Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Slicing Time, and Slicing Ego

One of the really fun things I get to do as travel around is train with very good people. My Silat Aliran has schools in several places around the US, including Western Michigan.

When I get out to Grand Rapids one of the things I look forward to is getting to work out with my friend Steve Van Harn.

(Have you noticed that I have a whole lot of "Steves" in my life? I have suspected for some time that this is some sort of a conspiracy. I think people get together and say "hey when I introduce you to the old guy tell him that your name is Steve, it really confuses him").

Well THIS Steve is a student and teacher of a Filipino marital art called Arnis Sikaran - Jornales System Sandatahan, and is a champion full contact fighter with WEKAF (a group of people who think it fun to pound the snot out of each other with sticks)

Steve Van Harn

Steve is a brilliant player at his art, and is one of those people who are a pleasure to work with because he always seems to be having such fun.

Because we both have a philosophical bent, we often discuss the deep issues of life while he is chasing me around the room trying to hit me up-side the head with a stick.

( "Hey Mushtaq [wack, wack] what do you think about [hit] the meaning of life?"[beat, mangle] "Well Steve, [duck, dodge] I thing that life [parry, jump back] is a lot better [run away] if I am far enough away that you can't hit me with that great club you are swinging about")

The other day he sent me a note after reading one of my columns here. I thought that it may be of general interest, so I asked him if he would let me reprint his thoughts here and let me turn my answer into a column for The Traceless Warrior, he graciously agreed so here is a dialog between Steve and I that may shed more light on Slicing Time.


I was reading your blog, The traceless Warrior, regarding "Slicing Time". Specifically the statement you made;

A warrior's first and greatest battle is against his own ego, his mechanical nature, his "body of habits".

To me this is a big statement. Ego, or lack of it, is something I struggle with on a daily basis, whether in training or in life. How can one have humility and confidence without arrogance?

I recall two experiences very clearly. I mentioned (way back when) to my Aikido instructor that all black belts had egos.

His response was, "absolutely, the important thing is whether one continues to fight it everyday or let it run it's course and take over".

I said the same thing to my TKD instructor, and his response was "are you saying I have an EGO!?".

Well duh, if ever a question answered itself. The point I was hoping to get across to him was the added weight and responsibility that putting on that black belt engendered, and that "ego", good or bad, came with it as a direct accoutrement.

I don't think he ever got it, although he used to say "you have no idea how heavy this belt is".

The Aikido guy had the right idea.

Personally, I find that I struggle with lending more credence to what I personally think is good vs. what someone else thinks.

If I discredit what someone says and believe in my own ideas, am I not surrendering to my ego? But if I am so willing to discount my own training/conclusions in favor of someone who's opinion I value, am I not doing myself a disservice as well? How do you handle this?

Obviously I have differing levels of value assigned to different people based on how highly I respect them.

For the most part I now will accept what someone says and then compare it with my beliefs/opinions and if it has merit I will amend my set. I started doing this some years back. I was emailing a newer acquaintance who was bragging "my master this" and "my master that". Then I found out his master had been training for less time than me! There are still a few folks I hold in high enough regard that I willingly accept what they say. Getting to be fewer though.

Just wondering if you have any thoughts on the issue and thought maybe you could expound in a further blog.

As you can see, Steve likes the big questions. So here are my thoughts on the matter for whatever they are worth.



If I try to answer this question in one sitting I would have to write a book. So if you don't mind I will just tackle one small part for the moment.

you have often heard me saying things like "Humans must strive to overcome their mechanical nature if they wish to grow". You would be surprised at how many people nod their head wisely when I say something like this, and how few ask "What do you mean by mechanical nature?"

What I mean is that most people, most of the time, tend to think heuristically. That is to say people will make choices by unconscious "rules of thumb". This is a cognitive strategy has a lot of survival advantages in that one can react quickly to a given situation.

For example, a person may have the heuristic, "Brightly colored insects are poisonous". This person, on seeing a Velvet Ant crawling toward his hand will, "without thinking" jerk his hand away (thereby avoiding one of the most painful stings in the insect world). As you can see, this sort of "rule of thumb" thinking can have a lot of positive survival value, and if one ends up avoiding all brightly colored insects, even the non-venomous ones, it will usually matter very little.

As I said in my first article on "slicing time", most really good fighters use this strategy in their training and fighting. It will allow them to react to an attack without having to take the time to "think about" what they need to do.

There is a problem with Heuristics as a strategy though, without a great deal of care one can develop cognitive bias that can create huge "blind spots" in one's thinking (and fighting).

One way that cognitive bias develop is through ones "logic system". Even if a person says "I am very illogical" they will have some strategy that allows them to form "self consistent" conclusions and inferences about experience.

The problem is that many, even most people in the West operate with a two value logic. This form of logic was first popularized by Aristotle, then picked up by Aquinas, who helped it propagated through the Christian Church. (The same logic became prevalent in the Mid East through a somewhat different route)

With Aristotelian logic we can determine if a proposition is "True" or "False", which is useful for some things (like mathematics) and not useful for others (like human interaction).

The problem with a two value logic system when it gets applied to human interactions, is that it is too rigid. When it is taken to extremes you tend to get "fanatical" personalities who insist that whatever they have determined to be "true" must in fact be TRUE for everyone.

Even when it is not taken to its extreme, if you are working from a two value system and you have a two people with two different opinions about something, someone must be "right" and someone must be "wrong"

To get out of this dilemma, and this is also, I think , the first step to solving the problem you stated of "how to balance your views against the views of others", is to develop a multi-value logic system for yourself. This is also where the "mechanical" part of a person comes in,

If you have only two choices, true/false, right/wrong, black/white, off/on, then you are pretty much operating at the level of a machine in my opinion.

I suspect that to break free of the mechanical nature of the ego you must, among other things, make sure that you have at least three choices, the "yes" the "no" and the "maybe".

Personally, I tend to use a seven valued logic.

The values are:
  1. generally true
  2. generally false
  3. personally true
  4. personally false
  5. indeterminate
  6. meaningless
  7. game rules
"Generally true and false" encompass things like "the speed of light is a constant", "never poke a sleeping bear in the ass with a sharp stick"

Personally true and false are, well, more personal, like "Salad is good" or "tripe stew is unpleasant."

Indeterminate are those things you do not have any data on, like "mustard ice cream is good". Never having had any I could not say one way or the other.

Meaningless is for example "cold red loneliness obscures the moon", it is something you get no real information from.

Game rules are things like "you must dress in this uniform to train at this Dojo."

Now of course there are many other ways to set up a multi-value logic system than this one, I just happen to find this one handy.

So in your situation, having someone tell you something that you may disagree with, rather than having to choose which one of you is "right" in most cases, you can just file things under "personal". (He thinks golf is good, I think golf is stupid, he is correct FOR HIM and I am correct FOR ME).

This also helps with the "General" area of your own values become more apparent and harder to challenge.

The indeterminate is the fruitful area where you get to find out more about life, the universe, and everything.

Meaningless is interesting. You will be surprised at how many things people take very seriously are in fact meaningless.

Knowing that some things are Game Rules allows you to make informed choices dependent on how important it is for you to play the game or not.

I think that if you work on something like this you will find your ego coming more under control without too much overt work on your part.

A multi-valued logic also allows you to make finer and more accurate observations about both your outer and inner worlds, and this will have a direct positive effect on your martial arts.

A multi-valued system also allows you to avoid generalizations more often, and as I implies at the beginning of this message, Heuristic Generalization is one of the main sources of negative mechanical behavior in human beings.

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