Choose Your Own Talisman

Microdosing faith for fun and profit

So, what would you do differently if this was a simulation?

The question clearly applies to existential concerns such as the simulation argument, the hard problem of consciousness and religion and the afterlife. The answers to these questions can’t be proven to a sufficiently convincing extent, but for many people there are net tangible benefits for behaving “as-if” one side or the other were true.

This behaviour can be generalized beyond the existential into a practice of defining our own talisman (or belief). If the belief is carefully selected the practice can remove the barriers of doubt and uncertainty, and unlock useful mental models. For example you can believe:

Use responsibly

The basic guidelines are:

  1. Choose wisely. When in choosing mode, be objective and have utmost integrity.
  2. Operate faithfully. When in operating mode, take your talisman and hold it tight.
  3. Re-evaluate regularly. The real world changes, as does the best information.

Of course, the practice doesn’t work if your chosen beliefs are not grounded in reality. If you want to parent in a way that benefits your kids, you actually need to be present with your kids. You can’t believe you can put a dent in the universe by conquering video games. And the practice is not a justification for grasping onto what is already your favorite bandwagon; the integrity when choosing is key.

Caveats aside, there are a series of positives from the talisman practice. First order benefits are to give focus and direction, by holding back on questioning you guard against indecision. Your talisman can be adopted by others as well, giving a foundation for group coordination towards a common goal.

I find the second order benefits even more compelling. To implement this well requires regular self evaluation of your beliefs and decisions. This evaluation as a regular exercise is an opportunity to apply a sort of meta-rationality to your mental models, an opportunity for self improvement.

A sense of mission

Who seriously thought it might be possible to hammer throw satellites into space? For the folks at SpinLaunch their talisman is to make it happen. They have to prove it to themselves as much as the world, but to go about it they leaned into the belief that it was possible, and set their shoulders to the grindstone.

“The more crazy the project is, the better off you are just working on it – rather than talking about it.”
Jonathan Yaney, CEO Spinlaunch

Successful leaders foster a sense of mission. This same leverage can be applied directly to your own life.

We all already do this, let’s do it better

The talisman practice relates to Yuval Hurari’s concept of the capacity for myth being a defining feature of humanity. We take on a belief in something bigger than ourselves and are able to coordinate around it. Think not only religion, but rule of law, the concept of money, and the goal of a peaceful society. But the practice varies in a couple of ways: it’s done purposefully rather than adopting broader existing myths; and it’s applied by an individual human to themselves.

The operating mode of the practice is nothing new. Swimming in a world of more data and information than we can process and understand, we cope. We evaluate an argument or few, and then run with an outcome.

We are all, by default, cargo-cultists at one level or another. The talisman practice asks us to understand and be purposeful about our beliefs.