Philosophical Open Loops

Lately I’ve been thinking about how the concept of open loops (i.e. incomplete tasks and projects) connects with our models of reality. When we have holes and inconsistencies in our mental models, those models remain incomplete. It’s hard to act rationally when we lack a decent model of reality. How are you supposed to make intelligent decisions about your life when you’re not even clear about what kind of reality you’re in?

I had to experience and reject various ways of modeling reality till I found an approach that felt more stable and reliable to me. My life flows better with my current mental model than it has in the past, and I think one good reason is that my current model closes the open loops that my previous models didn’t.

Religious models, for instance, are riddled with open loops and inconsistencies. People keep trying to remedy those faulty models, but it’s to no avail because the flaws are systemic. So in the end these models just devolve into messy patchworks. They’ll always be inconsistent and confusing to people because they don’t make sense rationally. Religions teach models of reality that conflict with people’s everyday experiences, and people’s minds can’t fully accept those models. Since people don’t really accept the models, they can’t act in alignment with them either.

Whoever buys into those models is sure to struggle with them. Open loops of any kind create distraction. Even when you’re not consciously thinking about such models, your subconscious mind will have to pass many decisions through them. But the flaws in such models lead to mental and emotional friction. Our minds can’t connect the dots because the dots don’t connect rationally in the models, so we end up not feeling clear about many decisions when we use inherently broken models. Models with open loops slow us down till we can close the loops.

One of the biggest open loops I had to deal with in my favorite models was figuring out whether reality is primarily objective or subjective in nature. That open loop was always troublesome because I could never fully invest in one side or the other till I figured it out, so I kept leaning back and forth and experimenting on both sides. But whenever I’d lean towards one model, I’d always wonder if it was the more correct one. Maybe I should go back and give the other model another run for several months…

What closed that loop for me was doing enough thinking about the problem to realize that the true nature of reality is inherently unknowable for any conscious being within it. And it will always and forever be unknowable.

This realization gave me a sense of peace. I finally accepted that no matter which model I use, I’ll never know how accurate it is. Hence I began seeing my mental models as flexible tools and frames rather than potentially accurate explanations of how reality truly works. This helped me lean into a more experimental approach based on action and reaction, which actually improved the way I related to reality.

As I put these pieces together, life took on a smoother and more relaxed quality. My mind was no longer struggling with a messy open loop in my thinking about reality. That open loop had been successfully processed and closed. I could finally call that project done.

Now when I find open loops in my thinking about life and reality, I realize they’ll always be distractions for me until I close them. Determining that some aspect of reality is unknowable is a valid way to close a loop. It’s like figuring out that a math problem has no answers, which is actually the answer that solves the problem and lets you move on from it with the peace of mind that you figured it out.

I think many people don’t realize just how much a broken model of reality (like the ones religions teach) can corrupt their mental functioning. If your rational mind can’t make sense of your model of reality, that will always cause issues for you, especially in terms of keeping you stuck in irrational thinking and behavior patterns. Faulty models persist because they also have empowering aspects, but the open loops will still cause trouble till they’re resolved and closed.

Some of my biggest personal growth gains have stemmed from seeking to develop more rational models of reality. The better I understand my relationship with reality and how I can interact with it, the more consistent I can be at making decisions that feel aligned and which generate positive results. If don’t have reasonable clarity about my base model of reality, how am I supposed to make rational choices atop a faulty model?

My advice here is: Don’t settle for open loops in your models if you can rationally close them. When you know your model has elements that don’t add up, seek to resolve them. Close those open loops. This will free up a lot of stuck mental energy, which you can use to good effect in other areas of life.

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Read Philosophical Open Loops by Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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