The only theory as scientifically preposterous as the existence of a God is the inexistance of a God.

To explain the full meaning of this paradox you must understand that if you truly understand what “science” is and you reasonably consider the most basic concept of a super-natural creator of the universe, then there is absolutely no way science could ever within its own means, (1) detect or (2) prove one way or another that a God does or does not exist. The very effort of such is a complete misapplication of scientific thinking.

With one possible exception: that we have no explanation for our existence other than some *inexplicable*, pre-existential, exo-cosmic, instigator of existence. And that is the closest that you will ever come to a scientific thesis of a God. To make any further effort makes you neither scientific nor spiritual. To draw any conclusion from that one way or another on the basis of science should immediately disqualify your scientific credibility.

 

A good idea rarely thrives on its own merit.

After having been around the big long tech start-up block once now, I’ve learned a lot and seen a lot. One of the sobering realities I’ve learned is that ideas are a dime a dozen and that 99% of the time, they serve as decoys and distractions more than visions and missions. However, thats never stopped me – or others – from pouring our hearts and minds into brewing up and investing repeatedly in ideas. And somehow we always believe that they are revolutionary. I must admit that I’m still looking for good ones and trying to make the ones I have better. In a few words, I’d like to reconcile my seeming hypocrisy with a simple explanation.

Firstly, ideas are a dime a dozen, but good ideas are really quite rare. That right there accounts for the majority of the dead-ends and collapses that come out of pursuing ideas. However, the more important reality to reveal is that our ideas (or at the least, our aspirations for them to be great) are invariably just extensions of our ego. Its this part that distracts our focus from being judicious and honest, and its this part that is the foundation of the idea mythology: that a good idea (or should I say… it’s author) will be successful by virtue of its own greatness.

Its rarely ever true (I won’t say “never” because there is probably one exception out there). The way we understand and think about ideas is wrong. Specifically, we don’t recognize the difference between visions and plans. Visions are two-dimensional snapshots of an imaginary future and they serve an equally important – and yet limited – functionality: to specify a direction. They, however, do nothing. People, money, resources, plans and actions… “do”. Those “doing” plans are the difference between a good, dead idea and a good, alive idea.

I could go on in much more length, but I believe the basic point stands on its own. This is the reason why any wise entrepreneur, investor or advisor will emphasize “execution”. A mediocre idea with great execution will go far further than a great idea with mediocre execution.

I don’t have a bucket list.

I don’t have a list of things I want to cross off before I die. I have a blank piece of paper that I want to fill up while I’m alive.

Building a perfect world is not difficult… however, convincing anyone to live there would be nearly impossible.

A theme that repeatedly flashed through my mind all throughout 2017 is reminiscent of the idiom “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink it”. Over the years I have been obsessively studying the contemporary problems we face and drilling into them to understand their root causes. My hope was of pursuing products, services and ultimately businesses that provide solutions. The pattern that has emerged then and still now is that at the root of most all our problems is a systemically human flaw: our poor choices, their consequences and our legacy of unwillingness to make good decisions despite the abundance of evidence supporting them.

Somehow, I’ve always had the assumption that these flaws have only been expressed because of a lack of intelligent solutions (organizational, civil, technological, etc.) but the truth is that the true limitation is our unwillingness to act on since-available solutions because they require us to accept the common good before our own.

Of course, this discovery doesn’t sound like anything new; however arriving at it (repeatedly) while in search of sustainable marketplace opportunities has been frustrating. Pretty much every time I went down a path of trying to solve a major problem, what I found in the end was a statement of either “well if we just [blank]ed we wouldn’t have the problem to begin with” or “that solution wouldn’t work because it would require people to be logical or choose the right thing.”

I’ll give an excellent example: road traffic. Nearly all traffic can be substantially improved – if not eliminated altogether – simply if everyone were to drive at the same speed. (I am consciously avoiding a defense of this claim for the sake of focus. Even if this weren’t true, imagine it were for the sake of understanding my point.) To an alien, this solution would seem like an absolute win-win solution: there would be less accidents, everyone would get to their destination faster, far less fuel would be consumed (saving money, resources and reducing emissions) and it wouldn’t require a single infrastructure change (in theory, no cost to tax payers and it would be easy to implement everywhere instantly). There’s only one fatal flaw: everyone would have to participate and cooperate. To a logical alien (even one with free-will like our own), this failure just wouldn’t make sense. Everyone benefits as long as everyone participates – why wouldn’t everyone participate? But the reality is that people just won’t. Even if they are given all the facts, motivated and then eventually threatened and even disciplined. It still wouldn’t work – at least not enough.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example – its just an easy one to explain. Our civilizations are littered with the debris of brilliant and revolutionary ideas that lay wasted at the hands of disinterest and unwillingness.

After hitting this realization over and over, I came to accept and understand that fantastic, logical solutions had limited success unless they had the rare benefit of also being immediately self-serving. Or simply, there is no market for ideas that weren’t self-serving and immediately gratifying – even if those things save the world as we know it. (Of course if the world is perceived to be in true immediate peril, then suddenly the willingness does reluctantly and temporarily appear – such as in world wars.)

This is obviously a really discouraging conclusion, and it can be discussed much further on many levels. However given the starting point of my story, I’ll keep on topic with how our human proclivities can be considered when evaluating business/products and their market reception

It is particularly important for entrepreneurs to fully recognize because its very often that we think that we’re the first to address a market problem when no existing solutions are known or when others do not seem to have been successful. Our ego’s blind us and we run with the notion that our ideas are revolutionary and will be successful when others failed.

The singular takeaway from all this is that consumer products and services are rarely ever won on long-term, logical grounds – they are almost always won with emotion and an immediately perceived self-serving benefit. Which means that if a problem hasn’t been solved, there is a very good chance that its not because a technology solution does not exist but because the market rejected it. Understanding why the market rejected it is perhaps the beginning of figuring out how to formulate a business plan which the market accepts.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a formula for harnessing those factors to produce behavior change; however, the point of this thesis is to draw a distinction between the realms of possibility vs those of feasibility, especially with regards to what role technology plays in hope for a better world. My ultimate claim is that we almost always set our hopes on technological progress to be bringing us solutions to our modern problems, when the real issue is purely human in nature. I’d dare say that humanity needs more social entrepreneurs.

A peculiar machine.

The heart understands something the mind just cannot;

the mind contains more knowledge than the heart could ever dream of,

and our imaginations fathom what our eyes could never see. 

All the while… our bodies hold it all together.

What a peculiar machine we seem to be.

New Year’s Reflections

Over the years, I’ve accumulate an informal list of philosophies and attitudes from various sources and experiences that I try to convince myself to act according to every day despite my overwhelming hypocrisy in action. It’s become a tradition to review the list to add and reflect on it.

  1. Complain as little as possible and be as sincerely thankful as you possibly can for everything – especially for food and health. When you really must complain, let it be in the pursuit of improving wrongs or for doing good and not out of personal dissatisfaction. Challenge yourself in every moment to find the near infinite things you take for granted and/or never were thankful for. Think often about the great majority of people who have nearly none of the luxuries you do, and if you must complain, imagine you are complaining to them. Expect to struggle throughout your life and be thankful for the strength to do so.
  2. Convince yourself without doubt or insincerity that you are most probably not very clear about the reality of things. Or if you are positive that you aren’t even just a little mistaken yet, you will be some day. Every person is naturally inclined to knowing who they think they are and not who they really are. The only hope you have to escape this lens of the world is to live your life periodically questioning whether you are being honest, reasonable and enlightened with yourself. If you find yourself a bit wrong, but mostly good – you are delusional. If you find yourself a little good, but mostly a lot of personal flaws needing a lifetime of determined personal improvement, then stick to it. Even if you are a good person, life is an uphill journey and complacency will only conceal your plummet as you fall
  3. Stand silently and in stillness with as much genuine humility as you can convince yourself to before the great mountain of unknown things that sustain your daily life. Remind yourself as often as possible that you are limited in what you can see, hear, perceive and understand and to not take your opinions as facts. Nevertheless, seek to learn and understand as much as possible without loosing perspective of how little it is.
  4. Struggle to understand all things within the concrete and ultimate reality that God is good and that things are often not as we see or understand them. Double check and correct yourself whenever you blame God or others instead of yourself.
  5. Take every chance you can to do your best. Take the time to do things right whenever you can. Constantly seek to improve yourself, especially as you get older.
  6. Recognize your faults and personal flaws as much as possible – and with as little shame and/or guilt as possible. This is a nearly bottomless pit of opportunity that will never leave you without anything to do. If you feel like you’ve run out of opportunities for self improvement, give yourself a square self examination.
  7. Empathize with people as much as possible. Especially people you dislike the most. Resist the urge to hate people and if at all possible, find some way to be kind to them just like everyone else without expecting anything in return. Remember for every person whom you criticize, there is likely someone (yourself included) who you love who is or does the same way.
  8. Expect to fail your entire life and prepare yourself to try again and again without ceasing. Give little thought to failure, but instead focus on recovery and reflection.
  9. Don’t eat or drink more than what you really need to. Remember the hungry as often as you can. Avoid any excess things.
  10. Know what very few things are truly urgent and be at peace with how the rest turns out. Put first things first. Struggle to keep your real priorities in order. Do not rush. Periodically evaluate yourself and make sure your expectations are reasonably set. Expect only to struggle. Success may or may not come.
  11. Do not expect perfection, resolve, healing, learning, clarity, change, or peace to come quickly or in some ways if ever at all. But do not let this discourage you from working hard towards them.
  12. Be as honest and revealing with yourself as possible. Remember that many things inside of you are hidden to yourself and will not reveal themselves without serious effort. Self discovery is always a profitable endeavor.
  13. Accept people not only for who they, but as they are. If God willed us into our own agency and has accepted us despite our rebellion, then what right do we have to reject one another?
  14. Take time to sit down with yourself and formally put into writing your beliefs, priorities, goals, etc. Review, reflect and add to it periodically.

“If God blessed only America then we’d most certainly be left surrounded entirely by enemies. But if God blessed the whole world – especially our enemies – then we’d finally have peace, safety and prosperity.”

I often wonder if people ever second-guess the norms we take for granted. The extremely patriotic concept of “God Bless America” isn’t inherently bad, but I really don’t think I’ve ever heard it referenced in any way that even remotely resembles something holy. If I were to translate it into an intuitively equivalent sentiment, it’d be a combination of “pride” and “patriotism” – sometimes there is even a competitive nature to it. If thats the message that God is receiving, I doubt any significant blessings are ever come as a result.

But the problem I have isn’t with the concept of asking for God’s blessing, its the fact that its being called on for America, as if America is the only one that deserves or needs it – or that America is an island that doesn’t care if anyone else needs blessings (as if other countries “can ask for their own blessings” were an appropriate belief).

Think about it, if all we cared about were ourselves and all we prayed for was ourselves… wouldn’t it be foolish and shortsighted for us to complain or be surprised or discontent to find that all the people around us were pretty unsavory? Well, it is basically what we’ve prayed for, after all. How many times have you said “God Bless Afghanistan”?

Turns out that in the few literal instructions God gave us, we were actually told to pray for (and bless) our enemies. The reasons are manifold and far more than just practical. But its good to know that every once and a while those commandments actually make a ton of practical sense too.

“Generosity is more profitable than greed.”

On a chance event, I briefly befriended an engineering executive high up at Intel for an evening (a couple years ago). We talked for more than an hour and he told me a number of stories about Intel over the years and the lessons that he’d learned along the way. Among them was one small “did-ya-know?” that stuck with me ever since…

Intel gives generous scholarships to students, provides internships and makes a number of other contributions to the academic realm with the expressed understanding that there is no immediate or direct gain expected. (or so I was told) Most of the scholarship recipients would not end up working for Intel, many of the interns would be encouraged to consider working for competitors and other similar things were encouraged.

This should raise some eyebrows. What was explained to me was that Intel understood that their business was so deeply integrated into everything that practically anything that made the market grow would some day reach them as demand. In short, whatever they could do to encourage their surroundings, would help secure their own livelihood and grow their business. If they put energy into making their surrounding ecosystem thrive, then they’d thrive.

This was the very first time that I began to understandecosystem“. But the understanding surely goes beyond Intel’s example, which is about opportunity. There is also a flip side – a serious and practical risk associated with greed. Simply put, when we are greedy we undermine the very support structure we rely on.

It can be expounded upon another time, but I’d like to plant the seed now: the use of the word “profitable” is very broad and not at all limited to financial interpretations. In fact, I believe the most consequential interpretation of this maxim is that in life we should always strive to be giving more than we are taking. I believe that when we do so, we receive things (from others) we could never have given ourselves otherwise.

To close this thought, I’ll say that the understanding I’ve developed at this point is far broader than that initial story, but it was the starting point that inspired me to understand the paradox of selflessness just a little better.

“The sum of all contradicting facts… Is truth.”

When I was in college doing undergraduate research, my PI told me a story once of the five blind men and an elephant. It goes something like this: Five blind men were all trying to identify the large object in front of them. Each claimed it was something different based on their direct observations (touching different parts and sides of the elephant). Ultimately while each one had valid and factual observations, none of the five correctly identified the object because they presumed that their facts were all the facts and ignored their peers’ observations because they did not (immediately) support their own. The lesson in the end is that we can have both valid observations and yet invalid conclusions if we assume that our observations are the only valid ones or that others’ observations aren’t. Or further, that understanding cannot be obtained with just one perspective. A fuller description and analysis of the parable can be found here.

Ever since then I’ve kept that story in the back of my head. It reminded me of what I refer to as “3D thinking”, which is just an analogy for seeing the world in a way that allows for the coexistence of local contradictions and at the same time a broader truth. However, thats not to say that “anything flies”. Rather, that truths and reality are more complicated than simple explanations; they often have many layers with different contributing factors and varying relationships to one another. When those amorphous layers get stacked on one another and the lens is zoomed sufficiently far out enough, the volume of truth begins to appear – and its probably a complicated, sometimes organic shape.

Its worth expounding on the idea of “3D conceptualization” because just as its impossible to observe truth in all its complexity and contradictions through one lens, or in one moment… its impossible to communicate it in a singular statement either. The concept of folding and unfolding layers of information to form compounding knowledge is something to discuss another time.

So thats how life is – especially where humans are concerned and the degrees of freedom and dimensions of choices are expansive. This one sentence encapsulates the dichotomy between our experience of truth and the truth itself that we’ll never be able to fully see through just one pair of eyes.