The Realness In Reality

Have you ever asked yourself the question, why it is that you think about reality as real? In this article, I would like to take you on a journey towards realizing some insights into that matter for yourself.

To start our investigation we might begin with the one state that we would consider to be not real. Besides our waking awareness, the only other state that we all share and visit on a daily basis are our dreams. This you might call an experience that is not real. 

Real or unreal? In relation to what?

1. What dreams teach us about reality

Why is it that we say dreams are not real and is that even true?

In order to answer this question, we have to analyze it from two points of view. And by making that distinction we can learn what we mean by “real”.

In our direct momentary experience, dreams appear to us as very real. Inside the dream, we are usually not aware that we are dreaming while the story of the dream is unfolding. If we become aware of the fact that we are dreaming, an ordinary dream turns into a lucid dream. But in regular dreams, we only are able to label it as unreal after we have woken up and the content of the dream is put into a larger context. The context, in this case, is that the experience took place inside of our heads, while the body was asleep.

If you had your first insight by now, you might have noticed the first pattern here. What we call real always needs another context. Keep this in mind, as we will build on top of this understanding going forward.

From the point of view from inside the dream, on the other hand, the dream appears as real as everything else in life. This is important to notice. Because we have no “outside”-reference to our actual life. In other words, we might say, that we have never woken up from the dream called life. If that would be possible, it would put life into proper perspective. Just as waking up from a dream does with the content of the dream. Try to imagine right now, how radical of a shift that would be. How different would waking up from life feel? What could you wake up to? And is it possible to wake up while remaining “in life”, just as you do in a dream when you become lucid?

Think about these possibilities and you might arrive at some deep insights for yourself.

If dreams are not important to you, you might even think that you aren’t dreaming that often. But in fact, everyone has several dreams each night. How much attention we give them determines if we remember them or forget about them the moment we wake up. This might also give us a clue about how our current life might feel or matter in a larger context. If waking up from life is more radical of a shift than waking up from a dream than also the shift in context is something to think about. How different would you live if the context of life becomes much vaster than what it seems to form your current point of view? What would change? Would you gain some clarity and truly be living your dream life?

Did you have an insight into the state that you are in? You may have noticed that you never asked yourself these questions and that you have no reference outside of life. That is a very important first insight to have. It’s better to know that you don’t know than living in the illusion of never asking those questions in the first place.

If you deeply grasped the fact that you lack a larger perspective on life, then it can be a great motivation for spiritual work. And to invest time into answering these questions for yourself and gain direct knowledge of what your life is about.

2. Shared human experience

The second more important aspect of reality that makes it appear real is found in our human relationships. Since you remember, all of your experiences took place in a social context, whether you were with other people or alone. But mentally, you always put your experience into the frame of experiencing what it is like to be a human in a social environment.

I would like to ask you to try and grasp the fact, that you project onto other humans the idea that they share basically the same internal life as you do. You can only experience yourself as a human being through this very idea. This apparently self-evident fact is in truth a projection that is created by your mind.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it is possible to experience reality with a total lack of this idea. To see another person without the projection that they have their separate internal lives. This is only possible when our direct experience is seen for what it is. Normally we don’t experience reality like this. Just like you cannot stop your brain from understanding your native language. It just happens. And every time you see a human being, you automatically assume they possess internal experience. Even if you think that you don’t want to do it. Just like thinking the thought “I will try not to understand these words” won’t stop you from making sense of the words which you are reading right now… Do you begin to grasp how tricky this is?

We might, therefore, conclude that reality becomes real because we share a part of reality (external reality) between all humans. Even though we see it from slightly different angles, we have some overlap between what we consider objective reality. The discovery that shared experience with other humans is just a belief rather than a feature of external reality, will reveal a deeper truth to us. This information is something that needs to be contemplated until a genuine insight arises. It has to feel similar to the experience of looking at these words without also interpreting them at the same instant.

These are two important aspects that make reality real. But it’s important to notice that there are probably countless more details to reality that create the overall packages of realness. Contemplate the difference between dreams and waking life. And, secondly, the importance of other humans to your sense of reality. This will take you very far in your discovery of the true nature of reality.

FI - A Larger Perspective

What could be the long-term implications for a society in which more people would work significantly less? Whether that's on a monthly basis or in the case of early retirement on an overall life-long basis. In some aspects, early retirement is similar to part-time work, while in others it differs significantly.

Human development is characterized by efficiency-gains.
What are we going to do with it?
In an ideal scenario, with part-time work, you work only as much as is needed for your immediate needs. You would calculate with retirement at age 65 and save no more than what is necessary to do so.

In the FIRE-scenario you try to compress all your life's work into a shorter timespan and invest your surplus income wisely. Therefore being able to live off of the returns for the rest of your life.

But what are the implications of those individual lifestyle choices if they would be adopted by a significant part of society? Granted, this is not an in-depth analysis of any underlying economic dynamics or market evaluations. To come up with conclusions about the impact of such choices, I believe we have to take a more long-term perspective and look at how our lifestyles are changed by those circumstances.

Environmental impacts:

Individuals who are no longer following paid employment and are spending the majority of their adult life in financial freedom will lower their overall environmental impact. If this is a model to be adopted by a major part of society, it can only be achieved by drastically reducing spending and increasing savings. This will lead to a lower environmental burden, at least in today's fossil-fuel-based economy. Except for the very rich, who could spend their retirement with virtually unrestricted spending, most people would become more stationary and reduce their environmental impact.

Changes in human behavior:

Living in a society that is focused on paid employment and where much of our social status is determined by a career, lots of human energy is focused on maintaining and improving social recognition. Reports of people in early retirement reveal a shift away from the need for social recognition through advancements in one's career paths. This will, in turn, enable people to focus much of their time and energy into more meaningful pursuits.

I predict that we will see a rise of interest in areas like spirituality and personal development. Naturally, as the lower levels of human needs (Maslow's hierarchy) are fulfilled, new levels of wants and needs emerge. And those are typically related to spiritual pursuits as the search for meaning continues beyond the fulfillment of basic survival needs.

Economic implications:

What happens to the economy if a large proportion of people rely on dividends for their income? Instead of pure capitalism, it is actually an option for sustainable economic growth. By not reinvesting all profits into business development and therefore maximum future growth, it is actually sustainable to use part of the profit for dividend payments. Dividend payments mean that shareowners receive the benefits of the efficiencies already achieved by the current system. Instead of rapid, ever-changing growth, the economy would become more focused on producing the necessities of life in the most efficient way. This is required for sustainable dividend yields without compromising the health of the system.

Another change we would see is a shift away from shareholder value to stakeholder value. Companies would focus more on fulfilling their responsibilities for employees, society and shareholders alike, to secure long-term success and sustainable growth. The reasons for this shift are manifold. Concerning early retirement, the most interesting aspect is the shift in perspective. People entering the workforce with the idea of early retirement have a long time horizon for their investments. Intuitively we understand, that we will have to set up long-lasting systems and companies that will cover our needs with less input of human labor if this is to become a model for more people.

In January 2018, Larry Fink, head of BlackRock, declared that to “prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society . . . [and] benefit all of their stakeholders”.

We can see that a change in perspective is happening. The understanding is growing that to maximize long term returns, short term capital gains can not always be maximal too.

The market

For the markets, this will likely show itself as long streaks of bearish and bullish market situations and less volatility over time as people focus more on long term investments. As we come to understand that short-term, above-average capital gains always come from someone else's losses. As a whole, it is impossible to achieve a return greater than the average. For every investor with above-average returns, there is also an investor with lower than average returns. As a society, we have to expect that the average return is what's realistic.

The reality

On the physical level, this means a return to quality over quantity. As corporations are interested in their long-term return, they will make sure that their assets are long-lasting and provide stable quality output for many years.

An interesting way to think about the difference between quality and quantity is in terms of their effects over time. Economic growth based on quantity can be seen as an immediate (short-term / in the present) extension of business to the detriment of competing products or service. Growing businesses based on selling more items or services have other businesses shrink, as there is only so much human activity to go around.

Economic growth based on quality has a different effect. It spreads the gathering of return out over time, which can be much more sustainable. We could even say that this is exactly what we need for the early retirement lifestyle. A simple example would be to see how you would replace your own work. Let's say you have a homestead where you grow vegetables that require daily irrigation. Instead of doing this by hand every day for the rest of your life, you invest a lot of effort upfront to build a high-quality irrigation system that lasts for a lifetime with minimal maintenance work. You would probably be working on that for several weeks. In that time-frame, it is more work than watering the plants directly, but it pays off over time.

The same dynamic is going on on a global scale if we manage to build high-quality products that make life easier.

For our society this means we can benefit from our work for much longer, being the ticket to early retirement.

Why, with all our technology, are we still working so much?

Gains in efficiency were not used to create more freedom and time. What we have done collectively instead is quite interesting. Efficient ways of obtaining our basic needs were not enough. We continuously use the freed up time and surplus human potential to increase our consumption. New inventions made it easier to consume vast amounts of energy and resources in a short amount of time.

Intercontinental business class flights burn up money at a rate of 5$/minute. Something we couldn't do without technology. Instead of getting all of our life's work done in a couple of years or in fewer hours per week, we collectively decided to keep working regular hours and inventing new ways of consumption and distraction.

Luckily, this is an individual decision for the most part, if one is not entirely oblivious to the desires created by the marketing sector. I don't predict that we will reduce our activity overall. Rather we will focus more on the joy and meaning a particular activity brings us. Free individuals tend to ask the question of meaning more often than people solely concerned with covering their survival needs. This translates into a restructuring of our value system and what we pursue as a society. In fact, all artistic and creative endeavors are the result of well allocated freed up human potential. But with the need to derive an income from their art, creators may change their work based on that. With many more early retirees becoming creators of their own, we might see an emergence of new forms of art.

Financial Independence is the logical next step. We have transformed the physical need to cover our basic needs into a virtual need for financial security. We have transformed what we do physically to survive, but it has not freed up our minds to pursue higher goals of personal development. In our minds we still struggle to survive, only the object of desire has changed. The tangible goods, food, water, and shelter have been exchanged with the goal of making money. Financial freedom will open up possibilities of personal transformation we haven't seen before on a large scale.

Valuable Time-Savers - How to actually save time

What follows is a list of ideas I collected over the course of several months, while I was working full time, which occupied 10 hours of my time from Monday to Thursday and 7 hours on Fridays. To achieve goals outside of work, I wanted to come up with strategies to optimize my time.

You may find this list unusual, but I think these are more valuable in the long-run than the usual time-saving tips.

  1. Strategically spend more money on things and services that others can do quickly and better than you. This will also collectively save us time and can be worth the money.
  2. Investments: Buy assets that can generate an income and therefore provide you with the opportunity to work less for money in the future
  3. Combined uses: Think of products that have multiple uses and might even do several tasks at a time or at least make them easier
  4. Minimalism: on the other hand, reducing the number of gadgets and general stuff that you own can free up time. Less need for maintaining them and fewer distractions.
  5. Evaluate your purchases: Before you buy anything, put it on a list for at least 30 days. If you still need it after that time you can go ahead and buy it. This will save you many trips to stores to randomly buy things you barely use. Shopping actually takes time.
  6. Cook for several meals at a time: One of my favorite meals is a pressure cooker bean, grain and vegetable stew. I combine 500gr of dried beans with 500gr of whole grains and at least 1,5kg of veggies. The beans are first soaked overnight and then the rest added before cooking. It takes only 5min to prepare and can easily be made for several days ahead.
  7. Intermittent fasting: only eat two meals a day instead of three. No snacks either. It will save you a good hour each day for eating and preparing food. Just skip your least favorite meal.
  8. Eat mostly nutritionally dense foods. You can eat iceberg lettuce all day without getting much nutrition, but spending a lot of time chewing.
  9. Extend your life: the only true way to actually get more time is by living longer. Improve your chances of living a long life by practicing caloric restriction. It is the only scientifically validated method to extend lifespan across all species tested so far. By doing the above mentioned intermittent fasting regiment you already should be able to lower your calories. If you want to go even further check out my other blog posts on this topic.
  10. Don't do work that doesn't earn you enough money: always strive to do the work that you can get paid the most for. This usually means providing more value to others and doing difficult tasks. That way you become skillful in what you do and improve your earning potential over time. Which means you can save and invest more, leading to early retirement.
  11. Move closer to work: if you have a regular job it means that you commute the path from your home to your workplace 10 times per week. Make it as short and enjoyable as possible. I prefer to live so close to work that I can take the bike and therefore combine my commute with exercise. Plus it saves a lot of money on a car.
  12. Finding hobbies that are combining as many benefits for you as possible. For example, I have a sedentary job so I want to spend a lot of my free time outside and move my body but I also like reading. To combine the two I switched to audiobooks that I can listen to while being out on the bicycle or in the gym.
  13. To save time in the gym, focus on heavy multi-joint exercises. Minimize single-joint exercises if you are not striving to step on a bodybuilding stage. There is good evidence, that single joint-exercises add little muscle growth if the compound exercises are done heavy enough. You can gain most of the benefits from strength training by doing 3-4 full-body workouts per week, hitting each major muscle group with 1-2 heavy exercises for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps. That's a total of 3-4 hours per week of workout-time in the gym. You can even do full-body calisthenics/body-weight workouts outside of the gym at your local park, where you have access to bars.
  14. Buy used whenever possible. Things usually lose a lot of value when their status switches from "New" to "Used". So basically the moment you buy them from the store. Avoid this drop in value by buying most things used. But look for quality items. You want to buy things that last a long time. If you do, you might be able to sell them for a similar price again once you don't need them anymore. You can look at the used gadgets market like an extended storage unit where you can deposit the things you rarely need. Therefore things don't depreciate while they are not being used, someone else can use them and it spares natural resources too, by reducing demand for new items. This will save you time in several ways: less time spend earning the money, to buy the storage space for unused items, buying less often, earning money from selling and not to forget, the time saved caring and thinking about how to maintain all those possessions.
  15. Make a list of activities that you want to have more time for. Whenever you find yourself having some free time, it is good to know what you actually can do to fill this time with, so that it feels like you are having more time for these things. Because we sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we seemingly have nothing to do and can't fill the gaps. But using those gaps with worthwhile activities can increase the quality of your day. This does not really save time, but it allows you to fill unexpected gaps with activities that are meaningful to you. Create a list somewhere in your phone with activities you like and sort them from short to long, so you can fill them in those gaps of free time.
  16. Invest money and time into eating a healthy diet. Learn about the benefits of good nutrition and implement a plan. There are many, oftentimes opposing opinions out there, what the healthiest diet is, but they all share some fundamental principals: Cook more meals at home and eat only minimally processed foods. This will save you time because it will spare you many illnesses and doctor visits, especially in the distant future when your body can't handle the abuse of a bad diet anymore and you get sick more easily or even develop a serious illness that might shorten your life.
  17. Choosing hobbies that generate an income. If you are looking for new activities to do in your free time, consider choosing an activity that might generate an income for you. Here it also helps to make a list of activities you already like or imagine you would enjoy and think of ways in which you might be able to generate an income from them. With some creativity, many activities can generate an income if you set it up right. Consider that it will also take a commitment and a certain level of proficiency in the area.
  18. Think globally what will save humanity overall unnecessary work and how can you change your life to contribute to those improvements in efficiency. Do we really need to produce such expensive luxury for the few richest in the world? Who needs Bentleys and Rolls Royce or private jets? Expensive products translate into lots of human work. Let's avoid expensive lifestyles that are not making us happier and instead focus on improving the lives of people who really feel it.