October 7, 2018One of my favorite pieces of technology in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series is the SEP. Rather than make something actually invisible ("or anything hyper-impossible like that", even in that zany high-tech universe) it just casts a kind of electric psychological field and people edit it out of their perception as Somebody Else's Problem:
The Somebody Else’s Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what’s more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people’s natural disposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else’s Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was thereA while back I realized pretending something had an SEP field on it was a good way of coping with things as long as A. they weren't actually affecting me and B. weren't my fault - and even better if C. there wasn't much I could do about it anyway. (The B and C elements are what kept it morally on the up and up.)
But there's a lot of problems that don't meet those conditions - especially A. There's a cognitive psychology term "catastrophizing" - building an irrational series of cause and effect leading to a terrible negative conclusion. I think people do at least a watered-down variant of it subconsciously all the damn time - I know I do. Even when folks don't explicitly link up a chain of events that lead to a far-fetched negative consequence, they tend to act as if that chain was in effect, and the result is anxiety. The world is too complex to do all possible modeling of cause-and-effect, and so we use short hand of "I should be worried about this" to help us make good decisions and keep up good behaviors, but that can be very wearing.
Andy Warhol suggested one remedy:
Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, "So what." That's one of my favorite things to say. "So what." "My mother didn't love me." So what. "My husband won't ball me." So what. "I'm a success but I'm still alone." So what. I don't know how I made it through all the years before I learned how to do that trick. It took a long time for me to learn it, but once you do, you never forget.The trouble is, in theory you could "So What" every-damn-thing, and I don't think the results of that would be good - apathy or a general sense of pointlessness could result.
So ideally, I would make a cognitive tool like a "Virtual So What Field" I could apply and activate at will - but with the feeling I had the existential authority to apply it judiciously, as I saw fit. Some things I want to care about and get emotionally vested in, other things I could get help saying "So What", and chop down that branching tree of possible consequences near the root.