A Heuristic for Life
A heuristic is a shorthand guide that is directionally often accurate, and thus helpful, but not something to be attached to dogmatically and ideologically. Remain flexible. Remain contextual. The most functional heuristics I have picked up are from Nassim Taleb on probability, John Danaher on jujitsu (including striking), and Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi on scripture. Today, let me point you to Roon.
Roon (@tszzl on Twitter) self-identifies as a highly online schizophrenic rambler and machine learner. He just hopped on the Substack bandwagon, my apologies to the 4th wall, and I am assigning you his Song of Shapes and Words for homework.
He hides behind humor and satire, as all we trying to save the world must, and thus eschews attempts to take him too literally. But, I will. If this offends you, leave now. In this, I mimic my high school English teacher who told us Old Man and the Sea had deeper esoteric meanings, in the face of Hemingway denying such on camera in footage she showed us as we studied his text. Philosophy of Art is fun. We had these types of discussions with politicians, sculptors, painters, musicians, and fulltime philosophers.
In his bio, he calls himself a schizo, but in his piece he reserves this for the wordcel, and he is the shape rotator par excellence. The most obvious tension is how beautifully he reads and writes. But alas, the shape rotator, if trained, is more able to wordsmith than the wordcel is able to rotate shapes. Many such cases!
The alternative to the schizo is allegedly the autist. There is a difference in how these terms are used in a medical context versus in one dialect of the american language as it is in use by the highly online. I have a history of schizophrenia in my family. It is a serious disease. You lose grasp of reality, and though each case will differ in degree, the kind I saw really had distance from the factoids on the ground, but there were always moments of extreme clarity. I have benefited from wisdom gained in these precious moments. The autist, in internet speak, does not do well with people and feelings, but is the chief expert on whatever obscure topics he has tunnel vision researched on.
The shape rotator is generally but not always STEM and male in proclivity, and the autist or object-oriented deep-diver and subject matter expert. The wordcel is generally but not always Humanities and female in proclivity, and the schizo or people-oriented emotional intelligence agent par excellence. There are plenty of counterexamples on both sides, and the Übermensch is he who excels in both shape rotation and wordsmithing.
Engineers and mechanics make up one extreme end of the spectrum, and of course there is a spectrum rather than a binary or dichotomy, and journalists and professors make up another. Each field will have anomalies, as already mentioned. A Project Manager, Product Manager, Scrum Master are in the realm of objects, but lead people. A Jujitsu Fighter and a General are in the realm of people, but manipulate them like objects.
I have had many a job, odd and regular (i.e. warehouse, mediator, teacher, actor, deacon, writer etc.), and an education path that pendulum swung through these categories and continues to do so. A heuristic for my life, and maybe yours, is know where you are on the shape rotator to wordcel spectrum, and adjust your life accordingly. As Gary Vee says, triple-down on your strengths (80%), and outsource or slightly train your weaknesses (20%).
I went to a daycare / preschool at age 2 for 2 months, got slapped in the face after a swing dispute with an elder boy, didn’t cry, held my cheek all day, moms pulled me out ASAP. A couple of years later, I went to a Montessori, skipped preschool, did Pre-K, K, and 1st. My 1st grade classroom was mixed-ages; we had 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th graders, and one 5th grader. My independent school 2nd graders are still working through double-digit addition and subtraction. My struggling district school 4th graders worked through single-digit multiplication. As a 1st grader, I was doing three-by-three multiplication with ease. I didn’t learn anything new in Math till 5th grade magnet, at my district school, in the last month when my teacher introduced us to Pre-Algebra for middle school. Each year of Elementary, at my district school, I tested in the 99th percentile of Math. I struggled a little in English, being my 2nd language even though I was born hither, but eventually got nice with it after pops dropped us off at libraries and bookstores every weekend for hours on end and moms filled our house to the brim with no less than a thousand books.
Shape rotation dominance continued into middle school, with a telling comment from my 8th grade teacher that I know all of the answers but get to them in my own way. In high school my motivation decreased dramatically to the point my math teacher thought me unfit for the class, but a couple of sessions with two different tutors led to the same conclusion that the natural talent was not lacking, the focus was. Who knows? Perhaps it’s undiagnosed ADHD. Don’t tell Dr. Umar Johnson that I said that. The class that made me hate STEM was Pre-Calculus. I asked incredulously, one day, what the practical purpose of sin and cosine were? My teacher responded with absolute disdain, gave me a nonanswer, and told me to shutup and work. I don’t respond well to that. Then she sat on a tribunal that revoked access to AP Physics for me, when I got an A- in Physics and had my Physics teacher’s backing to go forward more. There’s an alternative timeline where I study Physics and Philosophy instead of Political Science and Philosophy. I spent all of my undergraduate studies hating on and avoiding all math and science. I took a Statistics course and Physical Science (no lab). Nothing else. That’s a hustle.
It wasn’t till I worked as an Organizational Ombudsman years later in two universities that I understood the lay of the land better in terms of knowledge production. I am someone probably 60/40 on the numbers to narrative spectrum, but I have overemphasized narrative (probably my 40) to the detriment of my natural disposition toward numbers (probably 60).
Going forward, I seek to balance this imbalance, and have done so in part-time studying Physics (Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lawrence Kraus) and Biology (Brett Weinstein and Razib Khan) and Computer Science (Quality Engineering and Python and SQL and Scrum) since 2017, and a plan to seriously study Math again from the beginning to where I was in Pre-Calculus and to Calculus and beyond, but not too beyond.
Besides laughing at the spread of this meme throughout all the land, physical and digital, what will you do? What is to Be Done?