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Tugging Bubbles in a Box
Dec 15, 2009, 10:15a - Life

Last weekend, I went to San Francisco for a friend's wedding. While there, I was thrust back into a world I left 3 years ago, the world that is my California. It is a world of engineering and of business, the world of working and thinking in Silicon Valley. It is a world raft with rapid, superficial, constructed, and possibly irrelevant, change. And it was one I chose to leave, for many reasons. But one reason I think about now has to do with tugging.

During survival school, I was apart from society for 28 days. I wasn't completely alone, but with a handful of students and a dribbling of guides. I've written about my experiences before, so I don't want to rehash that. What I realize now, and I did a bit at the time, was what impact that loneliness had on how I think about my mind.

While out there, the perturbations to my mental trajectory were slight. Sure, some of the time I talked with the other students and guides, but most of the time it was quiet. There was nothing there but desert and mountain, and my mind was on its own. No distractions, no ads, no one inserting their own thoughts into my head under the auspices of self-realization. Thought interference was at an all-time low.

Now, I'm not reminiscing because I want to go back - God knows that the deprivation of it all was rough, and its primary benefit to me was the return of contrast to a life that I had habituated to. What I am reminiscing about, or maybe what I'm beginning to realize, is that I miss *that* part of it. I miss the lack of distraction. I miss the primary independence of my thought trajectory.

The thoughts I thought while I was on survival school were the culmination of days of independent mental and physical momentum. Sure, the few other people and the harsh environment played some role, but the bulk of thrust was my own.

I'm beginning to think that my mind is like a bubble in a box. The universe of mental states is the box. My mind is but a lowly bubble. And every influencer, that is every other person, every book, every communication, every advertisement, every dizzying distraction, is also a bubble. They come in all sorts of shapes, colors and sizes, all with varying degrees of bubble-tugging power. We're all actually magnetic bubbles, our very presence alone pushing and pulling all those other bubbles around us. But pushing and pulling aren't the only forces in this world - each mind's bubble also has its own momentum and direction, equipped with a veritable engine and rudder. It is this pair that gets us to the places we're supposed to be, this pair that actually defines who we are as independent beings.

My problem isn't that all these bubbles crowd the space, because the space is ever-expanding in both breadth and dimension, far faster than the bubbles actually have the momentum to explore. My problem is that these other bubbles impinge on my own bubble, my own mind, yanking and tugging like magnets on metal, hemming and hawing like seamstresses on upholstery. Often, it seems that these other bubbles just disturb my trajectory or delay my arrival or, even worse, spin me into a new path like a planet would an asteroid. Now don't get me wrong, these new paths can be into parts of the box that I'd love to be in, that I may not be able to enter on my own. But these new paths can also close off whole portions of mind-space that I now will never be able to enter, perhaps portions that I *should* be in. It's a risky place, this bubble-bouncing paradise.

I'm a bit sick of a lot of the other bubbles. I feel like they tug me to places I don't want to be. Not having a TV helps keep a whole herd of bubbles at bay. I want to pull what I want closer, push what I don't want farther, and get close enough to opinionize all that lies in between.

Maybe this is one reason why I'm enjoying grad school so much. Grad school has pulled me into a whole new dimension of the box, the dimension of science (which is unexpectedly very different from the dimensions of engineering and business). It is in this new dimension that there are so many unexamined bubbles, and my intrinsic momentum retains its strength. In this new dimension, unlike in business, what matters is not what the other bubbles think or do. What matters is that the truth lies waiting, rigid, unperturbed by all the bubbles. Somehow I've been able to lock on to this stability, yoking myself to it as a shield to a storm. Things feel pure, feel real, and feel true. The point of my work is not to sell something, or to compete in a public Lego-building contest. The point is to understand that which is true, that which is observer-independent, that which forms the texture of a bubble-empty space.

I oscillate between regretting my psychological isolation and extolling it. You can guess which phase I'm in now.

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