It’s All Relative: Shuffling the Deck

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Every time you shuffle a deck of cards their order is one that has never before, and will never again happen in the universe.

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There are over 80 unvigintillion ways a deck of cards to be ordered. I promise I didn’t make that word up! That’s an 8 with 67 zeroes after it.

 

If life ever seems repetitive just shuffle a deck of cards and know that you created something that has never before existed in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe.

 

Each shuffle seems ordinary and plain, but the odds of every card shuffling into their original “new deck” order is the same as any other arrangement. Likewise, the odds of getting a royal flush of spades in exact 10 through Ace order is exactly the same as getting 2,7,Jack,8,4 in mixed suits.

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One only SEEMS special because we have designated it so. The feeling we get upon seeing a royal flush on the board should be felt every time a hand is dealt because every hand is equally special (or ordinary depending on how you choose to view it).

 

Take a moment to think how odd it is for us to work this way. There is no difference between the worlds most exciting hand, the world’s most mind numbingly boring hand, or any hand in between these two extremes. Every deck has identical odds of existing.

 

The sensation we get when seeing a “great” board get played comes purely from our fabricated ideas. It is not an emotion forced upon us by the outside world, but a feeling we choose based upon our interpretation.

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This points to a deeper truth. How we feel at any given moment has nothing to do with outside circumstances. Our feelings and emotions are a result of our interpretation of reality, not reality itself. If we wish to interpret our day as a series of stressful and agitating events, then that is precisely what we will experience.

 

This is great news because it means we are in absolute control of how we feel about our lives, moment by moment, day by day we create our happiness or sadness, peace or anger, despair or hope.

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Usually, we think we are the victims of what unfolds. When something unexpected happens – the flight is cancelled – we feel we MUST have a negative feeling. I’ve been waiting for 2 hours and the flight gets cancelled, I get angry; the marriage falls apart, I get sad; the car cuts me off, I rage.

 

If only reality was dealt as expected we could be happy, but instead I got the wrong deck!

 

But all decks are equal. No deck is “good or evil”, it is not out to get you. You are out to get yourself! You choose how to interpret the hand you’re dealt.

 

She broke up with me. Now I’m sad. Is the universe forcing me to be sad? Or am I imposing it upon myself by means of how I CHOOSE to look at it.

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So the deck wasn’t shuffled in the order you expected it to be shuffled. The universe didn’t let me down, I let me down with my own expectations. No ordering of cards is better than any other.

 

We cannot control how the cards are ordered, but we need not control that. We are in complete control of how we perceive each shuffle. We define what makes us feel good or bad.

 

If ever you are frustrated, sad, angry, annoyed, or agitated just ask yourself “Am I required to feel this way? Who is creating this emotion, me or the outside world? What feeling would I like to feel?” From there, create an interpretation that leads to the emotion or results you desire.

 

If I hate my job and I focus on why I hate it, I am merely fostering that crappy feeling. If I change my interpretation, my focus, I can change my emotion. What parts of the job do I like? Could this be the perfect motivator for finding something better? Maybe billions of others have worse jobs, and mine isn’t so bad?

 

These are all interpretations, and they lead to vastly different emotions, different results, different experiences, and different futures.

 

What makes us human is our ability to consciously choose our reactions and emotions. Often we are not truly in control, just like any other animal is not in control.

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What makes us special is that we do not have to go with whatever our reflex is. In that moment I convince myself I have to be angry, even that I WANT to be angry. We get lost in the emotion and just roll with it instead of being truly human, being conscious, being aware, and stepping back, observing, consciously controlling our emotions to produce happiness and results.

 

We have the power to choose how we interpret our circumstances, and this tool is more powerful than any drug or any amount of money. With diligent focus and effort we can re-claim the right to see the world in whatever light is delightful and beneficial, instead of being a monkey that sticks with its default reaction.

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Are you a victim of what happens to you, or are you the creator of your experience? Both can be true. The choice is up to you.

 

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” -William Shakespeare

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Our Hidden Self

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Are we consciously aware of why we make the decisions we make?

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You’re sitting in the doctors office wondering which will take longer – the wait or the actual appointment – when a new patient walks in and drops their planner right in front of you, scattering numerous papers across the floor. You then make a choice: should I help pick up those papers or not.

Something like this has happened to everyone, so why did we choose the action (or inaction) that we choose in that moment?

If asked we’d confidently respond that the person reminded us of so and so, or that the boredom of waiting made you want to do anything other than just sit there, morals compelled you, you were in the middle of texting and didn’t want to lose the thought, etc, etc, etc.

These are all reasonable answers and would quickly settle the matter – clearly I made a conscious decision for reasons I’m well aware of.

However, cognitive scientists are a clever bunch, and when they did a similar experiment they had a trick up their sleeve.

In this same situation – sitting in a waiting room – experimenters would have an assistant walk into the room and “accidentally” drop a cup of pencils. For each person the environment was identical; same room, same chair placement, same person dropping pencils in the same spot. Identical down to the number of pencils, lighting, and even clothing and hairdo.

There was one single difference – on one side of the room was a computer monitor with a screensaver image. This image was either a picture of fish in an aquarium, a black screen, or a picture of money.

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Would the simple presence of these images affect our decision to pick up some dropped pencils?

After thousands of trials, the results of the black screen and the fish screen were statistically identical. They were a wash, they had zero impact on people. This is what we’d expect if subtle feng shui environment changes had no effect whatsoever on our decisions. So far so good…

Here’s where it gets weird.

When the money screensaver was displayed participants were significantly less likely to help pick up the pencils.

The money screensaver wasn’t just having an effect, it was THE reason, the only reason, some participants were deciding to help. In statistics “significantly” means that the variation of the data could not be explained by randomness or noise. A screensaver of money prevented people from helping who otherwise would have helped.

                     valentine heart shape made by dollars isolated

In the most literal of ways, this seemingly meaningless part of their environment made their decision for them; they did not have a choice in the matter.

When participants were asked WHY they did what they did, they gave the “reasons” you or I would cite: they had exams earlier, work, weather, who they’d “run into” earlier, what the secretary looked like, etc. Never, out of thousands of trials, did they EVER cite the screensaver as even a having any influence on their decision.

This effect – where a subtle cue in your environment controls your behaviors and feelings in a completely unconscious way – is called “priming”. It affects you, me, your co-workers, family, EVERYONE, every moment of every day.

A second, but slightly varied, experiment led to the same results.

Using the same screensavers participants were told that they would be getting acquainted with a colleague, and told to pull up two chairs for them to sit on. The average distance that participants chose to separate the chairs was: fish (32 in), blank (33 in), money (45 in).

Again, the fish and blank screensaver were statistically identical, but the money screen caused highly divergent results. Without our awareness the concept of money causes us to act in a more defensive fashion.

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The conclusion is best summarized by Daniel Kahneman in his encyclopedic psychology book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (2011):

“The idea you should focus on, however, is that disbelief is not an option. The results are not made up, nor are they statistical flukes. You have no choice but to accept that the major conclusions of these studies are true. More important, you must accept that they are true about you… You do not believe that these results apply to you because they don’t correspond to your conscious experience, but your conscious experience is largely a narrative manufactured after the fact by your System 2 “.

“Do these experiments demonstrate that we are completely at the mercy of whatever primes the environment provides at the moment? Of course not. The effects of primes are robust but not necessarily large. Among one hundred voters, only a few whose initial preferences were uncertain will vote differently if their precinct is located in a school rather than a church- but a few percent could tip an election [he’s referring to an experiment I didn’t cover here].”

Infrasound: Lions, And Volcanoes, And Tsunamis Oh My!

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If you blast a person with infrasound (sound just below our hearing threshold) they will become fearful, anxious, uneasy, nervous, feel chills in their spine, pressure in the chest, and extreme sorrow.

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Sound waves in this range also resonate with our eyes natural vibrations creating undistinguishable and imaginary shapes in our peripheral vision. Most major scientific discoveries are complete accidents, and the story behind this discovery is no different.

In a lab, experimenters kept experiencing a gray shape sitting next to their desk in a specific area of the room. They also consistently felt feelings of dread, depression, anxiety, and feelings of someone watching them in that area.

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They eventually discovered that a “silent” exhaust fan was emitting sound waves of 18.9Hz (infrasound). The fan was fixed and the mysterious gray shape and strange emotional experiences ended.

Stunned by the implications, this clever scientist went to a well regarded haunted cellar in a local home. People who entered the cellar often reported feelings of fear, nausea, nervousness, chills, seeing apparitions, and feeling apparitions watching them. It was found that the cellar had a particular resonant structure that created infrasound waves at, you guessed it, 18.9Hz.

Why do humans feel these sensations when these “silent” sound waves hit our ears?

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Lions, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, large ocean waves, elephants, and other dangerous things produce sounds in the infrasound range. It is the hypothesized reason that many animals know ahead of time about tsunamis and earthquakes. In fact, if humans weren’t so caught up in our own thoughts (detached from our bodily intuition), we’d probably be able to sense these events too. The sensations created are an evolutionary adaptation that intuitively says “Don’t be here! Get somewhere else NOW!”.

 

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Mirror, Mirror: Appearance Matters More Than Talent

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I’ll start by discussing people, self-appearance, and how it affects our lives.

A major study in 2013 revealed that when rating a musicians performance visual information reigns supreme over the music itself. When attending a concert presenting classical music humans rate the performance not by what they HEAR, but by what they SEE. This was found to be true for both novices and professional musicians. Even the experts unknowingly judge music by sight instead of sound. Incredible.

If we unknowingly rate musical performance through appearance, then it is a safe bet that appearance affects the way we evaluate EVERYTHING.

The mind is constantly on the lookout for identifying and assimilating patterns. Everyone unconsciously evaluates how I dress, my hair style, my vehicle, how I walk, if I mirror another’s body language, and an array of other non-verbal cues.

All this non-verbal information becomes the foundation of others perceptions of us. Our verbal communication and behaviors have impact, but only as a scaffolding built upon the foundation of appearance. This is because our words and actions are evaluated in the context of our non-verbal cues.

Put more bluntly, our non-verbal cues anchor peoples perceptions of us. Our words and actions allow those perceptions to shift, but only a certain distance from the anchor point.

This does not just concern initial impressions, but is a lasting effect that very slowly loosens over time. Once a perception is anchored all incoming information is judged relative to that anchor. Two people can behave identically, but be judged radically differently because judgments are always made relative to the anchor point.

If Mother Teresa volunteers at a soup kitchen she would be perceived as a caring individual due to her anchor point. If a person you don’t like does this the mind will quickly conclude it is for self-serving reasons.

This is why when making a radical life change it is useful to change jobs, locations, or friends. The people we regularly interact with have a set anchor of who we are, and the way they act reinforces that perception. People treat us according to how they see us, and the way we perceive ourselves is strongly affected by how others behave toward us.

I hold in my head the notion that any person, on any given day, can choose to change themselves. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago; no one is. This allows my to loosen my instinctual desire to evaluate someone today based on who I decided they were 1 year ago.

Even more profoundly, if you reinforce through language the idea that a specific person is noble and moral, they will begin seeing it in themselves and reflecting that. This psychological effect is called “priming”, and it is a significant driver of our daily actions and perceptions. If you continuously communicate to someone how that they’re not to be trusted they will in time begin reflecting that idea.

We frame other peoples realities every day, and most of the time we do it unconsciously by acting in a way that validates how we perceive them. Take control of your mind and your perceptions of others. Speak the good you see in them, and they’ll begin acting in accord with that evaluation.

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