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  • Dr. Mike Brooks

How to Find Happiness in Our Chaotic World

Updated: Apr 30

“The world has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.” — Lady Galadriel from the movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

Greetings, my fellow connectors! As you look around at what is happening in our world these days, are you the type of person who wonders, “What the hell is going on? Is the world going mad? Are we headed in the wrong direction? Where is all this “progress” taking us anyway?”

We are being bombarded relentlessly these days with information, content, change, and negativity. As we doomscroll through threats such as climate change, political polarization, the proliferation of artificial intelligence, UFO claims, rising mental health problems, wars, mass shootings, a recent pandemic, economic instability, and natural disasters, we often feel like we can’t keep our collective heads above water. It’s a dizzying whirlwind, and it is as if life is going off the rails. We feel that the stakes are getting higher and higher as humanity is being forced to navigate mind-bogglingly complex and unfolding challenges.

If such thoughts and concerns overwhelm you, trust me, you are not alone. I’m right there with you. There’s been some kind of change or shift in recent decades, and it’s not in a good way. While there are certainly countless wonderful things about our modern world, we know there is something wrong as well. We can feel it.

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” — Morpheus to Neo from the movie, “The Matrix”

We know this truth: We are only seeing the tips of some very formidable icebergs in front of us. Many of these icebergs - these obstacles - are likely to become even more difficult to manage over time, such as evolving and proliferating artificial intelligence and worsening global climate change. Yet, we are simultaneously experiencing growing and troublesome levels of polarization in America and elsewhere around the world.

What worries many of us is that we are not seeing the level of unity necessary to overcome these complicated, imposing, evolving, but shared challenges. Humanity — we need to bring our “A-Game” to these challenges in order to navigate them skillfully. Let me put it this way. While we are not doomed, how skillfully we manage these thorny challenges and problems determines our level of suffering versus happiness.

“We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

If I am describing how you feel, then I’m inviting you to join me on an ambitious journey. Like Neo in The Matrix, we must take the red pill, fearlessly confront reality, and dig deep to understand what’s really happening. By pursuing truth and a better understanding of reality, of how both we and our world work, we can uncover the underlying causes of our problems and navigate life’s challenges more effectively. If this resonates with you, then this series is meant for you, my fellow explorer. Please join me, and let’s see how deep this rabbit hole goes. Welcome to my new Medium series!

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” — Socrates

What Do I Mean by “Crazy” World?

“When I say this world is ‘crazy,’ I mean that it often seems chaotic and overwhelming. Here’s my main point though: Sometimes we fault ourselves for struggling to cope. Many of us feel chronically stressed, anxious, depressed, frustrated, numb, hopeless, or unhappy. Here is what I want you to know — we don’t have to feel bad for feeling bad. There’s nothing inherently wrong with us that we are frequently struggling. The great news is that we are not defective or losing our sanity.

The issue is that our technological world is evolving so rapidly that many of us feel like leaves swirling within the chaotic winds of change. We struggle to grapple with the inherent challenges of this dynamic, hyper-connected modern age. From this perspective, here is the important reality to internalize. We are not going crazy — it is this world that is becoming “crazy,” and it is making us all a little crazy trying to keep up with it!

It’s not our fault that we’re suffering while trying to keep up with the frenetic pace of this world. However, it is our problem that we must tackle. This series aims to explore why we find ourselves struggling so much in this world and what steps we can take to achieve greater peace and happiness in a “crazy” world.

My Preemptive Apology

I must first apologize to you for the hypocrisy of being yet another person vying for the most precious gift you could ever give me, or any other person: Your undivided attention. In so many ways, other people, the media, bots, and the algorithms of surveillance capitalist are in fierce competition with one another for this most precious commodity in the known universe. We are already inundated with a firehose of information. As I write, blog, tweet, present, etc., I become part of the insane system that I, in part, am railing against. I embody hypocrisy.

Yet, this is the insane world in which we live. I either get on this crazy train, or I get left behind in the digital dust. In part, I think the push-pull that I’m describing is what is making us all a little bit crazy. I will elaborate on these ideas in my next articles for Medium.

Would You Join Me on This Journey?

Now, the onus is on me to earn the gift of your attention. I hope I can prove myself worthy of it. I have much to share, and I would like the opportunity to earn your precious gift. To this end, I would like to make a little deal with you. Are you ready to hear my pitch?

I know this is asking a lot, but I will throw myself at your feet anyway. Please subscribe to my Medium series and read my first five articles. I plan to write one article every week or two. So, I’m asking for roughly an hour of your time over the next 5–10 weeks. I realize that, with all of the competing needs and forces out there, this is actually a big ask.

If you make this deal with me, I have five articles to convince you that at least some of these ideas are juicy nuggets worth considering, sharing, and putting into practice. With this Medium series, I will be attempting to connect some BIG dots about what is going on in this world and the obstacles we have ahead of us. We’ll also explore what we must do to navigate some of the most difficult challenges humanity has ever faced. I will be shooting for the moon with this series.

In this introductory article, I am laying the groundwork for what’s to come in this series. Future blogs will be shorter. I have a complete story arc to tell if you decide to join me. I am basically blogging an entire book, but I promise to break these ideas up into digestible nuggets.

I have written one book that was published by Oxford University Press in 2018, Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World. Yet, trying to write and publish this book will take too long. I have to get these ideas out, or I will soon drive myself and everyone around me mad. I am convinced that blogging my book is the way to go at this juncture. Perhaps I will consolidate this material into a book at some point, but I need to write one piece at a time. This is the way.

I encourage you to stick with me, at least for a little while, because I will offer some fresh takes and overarching theories that could really resonate with you. While there are some sobering realities about our world that we must face, together we can explore different perspectives, theories, and solutions. By seeking to understand the complexities of our challenges, we can shed light on potential paths forward and work collaboratively to navigate this ever-changing landscape.

The only way to solve a problem is to understand it, and understanding begins with an honest and open search for the truth, however painful that truth may be.” — C. P. Snow, British novelist and scientist

My Purpose in Life Is to Share These Ideas

As strange as it may seem, I believe that a central purpose in my life is to share these thoughts and ideas with you. I write (and present) on these ideas without any intention of amassing followers, fortune, or fame. While I’d love to have people follow this series on Medium and share with others, my goal, my purpose, is to pass along these ideas. These ideas have become a story that I must share with others who are willing to join me on this journey.

With full transparency, if I can figure out a way to earn enough money from writing and presenting to make a living, then I will be able to dedicate more time to this calling. However, I can’t let that distract me too much because then it might undermine my purpose to write! Therefore, I will just write and be open to what unfolds.

The Treadmill of Life

Doesn’t it often feel as if we are running on a treadmill in which the speed keeps increasing and we just can’t keep up? Over the past few years, I have experienced a growing feeling that the pace of life is accelerating. I’ve come to believe that both my life, and the world around me, have reached an inflection point. It’s as if life’s experiences have converged at this exact moment, compelling me to write. As if autonomously guided, my mind is piecing it all together, and generating what I call my “thought babies.” I first heard this term “thought babies” on an episode of the television series Brooklyn 99, and the term has become a favorite of mine ever since.

I view what’s happened to me as a synchronicity that has resulted in me having a lot of thought babies and a conviction to share them through writing and presenting. When I connect the different thought babies, they tell a story. However, until I write and share these thought babies, it is as if they are in one, huge thought baby orphanage. These thought babies don’t have a home until I share them. So, that brings me to this moment right now — sharing these thought babies.

A Concept Album of Thought Babies

To be clear, we all have thought babies. They are like epiphanies or musical melodies that pop into our heads. They are probably born out of a complex interplay between our genetics, previous learning experiences, values, interests, and other variables. Yet, sometimes it feels as if there is a spiritual element to them, which defies explanation.

Within the past few months, I have been experiencing these intriguing thought babies as loud, catchy melodies that I can’t help but hear and share. Folks, these thought babies have been singing to me. My good friend, a jazz musician, likens it to how musical ideas come to musicians. They’re melodies that evolve into songs, and now, for me, they’ve become a concept album of ideas. This series on Medium is my concept album, in a manner of speaking. I am changing metaphors here, but I have connected these “thought baby” dots into a painting I want to show you — kind of like a pointillist painter.

Let’s be unequivocally clear: I don’t claim to be unique or special for having “thought babies,” wanting to connect dots, or feeling compelled to share these ideas. There are countless others sharing similar ideas and their own thought babies. They have their own “concept albums” or “pointillist paintings” to share. In fact, I borrow or am inspired by countless other people, and I will try to cite them along the way whenever I can.

In this regard, I am not creating the dots that I am connecting. I can only identify these “dots,” which represent ideas worth sharing, if they already existed in some form. Imagine that we are all explorers on different parts of some newly discovered island. We can only discover new flora and fauna. We do not create them. You might discover them completely independent of me, but we can only discover what’s already there.

As we embark on this journey, perhaps think of me as a musician in a small coffee shop or your favorite watering hole, passionately playing a set list of songs that might resonate with you. For my part, I feel compelled to put this concept album into the world through Medium and then give it up to God, the Universe, or whatever. For my purpose is to share without any other goal or expectation, and I will strive to do just that. While I hope people like what I have to say, I cannot become attached to that because then I will be unable to say what I feel compelled to say. I hope this makes sense!

My Personal Journey to Synchronicity

I have another story to tell you. It’s the story of how I got to this point. To do it justice, I would need at least 10000 words, and I could probably write a stand alone book just on this journey! I would love to provide the backstory in full at some point because it explains why I feel so compelled to tell you the things I am going to be sharing with you throughout this series.

In brief, I have been interested in science, spirituality, philosophy, religion, psychology, music, literature, pop culture, and science fiction since I can remember. Throughout the journey that I’ve been on, parts of me have often been at war with one another, particularly my scientific materialism with my spirituality and faith. However, over the years, these different interests, beliefs, and conflicts have converged and harmonized. I have come to some sort of peace and equilibrium. The once disparate elements have merged such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Even as I was resolving some of my inner conflicts, I was growing more frustrated and discouraged over the past several years with our increasingly polarized political world. I felt, “We are devolving! Surely, humanity can do better than this!” As I was writing and presenting on some ideas to help us find greater unity, everything changed when I first tried ChatGPT, the first conversational AI of its kind, in early January of 2023. I knew AI was on the horizon but, like so many of us, I was expecting that it would be a few more years until it was ready for prime time.

As soon as I tried ChatGPT, I went from “WOW!” to “OMG!” in an instant. My dot-connecting mind was madly trying to figure out the implications of what AI would mean for humanity. Disconcertingly, many of the dots that I could rationally connect went straight down some dystopian rabbit holes. For a month or two, I was in a weird headspace. However, I was able to make it through a foreboding tunnel and out the other side. That is its own story that is worth telling.

I will try to weave parts of this backstory throughout the blog series. For now, we might say my backstory is a combination of the movie, Slumdog Millionaire meets the book by Ernest Klein, Ready Player One (which was later made into the Steven Spielberg movie). The synchronicities I experienced during this difficult journey form the foundation of this Medium series.

These same synchronicities also compel me to write, even if not many read what I write. My purpose is to write, and that’s just what I am going to do. You will see the references for my influences and cultural touchstones throughout this series. I will even place a few “Easter eggs” for those who like to catch some of my curious or esoteric references.

The Concern Fueling My Compulsion to Write

It is my firm conviction that, as a species, humanity stands at the edge of a knife. Amazing progress has been made over the past few hundred years, yet we face unprecedented, evolving challenges of mind-boggling complexity and scale. Frankly, I don’t know if humanity is ready for what we have ahead of us.

To me, this is at the heart of the burning fire that compels me to write. This is why I am having the thought babies, my fellow truth-seekers. I am not claiming anything divine in the origin of the fire within me. I feel like it is a synchronicity of sorts that lit the fire that compels me to write. I have a 100% clear purpose for the first time in my life. While I can logically explain the reason for the synchronicity, the spiritual side of me…has some different feelings about it. Like I said, I could write a book on this journey alone!

We Face Shared Big Challenges Ahead

You might disagree with me completely about humanity’s ability to work together to overcome our big challenges, that AI is just another apocalyptic panic like the Y2K bug, and that there is no reason to worry. I understand why some people hold such views. That said, I can only speak for the truth as I see it. As I analyze our situation as carefully, honestly, and objectively as I am able, I keep landing on this concern at the root of it all:

What I have seen in this world as of late has not given me great confidence that human beings will be able to work with the unity, wisdom, and skill that will be required to manage the challenges before us, particularly the evolving, proliferating power of artificial intelligence.

To be totally honest, my fellow truth-seekers, my optimism is being stretched out like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. Strangely, while I am concerned about our future, I’m not paralyzed with worry. After all, fretting over uncontrollable factors won’t help. What truly matters is our collective ability to rise to these challenges, a task that starts with understanding and confronting them head-on.

When I ask myself, “What can I do about these concerns?” the answer is that I must tell this story. This story includes why some of these challenges ahead will be particularly difficult for us and what we can do to overcome them. To paraphrase the great cosmologist, Carl Sagan, extraordinary challenges require extraordinary efforts.

As I see it, the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead require great unity to navigate them skillfully and wisely. This, in turn, necessitates that we try to understand these challenges as clearly and objectively as we can. We cannot act skillfully if we don’t understand the problems we face. Thus, we must seek both truth and unity as we try to handle the challenges of this crazy world.

Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus, from the Gospel of John, 8:32, The New Testament (King James Version)

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sharing Ideas with Humility

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” — André Gide, French author and Nobel Laureate in Literature

While I have a story, a concept album of ideas, to share, I do so with great humility because I believe that truth can be extremely elusive in this complicated world. So, this puts me in the awkward position of feeling compelled to share ideas I consider important, while also acknowledging the need for appropriate caveats.

I will try to support what I say with citations and references whenever possible. Also, while sometimes I will make claims and predictions with utmost conviction, I am not conflating what I believe to be true with actual truth. For instance, I might say something like, “I believe ________ will happen with 100% certainty,” but I must also admit I could be wrong. These two truths can coexist, so we must not conflate them.

I am, in essence, saying that, based upon my knowledge and experience, this is the way I view things currently. I will be pulling from multiple disciplines and resources to support what I will be proposing and asserting. Many of these ideas are a lifetime in the making but, as I said, a fire was lit within me in recent years as our politics have become more toxic. The advent of generative, conversational AI has turned that smoldering concern into a roaring inferno.

Here’s an analogy that might be useful. Imagine I’m a meteorologist who is predicting a busy hurricane season, and I see one forming in the Atlantic Ocean. At a certain point, I might express high confidence that it will make it to the shore, yet I might not be able to predict with great accuracy where it will hit and how much damage it will cause. My concept album of thought babies is about the “hurricane” of troubles I see coming our way, and what I believe we need to do to manage these challenges skillfully.

I’m not alone in recognizing these challenges. Countless others see them as well. These folks are expressing their concerns, and have their own ideas about how to tackle such challenges. However, the way I weave these ideas together and the particular way in which I will tell this story will be relatively unique. This blog series in Medium is the story, the concept album, I will be sharing.

Let’s Explore and Engage Rather Than Argue

In the spirit of truth-seeking in our complicated world, I invite you to join me in a journey free from argument and rigid thinking. I am not here to offend or to proclaim, “I’m right and you’re an idiot!” Instead, I wish to unite with fellow explorers and truth-seekers. If you enjoy arguing or have decided that you alone possess the truth, this series may not click with you. Similarly, if you are on the extreme end of the political spectrum, you might find this approach to flexibility challenging, or perhaps even unsettling.

From the perspective I’m taking, extremism in any form can hinder the pursuit of truth in a complicated, dynamic world. Admittedly, and hypocritically, I sometimes inflexibly think that everyone needs to be more flexible! I have to keep that particular form of rigidity in check. That said, if you, too, fellow connector, let’s enjoy this journey together and support each another along the way.

Not all those who wander are lost.” — from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”

I know that you, my fellow truth-seekers, already possess many ideas and insights of your own. Instead of an inflexible, dichotomous approach, let’s strive for a “both/and,” non-dualistic understanding. Challenge yourself to find agreement rather than reflexive disagreement. When strong feelings arise in response to what I am saying, approach those feelings within you with curiosity. What emotional triggers might my words be hitting? Are those reactions preventing you from considering other perspectives? Remember, we are seeking general or “squishy” truths that guide us to live the Good Life in this complex world.

While there will always be exceptions and “Yes, but…” counterarguments to most things I’ll discuss, I encourage you to seek useful insights even in the parts where you may disagree.

What This Story Will Cover

I said I have a story to tell, and I want to provide the general outline for what I intend to cover. An important caveat here is that I might deviate from this outline somewhat as new ideas, “thought babies,” and technological/political developments arise. Each topic area will contain multiple parts or several articles. Each article in the Medium series will probably be about 1500–2000 words long. In turn, each section will build upon the previous section, and I will attempt to create a very logical, reasonable flow from one idea to the next. I aim to post a new article every 1–2 weeks. Here is what I intend to cover within my story arc:

  1. The Search for Truth in a “Crazy” World: We will explore the critical role of truth-seeking as a compass to help us navigate our increasingly complicated reality.

  2. The Purpose Puzzle: We will delve into existential questions about why we are here and what our purpose might be.

  3. Modernity Madness: We will examine how the complexities and rapid changes of the modern world contribute to widespread emotional and psychological distress. I will make a case as to why I believe our “crazy” world is driving us all a bit mad.

  4. The AI Conundrum: We will explore how artificial intelligence poses unique and unprecedented challenges for humanity as it evolves and proliferates.

  5. Human Wisdom in the Age of AI: I will make a case for why we need to harness and use the best of human wisdom to help guide us in the age of artificial intelligence.

  6. Unity in Diversity: Based upon collective human wisdom for how to live “the Good Life,” I will propose actionable steps on individual and societal levels that could help us navigate the formidable challenges humanity has ahead of us.

Ready to Take the Red Pill?

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” — Morpheus to Neo from the movie, “The Matrix”

The “truth” that I am going to show you is not “THE truth.” The truths I will be discussing are not solely truths I am claiming as my own but are shared human truths (as I understand them).

“All secrets are open secrets. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is revealed. People can only be told what they already know.” — Camden Benares, from “Zen Without Zen Masters”

As it says in Ecclesiastes within the Hebrew Bible, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The biblical writer wasn’t referring to smartphones and artificial intelligence, of course. The author was highlighting the idea that humanity’s struggles — stemming from greed, arrogance, pride, hatred, jealousies, and so on — have been consistent throughout history. Moreover, the wisdom for how we should live our lives has also been with us for thousands of years.

In the Buddhist story where a finger points to the moon, with the moon symbolizing The Truth, we should not mistake the finger, or the person pointing to the Truth, with the moon, or actual Truth. I am but another finger pointing to the moon. But one thing I will do a little differently is I will not only point to the moon, but I will point to many of the other fingers pointing to the same moon.

I believe that various spiritual, intellectual, and artistic traditions are pointing toward the same fundamental truths about how we should live in this world. Throughout my life, I’ve encountered these different perspectives — from Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism, to philosophy, psychology, and the sciences (particularly evolutionary psychology and biology). It doesn’t just stop there. I find these profound truths in my favorite musicians, from U2 to Rush, my favorite movies, from Blade Runner to Star Wars and The Matrix. While I might include my personal favorites, my bet is that your favorites also point to these same truths.

All these different fingers pointing to the same moon suggest that the truth is already within our grasp. My own unique experiences, with some mystery sprinkled in, have given rise to these “thought babies.” Therefore, in this series, I’ll weave in cultural touchstones that have enriched my understanding, because they’ve been the fertile ground from which these ideas have sprouted. As I said, think of it as a Slumdog Millionaire meets Ready Player One fusion of ideas — connecting disparate dots to form a coherent tapestry.

Humanity faces mind-bogglingly difficult challenges ahead of us. We need to rise up to these challenges and work with greater unity than perhaps we ever have before. We are connected. Our unity is our strength, and division can be our undoing in the face of these existential challenges. As Jesus warned in the synoptic Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25, Luke 11:17), “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

This story arc in Medium is about why we need to “level up” and how. Few might read what I am going to say, but I feel compelled to try. Now, you are curious as to what on Earth I am going to say, aren’t you? Well, my fellow connectors, it’s time to take the red pill and follow me to see how deep this rabbit hole goes.

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