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I’ve Been Hacking Into My Mind

I listened to an interesting discussion with Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli social historian whose ideas are having an impact on people over the world. He has written several books and speaks avidly on dozens of programs on the internet.

If you haven't yet heard him, you really should. Start with his first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and once you have been hooked - and you will be – just follow his name on the web.

So, in his latest book entitled 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, he talks about the mind-boggling changes that are already happening today, and what we can expect to cope with even in our life-times; like changing demographics, climate change and most impactful of all – the overwhelming possibilities of artificial intelligence, or as it is known today, AI.

AI is changing the world in every respect and is already impacting and shaping the job market of the future. The career our children study for today may be replaced by machines.

The job market will constantly change and we will have to educate our children not just to know more, but to have the skills to learn and adapt throughout their lives.

One of the issues Harari speaks about is the importance of knowing oneself very well as a means of coping with the world.

Today algorithms are being created by which giant conglomerates having access to computerized information about us in every aspect, will be able to influence our lives and choices.

They may know us better than we know ourselves. And to the extent that we are unsure of our values and beliefs, we will be easily manipulated by those who control the data.

Market forces will be used to "hack us" on the basis of our preferences, our tendencies, our strengths and even our weaknesses, Personalized marketing strategies will be automated.

Our only real defense against this is to become self-aware to a sophisticated degree. Descartes and others said, that in order to be true to oneself, you must first know yourself, but did anyone comprehend the forces we would be up against and how easy it would be to manipulate us?

How can one know oneself? This conundrum has been challenging philosophers and scientists throughout the centuries. Many disciplines offer their own special techniques, like psychoanalysis, meditation retreats, yoga and mindfulness training.

It takes a lifetime to master the discipline of self-reflection or introspection, and determination to challenge one's tendencies toward simplistic or crooked thinking.

But blow me down if Harari did not also talk about a technique I have used my whole life, giving me an edge on handling my experiences and coping with loss and change and adversity.

I am talking about the discipline of journal writing – or as the Americans say, creating a noun out of the practice, "Journaling".

I am a committed journal writer and I have always been. As a teenager,I confessed all my angst and confusion and rebellion against my parents, to my "Dear Diary".

When I married and struggled to conceive, writing in my journal helped me find a way to bear the pain.

When I made aliyah, writing in my journal helped me through the rosy honeymoon of Zionism to a new reality in which I had to change careers and recreate myself.

And when my husband died, I poured my rage and helplessness onto reams of white paper, analyzing, blaming and asking "why me?" and ruminating about all the things I'd not done right in my marriage.

When I am angry and feel hard done by, I write without censure. I write and I write and I re-write. And as I edit my work, I find a fascinating process happening within me.

Gradually my anger dissipates and I start to look more dispassionately at my problems. I find myself asking whether maybe I did not handle things so well – I'm no angel! Maybe there's another side to the story?

Even if I didn't cause my current problem, what has been my role in keeping it going? Through writing my journal I do the whole Yom Kippur self-reflection thing and I don't let myself get away with nonsense!

In this way, I find myself taking more responsibility for my life. I find myself thinking less about the "other's" fault and more about my own.

And while I experience guilt or even shame at times, I have also developed a realistic sense of who I am and I don't expect perfection from myself.

So what if I make mistakes? If I can fix things with an apology, it doesn't hurt me. And if I can't then I just move on. I tell myself that I'm only human and basically a decent person, and my mistakes are usually little ones.

There have been many emotional storms in which I've lost sight of the wood for the trees. But these days I restrain myself from reacting when I am in the heat of an emotion. Instead I write. I edit what I've said. I leave what I've written to "incubate" as I call it. I ask myself what the purpose of my note is, and what I want to achieve. I ask myself over and over. "What do you want?"

Do I just want to have my say? Do I want to be right (because I know I am!) Is there a problem that I want to solve? Do I care about this relationship and want it to continue? When I have answered these questions, I know what to do.

So why am I sharing this with you? Firstly, to tell you about Harari's writings which you could do well to read. But more than this, I want to share my own technique of self-reflection, which helps me take control and direct my own life.

Who'd have thought that all these years I've been "hacking" into my mind and never even knew it! 

 

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Thursday, 26 November 2020

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