One knows oneself by one’s deeds

This is the second in 3 posts I’ll be doing on “The World Beyond your Head” by Matthew Crawford.

In the last post I talked about how Getting things right requires triangulating with other people. In this post I’d like to highlight the surprising motivations behind gambling then I’ll finish by conducting a thought experiment to determine the role of ‘manufactured certainties’ to stay sane.

In his book, Matthew Crawford references a book by Natasha Dow Schull called “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.” In the book, Schull notes surprising motivations behind gambling.

“The appeal of games is that they give the player a sense of control.” – Matthew Crawford

With so many things being upended by technology, from the 2016 election to the dwindling quality of interpersonal relationships, it’s nice to know that at the heart of it, we are all looking for ways to gain a sense of control.

Crawford quotes Schull’s book on gamblers in Las Vegas finding their sense of control at the casino:

“The goal for compulsive machine gamblers is not to win money, as one might suppose, and you cannot understand their addiction without keeping this in mind. The goal is to get in the zone: the place where ‘Their won actions become indistinguishable from the functioning of the machine. They explain this point as a kind of coincidence between their intentions and the machine’s responses.’ You hit the button and the machine responds every time.” – Matthew Crawford

Crawford shares the surprising fact that winning is not the goal. The goal is the player’s relationship with the machine:

“‘I don’t care if it takes coins, or pays coins. The contract is that when I put a new coin in, get five new cards, and press those buttons, and I am allowed to continue. So it isn’t really a gamble at all – in fact, it’s one of the few places I’m certain about anything.’ If you can’t rely on the machine, then you might as well be in the human world where you have no predictability either.” – Matthew Crawford

What’s the purpose of gaming if not to alleviate the pressures of the modern world?

“We therefore seek out other, personal technologies that can can give us safe haven: ‘manufactured certainties,’ as Schull puts it, that help us ‘manage our affective states.’ That is what computer games seem to do for our quasi autistic cohort of young men; it is what machine gambling does for those who have gone down that particular path. Perhaps such pursuits help us manage the anxiety and depression that come when experiences of genuine agency are scarce, and at the same time we live under a cultural imperative of being autonomous.” – Matthew Crawford

What gives you a sense of control? How do you “manage your affective states?” In this dizzying world of technology and social media, which ‘manufactured certainties’ do you rely on? Are you a gamer, gambler, or a musician? Do you like to scrapbook?

“For Hegel, one knows oneself by one’s deeds. And deeds are inherently social – their meaning depends very much on how others receive them. The problems of self-knowledge is in large part the problem of how we can make ourselves intelligible to others through our actions, and from them receive back a reflected view of ourselves.” – Matthew Crawford

Here’s a thought experiment: Do you go down the path of self realization through the making of things? Or do we condone the pursuit of gaming to ‘manage our affective states?’ I suppose that decision is ultimately up to you.

“You have not executed an intention successfully unless others attribute to you the deed and intention you attribute to yourself. One can think of counterexamples to this formula – a successful deception, for instance. But it serves well as a corrective to the cult of sincerity, which perhaps amounts to this: the idea that you yourself can be the source of the norms by which you justify yourself. This idea seems to be the late modern understanding of autonomy, in a nutshell.” – Matthew Crawford

Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.