The world is already a beautiful garden, for us to enjoy. It’s just that the weeds have to pulled out.
A few insights and articles I read over the past few years gave me some thoughts on the topic of negative reinforcement.
Then I read a work by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He’s quite a character; an eccentric Lebanese philosopher-mathematician and ex-stock broker who has developed a great number of insights on the topic of absorbing information. He has coined, or perhaps borrowed, the term “Via negativa”, meaning a life built on the principle that the secret to good living is not to do new things, or add new elements to it. Rather, the way to go about it is by removing things and elements from our lives. I have known people who suffer from ailments that stump doctors. One of the paths to clarity that many good doctors adopt when all the standard tests have turned up nothing is to remove everything from the person’s diet, and then slowly reintroducing one thing at a time.
We are so accustomed to thinking that the path to happiness or fulfillment must be adding something to our life that it is currently lacking. Taleb suggests that the truth is likely the opposite: Our lives are already comprised of so many experiences and features. A quality life is achieved by removing the ones that ruin us, like one would weed a garden.
An accurate example and metaphor is that of radio wave transmission. The full spectrum of sound contains what we would call signal and noise. There is sound all over; how do we hear what anyone tells us? By blocking out what we will call the noise, we get that small fraction of the spectrum, a very minuscule part of “what the world has to offer”, but it makes sense.
It has been pointed out that while cultivating good habits is a wonderful thing; it is a pointless pursuit unless equal or greater emphasis is placed on removing bad habits. A habit to exercise one hour a day will be rendered irrelevant when followed by eating two boxes of junk right afterwards.
There is a concept I picked up in Chassidic writings that the Negative Commandments emanate from a higher source on the Cosmology Tree than Positive Commandments. (Yud-Key for the negative vs Vav-Key for the positive, if that means anything to you.) Put in English terms, it means that the lessons that are conveyed by the negative Mitzvos are more abstract, directly related to “higher” concepts, than the lessons conveyed by the Positive Mitzvos. I wasn’t sure what that means. But I kept it in my hat, hoping to use it one day.