The Edge of Knowledge

Prelude

My birthday was ~a week ago. I created four projects to pay homage to the skills I learned this past year. You can see the results here on Twitter, or here if you prefer Instagram.

Before I hop into the main portion of this essay, allow me to elaborate on how some of these projects were built.

Blender

This render was created using a combination of tutorials. “YouTube University” is a phenomenal place to learn Blender. There is an extensive selection of tutorials, and the community is growing at a really impressive rate. I think this is due to the major UI rework of Blender 2.8 and GPUs getting simultaneously better and cheaper.

Spark AR Filter

SparkAR has some of the worst documentation on the planet, no cap. However, the intuitive and sneakily powerful editor makes up for this faux pas.

To make this filter, I used a 3D text object, and made it a child of a null object. I then rotated it around the y-axis to give it a centered look on the top of the skull.

I got the Spongebob models from Sketchfab. I animated them with Mixamo. Unfortunately, the FBX importer f**ked up and ruined the texture material. In the spirit of adaptation to meet a deadline, I chose to giveSponge Bob an off yellow metallic texture.

~*~*~Artistic liscence, and all that, I suppose.~*~*~

AR Party

The Magnum Opus of the birthday projects, a return to form of my earliest work in 2020, AR comedy sketches.

My 3D model of myself has been put to a lot of use this year. I just find it super funny to have a PS1 version of myself doing random things.

To create this sketch, I scanned myself with in3D in four separate outfits (my closet was not happy). in3D raised their prices to 4.99/export in a recent release, but the export process is much more fluid now as well and the .fbx can be loaded directly into Blender.

I then took the six total models (four from scanning + two I had made in the past) and gave them each unique animations that one might see at a party from Mixamo. I still can’t believe that tool is free, it’s so good! I then simply AirDropped the files to my iPhone XR, and uploaded them into Adobe Aero.

And that’s how these projects came to be! Ok, now on to the actual essay…

The Edge of Knowledge

My goals for this year are more like guide posts. Save as much per paycheck as possible. Exercise daily. Avoid overeating. Read.

But my most important goal is more elusive. It takes active work, and the path can only be travelled by one. This is the year that I want to become confident.

I’ve struggled with self esteem my whole life. It took me a while, but I now realize the root error. I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I was focusing on emulation, as opposed to focusing on myself.

My esteem in self was low, because I didn’t know who I was.

After creating work last year where I was attached to the process and not the outcome; I found the courage to do, and to dismiss the inner monologue that was obsessed with metrics and comparison.

Due to this workflow, I became an expert. Not an expert in a trackable skill like being the best baseball or Parcheesi player, but an expert in executing on the ideas that felt right to me.

In short, my hypothesis is that confidence is a byproduct of expertise. Surety is born from the well spring of prior successes (see Bayesian priors) and the best form of success is self-defined (just because Person A can run a marathon doesn’t mean Person B should, and besides, why did Person C get to decide that a marathon == 26.2 miles in the first place???).

Expertise is a byproduct of process obsession (see two year olds learning how to walk, or a hardcore gamer playing for hours on end).

Failure and success mean little to someone obsessed with perfecting a craft for the sake of it.

I Don’t Know

There is another, less “empowering” element to confidence. Readily admitting to not knowing something is a critical element to building self esteem. It may seem counterintuitive, but being honest when unsure makes one more trustworthy and open minded to learning from reality.

Knowledge is like an amoeba. Within the borders of the organism, one can be confident in their action, having derived near casual outcomes from certain inputs. Most of this knowledge is unconscious, and the brain habitually fires when the conditions are right (ex: I’m in the kitchen, I should salivate and trigger the hormonal response to eat food). When one pauses to stop the heuristics engine in their brain, they realize the environment is filled with unknowns. One has to actively expend brain power to choose how to respond to stimuli.

The lifelong learner finds safe and challenging ways to put their knowledge amoeba in situations that it hasn’t seen before, while leveraging axioms and priors it has learned in the past to be able to paint a picture and drive hypotheses.

It follows that confidence is knowing where the boundaries of the amoeba lie. Knowing when to say “I don’t know” is a powerful cue to be more open minded, and prepared to build a model based on truth through observation (thought exercise: why would ego want us to lie and pretend that we know more than we do? And why do we conflate that with confidence?).

Pruning old, wasteful ideas keeps the organism healthy and lean.

Adding new, verifiable, knowledge makes the organism more interesting, and more adaptive to different stimuli.

This year, I’ll be listening more, reading more, and writing more while critically examining those who claim to hold truth (and if you’re reading this, you should be critical of my claims as well!).

Till next,

Bram

P.S. check out my podcast