~/exiel

be flexible.

I did nothing for 24 hours, please don't copy me


I tend to be a fan of strange experiments done ostensibly for the aim of increasing one's sense of well being, albeit some might say through the most torturous and haphazard means. I have fasted for days, not eaten carbs for half a year, exercised multiple times a day for weeks on end and religiously taken cold showers through many winters. Nevertheless, I have not quite experienced such acute discomfort as I have recently, when I decided on my next experiment. I had been feeling very digitally overwhelmed recently, with life moving online, and needed a break. Within the wild seas of YouTube, I found a chance to get away from it* all with scope for a good story to tell afterwards. What more could I ask for? * zoom.

A “dopamine detox” was consistently being tossed overboard by YouTube's algorithm and I could not resist to do anything other than gracefully, jump in after it and get as closely acquainted with it as possible, before grabbing it around the neck and swimming back to ship, smiling sardonically as yet another experiment was conquered, yet another semi-pious, yet innocuously secular, tool acquired. Okay, silly metaphors aside here is the deal. I, We, all spend a lot of time in the day on tasks that perhaps are not the most ideal use of time. We procrastinate on our most important tasks by sitting on social media, browsing the news for the 15th time in the last hour, or clicking refresh on obscure searches for soviet memorabilia on eBay. Yes, we all do that. Here is productivity YouTube's 2020 answer: a dopamine detox. Before I hear all of the medical and bio students of Cambridge erupt into chorus, yes I know one can not actually detox themselves of dopamine and nor does it deserve the reputation of a toxin. Without dopamine, it is my understanding that my fingers wouldn't even be able to type on this keyboard. Nevertheless, let us step outside of our overly literal brains today and go with the idea here. A dopamine detox involves abstaining from activities which are repeated and reinforced through dopamine; a break from constant stimulation. No headphones, no noise, no constant music or stimulation from YouTube, Netflix or people around you. Depending on your dedication to the activity, this can range from not using your electronics for a day or to full isolation and fasting from food with the only activity allowed being sitting. Naturally, I went for the latter, gotta get the bang for the buck, don't I?

What did this look like in practice? One 24-hour period, typically done on the weekends, spending the day in the present; meditation and sitting being the only activities allowed. I chose my day and listed my no no's: no walks, no food, no exercise, no music, no anything, and finally something I added of my own accord, no ability to tell what time it is. I hid my watch and took down the clocks from the walls. Alright, ready. To go the full hog, I isolated myself somewhere in the Danish countryside alone in a summerhouse.

The day comes, I wake up and go to the bathroom. So far no excess dopamine, to my knowledge, phew. I brush my teeth and wonder if the minty taste, a psychological trick employed by dental companies to make you want to brush your teeth, has caused me to acquire too much dopamine. I decide no. I walk downstairs and after much deliberation on the basis of quantity of dopamine, I decide I can light a fire in the fireplace for extra deep smoulder photo opportunities lest someone break in with a camera for an impromptu photo shoot. I light the fire and tell myself to move on. Wait. Move on to what? A good question. The aspect of being able to tell the time sinks in. I'm not sure exactly when I woke up but I guess around 8 am based on my bed time and sense of sleep. I would look at the sun, but to make things even more confusing, it is incredibly cloudy. I can't even figure out where the sun is meant to be. I make a quick calculation of where East is meant to be, and trace myself round to that direction. Does not look any different. Will have to check back later if the sun appears. I pull up a very large beanbag to the fireplace and sit down with a glass of water. My day begins.

Two hours, by my estimation, seem to pass. It seems to be around 10 am based on the activity of traffic and people I hear in the distance. No problem. Two hours, easy peezy. Thought deep thoughts, made grand realisations, the expected stuff, bedtime here I come. A thought about the anchoring of meals in the day and the time they swallow arises. No time for that, only enlightenment for me.

The fireplace begins to heat up and the cast iron surroundings begin to creak under expansion. The wind whistles past outside, was that a blackbird outside? Quick! The Sun! I see its footprint on the wooden floors, and quickly like a tracker go to inspect the evidence to find the direction of the beast itself. I look up and see a glimpse of the Sun. Thankfully, it seems to be coming from where I thought. Now, I have a reference point for the rest of the day. Very good. Why do I even partake in activities during the day? This really is a natural way of life, I say to myself reassuringly taking up my natural spot in the IKEA beanbag in front of the fire.

A lot of time passes. I look outside, the Sun can just be seen again, it has moved somewhat, but not as much I would have expected, but hey I'm no Tycho Brahe. Must be past midday now. I think about the fact that I usually have a post-lunch crash and inevitably always want to nap; I wonder if I will experience that today. I wake up. Clearly, my learned readings into the circadian rhythm have been proved right. What a great observation. Some more time passes, I fight sleep again, I wake up ... again. Must still be within the siesta time slot, no worries. A total of 4 separate naps pass, each not feeling longer than 15 or 20 minutes based on the progress of the fire which I wholeheartedly keep stocked with logs as my only activity.

It must be close to 4 pm or so. I look out a different window. Across an overgrown garden to the left, and across the street, is a rural dentist clinic. I see patients in huge behemoths of chairs. People are still working. I don't think much of it, in Denmark working hours are from 9 to around 4 or 5, with two hours for cake and a dance around the Danish flag (Danes have flags everywhere, don't ask. Just feel.). No wonder they keep being the happiest country in the world, after all their flag is very aesthetically pleasing. Nevertheless, the teeth fairies will wrap up soon, I'm sure of it. An interesting and more civilised way of telling the time than the Sun.

More time passes, the sun tracks over the house and to the other side. I position myself at a windowsill seat facing westward ready for the looming evening and sundown. I note the position of the Sun as it peers between the clouds. A few hours pass. I look up and gasp incredulously. The sun has barely moved. Perhaps, my sense of time is all off; no, I'm sure it must be evening, or very late afternoon at the latest. Goodness me, the boredom hits. A realisation I might not have this time thing all figured out washes over me. I begin to dream of the sound of music. Not Christopher's Name's excellent singing but the actual acoustic waves produced when music is played. The pull of the internet starts tugging at my mind, somewhere in the back. I have learned not to fight such impulses, and I let it burn itself out. Good, this whole thing must be working. I look up. I swear under my breath. The Sun has stopped moving. Should I tell somebody? Would the police care? Depends on whether its stopped during working hours or not, I tell myself with a chuckle. Surely, SURELY, the sun must set soon. By my initial estimations, its must be nearing 8 pm soon. At this time of year, the sunset is near 10 pm here in Denmark. I take myself away from the window to stop the torture via boredom.

As much time passes as I can take, and I look outside again, and see the Sun has retreated into the clouds, but it looks as if the light source is somewhere within 20 degrees of the horizon. Good. Finally. I'm ready for tomorrow and activities. Who knew there was this much time in the day. It is a comforting thought, as recently my days have felt perilously out of control, eaten up by the internet and stimulation. We really do have a lot of time of this earth, it is just that we do not spend it so wisely. Seneca paraphrase over, I decide in a rush of excitement to run upstairs and start getting ready for bed, I brush my teeth and wash my face from the hard toils of the day. As I am brushing my teeth, I take one final look out of the window. I made it, the day is almost... wait. The monstrous Dr.Octopus style Dentist chairs across the road are still occupied and the dentists and nurses are still crowding around their occupants intimately and most likely, painfully. My heart drops. No. Surely not. My mind goes back to the working hours of Denmark. Can this be? Perhaps this is a special dentist where they do emergencies and work longer hours. More realistically, it means that the latest it can be is probably 7. Dang it. Alright. I take a deep breath in and out. I can do it. I go downstairs, and resume my beanbag position, this time with a view of the sunset through the window, but not before valiantly placing another log on the fireplace trying to time its demise to ember with my eventual bedtime of sunset (because what else have I go to do?). The fire burns out after a few big logs. I go to check the Dentists. Okay, there are still people there. Must just be an emergency dentist clinic, good to know. Probably around 9 pm. I check the Sun, it seems promisingly close to the horizon. I put another log on the fire, and another, and another and another.

I've decided that the 25th May 2021 is all that there is and ever will be. It stands as the last day of time where the Sun moved, after which it was frozen in place. I wondered what had stopped the celestial path of the Earth? Lack of internet access? Lack of activity? An absolutely shocking sense of time? No, surely an astronomical event has taken place that has caused this.

Suddenly, the light outside begins to dim. I think twilight is upon me. Based on the amount of logs and this beginning of dusk, I must have got ready for bed at 4 pm. Great. That would explain the dentists. I can't take this time nonsense any longer, I go and pull of a tea towel that I placed on a clock with such a serious effort you would think I was King Arthur facing the sword in the stone. 20:40 blinks back at me. Oh my. I really did get ready for bed at 4 pm. I really can't tell the time, and I really am detoxed – that's for certain – of all human spirit.

There is so much time in the day without our usual fare. I think to myself, is this how prisoners live? By Silicon Valley standards, I have now achieved true Zen and my day has been compared to a prisoner's so I know I've been doing it right. I head to bed. Hoping I never have to do that again. I hope you will never either, but if you do, know that it will open your eyes to all the time you do have, all the time you must waste, and if you're anything like me, to how shockingly bad you are at using any natural cue for dealing with the passage of time.

My advice I hear you ask? Disconnect often, make it a priority and make it a ritual. Perhaps Saturday morning, you don't check your phone or go on the internet until lunch time, where in the meantime, you go meet a friend for brunch after a nice walk, and read that book you've always meant to read. Take it easy. We stress ourselves out too much and wear out our nervous systems. That's no way to live, and nor is sitting doing nothing for 24 hours. Don't take our activities for granted, though sometimes overstimulating and overdone, eat up our eternity, such that the Sun can keep moving.

I have an interesting idea for the rest of my pause from my PhD. It is an ambitious project, with a direct connection to my interests. It spins in a lot of skills which I will greatly utilise in the rest of my PhD and my life in general. I am excited, in a good way and a bit terrified. My mettle will be tested and that is exactly why I am embarking on such a project. I hope that you can also find something that you are a bit scared to do, and follow it through. Fear can be a compass to the things you will learn the most from.

All the best.

It seems to me as if play has been wholly withdrawn from the idea of being a adult human in modern society. Using myself as an example, it was looked down upon and devalued from a very young age in my childhood, to be replaced with more 'productive' tasks which show ability; swimming and beating other children with speed, musical instruments and being better at a coveted skill than other children, and most importantly, mathematics because being very good at mathematics leads to a better life and so the time after school is spent working on more advanced mathematics. The only time I had to play was playing video games with my friends; this did not require me to leave the house (at least when I was older and the internet was becoming good enough for such things). No wonder I have such a fond attachment to video games, and the world they create, if they were my main source of play. I see it in the dogs I have had the pleasure of spending time with, they play many times a day even to old age. It is built into them, to test boundaries, solve problems and just have fun. It is beautiful and puts a smile on your face every time.

Nevertheless, let us begin with a definition of play that I can agree with, from Greg McKeown, in his book Essentialism:

“Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end—whether it’s flying a kite or listening to music or throwing around a baseball.”

Okay, lets pair this with an etymology for the word school. The word school conjures up an academic feeling in my brain, one of hard work, and ticks and crosses, and grades! I would imagine the word school comes from academic work, and centered around education. School originates from the Greek skhole “spare time, leisure, rest, ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;” We have stepped far away from that in our modern society, and instead of encouraging play and creativity, Sir Ken Robinson (literature-notes) argues in his TED talks that we in fact, ruthlessly kill it:

> “We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.… Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”

Why? Greg continues on in Essentialism to make a great point about modern corporations. They, and by extension the public education system, were created out of the industrial revolution. The main focus is on the efficiency of mass production of goods and now, services. This is not a particularly, playful situation. Furthermore, much lingo that is still in use today in corporations comes from the militaristic inspiration that early leaders in the industrial revolution took: the word 'company' itself is a word for a military unit. The public education system was created in the 19th century in response to the industrial revolution to create workers; workers would need engineering skills foremost to get the best paid jobs, and artist jobs were not even on the radar (nor are they really today, but that is a different matter).

We have a school system with a hierarchy of subjects as a result; STEM being the most employable and the most respected, and way down at the bottom we have dance and drama. I will admit I was disdained by dance and drama and thought it was a waste of time and yet, every time we had it at school, I very much enjoyed it; I would say much more than maths at the time. I did not think twice about it though, as maths was the real subject and drama and dance are just wastes of time. This is a real shame, and even though I am an extreme example from an immigrant family where these tendencies tend to be magnified, I can't help but feel that I'm not alone. People have many different talents and they deserve to be explored. Play is essential to exploring, but it is also essential in itself. I am sure you have all come across the idea that interdisciplinary ideas usually lead to the great original achievements and breakthroughs. Sure, sitting and practising physics all your life will make you a great physicist, but if you have never even left your university block, how can you know what else is out there? What exciting ideas to work on? What ideas to steal from other fields far removed from Physics, to experiment and see what happens? Play and variety are crucial to a life well lived.

The National Institute for Play in the US, concluded, from their research, that play leads to brain plasticity, innovation, creativity, and adaptability. I would like to add to that list with 'happiness'. An adult tendency to trivialise play and 'to get on with the important stuff' has led to schools full of dissatisfied students working on subjects without a 'why', aiming for jobs because 'that's what everyone else does' and therefore leaving companies full of miserable and aimless humans who end up spend a lot of time garnering for control and power to feel better about their otherwise ambivalent life decisions.

So, go on, go play. Take the time to read a funny book, or listen to your guilty pleasure genre of music, or just run around and do a silly dance. You won't regret it and nor will your creativity.

References: https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=school

Having a rigid mindset, a strict mindset, seems to be sold sometimes as an advantage in our post-industrial society. The factory line and the worker mentality; I do this job at this time and only one way. This type of thinking applies itself to industry, whether it was a boon to humanity is based on your opinion of industrialisation. Regardless, I have managed to inherit such a mindset with regards to my studies and my work. Against first impressions, it has caused much more overwhelm than it has productivity for myself. It paralyses me from beginning a new project, as I am worried that I won't be able to do everything exactly the way I want, the way I am used to. Furthermore, it paralyses me from continuing a big project as it requires so much effort to keep fighting the natural deviations from the exact path that inevitable occur. It is a very high maintenance mindset.

I feel this mentality has come from a very narrow view of learning, it is only done by book, in silence and you keep going until you understand every sentence (perfectionism plays its own role here and I feel like writing about it later, but I would recommend this video for a starter). This is clearly false and it amazes me that it took me nearly three decades on this planet to figure it out but hey! better late than never.

On the other hand, flexibility is crucial for learning without driving yourself nuts. One has to be flexible in understanding that not everything is urgently important to know or memorise, and that you will never learn everything anyway. The higher level understanding is more important and as long as the concepts are linked in your head, more likely than not you can recreate the smaller details if you really need to. Flexibility in types of learning is also key, some people learn with books the best, some with videos, some by doing, but a mix of many types is certainly beneficial to a lot of people. However, the most important flexibility may be found in giving yourself some slack. I don't mean slack off but I mean regulating or cutting back on negative self-talk that inevitably arises from being rigid. “How can you have not finished those two extra pages today?” “How can you be 30 mins late on your self-study for fun? Catch up!” (to what?) and so on. These can be useful for strict deadlines and taking yourself straight to stress rehab. Especially, in these times, if you find yourself being very strict with yourself, just be a bit less serious. Top up that glass of wine, have that extra chocolate – your mind and thus your body (rather counterintuitively) will thank you. I thank you too, for your time and for being you! Keep on keeping on.

I have been told by a reader of mine that my posts sound very dark and that perhaps am I in a bad place. Without context, I can very much see how they are dark and dealing with existential issues. The reality is that I post on here when I am very frustrated with myself (bar this post, I am feeling great at the moment!) and so it is a memento of that moment's frustration; but I do not write about the happy parts of my day here. That goes in my daily journal. I have many more happy entries than dark – evidence towards the fact that my expected happiness is above a 5 out of 10. I would rate myself a 6 or maybe even a 7. Do not despair. Darkness will not prevail.

Exiel > Dark

I had a slow day today; my arch nemesis has come. Boredom of invariety. I always begin a new project with such enthusiasm and (usually) within a few days, I am usually distracted and my motivation is flagging. Somehow, this time, it has lasted about 1 month. I guess I should be proud of myself for keeping it up for so long, especially compared to my previous self. I have learnt a lot and improved my focus considerably, yet I still can't help but feel a tinge of sadness that this boredom and lack of motivation is inevitable – regardless of subject. Perhaps this frees me from the idea that I should just find something and bam, like a Disney movie, I will never be bored again and productivity will be flowing out of my ears. I know this rationally, but emotionally, I can't seem to let go of this naivety.

My supervisor talks about my lack of ability to cut through the 'faff'. A word he uses to refer to as the boring parts of work; he is right. My ability to cut through the faff has been very lacking, and I think this might be one of the most important things holding me back at the moment. Of course, I understand it is quite difficult right now with lockdown and not much variety and I try to be easier on myself than previously. I have a bad track record of being very harsh on myself, but that is its own bag of worms. Hope you folks are holding on holding on. Talk soon.

We are all born with a universal burden to carry deep within us. The exact application of its weight upon your soul depends on your way of thinking; if you have truly decided how and what to think for yourself with a constant objective investigation of your internal and external influences, the burden of finding your personal meaning is significantly altered. On the contrary, if one never steps outside of one's own mental prison built up from tribalism, society and worrying about what others think, this burden becomes ultimately too heavy to carry. This leads to a life littered with regrets, tempers, and sadness at the unfairness of it 'all' as if 'all' can be quantified precisely and exactly by man in some coherently agreed upon manner. Nevertheless, if one ponders this personal search for meaning with an understanding that it is completely and utterly personal in every sense, it can be reinvented into an ultimate freedom. The freedom to focus on the things that really matter for you; not for your parents, not for your colleagues, not for the small box society has placed you within for ease of classification. There is no responsibility to live up to what other people expect of you, the responsibility only lies with yourself.

In this vein, we can discuss the struggle for finding the meaning of doing anything at all. This question has plagued many, I'm sure, but once again their answers are only their answers. Our answers have to come to fruition through our own reflection and our own contemplation, with the help of these thinkers as kindle for these ravenous personal fires.

Here is an example of my own recent contemplation:

Through my being, I can see nature has gone through great pains to allow for something rather than nothing; what is more, something thrives divinely beautifully. Life is a fight against entropy, with equilibrium and heat death being an inevitable result; there is no opting out or in of this battle. This is a fight I have been fighting since my first breath and I will continue to fight it, whether I like it or not, until my last. This fight can be used for the ultimate good, creating something that continues to help long after I am gone. This could be anything: an invention, a step forward in a scientific field, a book, a philosophy, or family and descendants. If I do not use the fight towards good, but towards nothing in spite at man's meagerness or even towards malice in caprice at existence, I will have squandered the chance given to me by the fates, by the logos, by the biological fight against entropy. One day, I will die, and sooner than I would like. Living a life full of regret and squandering it with a relentless lack of focus would lead to life's only event horizon being truly dreadful; the point with no possibility of return as you relinquish the mortal coil. The sadness of that final moment, with no possibility of changing the time past, is too overbearing to describe in words; and yet once again, we can choose to see this sadness differently. We have the chance right now, to change our ways no matter our past and decide to pursue a deep life, a life of focus and courage. The platitude 'It is never too late' is one of humanity's deepest favours from Chronos, I dread to think how we shall ever repay it.

Some vital questions now arise, what really is important and what really does matter? What matters for me? What part of daily existence can be discarded as detritus coagulating around the fetters of society? I have mentioned the word 'help' in the previous paragraph. That seems a better place than any to start. What is help and why does it matter? I feel a 'who created God?' paradox rattling down the proverbial highway towards us and so my answer has to sojourn at some pragmatic rest stop with a nice view: Why help? Simply put, because if you have it in your power to alleviate other's suffering without much toil on your part, and you do not – you can hold yourself implicit to their suffering. Helping others helps everyone prosper and for everyone to live their only life with as much contentment as they possibly can; the more people I can help avoid the fate I so viscerally described earlier, the greater personal good I can ascribe on my actions as a whole.

Where does one go from here? It seems to me that finding out what matters balances between reflection and experimentation. With experimentation, one can find out what matters by actually attempting it in the first place. With reflection, once can think about the things experimented upon and decide truly for themselves if they matter or if they don't.

Cal Newport has a system of life 'pots' that I think form a very sound basis for anyone:

  • Contemplation, (reflection and matters of the soul)
  • Constitution, (health)
  • Community, (friends, family, societies etc. )
  • Craft (work and quality leisure)

As an extra under craft I would add for myself:

  • Communication (reading, writing, oral, language)

It's hard to disagree with these points, I've yet to convince myself that any of these are less important than the others or that they individually are not vital, they do really seem to cover everything of true value without any stragglers. The next step is to consider what these categories mean for our day-to-day lives and how one can move towards living a life with constant reminder and constant appreciation of these meaningful outlets to inevitably walk a path towards one of contentment and a real sense of (perhaps fleeting) peace.

We are all born with the same toll to pay in life. One can take this toll with a sense of duty and a smile and understand that it is not only a burden but an ultimate freedom. When it finally comes to payment, the mere fact that this burden is lifelong compounds its underpinnings. It will have afforded everyone a severe lifelong burden, yes, but if this burden was carried with woe, the price to pay will be excruciatingly high and come with an impossible ask for the debtors of time to be merciful; but carried with grace and a personal understanding throughout life, the price to pay will leave one in a completely different end state, blissfully content in mortality and ready for the next chapter.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all! I hope you all got the rest you needed and had time to spend with loved ones and your hobbies. I have been working on my personal non-anonymous website which is now finished. I coded up a static site generator in python using markdown files for blog posts, markdown2 for conversion to html, jinja for templating. It is neat! Took more time than I expected, but I think that is to be expected.

In the meantime, I have been thinking about a lot of concepts Cal Newport has discussed, including deep procrastination; zen valedictorian and philosophically, the intrinsic value of enjoyment (or of anything really). I have also read about internal vs instrumental motivation and I will link a nice reader on that now: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/opinion/sunday/the-secret-of-effective-motivation.html?_r=0

Deep procrastination describes my issues to a tee. It is rather scary, and also simultaneously nice to know that people are going through the same thing as me. I will have a proper think and some longer posts are to follow.

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