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Imagining a Clearer Reality

Published 9/9/2019

Today, we discuss the difficulty of imagining an alternate reality, and how that affects our decision making for the future.

This episode is sponsored by Barclays.

Barclays is hiring! At Barclays, developers are always developing. Find your next role at https://home.barclays/developers today.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
I want you to take a moment and imagine what your life would be like had you chosen to never learn how to write a single line of code. Now this is a simple question but a nearly impossible thing to imagine because so many of our decisions lead to a tree of decisions beyond it. If you hadn't learned to code then you may not even be living where you're currently living. Probably wouldn't have gone to the same school that you went to or perhaps gotten the same first job that you got didn't go to that boot camp. Maybe didn't meet some people who are your friends. Of course the difficulty here is not in imagining that some of these things were not true but rather imagining a different reality. Distributing a different experience for the one that you had. In fact our imaginations have a really hard time imagining even a previous reality that we actually experienced. In today's episode we're going to talk about our perception of reality and how that perception is kind of self-reinforcing, how it creates our future realities. My name is Jonathan Katrone, you're listening to Developer Tea and my goal in the show is to help driven developers find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. Our perception is an interesting science because all living organisms have different ways of perceiving reality. We can go way down the philosophical trail here but suffice it to say that we don't see everything that is true. A simple example of this is that we can't see certain bands of light. In fact most of the electromagnetic radiation that's out there we can't really perceive, even though it does affect us. And so in some fundamental ways we are all limited. But it's also easy to believe that the boundaries of our perception are only those that are in that biological realm. The truth is much of our perception of even our previous experiences is in some way thwarted. A little bit of a trigger warning here, this next reality might be a little bit difficult to swallow for some people, but we forget most of our experiences. It's not that those experiences don't shape us or that we don't have some impression of our experiences that they've gone away forever, but rather that all the detail that we experience in the moment, we very clearly do not hold all of that information in our minds. Because a simple example, if you have a bookshelf, you almost certainly do not know the exact order that those books are in, even though you're probably the one that put them there. So this is true about these smaller, seemingly inconsequential facts. We don't really care about the order of our books because we can go and pick out the book that we want by just searching for it in our systems that we can rely on. In case we wanted to have a reliable order, we could alphabetize them. We can sort them by color to make that finding a little bit easier. But there's more to the story about our ability to perceive our own reality. Much of what we remember about our previous selves tells a cohesive story about how we got to where we are today. If you go through an interviewing process, for example, you probably have a rehearsed story that you tell about your background, how you ended up getting here, how you ended up falling into programming in some way or another. And we all want to believe that our stories make sense, that everything makes sense, that our experience is humans makes sense. And not only does it make sense, but it makes enough sense that we can perceive it and wrap our minds around why the things that happened happened. And if you've been listening to the show for very long at all, hopefully you know that much of what happens to us is by chance, difficult to really trace to some origin reason, even the things that we choose for ourselves. But here's the interesting thing. We've been looking kind of backwards at our previous realities, how difficult it is to imagine some alternative reality. But now I want to shift and talk about our present and future. We're going to talk about the fact that we can't really fully see the reality of our present. And that's going to have a major effect on the decisions that we make in the future. We're going to talk about that present reality and how it affects our future decisions. Right after we talk about today's brand new sponsor, Barclays. Barclays is the global bank that has challenged its Developer To redefine the future of finance and make it easier for customers to manage their money. The business is currently hiring at its new campus in New Jersey as well as multiple locations in the UK, Northampton, Glasgow, London and Barclays technology campus in Nutsford. And Barclays works with a variety of languages like Java, JavaScript, C++, C-Sharp, Ruby, Python, etc. Lots of opportunity to learn and grow at Barclays because Barclays is not short on resources, projects, or ambition. That means Barclays developers are always developing. Find the role for you by heading over to home.barclays slash developers. That's home.barrc.yss slash developers. Thanks again to Barclays for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So we're talking about our present reality and the difficulty of imagining a different reality. Of course, we've covered the fact that this extends to imagining a different reality that you never experienced, but also going back and trying to re-imagine a reality that you did experience. A previous part of your life, for example, we lose a lot of that detail and often things that we remember are different or wrong. When we try to imagine the future, we have a similar problem. And this is why our present reality has such a major effect on what we do next on our decision making, on how we choose to proceed, for example, with our career. When we're making decisions, we're trying to predict some future reality. Especially for major decisions in our lives, this process is a process of imagining a different reality. One that is in the future and where you've made some kind of change. Now, research shows that we're notoriously bad and imagining what is going to make us, for example, happy. And the short reason why we are so bad at this is that we tend to hone in on a subset of that reality. So a practical example of this might be when you're trying to plan for a project. And you're trying to plan out how long you think this project is going to take. Just all the many other mental biases that cause estimation to go wrong. One of the biggest problems that we have when we try to imagine the future project is that we don't think about all of the reasons why that project may not go as planned. It's difficult to imagine all of those reasons. And we're more likely to imagine the things that go right. And so on top of the many other things that cause us to overestimate our ability, you can add that we're really bad at imagining all the details of a different reality. So I'm going to give you two pieces of advice to hopefully counteract some of the problems that we have with imagining a future reality. The first one is try to find ways that you don't have to imagine it. In other words, rely on information that you have from someone else who's already been there. The profound effect that this has is that many of the things that you wouldn't have necessarily thought about, that person is actively experiencing. Now, even though it's not a direct substitute for time travel, it does provide you with more insight than you would intuitively be able to provide yourself. My second piece of advice is to imagine on a timeline rather than in snapshots. In other words, if you're imagining what it would feel like to move to a different city or to have a different job, don't think about snapshots. Don't think about single moments in time, but instead, imagine what it would feel like from the moment that you wake up until the moment you go to sleep. Another useful exercise is to imagine important days. For example, you might imagine how you're going to celebrate your child's birthday in this new reality. This brings up new questions that you probably aren't considering, but that become incredibly important in the moment in that future. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. This topic is incredibly interesting, but also very difficult to wrap our minds around. But something that we will have is recurring theme on Developer Tea in the future. And if you don't want to miss out on that discussion, I encourage you to subscribe in whatever podcasting app you're currently listening to this episode with. Thank you to Barclays for sponsoring today's episode, head over to home.barclays slash Developer To find your developer role today. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and until next time, enjoy your tea.