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1 Existential Questions

  1. Existential Questions



“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

Viktor E. Frankl



On the Origin of Belief

In the beginning, wait, was there a beginning? Well, no one really, truly knows if there even was a beginning. Do they? Is there an end? What is believed, and is believed, is a whole range of different possible origins. Some believe that there was a beginning. Some believe there will be an end. Some believe that there is no beginning and there will be no end. Some believe in between even that. Who is correct? Does it even matter that some may be correct and some are incorrect? Some may say that they are correct, and others are incorrect, yet that is still, merely their belief.

The laws of physics as we believe them to be, allowed our ancestors to come into existence. How? Based upon what has been calculated by our ancestors, and then measured using a 4.75-billion-dollar scientific instrument, the answer is this: We don’t really know at all.

Somehow, some way, existence became a thing. No one knows how it happened, no one knows why it happened, and no one knows where it happened. The only thing truly understood about existence, is that we do in fact, exist. Why do we know we exist? Because we have a central nervous system that evolved over billions of years and is capable of creating the concept of existence, and also capable of questioning that existence, too.

For thousands of generations, our species as we have defined it, has evolved. We are made up from genetic material that came before us. We make new genetic material for those that come after us. Turning the clock back by millions of years, reveals a point at which our ancestors did not have a central nervous system. Without a single nerve cell, our old ancestors were not troubled whatsoever with the idea of beginnings and endings. The behavior of our simple ancestors was completely ruled by their fundamental chemistry. Any change in behavior would require multiple generations to achieve.

As time went on, nerve cells began to develop and add functionality to our ancestors. Nerve cells ultimately developed to a point in which our ancestors developed single-generation mutable behavior. The behavior of these ancestors was a distinct natural advantage because the environment can change very quickly. When the environment would change, the behavior of our ancestors could adapt and change without the need for new generations to cause their change.

One by one, new nerve capabilities developed over generations. Until our ancestors developed the ability to deliberately change their environment with their mutable behavior. A changing environment causes changes in behavior; and changes in behavior causes changes in the environment. Our ancestors thus developed a new capability: self-psychogenesis. This ability to invent new behavior meant that our ancestors could engage in increasingly complex activities. Those activities would then further influence behavior in an on-going feedback loop.

Behavior as it is today, can be simply put: a computer program. A program that has been evolving since before we were in the genetic configuration of our current homo sapien sapien designation. Our computer is our central nervous system, and it runs off of various fluid exchanges and excretions. We have a sort of juicy fleshy computer that is mutable, adaptable, and constantly changing. Unlike our ancestors, we are not the same in each moment from the next. At this moment now, you are different than the moment just before.

As nervous systems became more and more complicated, at some point our ancestors began to understand the passing of time. Time is a relevant thing to contemplate, because knowing about it allows one to make a plan. Knowledge that behavior in the past can create different results in the future is an incredibly useful tool. Appropriately applied behavior will result in increased chances of survival. Knowledge of time also resulted in the knowledge that the time one has, is finite. Aware of our own mortality, one could now wonder what the point of that knowledge is.

Suddenly, there was a question that had no natural answer. What is the point of knowing? What is the reason for existing? Why survive? Why live? Blessed are those creatures without sufficient enough nerves to process these kinds of contemplations. There is a certain bliss to not have to be troubled with things to wonder about. To cope with the tremendous amount of pain in knowing, philosophy was invented. Philosophy meant that the large questions that our large brains could now have answers to satiate it. Thus, belief was born.

The Process of Belief

Perhaps the more prudent starting point is to begin at your beginning. At some point in the past, you had a beginning. At some point in the future, you will have an end. When you began, you had a crucial natural resource that was key to your survival: a parent, guardian, or at the least a minimal caregiver. One or multiple adults were your lifeline to existence. Your fundamental nerve system is obsessed with existing, and any perceived threat to existence would cause you great pain and fear.

Your behavior, and the behavior of your natural resources enabled you to grow yourself to the point in which you could find resources of your own. However, until that happened, you molded your behavior by whatever means necessary to maintain your resources. Your molding of behavior taught you to believe in things. If your resource demanded you follow a pattern of behavior, you complied to survive. Thus, you learned the process of belief. Your beliefs inform you of the nature of things around you, and provide a template for your reality.

From your first-person perspective, your universe begins and ends with you. Each of us is the deity of our own personal universe. Inside of your mind are contained all of the keys to your reality. We used to believe that time passed in the linear sense, but study of quantum physics has revealed that time is not linear at all. It is only linear from our limited biological perspective. Non-linearity means that when you die, you do not cease to exist, because your mark in time has been made to exist for perceivably all eternity.

So, in theory, when you have belief, you are actively making an eternal mark in the greater universe. Let’s take a moment to say congratulations, on believing in stuff, and having an eternal life. You have done a wonderful job in surviving so far.

But why survive at all? It is a great deal of trouble to have to go about surviving all the time. Your genetics compel you to survive to spread your genes to the next generation, but your mind is vastly evolved beyond genetics, and needs to satiate a purpose of its own.

The brief period that you get to consciously exist as you are, will have meaning. Meaning to others, and maybe meaning to you as well. Perhaps the meaning to you is the same as the meaning to others. Perhaps the meaning to you is different. Or perhaps, the ultimate question lingers unanswered for you. What is the meaning of life? Specifically, what is the meaning of your life? Do you have a personal meaning for your life?

Why do anything? What does the doing mean to you? Is doing what you do, fulfilling your meaning? Is your meaning something that could be taken away from you? For example, is it a child, a lover, a parent, or a friend? What if that person died? Then what? Would your life have no meaning after that?



The Ultimate Question

What is it that you are willing to suffer through years of frustration, despair, terror, shame, humiliation, rage, physical pain, hardship, loss, betrayal, disillusionment, and grief, to achieve?


There are lots of reasons that drive people to do what they do, mine was prison. The prison that felt like my life. The prison that I refused to let my daughter inherit from me. As well as the prison that my father worked at, as a guard, for 25 years. Dad felt that going to work at the prison was the only option he had, as it seemed at the time. Aside from very few people, no one truly wants to work at a prison. Unfortunately, getting stuck in a paralyzing fear that there are no other options–is a common cause for winding up in prison, whether it be real or of your own making. Belief in the scarcity of things and one’s own limitations, is a behavior that manifests for the believer to ultimately become true.

The amount of needless suffering that people endure because of the limited belief in “only” is overwhelming. But, only has another feeling behind it, and that’s fear. Fear of the unknown, fear about one’s own abilities, fear about physical or emotional vulnerability, fear about financial security… Fear is a powerful, even debilitating emotion. It is fear that keeps a person frozen in place. The prime recurring barrier to behavior change in my literary and firsthand research, is fear.


Looking into my daughter's eyes for the first time something deep inside me changed. The look on her face on the resuscitation table said, “well…damn.” In that moment, the fear of living a life with decisions driven by debilitating fears, and then passing that behavior on to her, was overwhelming. The fear of becoming trapped in an ordinary life so far outweighed the fear of the unknown, that a fair number of those who know me have come to believe I'm a fool, madman, psychopath, or all of the above, for the changes I made after that day. The “conventional life” is existential pain to me, and it’s the same for millions of other people as well.

True existential pain is a life without self-determined meaning. But what is the meaning of life? During the second world war, a prisoner at Auschwitz sought to answer the question: “Why exist when life is only pain and suffering?” Viktor Frankl sought to utilize the horror of his captivity in Auschwitz to answer this fundamental question of existence. Frankl concluded that in order to endure suffering for an extended period of time, a person must have a deeply personal meaning for the pain.


The Ultimate Answer:

One of my ultimate answers is to create a system in which people like my father can become compelled to pursue their ultimate answer. The answer to this question is what separates masters of their personal universe, from being the the slaves of it. Human beings that transform into masters, don’t feel emotions differently than human beings that do not. Masters engage in highly purpose driven behavior relentlessly. Many masters still suffer from addiction and many other compulsive behavioral disorders that only serve to harm their careers. Compulsive behavioral disorders can create master carpenters, master sculptors, and master technologists; as well as they can create master alcoholics, master couch potatoes, master porn addicts, and master fantasy fiction readers.

Someone who compulsively watches shows and movies, constantly has an entire industry telling them their behavior is fine and encouraged. Netflix even had an advertisement that had the statement: “For those who’ve watched it all”. Socially, this person’s behavior is considered acceptable and encouraged. Can you imagine a commercial promoting the abuse of narcotics or opiates: “For those that have tried it all” as the slogan? Compulsive behavior disorder is behind both behaviors.

A significant number of people believe it’s better to work a job you don’t care for, so you can do what you love on the weekends and have that 2 weeks of annual paid vacation. They are hooked on the belief in a “real job” and believe they don’t have what it takes to pursue a dream. Pursuit of one’s own ultimate answer might cause years of pain and suffering. But, watching my father work 25 years in a prison that he never wanted to work at; watching how that ate at his time and life, was painful. Watching that same behavioral phenomenon consume the vitality of millions upon millions of people is suffocating.

That kind of suffering is far more severe than a decade or two as a starving artist, entrepreneur, or inventor. 25 years is 52,000 hours working 40 hours per week. It is theorized that it takes 10,000 hours of applied effort to achieve mastery of a skill. That’s roughly the time it takes to get a 4-year degree from a college. An average college will charge students substantial sums of money to come out with an advanced degree; at completion, a lot of those students run the risk of actually knowing less about their subject than someone who spent the same amount of time, and far less money pursuing the same skills on their own. This has never been truer than in the current information age where advanced knowledge is a commodity, much more easily attained than ever before.

The behavior that leads people into serious debt over the pursuit of college degrees with the motivation of maximizing their future earnings is a behavioral epidemic. Pursuing one’s ultimate answer often creates a fatality with any relationship that doesn’t support it. Unfortunately, far too many people sacrifice their dreams for their relationships as well. This is a disaster of thinking, as human relationships are not a scarcity either. There are >7.9x109 human beings, and a person can only manage about 1.5x101 relationships: humans are an abundant commodity.

Human beings can be programmed to exhibit an infinite number of configurations. There is no reason to believe that a system of behavior change cannot be implemented in which people are driven towards their ultimate answer. What is that system? What is required to cause massive behavior change? What are the core behaviors to program in which an ultimate answer is pursued as the result?


The Theory:

Every human being has an ultimate answer, and that answer is of great significance to the human cultural and economic system as a whole. To test this theory, a prototype human resource management system needed to be developed to get the employees to rediscover their ultimate answer, and pursue it. Much of the design parameters for the prototype system are based upon the incredible system of behavioral rehabilitation developed at the Delancey Street Foundation. Unlike a traditional company that values 80% retention and 20% turnover, the Nyborg prototype system works on 20% retention and 80% turnover. Instead of developing employees to stay, they are developed to instead leave and pursue their answer.

Economics is energy, human beings consume energy, the more energy consumed the more energy is available to create. It takes energy to create a thing, and that creation has a value in energy. If a person directs the energy they consume towards their ultimate answer, the result can be worth far more than the energy that took to create it. According to NASA physicists, a human being is effectively a 20-petaflop supercomputer that requires 100 watts to run. The average human life is 692,000 hours so a person will metabolize 69.2 megawatt-hours of energy in their lifetime.

In comparison, the average American house consumes 10.7 megawatt-hours of electricity per year. That’s a human lifetime’s energy every 6.5 years. The musician Jimi Hendrix did not live a full human life. However, considering that Hendrix’s records have sold millions of copies, not to mention radio broadcasts, and streamed music and video. So, estimating the amount of energy that has been consumed by Jimi Hendrix’s work: A car stereo consumes about 50 watts average, therefore a 60-minute album will take 50 watt-hours to listen. Hendrix’s creations have sold over 100 million copies world-wide. If each listen consumed 50-watt hours then Hendrix’s creation consumed more than 5000 megawatt-hours, assuming each album was only listened to once. That is 70 human lifetime's worth of energy.

Hendrix’s fans don’t listen to his albums only once; and they certainly don’t exclusively listen on tiny little 50w car stereos. 5000 megawatt hours is the total hourly output of a single commercial atomic reactor. Jimi has likely kept entire atomic power stations busy for days if not weeks.

Absolutely. A human can make a gargantuan impact, and humans have relatively the same capacity for performance. With this in-mind the amount of energy required for the pain and suffering to generate masterworks is relatively modest compared to the potential economic impact they can have. From a financial point of view a single human being as raw material has the potential energy equivalent of an atomic weapon. An atomic weapon requires millions of dollars in raw material to produce. Human beings on the other hand require thousands of dollars to rehabilitate. Even at a 90% attrition rate it is a financially compelling proposition.

The Experiment

My new startup company, Nyborg Systems INC, was to run this behavioral systems experiment. Initially, with encouragement from my mentor, Nyborg was first started to provide products and services to the cannabis industry. Cannabis was an emerging field that needed things that could be provided with my engineering background.

As much as I wanted to meet all of the conditions that Delancey Street Foundation uses for their behavioral change program; I did not have the resources, and would have to settle for a high attrition rate under less comprehensive conditions. The participants in the experiment were all brought on as 1099 contractors. Recruiting people from a local maker-space and my daughter’s Montessori school was easy. Potential participants were instructed to come and volunteer to be a part of an entrepreneurial internship program.

Just like Delancey, the first step was the personal commitment of volunteering oneself to be a part of a behavioral change program and social experiment. Participants would perform tasks related to order fulfillment for Nyborg customers for 40 hours per week. Each task required training and the participant would be provided with an alternative type of training structure. That training approach is Positive Cognition Training (PCT). PCT means that a person would be performing a task immediately. If they had trouble with the task, then I’d have them perform a cognitive behavioral exercise combined with an expression of their feelings regarding the situation.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a right/left nervous system exercise where a person performs a sequential number of actions meant to assist with the discharge of emotional energy. For instance, a person performing a task they are inexperienced with generally experiences a great deal of negative emotions in the process. Fear, anger, sadness, shame, and humiliation in some combination will enter the mind and need to be confronted. If those feelings are overwhelming and cannot be processed quickly, then performing an exercise such as playing an instrument or throwing/catching a ball, touching one’s nose sequentially with the right and left-hand finger tips or writing the alphabet backwards in a spiral with one’s non-dominant hand.

‘Emotional energy’ will be explained in the next chapter.

A Note of Humility

One of the other conditions that was a part of the experiment was my own dysfunctional behaviors. In 2018 my previous startup company project ‘Phanedyne’ was in its third year of walking death. The company represented multiple unhealthy relationships and for far too long I hung on to the company, and those relationships. My romantic partner, V, encouraged me to start visiting a licensed family and relationship therapist.

Introspectively analyzing my life, it seemed abundantly clear that there was one crucial factor that was keeping me from success. That factor was in fact my own behavior. After several weeks of therapy, I had worked up the courage to start to hold my business partner and ‘best friend’ of 10 years accountable for their behavior, at least, as best as I could at the time.

The near-immediate result of that was they called me a psychopathic child, ghosted me, and left town; we haven’t spoken since. During the middle of all of this I had managed to negotiate a lucrative short-term contract to build a research laboratory. The contract was profitable enough that I was able to completely turn around my difficult financial situation and leave my part-time job. Once the laboratory project was complete, Nyborg was capitalized enough that for the first time in my life that I was able to make the switch to full-time entrepreneur.

Until that moment, in my 35 years of life that I didn’t have a parent or boss to answer to. Completely on my own two feet for the first time I went right to my garage and got full-blown engaged building the next big thing with the lust and energy of a teenager. Yeah…right…I went out to my garage and doubled over the workbench in a full-blown panic attack. Over, and over, and over, again with the panic attacks in my garage.

My sister and her husband had been seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist for a traumatic brain injury incurred in a paragliding accident. Armed with the knowledge of their exercises, I began to engage in some of the activities she was being prescribed. Have a panic attack, write the alphabet backwards in a spiral with my non-writing hand; rinse, repeat.

It is a strange feeling to want independence so badly for decades, and the moment I had achieved it to be disabled by debilitating panic attacks. It would take me until 2022 to fully-understand the origin of my panic attacks and the layers of emotional reactions associated. Make no mistake, a panic attack is pretty much the apex of a fear reaction. I was on my own for the first time and completely terrified.

Before the 2018 ‘summer of terror’ I had begun to put pencil to paper for this research project and had committed myself to execution of the project. There is no better teacher than experience, and thus if I had to go through the transformation of institutionalized to free agent, my personal experience would provide an important piece of the puzzle. Debilitating panic attacks are a phase, facing uncertainty is a crucial skill, believing in one’s self is a necessity.

To achieve success requires the relentless pursuit of failure. I had been indoctrinated into the behavioral condition to be afraid of failure. I had just experienced a massive failure of Phanedyne and my long-time friendship according to my perspective at the time. It’s incredibly easy to pay lip service to a concept such as ‘fail fast forward’ but it’s a completely different experience to transform one's actualized behavior toward ‘fail fast forward’. Failing can feel like doom to one who hasn’t spent a lot of time failing at something.

During the course of this work I was also working on my self-growth as well. To viscerally understand the recipe for behavioral change I knew that I absolutely had to transform my own behavior. I had to make the transformation from the comfort and security of mediocrity to the risk and existential reward of mastery. The thing that boggled my mind the most, was after running the experiment for four years I was diagnosed as a pathological liar and narcissist.

My mind literally unraveled in a matter of days after the diagnosis. Telling myself lies for more than 25 years has created a massive blind spot in my cognition. My narcissistic tendencies was a trait that other members of the experiment would ultimately use to manipulate me. More on that in chapter 4.

At the Delancey Street Foundation it takes a new resident 4-6 years to transform their behavior from decades of criminal behavior and drug addiction to that of a functional individual. The nervous system incorporates information through the physical growth and atrophy of neurons. Unlike an electromagnetic information storage system, information cannot be deleted and re-written in mere seconds.

Behavior change takes years because of the physical limitations of the 20-petaflop computer we call our nervous system. Behavior change isn’t a weekend rehabilitation, or a seminar, or watching a bunch of YouTube videos about becoming successful. Behavior change is incredibly hard work that requires one to very carefully control their environment, relationships, and personal beliefs. Years of dedicated effort are required to reprogram one’s own brain. Never before in my adult life had I experienced the intensity of emotion that behavioral transformation has required.

As a recovering addict, narcissist, and pathological liar the biggest mistake I made during this project was trying to do a lot of behavior change work on others without the aid of a professional therapist on the project. My addiction is the good feelings another person can give me by stroking my ego. It's literally a chemical addiction. Dopamine is released in the brain of a narcissist when their ego is being fed with compliments. Many members of the study group would naturally do this behavior and it would feed my brain like a drug. The drug felt so good that it blinded me to their behavior and nearly destroyed my life.

Do not play pretend therapist when it comes to behavior change effort. By getting too close with the people one is endeavoring to behaviorally rehabilitate it exposes you to their pathological manipulation behaviors learned from negative cognition training. Negative cognition training generally serves to make a behavioral addict of some kind and a person usually won't catch it until they hit rock bottom.

No Cake without commitment:

Case Study – Casey:

Casey was part of the Nyborg study for 2 years, and for the first year experienced a great deal of growth, but during the second year Casey slid backwards rapidly and washed out. Casey was an unemployed homeless alcoholic with a great deal of fabrication experience. One of the other Nyborg members brought Casey into the program in early 2019. Casey was staying on a friend’s couch and I thought Casey would benefit from living in the Nyborg shop. Delancey controls their behavioral environment with a live-in program and I believed that Casey would benefit more than the other members.

I made a crucial mistake with Casey, unlike other members of the experiment who knew what they were getting into. Casey joined the project not fully understanding what he was signing up for. Making a personal commitment to join a behavior change project is a critical step. The critical first step is making a deep and personal commitment to the program. I was distracted with other business and didn’t indoctrinate Casey through the crucial first step.

As Casey progressed in the program, I was able to use CBT to teach him new skills like the others. However, the moment Casey got a little money he spent it on a large television, a video game console, and alcohol. Casey spent an inordinate amount of time drinking, playing video games, and watching television. As things progressed Casey was able to get into his own living situation but continued drinking. While day-drinking Casey took a ride on his motorcycle and nearly killed himself in an accident breaking both his feet.

Confined to a wheelchair and on blood thinners with no ability to drink alcohol, Casey continued to oversaturate on entertainment. Without alcohol to numb his emotions he was in a depressive stupor. Because of his fabrication skills I wanted to continue to rehabilitate Casey and assigned him tasks that could be done from a wheelchair. His assignment was to write 3 things he likes about himself per day and one thing he’s afraid of.

The result was surprising to me. For Casey to write and think positively about himself as well as express a little vulnerability was a barrier he refused to cross. Casey would rather lose his job, his house, and his relationship with the Nyborg team than face the possibility that he had an issue with his self-esteem. Casey would not accept accountability for his own behavior, and having not taken the first crucial step of personal commitment he was stuck. I endeavored to get Casey to make the decision to officially join the project and he refused.

As Casey’s behavior was incredibly disruptive to other members of the project as a whole, he had to be washed out. At last report as I understand it Casey is still a homeless alcoholic.

In alcoholics anonymous the first steps are to admit that one is powerless over their current state of behavior, and to yield the ability to restore one’s health to a power greater than themselves. This is the crucial personal commitment part of the behavioral change program. No one is an island, and no one can completely heal themselves without any help from others. During my rehabilitation process I’ve had a tremendous amount of help from my professional therapist, partner, and other members of the Nyborg team.

Emotional vulnerability is a critical skill to develop to positively change one’s behavior. Unfortunately, many people are programmed to guard against emotional vulnerability. The common belief is that emotional vulnerability opens a person up to be attacked. Sure, one can be easily attacked by being emotionally vulnerable. However, the actual weakness lay with the attacker, not the vulnerable. Vulnerability as it turns out is an incredibly powerful tool. Knowing one’s own mortality; and the fragile nature of life is not an easy thing to accept when unable to connect with one’s own vulnerability.

It was an upsetting and tragic loss of two years with Casey as I believe that man has incredible possibilities in him. Casey’s washing out was also a proof of a crucial aspect to behavioral change. The first step is a deep personal commitment to behavior change. If a person cannot take that first step, then none of the other steps matter. It’s like trying to bake a batch of cookies without flour of any kind, the fundamental ingredient is missing and all the other ingredients will not make a cookie, no matter how carefully they are prepared.

In order to discover your own ultimate answer, you must first be able to make a deeply personal commitment to do so. Second, you must modify your physical and social environment to be supportive of your commitment. Without these crucial factors your meaning will be determined by forces that you simply cannot control. Traumatic memories, core beliefs, and automated behavior, are ultimately the most significant barrier to pursuing one's ultimate answer.

Summary

  • Human beings have an unlimited capacity for creation.

  • Every person has a unique and special ‘Ultimate Answer’.

  • Enduring tremendous emotional and physical pain is possible when in pursuit of one's ‘Ultimate Answer’.

  • Most beliefs are absorbed into the nervous system during childhood due to the tremendous number of nerve connections occurring during that period of development.

  • A deep personal commitment is a crucial key to overcoming psychological barriers of belief and changing behavior.


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