Friday, October 21, 2011

Some Thoughts on Focusing on the Positive

When big blue, the chess playing computer, plays chess, it does not try to win. It tries to not lose. It makes the least negative move. This tracks closely what some primate tendencies are: through evolution we, like many living things, withdraw from negative, and notice danger, risk, or the unknown so much because billions of humans over millions of years have managed to survive by doing such threat assessment. This is much as a chess playing computer can out survive by focusing on the disadvantageous; it can out survive its opponent in the game. However, while this may very well serve the need to survive if a rook is bearing down on your king, a saber-toothed tiger is bearing down on your family or a truck runs a red light and is bearing down on you since you were about to step into the crosswalk, it is not the most vital, nor most human.

One of the things I'd like to think separates us from animals and machines is our ability to do more than merely survive, more than simply last a little longer. While I'm all for living a good long time, I also think joy, love, beauty, connection, affection, dreams and sometimes self-sacrifice for others' sake (ex: soldiers) are among the reasons survival has value beyond simply indulging a base instinct to do so. Our ability to focus on the good, the positive, is a big part of why stepping back away from the truck running the red light is worthwhile. Also, focusing on the positive is a lot more fun. As I tweeted last night: you can see your life as nothing but opportunities, or as nothing but obstacles, and whichever you choose, you'll be right.

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