Thursday, July 24

maybe not, always

Responding to something I tossed off1 the other day, Brent writes:

And I thought...nah.

Routine allows us to navigate a complex world. Without routine, we'd be presented with so many decisions every day that there'd be too much to cope with. I'd rather concentrate on the important things rather than the mundane ones (most of the time).

True, that. My take is that routines are a set of heuristics for dealing with the billion different potential choices of everyday life.

heuristic
1. A rule of thumb, simplification, or educated guess that reduces or limits the search for solutions in domains that are difficult and poorly understood. Unlike algorithms, heuristics do not guarantee optimal, or even feasible, solutions and are often used with no theoretical guarantee.

I can not remember having met anyone whose daily routine could be described as a set of consciously designed algorithms. I have met plenty of people who try for this, and some of them succeed to a degree I would never manage, but it's never a total thing. I could be wrong; I just don't think that's how the human brain functions, and even if it were there are too many other influences on our lives.

Which is plenty of generalization for the time being. All I really meant earlier, knowing the thought was incomplete when I wrote it, was that my routine is often dictated by ignorance and becomes confining because of this.

Look at things a different way, and it seems obvious that our routines are awareness, or at least an integral part of it. The right set of heuristics and algorithms can constitute the freedom to move and act in situations that would otherwise be paralyzing. Without them everything would be static.

I can comfortably inhabit a bar, the stacks of a library, or a Lutheran church service2 partly because I have routines to deal with these places. I would be painfully out of place in Brent's workplace, a dojo, or a mosque because there, I do not. It is related to the way implicit knowledge makes it possible for people to play catch or make love: Shared heuristics and algorithms, an unspoken vocabulary of motion; all of it awkward to explain with words and clear as water when it is understood.

In other words,

bad routines are born of a failure to see beyond
the surface
good routines allow me to penetrate it
it is probably good never to be too sure
that mine are either.

While I'm at it, I will point at a fragment of the Dao which I might or might not agree with as translated here:

To experience without abstraction is to sense the world;
To experience with abstraction is to know the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs but their effect is the same.

Agreement? Am I just quibbling?

1 Read that which ever way amuses you most. (My post is here.)

2 And this is what I mean about the surface of things. I didn't understand the value of a liturgy-filled church service until I internalized its routines. Everything was so much static until the ritual became something I didn't have to think about. I didn't understand how deeply opposed I had become to the Lutheran church's beliefs until I saw through my comfort with those same routines.