You are a confused ghost riding a meat Segway.

I regularly write bits and pieces for my students to read, sometimes at the beginning of courses and sometimes at the end. Occasionally, I fall into the trap of thinking that this means that I understand what is going on. This post is something that all of my students should read to get a good understanding of the context behind those suggestions.

  1. You are a confused ghost riding a meat Segway. It doesn’t really matter whether you believe that your consciousness is something innate and separate from your body or whether you believe it’s a byproduct of the chemical and electrical interactions in your brain, your conscious will and the autonomic systems of your body are separate entities for the most part. We assume continence in our society: of bladder, bowel, speech and action. Despite the push from the underlying framework to do things, the ghost on top can and does regularly override those impulses. Some people choose not to override or claim that the pull is too strong and, at this point, things start to fall apart. Some other people try and force the Segway to do stuff that it can’t do and then that falls apart. One thing we can generally agree on is that it’s harder to communicate with people when the meat Segway crashes or fails so look after it but don’t let it rule your life. The Segway comes in different shapes, sizes and colours but the ghosts tend to be more affected by how the world reacts to you rather than much else.
  2. No-one will know you who are unless you communicate. This doesn’t mean that you have to talk to everyone but the best ideas in the world will do nothing unless they are shared with someone. We have no idea how many great ideas have been lost because someone was born in a condition, place or time where they were unable to get their ideas out.
  3. Communication works best when tone is set by consensus. There’s a lot of stridency in communication today, where people start talking in a certain tone and then demand that people conform to their intensity or requirement for answers. You only have to Google “Sea-lioning” to see how well this works out for people. Mutual communication implies an environment that allows for everyone to be comfortable in the exchange. Doesn’t always work and, sometimes, stridency is called for, of course. Making it the default state of your communicational openings is going to cause more grief than is required. Try to develop your ear along with your mouth.
  4. Certainty is seductive. Don’t worry, I’m not making some Foucaultian statement about reality or meaning, I’m just saying that, from my experience, being absolutely certain of something can be appealing but it’s quite rare to find things where this is true. But I’m a scientist so I would say something like this – even with all the evidence in the world, we’d still need a cast-iron proof to say that something was certain. And that’s “a” proof, not “some” proof. People love certainty. Other people often sell certainty because many people will buy it. Often it helps to ask why you want that certainty or why you think you need it. What you believe is always up to you but it helps to understand what drives your needs and desires in terms of that belief.
  5. No-one knows how to be a grown-up. If you feel like it, go and look at advice for people who are in an age bracket and see what it says. It will almost always say something like “No-one knows what’s going on!”. As you get older, you make more mistakes and you learn from them, hopefully. Older people often have more assets behind them, which gives them more resilience, more ability to try something and not succeed. But there is no grand revelation that comes when you get older and, according to my friends with kids, there is no giant door opening when you have kids either. We’re all pretty much the same.

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