Being human these days can be an amazing experience. Especially when you stop behaving like one.

The idea of the “posthuman” (and its subset “transhuman”) originated in the fields of genetics, science fiction and futurology. The fundamental ideas were first discussed by J.B.S. Haldane, a British geneticist in his essay Daedalus: Science and the Future.  He foresaw that the application of advanced sciences to human biology would promote super longevity, super intelligence and super wellbeing. His predictions have begun to manifest with advancements in medicine, AI and robotics. We already have the capability to think beyond our own narrow noggins by plugging into a synergistic brain collective.

But you don’t have to wait for augmented reality or machines that read your thoughts to start behaving in a posthuman way now. First, instead of saying there’s only one “you,” try viewing the world through a diverse set of lenses, like a scientist peering through different microscopes. Recognize that you have the power to think beyond that of a singular, defined individual.  With imagination and focus, your mind can embody different identities and understand the world from multiple perspectives.

Here is a list of lenses to get you started. See what appeals to you.

  1. Woman
  2. Man
  3. Child
  4. Meyer lemon
  5. Subatomic particle
  6. Charli D’Amelio
  7. Lava flow
  8. The color vermillion

It’s also fun to mash some together: Vermillion man, subatomic maple, Japanese Charli. (Posthumanism is quite freeing.)

The key to your posthuman practice is just that: practice. Until they invent the magic pill that allows you to detach from your brain and body and inhabit the world of a muskrat or a nebula, it takes a bit of time to snap your fingers and fluidly change perspectives.  Especially when you’re in the middle of a tax audit or sitting through your son’s second grade violin concert.

You can read more about where we’re heading here:

And to motivate your imagination past your comfort zone, further inspiration:

May your posthuman experience prove to be a rewarding one!

 

 

Do you ever feel like you’re being held captive by societal norms?  (You know, all the nonsense you’ve absorbed over the course of your life from well-meaning parents, teachers and authority types.) It’s as if you were Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver, tethered by ropes. Except yours are internal and prevent you from unleashing the full power of your imagination on the universe.

So what’s a simple way to unglue yourself  and experience blue skies again?

At SuperOptimist headquarters, when the walls start closing in, we turn to artists of the Dada period for inspiration.  Emerging from the ashes of World War I, Dadaists saw society’s view of “normality” as irrational and created art that completely challenged traditional views of class, religion, politics, technology and morals.

Their reactions to society’s hollow constraints are just as valid in 2021 as they were a century ago, when Tristan Tzara published a short poem on how to free yourself from rigid thought with an act of anti-authoritarian aplomb.

Découpé (or cut-up) is performed by taking any piece of linear writing — say, a newspaper article, a page from a book, or the instruction sheet for plugging in a wifi router — and remodeling it in a spontaneous and uncontrolled way. By doing so, you will bypass the inner critic who demands that things be neat, ordered, and understandable.  Here are Tzara’s instructions, slightly modified.

Take some scissors.

Cut out each of the words that makes up the piece of writing.

Put the words in a bag, a hat, or shoebox.

Shake gently.

Remove one word at a time from the bag.

Copy the words in the order in which they left the bag.

According to Tzara, the poem that you construct will resemble you.

While a newspaper article is a perfectly good material for your initial foray (after all, they’re basically publishings the same stories now that they were in Tzara’s time), we prefer taking an expensive book that society has deemed important and valuable, and cutting up a page to prove that even “great art” should not be held in such high regard. This is a good step to freeing yourself completely from the social construct, and letting your superego know who’s boss!

As you contemplate your next act of non-compliance, enjoy this short film that brings Dada into the present, and see if that doesn’t shake you loose from whatever’s holding you back. Better to embrace nonsense like this than the nonsense we call “success.”

 

Not long ago in human history, it was easy to find peace and quiet just by wandering outside in the middle of the night and gazing up at the stars.  It was quiet. It was peaceful. And because there was no such thing as light pollution, you could see them clearly.

Now, whether it’s mass media, social media, the hum of traffic, the illumination of a digital billboard, or a postcard from a realtor promising you riches if you list your home with her today, modern homo sapiens live in a constant state of sensory overload. You name it, and it probably has the ability to distract you from your true state of consciousness.

But most of us now live in urban areas, not in the Atacama Desert in Chile, where astronomers do their best work unencumbered by digital billboards, .  For us to experience what they do, we must seek alternative ways to power down from the constant stimulation engendered by the material world.

So how do we really unplug from the artificial? Why not try taking away one of your senses for a few hours, and see how the experience modifies your way of thinking.*

A blindfold is a good start. Without the use of your eyes, what do you conjure? Researchers from the University of Rochester have found that even in absolute darkness, we still think we see. The question is, what images are visible to you when you’re in the dark? What do you smell? Is your hearing more acute? How about your sense of touch? Pick something up from your desk and roll it around in your hand. Interesting the difference between a roll of scotch tape and a pair of scissors, no?

When it comes to choice of blindfold, a piece of fabric will do, although we prefer a comfortable sleep mask to really block out the light. This way, you can continue to benefit from its quality construction at bedtime, or on long flights (in the distant future).

If you wanted to try this experiment without a mask, there are still a few places on Earth that you can go.  Places like the Dark Sky Reserve on Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula and the NamibRand IDSR in Africa are among the best locations. And if you want your community to go darker, why not join the International Dark Sky Association, which keeps track of light pollution and monitors how much darkness you really get in places across the globe.**

*Future related activity: Sensory Overload Day (coming soon).

**April 19-26 was International Dark Sky Week, in case you want to keep the celebration going.

Note: Over the next few weeks, The SuperOptimist will be providing a series of experiments one can conduct on themselves at home. They are designed for the curious, the seekers of experience, and those who wish to pass the time in novel and thought-provoking ways. 

While biding your time in your own personal quarantine, the walls can feel like they’re closing in.

But maybe it’s not the walls — it’s the color.

Color can play a big role in your mood. So when SuperOptimists get a bit squirrelly, we stare at the color blue. It’s a scientific fact that blue makes you feel safe and relaxed, and no wonder. It actually causes the body to create chemicals that are calming. When you marvel at the ocean, it’s not just the waves that mesmerize. Same with the sky.

Which color blue appeals to you? Here’s a few shades to consider:

Blue does such a good job in calming the mind, that after blue lights were installed at Japanese transit stations, there was an 84% decrease in the number of people jumping in front of trains. There was a similar decline in the number of violent crimes when streetlights were converted to blue in Scotland.

So if you’re getting a little edgy wondering whether you’ll be sequestered until 2021, a simple change of light bulbs in a room can transform your crib into a virtual sea of calm.

Then again, pink may be an even better choice. After all, as we are now in our self-imposed prisons, we might take our cue from actual prison wardens who paint holding cells pink. They were inspired by studies conducted by research scientist Alexander Schauss, who created “Baker-Miller Pink” and showed it to reduce criminals’ hostile behavior, although later tests proved inconclusive. The color is also referred to as “Drunk Tank Pink” and inspired an interesting book on how our environments shape our thinking.

In 2017, model Kendall Jenner painted her living room Baker-Miller Pink – and raved about how it made her feel calmer and act as a diet aid.

“Baker-Miller Pink is the only color scientifically proven to calm you AND suppress your appetite. I was like, “I NEED this color in my house!” I then found someone to paint the room and now I’m loving it!”. Want to walk a mile in Kendall’s puffy slippers? Here’s a bucket for you.

*It is important to note that one person’s blue might be another person’s chartreuse. Colors can be subjective, depending on the viewers’ past experiences or cultural differences. So we advise you to experiment with color to find the shade that puts you in the desired state of mind.

**It wasn’t that long ago when little girls were dressed in blue and boys in pink. But this reversed during the middle of last century. While the shift was apparently the result of clothing designers’ tastes, some attribute it to Nazi Germany forcing gay men to wear a pink badge when grouping them as undesirables, thereby tainting the color as “non-masculine” going forward. 

Note: Over the next few weeks, The SuperOptimist will be providing a series of experiments one can conduct on themselves at home. They are designed for the curious, the seekers of experience, and those who wish to pass the time in novel and thought-provoking ways. 

A great way to escape the constant onslaught of news and information, especially in times of crisis, is by turning away from media altogether. But as human beings, we like to be kept company by voices other than the ones inside our heads.

That’s why the SuperOptimist recommends listening to the latest programming in a foreign language that you can’t comprehend. * When you remove the brain’s desire to process and understand each word, you can relax and appreciate the sounds on their own. In another world, these sounds could be coming from aliens. In the spirit world, they could be shamans speaking in tongues. It’s akin to experimental music, or abstract painting.

Let your imagination conjure its own story about what these French folks are talking about.  Being stuck in an elevator? Champions League Football? Cooking pastry?

To pick up the signal, we recommend a nice shortwave radio; one that also doubles as an emergency transponder should the need arise. Hand-cranked and solar powered, it never needs batteries or electricity and can receive signals from as far away as Siberia.

As you begin your new listening experience, here’s a station to get you started. Should you prefer a different language, you’ll find plenty in Spanish, along with Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Polish — even Creole.

*It’s conceivable that after listening for a month or two, you may pick up enough meaning in the words to consider yourself bilingual.

One SuperOptimist practice we never get tired of? Adding the phrase “And isn’t that great!” to any thoughts we may be having.  A recent example can be illustrated by the following:

“Goddamn, I’ve just broken a tooth on a macadamia nut. Now I’ll have to see a dentist.”

Simply add our four magic words, and you can turn this bummer into a blessing: “Goddamn, I’ve just broken a molar on a macadamia nut. Now I’ll have to see a dentist. And isn’t that great!”

Here you’ve taken a rather pedestrian situation in which pain, expense, and inconvenience are the assumed outcomes, and reframed it into something that may have positive consequences.  After all, with the proper attitude, who knows what might happen at the dentist? You could meet a new lover in the waiting room! Your dentist might be experimenting with laughing gas and offer you some! You could decide to spring for an additional ultra-whitening session and walk out of there looking like Hollywood royalty!  Your dentist might accidentally find you have a serious lesion in your mouth that was going to kill you if you hadn’t seen him in time!

Here’s another one:

“Christ, where did summer go? It’s back to cold again.”

Again, add the phrase that pays.

“Christ, where did summer go? It’s back to cold again. And isn’t that great!”

Why is it great? It’s great because the cold helps you burn body fat, leading to a slimmer figure. It’s great because the cold keeps away invasive insects, like the Asian Tiger Mosquito. Most of all, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not stuck in these temperatures for long, and there’s a cup of hot cocoa waiting for you at the end of your journey.

Here’s another: “Donald Trump is still president. And isn’t that great!”

On the surface, this seems like a nonstarter if you’re not a MAGA-hat wearing racist. But give it a moment to sink in. Instead of wanting to hide under the covers at the thought, you can feel good that nuclear missiles remain in their silos and Ivanka hasn’t been named Secretary of Defense. (Not yet, anyway.)

And one more: “With my mediocre attempts at art, I’m never going to be the next Van Gogh. And isn’t that great!”

So your work isn’t on display in MOMA’s permanent collection.  Instead, you’re making a living selling commercial real estate, or working as an attorney, or driving an Uber. Why is that great? The pressure on you to be the next artistic success has been lifted, freeing you up to do more experimental work that may one day be celebrated after your death.*

*Also, your day job affords you a few niceties, like food and shelter, so you don’t have to ask a family member to support you like Vincent did. And while we can’t be sure, your psychotic episodes probably won’t lead you to sever your own appendage, unlike the struggling post-impressionist.

 

We are raised to believe that there is “good weather” and “bad weather.” So we learn to say 80 degrees and balmy is good, and 33 degrees and rainy is bad.  Above 90 degrees is “miserably hot,” below 20 degrees is “freezing cold,” and what we are experiencing now with the polar vortex is just plain awful.

Yet what if we were to drop the designations of positive and negative, and just accept that the weather is simply weather; constantly changing, oft times challenging, and always interesting!

Sometimes when the weather seems ungodly, it is a fine exercise for to run out the door and experience the truth of it.  Bitter winds, jaw-dropping temperatures, the works. If the spirit moves you, scream and howl and let your body awaken to it.  Feel the truth in your body, not what the 5-day forecast is telling you. You will almost immediately discover that the weather may not be bad at all — but is actually quite stimulating.*

On the flip side, severe weather can remind us that the world is made up of forces bigger than we are, which makes our issues feel minor in comparison. Plus, there’s less social pressure to get together with others, which means you won’t have to make small talk about “how f-ing cold it is” or hear about your neighbor’s latest trip to Florida “where it was sunny and 85 degrees.”  Better to hunker down with a good read and a cup of soothing Djarling. How about Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat?

*It’s also recommended to take your camera with you, for as the professionals say, “Bad weather makes good photographs.”

 

Lots of people play it safe as they age, and for good reason. “Safe” seems to be a wiser choice than “sorry.” But could it be that we actually have that backwards?

Adhering to a predetermined routine means you know pretty much what each day is going to bring, even before you live it.  In the meantime, the world around you is constantly changing, so the safe path you follow may be more uncertain than you think.

So how do we prevent ourselves from becoming ossified? To begin, The SuperOptimist recommends scheduling at least two risks a week into your calendar. But you don’t have to go skydiving right away. Try a few with a relatively high probability of success to start. Forgo the usual grape jelly and make yourself a peanut butter and honey sandwich instead. Break the routine and stroll down a different block on your way to the office. Turn off CNN and watch a video that offers insight into the nature of chance and probability.* Set your alarm for 5:00 am one morning and take in the sun rise. (Odds you can pull this off and not snooze alarm yourself back to 6:30? Let’s say 3 to 1).

Getting the hang of it?  Now you’re ready to double down on risk, where your adrenals kick up a notch and your sweat glands activate as you actually experience the shock of the new. Take a month’s pay and visit your local casino for a few spins of the roulette wheel. You could win enough to pay off your mortgage, or you might find yourself without any money for next week’s grocery tab. Audition for an off-off Broadway show, despite your lack of acting experience. Your long shot might pay off in a featured role, or you could be driven from the theater with catcalls and brickbats.  Approach a stranger and say hello.  It could spark a new friendship.  Or maybe not.

No matter what happens, the chance of you coming out on top is 100%! That’s because whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, you get to face your fears, collect more information for the next time, and have a swell story to tell your friends back at the salad bar, water cooler, or locker room (where they’re doing exactly what they did yesterday. But not you!).

Want to know more about the benefits of risktaking? Here’s what a cognitive researcher from Carnegie Mellon has written on the subject, and here’s why risk-takers are a smarter breed of human, according to scientists in Finland.

Vive la difference, et bonne chance pour la nouvelle année!

*Other words to add to your vocabulary include: odds, uncertainty, randomness, fortune, fate, hazard, unpredictability, and surprise.

Happy holidays! Here at SuperOptimist headquarters, we favor meditation as a way of detaching from the madness of the material world and connecting with the universal truths that transcend trade wars, social media, and the quandary over wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” vs. a “Happy Holiday.”

To that end, in the U.S. a person interested in “mindfulness” is often told to begin their practice by meditating 20 minutes a day. They’re also encouraged to download a Headspace app, buy a special cushion and mat, purchase a statue of the Buddha, and sign up for a weekend retreat in the Catskills.

In India, it’s a bit different. There, a teacher would tell a beginner to start by  meditating 6 hours a day — no questions asked.

So how do you go from 0 to 6 hours all at once? Teachers encourage the practice of “Japa;” repeating a mantra or a divine name over and over again so it takes root in the mind.  Whether you choose “om,” “1-2-3-4,” “hare krishna,” or “cocoa butter” filling the mind with a simple word or sound will lead the practitioner away from the grasping, clinging and suffering generated by material world thinking and move you towards a higher realm of existence.

Sure, 6 hours of meditation a day may seem excessive. But if you want to rid yourself of anger, fear, sadness, and petty grievances (and gain the benefits of pure consciousness), why not give it a whirl?

The truth is, whatever practice you undertake can ultimately grow to 24 hours a day. It goes beyond sitting on a custom made zafu waiting for the chimes on your iPhone to go off.  Every waking moment you can actually be awake!

If you find this hard to do, we recommend you join a like-minded sangha, or spiritual group, so you may gain energy from others on the same path. Here’s one in the northeast where you’re always welcome.

In the meantime, may we all give a cheer for Jesus of Nazareth.  Whether or not he was the son of God, he was surely a bodhissattva with his message of love and tolerance.  No doubt he’d appreciate us putting aside our supposed differences to remember we’re all just flesh and blood. (And teeth that we can flash, if we’re so fortunate.)

*Notice the pictures of the monk and Jesus laughing. Our petty concerns would certainly elicit a chortle from both.  True, you often see them depicted as serious and dour.  But the monks we know have a great sense of humor.  We’re taking the leap and assuming Jesus did as well, since he was human like the rest of us.  Considering that every night Jesus would sit around a camp fire with twelve guys after a long day of speechifying and miracle work, it stands to reason there would be plenty of room for a few guffaws.

One of the most unpleasant tasks a present-day human can undertake is making the dreaded “phone call to customer service.”

A typical experience might involve, oh, say Verizon Wireless and a customer representative named “Cyrus.”* After waiting on hold for the requisite 25 minutes — a length the company hopes will provoke you to abandon your quest — the endless loop of grocery store jazz clicks off.

“Hello, thank you for calling Verizon customer service, my name is Cyrus, how can I help you?” comes a less-than-ebullient voice, hoarse with (presumably) cigarettes and coffee.

“I want to cancel my account,” you say with practiced authority.

There’s a long pause. Too long.  “Are you there?” you ask. Cyrus clears his throat, then asks for your first and last name, and the phone number associated with your account. You spell both names out so he’s crystal clear, and slowly recite the digits so he has time to type them correctly. Long pause. He asks you to repeat all your information again.  You do.  He asks you to spell your name again.  You clench your teeth. Now again with the phone number. Really? You wonder if Cyrus is in need of a quality hearing aid.  Or perhaps Verizon teaches him to torture you as much as possible.

Now Cyrus asks how he can help you.  You repeat your request. “I am calling to cancel your account and I want to assure that this takes place today, as I will no longer be paying an exorbitant bill for services that don’t measure up.”

Another long pause. Cyrus tells you he’s very sorry to hear that, and he will do everything in his power to assist you. Then comes a bombshell. “Unfortunately, I must tell you all the systems are down at the moment.”

You take a deep breath. You’ve prepared for this sort of dodge, so you ask Cyrus if there’s a street address he can give so you can write Verizon and cancel your account that way. He says no, the only way to cancel an account is through a customer service representative like himself, except of course that the systems are down so there’s nothing he can do right now.

You remind Cyrus of the Verizon promise, which reads: “With a positive culture and integrity throughout, the Verizon customer service team is one of a kind.” he hears you out without commenting. You then tell Cyrus you’ll be cancelling the recurring charge for Verizon services on your credit card in two days, so you demand he take your information down and then call you back when the system is up and he can cancel your account.

He says he will definitely take your information down, what was your name again? You repeat your name through teeth so clenched you fear you might crack a molar, and he asks how to spell it, for the third goddamn time. You spell it again for him. There is a long pause and he says sure, he will take care of this when the system comes back on line and give you a call back.  When can you expect to hear back from him? you wonder. Cyrus says he’ll “most likely” call you before the day is out.

But you don’t believe him.  Why should you, he’s done nothing but stonewall since the conversation began. You ask for his last name, the name that comes after Cyrus, for with his full name you can make sure he’s held accountable for his actions. He says he can’t tell you that, it’s company policy. You ask if you can have his extension number, so you can stay in touch with him and not one of the other 40,000 customer service representatives there to not help you. He says unfortunately he doesn’t have an extension, none of them do, that should you call back you’ll be helped by whichever one of the 40,000 unhelpful CSR’s answer the phone first, and adds that the individual could be anywhere in the world.

So after all that, after 49 minutes of your day that you’ll never get back, you do the unthinkable. You thank Cyrus.  You thank him because even though you know he won’t be calling back, there’s still a shred of hope that he will.  You hang up, defeated.

So what are the positives in all this?

  • You took action and made the call, knowing deep down that nothing would be accomplished. In SuperOptimist practice, this is known as “detaching from the outcome.” Maintaining equilibrium regardless of success or failure is a big step towards achieving nirvana.
  • You held back from calling Cyrus a “stupid f(&#@ c&*.” This shows that you retain level of empathy for your fellow human, who can’t help it if working in a call center in South Carolina is the best he can do at present.
  • You avoided telling Cyrus of the possibility that an explosive device could be detonated at his particular call center (a head fake, for sure, but perhaps effective to spur action from a minion at the multinational telecommunications conglomerate.
  • You are able to “defervesce” when you hang up the phone, adding a new word to your vocabulary in the process.
  • You decided that the $40 a month you’ve been wasting on the Verizon GoUnlimited plan you no longer use really isn’t that much to spend to avoid another call with the likes of Cyrus.  So you’ve detached from money too, which you’ve been trying to do for awhile now and maybe, just maybe, this is the experience that will free your mind from ever worrying about such petty matters again.  (Or at least until you get next month’s bill.)
  • You give yourself a gold star for all of the above.

* Verizon was chosen from a myriad of corporate behemoths who operate customer call centers. We could just as easily have featured Amazon, Wells Fargo, or 1-800-My-Pillow as teachers of transcendence for this experiment.