Monday, March 9, 2009


We’ve all had the experience of buying a new car and then seeing exact copies of the thing all over the place. It’s part of who we are. We’re pattern seeking animals.

I think our pattern seeking behavior penetrates deeper than just looking for connections in the world around us. I think we also look for patterns within ourselves, and then look to our external environment to validate our suspicions. The religious person may say that God compelled them to do X by creating an environment where X was most likely to be done. Occam's Razor lets us know that God probably doesn’t tell us anything by creating patterns in our environment. The reality of what is occurring is that we—responding to some form of stimuli—are making decisions about our future or the situations we would like to be in, and then attributing the decision to go in that direction to God, or karma, or whatever. The person living around a steadily shrinking pond in the desert isn’t being compelled by God to leave the desert. He’s being compelled by the situation. Because uprooting yourself, or trying out a high-risk idea for your life can be scary, it’s pretty easy to imagine why someone would place some divine force behind their decision for the appearance of insurance.

I’m experiencing a moment like this currently. Lately it seems that everywhere I go, in everything I read, and in every conversation I have, there is an underlying theme of resetting. Wiping the slate clean, and starting from scratch. A church I was invited to recently asked me to reset my notions of who I thought Jesus was. Hillary Clinton is traveling the globe talking about ‘resetting’ relationships with various countries. A key plot point in the movie Watchmen* is about resetting mankind. Conservatives are saying we should let the market reset by allowing floundering businesses to fail, and so on. There are more, but you get the point.

Now, I could attribute this to God (especially since he factors into one of the key examples above), but I won’t. What I am seeing, hearing, and feeling in my internal and external environment are projected cues. They are themes that could’ve probably been found at any point in my life, but are noticed now because they resonate, and validate my inclination with an appearance of uniformity. It’s like these instances knit together to form a safety net below me as I contemplate a jump from a very high surface. These things (that aren’t really coincidences) are reassuring.

This spring, I’ll be getting my bachelor’s degree, and applying for graduate school. I’ll be looking for a high paying job that will justify my pursuit of higher education these last six years. I’m spending more structured time with my kids, and I’ve recently changed a few personal habits that will hopefully make me a healthier, more energetic person. I’m working harder in school than I ever have, and am re-evaluating the usefulness of some of my attitudes. I even bought a new laptop, and didn’t bother to transfer all of my older writings onto it in the name of starting anew. A reset is coming in my life, and I am turning the world around me into a giant affirmation of positive change. We look for meaning because life seems easier when all of the puzzle pieces lock together. It is easier to suppress thoughts when we have an overarching and unified meta-view of things.Sure, our cognitive short cuts and tendencies towards myth-making and generalizing can often cause us problems, but they’ve also been an evolutionary boon. The man who sits under a tree all day pondering the true definition of beauty is probably less able to evade predators than the simple-thinking alpha male whose sole concern is getting more food and reproducing.

Of course, we’re further along now than we were in those loin-clothed glory days. But some of those primitive functions have evolved along with us, and can still be quite useful. I’m going to heed the cues I’ve hidden in my environment, and take solace in their reassurance. I’m ready to reset.

Now, where’s that button…

*Here’s a controversial statement: I actually thought the movie was better than the book. However good it was, Moore’s comic contained some fluff, and a few unnecessary plot points, aka, the giant space squid. Snyder’s squid replacement was much more practical, and (in my opinion) tightened the story line up. Other than those minor tweaks, the movie was the single most faithful movie adaptation of a book I have ever seen.


Willie Y said...

I reset my life by listing to Homer Simpson. As a example: "Trying is the first step towards failure" Or “If at first you don't succeed, give up.”

GbiZ said...

I was going to leave my comments at a few propers for some good and deep thoughts about human nature until I saw the asterisk message about the Watchmen movie.
I saw it this weekend too, and thought it was pretty good, but BETTER than the comic? I dont even know where to start with that.

Spencer Troxell said...

Willie: Nice to see you again. "Trying is the first step towards failure." are you sure you're not a republican?

Gbiz: Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Lodo Grdzak said...

How much of our personalities we can actually change and how much is pre-determined is an issue I know we've discussed in the past. If we're indeed able to change ourselves I think these blogs have proven a great tool in that regard. Writing and self-examination have proven for me to be the best ways to analyze my motivations and examine my actions (and allows others to do the same for me). As you know, I believe free will is an accomplishemnt, not something were born with. We must strive to achieve it, and when we do, we've reached the highest level of our humanity. Good luck!!

Spencer Troxell said...

With the small modification of saying the depth of our freedom is something we can appreciate more and more through reflection and experimentation, I absolutely agree with you, and I especially agree about the usefulness of blogging.

I floundered around for awhile when I began this blog. I didn't know what to write about, or how to write it. Now the trickle has become a stream, and I've noticed some interesting(and somewhat surprising) patterns in my thought. I feel like I have a much better understanding of where I'm coming from after writing out my ideas, reading other people's ideas, and then discussing them.

Blogging is definitely a useful tool for self examination.