Letters To Younger Selves + Time Binding

If you could send a message to your younger self, what would you say? 

I just heard Bogumil Baranoski’s Talking Billions episode with Christopher Mayer, where they got to talking about the idea of “time-binding.” The concept comes from a practice called General Semantics* which considers (via Wikipedia):

how events translate to perceptions, how they are further modified by the names and labels we apply to them, and how we might gain a measure of control over our own cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses.

Sound familiar? It’s the core of the note-taking process we’re talking about for making a personal archive. I’m not surprised this showed up when it did. 

Our feelings, emotions, and behavioral responses to life’s inputs – they’re the *electric* spark of inspiration. The words we use to take a verbal snapshot of it matter. For everything we record, from poetry to photographs. 

Mayer explains a few of Alfred Korzybski’s time-binder techniques form the general semantics literature. 

On top of capturing the response, he says we can add:

  1. Dates (because a person today with an idea is different from a person in 5 years thinking about the same idea), add 
  2. Index (like a subgroup to a group, ex. Different types of subgroups within a political party), and add 
  3. Et cetera (to signal openness and remove limits or absolutes from our thinking). 

Mayer says on the importance of time-binding, 

You don’t know, not for sure, and you can’t know as nearly as much as you think you can. But to have an idea about the boundaries is the beginning of wisdom.

Back to the earlier question – if you could send a message to your younger self, what would you say? 

It’s a question lots of investors wrestle with. Of course people who think all day about the future value of things love it. Bogumil, as an investor and advisor, specifically wrote a short essay about it. His message is, “Everything is going to be alright.” And he finds himself immediately questioning if it’s a wise enough message to send 

But in the context of what Mayer says about the boundaries of wisdom, he’s exactly right. 

If you know the outcome will be alright, you know any pain or suffering is survivable. 

If you know it’s survivable, you know it has a limit that stops short of death. 

If you know you’ll make it, you have all of the room on the living side of the boundary to explore and uncover still – for your present self.

The work isn’t done for your past self. The message of safety offers confidence. The confidence feeds the work.  

Belief in the future, whether it’s actually a letter from a future self, or drawn out of our own well of contemporary uncertainties, it really is everything. 

I’ve already ordered Christopher Mayer’s book, Dear Fellow Time-Binder: Letters on General Semantics. I highly recommend his interview on Talking Billions, and Bogumil’s post, “A Letter to a Younger Self.” And especially for my investment friends, sign up for Bogumil’s Substack/podcast while you’re there too – he’s become a regular source of inspiration. 

*yes, it’s probably pseudoscience – the empirical evidence is (or at least appears to be) lacking. But, in writing letters or notes, or personal archive entries of all sorts, it’s pretty damn useful. In the words of the philosopher Michael Scott, “I’m not superstitious but I am a little stitious.”

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