My Lizardbrain And Its Relationship To Numbers

Something that has come up recently, when I was reviewing some notes1 is just how thoroughly my lizardbrain is activated and pleased with what can be aptly called “number go up”. Factorio players will know this instinct very well, the factory must grow2. This expresses itself in many ways, but most of the ways I notice are not… good.

It expresses itself in keeping track of how many notes I have written, how many and how quickly I fill notebooks, how many lines of code I have written. But it also expresses itself, at times, in how much I eat, how many books I can read, how much effort I can put into a meal I prepare for others.

It’s consistent into the past too, I used to keep all my empty ink cartridges from my pen in school, and got unreasonable (Is it unreasonable? I can’t tell, here and now.) joy from the pile growing. I measured effort and promised reward by its proxy measures, unaware that I could and would game the measures in order to get more happiness from it.

Everything is angled towards productivity, to making the number go up, towards increasing the quantity of this one number that has been chosen for this context. Be it notes written, food consumed, times spent reading, books read, papers read, posts written, Twitter followers gained, replies and reactions receveived.

My best guess is that it’s a learned defense mechanism, something that brought me a certain and assured reward in a time where essentially everything in my life was far from certain, and even further from being a guaranteed reward.

However it may have started, it feels like an illness now. The absurd pressure towards quantifying proxy measures, all for squeezing the last bit of dopamine from something results in it feeling terrible. There are frequently times when I get more of a happiness-kick from making the number go up than I do from the main result of any activity, and that fills me with shame.

I don’t know what to do with this insight yet. It feels like the key to a great many things, to fixing a systemic pressure that I have been subject to without realising. Maybe the outcome is to abolish all quantitive proxy measures, maybe the outcome ends up being just being very aware of this when I choose the proxy measures.

This relates to a Twitter thread I wrote on my alt, describing how I see a lot of things, or essentially everything as work, and this feels like the driving engine for that classification. Maybe to unlearn this, I have to remove the measures that make it feel like work, that make it have all the same hallmarks as work.

  1. Something I have a more formal system for now, we’ll see how well it sticks. 

  2. This is one of the many reasons I stopped playing a lot of factorio, the game feels a lot like work.