drivers; they let our brain think it’s calling the shots in the day to day, which makes the mind feel secure. This system makes sense for getting the tasks of living done, but when it comes to allowing positive change, the mind can reflexively default to this assumption that it needs to understand HOW everything is going to happen, and if it cannot picture that process or outcome, determines that said change is not possible.

I think an antidote to this is to stay curious while abandoning the need to understand everything.

This goes back to our understanding of linear time and our desire to logically “understand” (rationalize) every element of our lives. 

Linear causality is a reality of existence – you light something on fire, it will likely burn if it’s a flammable object. As a default understanding of every single process in our lives, however, it’s not nearly enough. 

Principles and action > Information and analysis. The latter two ARE valuable – when they are in service of the former, but not if they are stuck in a rigid box. Where does an oak tree grow better, a plot of land, or a pot of soil?

EXPONENTIALITY IS A CHANGE PRINCIPLE

Our minds are more powerful than our ability to comprehend – they are reality making root networks, constantly seeking and growing and merging with other roots, adjusting to terrain, seeking safety, but also exploring the limits of potential growth. They need room in all directions.

So what the hell does the nature of time have to do with us? Well, I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough about the exact nature of time (If you happen to study time, I wanna talk to you), but our PERCEPTION of time is the antagonist of my thesis here: Our understanding of personal growth is enmeshed into our understanding that things happen because of a causal A to B relationship, that we should be able to clearly plot out and see how things will happen. We assume our growth rate is fixed and linear. We assume our capacities are fixed and expand or degrade linearly. So much of our collective ideas about “improvement” are stuck within an idea construct that’s incredibly limiting.

What if we were all open to the idea that once we engage with something we desire to be better at, we can get better at it exponentially, more quickly, and with greater ease? 

The more I have bought into this perception lens, the more true it seems to become. I say “seems,” because again, I never want to take for granted that I do not have the whole picture. Stay open to the mystery.  

Exponentiality seems to work “forward,” and as we will always be dominated by Linear Time Perception. Our bodies are ruled by growth and decay,  but Exponentiality is an understanding-lens that can be more useful to us than Linear Causality. In Linear Causality, A moves to B moves to C and on down the line; a somber processional that ends with someone in the dirt, a fixed container in a fixed place. 

Exponential growth is the principle that once I double something, I don’t gain the ability to double it again, I gain the ability to massively increase it, quickly.  It’s recording a song. One year later, the song has been heard by the hundred or so people in your immediate network. Ten years later, that song has been heard by millions (ten years may not seem “quick” to us, but according to the Earth, it’s barely half a blink).


“WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS.”

One the negative side, there’s a colloquial understanding that when things go poorly, they go poorly all at once, and to an extreme degree. Why? I’ll spare you metaphysical hypothesizing for the moment, but think about this: Deterioration is also an exponential process. If I hurt myself badly, it will get that much easier to get hurt again, and then it’s a quick descent into possible death. 

Once a person over 65 fractures or breaks their hip, things can get bad, fast.

Several studies have shown that the all-cause mortality rate doubles for elderly patients after a hip fracture.

The event seems to cause an exponential cascade – they stop being able to move, they get afraid of movement, they cannot perform activities that keep their body and mind strong, they rapidly deteriorate. They likely had other issues that led to the injury, that can now run their destructive course. Deterioration, once begun, is easy.

Building is slightly harder, but it’s also exponential. Naturally, I will bring this back to training, because I won’t pretend that I’m not a meathead forest-hippie who desires and enjoys physical experience and power more than most things.  The stronger I get, the easier it is to take on challenging tasks of greater and greater scale. So much so, that I can now walk into any gym or playground or park, anywhere in the world, and not only know exactly how to train to get the desired adaption, but generally be ready for most average physical activities to a bare minimum level of competency. I can run, jump, swim, and probably even figure out a bicycle again if I’m so inclined, or need to. I can go anywhere in the world, and for better or worse, my physique will immediately broadcast certain information about me to the people around me (mainly that I’m disciplined, spend a lot of time in gyms, and eat a like starving coyote). 

My odds of debilitating chronic disease are significantly less than the average American. Based on my genetics and my current health, I will probably live until my 90’s. Of course, I’m not predicting this; ANYthing could happen, I could get into a car accident (the No. cause of death in the modern world; funny how little hand-wringing we see about it). My health is not a PREDICTOR, but it does cause exponential positive cascade effects that make certain areas of life easier and easier to navigate. Well, maybe not always “easier,” but way more fun for me.

Since I begin actively cultivating an exponential growth oriented perception lens regarding my body (that was the first thing), I’ve since learned to apply that lens to my broader behaviors, beliefs, relationships, and so on. 

Positive, growth, building oriented activities are exponential, and so is destruction. 

When you fall, it’s that much more likely you will fall again. But when you get back up, you learn that you CAN get up, and you can become more likely to overcome obstacles and suffering.

Cheetah eats Gazelle, Earth eats Cheetah

WE WILL ALWAYS FALL

Of course, not falling at all is ideal; but impossible. We will ALWAYS “fall” – and in fact, the Falling process (I use as the metaphor for failure and destruction) is as necessary as growth. Forest fires and animal foraging and animal body decay (consumption and destruction of matter) are critical for eco-health, and thus the health of all life on this planet. Their bodies (and our bodies until recently) water the earth with blood and bones, creating a new life cycle with every death. Trees drink blood, soil gnaws bones.

Falling, periodically, is a growth-spurring process for the individual, provided you immediately get back up as soon as you can. And if you don’t, you may end up part of the growth of your eco-system anyway.

“If you can’t walk, crawl.”

To bring this all back to us, me, you and our ability to live meaningful (and thus joy-filled) lives, we can extract the following idea:

If we make a positive change, it gets that much easier to make another. If we fall, we get back up as soon as possible. Most of us have heard the saying “don’t skip an obligation two days in a row,” because the more you skip/shirk/avoid, the more likely you are to descend into avoidance, fear, and other decay-related behaviors. 

Concepts like positive momentum and growth-mindset are not remotely new, but I frame them in this composition because I feel that my deep beliefs – the deep soil of my mind’s roots – affects the leaves more than any external weather.

I can observe the sun shining all day every week, but if my roots have grown in dead soil, I will die no matter how much sun or rain (ideas, stimulation, positive stimuli) I am exposed to. We all know someone smart who, on the surface seems to “understand” rationally, how to live, how to do things. But they’re miserable, or ineffective, or unpleasant to be around. My guess is usually that, barring other “soil” issues like unaddressed health-body issues, the soil their mind roots in is limiting their growth capacity. 

We cannot possibly understand all the unseeable factors that go into our lives, but we can examine our outcomes, and examine our belief systems. My belief is that reality is exponential, and the more energy you put into something, the more likely and astoundingly rapid dramatic effects become, for better or worse. The acknowledgement of the power and mystery of Exponentiality, is rich, fertile soil.

Happy Thorsday, I hope you enjoyed this essay: leave a comment below if anything in particular struck you!


Cara

ᚠᚢᚦᚨᚱᚲ 

2 thoughts on “One Step Beyond Logic: Linear vs. Exponential Causality

  1. This is a long reply – it struck me that your thinking about exponentiality is very similar to the following article. Your blog is a help to me. You can find the original on the web.

    Emotional Gambling: The Problem With Expectations

    Having high expectations at the casino rarely ends well, but I think she did alright. (photo by Bev Wagar)

    I have two questions for you:

    1. Should you expect to love this article?

    A. You could expect this article to be a revelation that transforms your life.
    B. You could come into this article with no expectations, saying, “I’m not sure what I’ll get out of this, but I’ll read it to find out.”

    2. Should I expect this article to be well-received?

    A. I could base my identity as a writer and person on how well this goes. *gulp*
    B. I could write this without expectations, saying, “The reception of this piece does not validate or invalidate my reason and passion to write it.”

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we’re all better off with option B.

    Note: I’ll be talking more in terms of setting expectations for results you can’t control rather than having high expectations for what you can control completely.

    Do You Know What Expectations Really Are?

    Setting an expectation is placing an emotional bet.

    For example, you may think, this meeting is going to go well. That is your emotional bet, and the stakes of that bet are the emotional consequences of meeting, exceeding, or failing to meet your expectation. Let’s explore this example to gain insight:

    If the meeting goes well: it’s rewarding to have your expectation met.
    If the meeting goes very well: it’s more rewarding to exceed an already positive expectation.
    If the goes poorly: You’re shocked as your expectation shatters before your eyes; it’s jarring to see it play out unexpectedly.

    Just like any bet, expectations increase the risk and reward of a situation. But does it raise them equally? I think our emotions are volatile and strong enough as it is, and don’t need amplification. But is the increased risk of making an emotional bet worth the potential reward?

    How Expectations Affect Our Emotions

    When you set an expectation, you knowingly increase the risk of an emotional letdown, which can be scary. Think of a guy who expects his girlfriend to say yes to his proposal vs. the guy who doesn’t know what she’ll say. A “no” from her will produce a profoundly stronger emotional setback in the guy who expects the “yes.”

    Having an expectation clearly magnifies the negative emotional response from it not being met; it increases the emotional pain if it doesn’t go well. But what of the reward side? What happens if she says yes to each hypothetical person? Does the guy with the expectation experience a higher euphoria? I think not, and here’s why.

    The Reason Why Everyone Loves Being The Underdog

    If you expect a standard to be met, you’re essentially creating a new “base level.” Being that you expect this to happen, the mind assumes that it is “in the bag.” That’s why a positive result—when expected—isn’t that exciting.

    When a favored team wins, they enjoy the victory, sure, but what happens when the underdog wins? Pandemonium!

    How do you think an underdog approaches a game? Do they firmly expect to win? Not likely. Do they firmly expect to lose? Hopefully not, as that would all but guarantee it. The only option remaining—and the one I think they typically adopt—is that they don’t go in with an expectation. Perhaps they go in with the mindset to play their best, focus on what they know, and see what happens.

    On the flip side, when the underdog loses, it’s disappointing. But when the favored team loses, it’s devastating; it’s shocking.

    In both cases, the underdogs have the upper hand. They get a softer cushion of defeat and a greater euphoria from winning.

    So from this example, not only do expectations amplify negative result emotional consequences, but they also damper positive result emotions. Have you ever heard someone say “don’t make assumptions”? This is why—when you assume and assume wrong, it’s bad news. It’s better to wait and see before trying to draw a conclusion.

    A caveat to that, and the best argument for expectations, is that we do tend to act from them. In other words, the team who expects to win has increased confidence. However—and this is critical—you don’t need to have expectations to be confident in your performance (and as I’ll explain next, it’s possible to be more confident without them).

    How To Be Confident And Successful Without Using Expectations

    Expectations can add confidence. Absolutely. Think of the guy who assumes every girl will be into him. He will act more assertively and confidently. (I apologize, by the way, for all of these romantic examples. It’s like I’m single or something.)

    Confidence derived from expectations is based on how convinced you are the result will be positive. That assuredness drives you in the direction of making it happen. But there’s another type of confidence that’s stronger than this. It’s the kind James Bond has. Oh yeah, I just pulled the Bond card.

    Basically, confidence comes in two flavors. One flavor is the familiar type that we get from expectations—being confident in positive results and acting accordingly. People think this is James Bond’s secret of confidence, but he employs a much more powerful version.

    The second flavor of confidence comes from not fearing a negative result. Do you see how this is more powerful? If you are confident based on a positive expectation and that expectation is shattered, then so is your confidence. It has a major weak spot. But if you are confident because you believe in yourself even if you get the “worst case” result, then you will never be shaken, as Bond is never shaken.

    We know that Bond thrives of this second type of confidence because he faces fear all day and never flinches. He makes jokes as he’s being tortured. He has a witty remark ready when a gun is pointed at his head. He has no fear, and when you don’t have fear, what remains is confidence!

    Now how does that relate to having no expectations? Well, when you don’t have expectations, it means you’re considering ALL possibilities, rather than being fixated on the best-case scenario. When you consider all possibilities, as an underdog does, you will naturally fear a negative result less.

    You can be confident without expectations because your mind has already calculated and internalized the possible outcomes. This is a HUGE advantage in life!

    I don’t want to make this sound like a magic switch that transforms your life overnight, because it’s not. It can help immediately to switch off your expectations, but it won’t likely make you fearless until you practice it more. Like all behavior change, it requires consistent practice to change the brain. But this is something you can practice frequently. Just be mindful of your expectations.

    Lastly, for subscribers only, I want to talk some about the flip side of this—how expectations scare us and make us procrastinate.

    The subscriber-only message on 12/2/14 expands upon this post! Join Deep Existence below to read the rest.

    Like

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