🤯Unknown Unknowns #109 - Dynamic Agency
Last week, I told my story of moving from a Paycheck Person toward being a Courageous Thinker. Courageous Thinkers have two characteristics, Dynamic Agency and knowing what they’re interested in.
I just listened to David Senra’s podcast on James Cameron, the director of Aliens, Terminator, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. Not only in his process of making movies, but throughout his whole life Cameron exhibits Dynamic Agency.
Dynamic Agency is implementing agency through the chaos of the world - adapting to whatever happens.
In his 20s, Cameron would drive a truck, write screenplays during breaks, and read graduate student theses on filmmaking on the weekends from a library. He made his film education happen.
Once he became a director, he didn’t allow anything to compromise his vision. The Terminator and Avatar movies couldn’t be made with existing technology and Cameron developed new technologies to create the movies he had in his imagination.
When Cameron sets out to do something, it gets done. The man was born with an explorer's instincts and capacity. The original Avatar required the invention of dozens of new technologies, from the cameras Cameron shot with to the digital effects that he used to transform human actors into animated creatures, to the language those creatures spoke in the film.
For the sequel, The Way of Water, Cameron told me, he and his team started all over again. They needed new cameras that could shoot underwater and a motion capture system that could collect separate shots from above and below the water and then integrate them into a unified virtual image. They needed new algorithms, new AI to translate what Cameron shot with what you see. Nothing would work the first time Cameron and the production tried it or the second or usually the third.
Cameron showed me a single effect shot numbered 405. That means there's been 405 versions of this before it gets to me, he said. Cameron has been working on the movie since 2013. It was due out years ago. The Way of Water was expensive to make. If you ask James Cameron how expensive, he replies, "Very fucking." But as Cameron worked late into the evening day after day, solving the infinite problems that The Way of Water continued to present, he seemed to be enjoying himself.
"I like difficult," he told me. "I'm attracted by difficult. Difficult is a fucking magnet for me. I go straight to difficult. And I think it probably goes back to this idea that there's a lot of smart, really gifted, really talented filmmakers out there that just can't do the difficult stuff. So that gives me a tactical edge to do something nobody else has ever seen because the really gifted people don't fucking want to do it."
At one point, Cameron had to write three scripts in three months. “He divided the total number of waking hours he had during the 3-month period by 360 and figured out how many pages per hour he had to write, and ‘I just wrote that many pages per hour,’ he said.” Figure out what is the final product, what are the constraints, and what needs to get done. Then you do it.
Cameron wanted to see the bottom of the ocean so he helped design and test a submarine. This is a guy who accepts more challenges than Barney Stinson or Ethan Hunt. He sees every challenge as an opportunity and overcomes every hurdle that arose until that challenge is completed.
Cameron's career has been built on questioning accepted wisdom, believing in the power of the individual, his outlook is that we can take fate in our own hands.
James Cameron epitomizes Dynamic Agency, but it’s important to understand that Dynamic Agency is a tool, a skill. It doesn’t need to (and probably should not) encompass your life, but it is something you need to feel capable of. You can’t fully pursue your interests without Dynamic Agency.
1️⃣ The podcast about James Cameron that was referenced above.
2️⃣ Tom Cruise is another person with Dynamic Agency. I just watched the latest Mission Impossible movie, and the stuntwork is amazing. He dreams up the stunt that he wants to do and then figures out all the details, skills, and infrastructure that are needed. Every obstacle has a solution.
3️⃣ The way to think about Dynamic Agency is similar to free will. It’s an abstract concept, impossible to prove but only possible if you believe in it. As David Senra says, “belief comes before ability.”
All of this is inconvenient for these researchers, because they think free will doesn’t exist, but they see how people who stop believing in free will become worse-off. It puts them in a bind: Should we lie to the public? Or should they be like an atheist preaching the existence of a peaceful god?
They are making a key mistake.
When people stop believing they are free agents, they stop seeing themselves as blameworthy for their actions. They act less responsibly and give in to their baser instincts. They act as if they have less free will.
Conversely, those who believe in free will take more responsibility for their actions. They have more free will.
Put in another way: you develop free will when you believe in free will.
Free will exists because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
4️⃣ Eric Weinstein has a similar concept to Dynamic Agency that he calls “High Agency.” And MacGyver is the perfect role model for High Agency.
When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something?
So, how am I gonna get past this bouncer who told me that I can’t come into this nightclub? How am I going to start a business when my credit is terrible and I have no experience?
You’re constantly looking for what is possible in a kind of MacGyverish sort of a way. And that’s your approach to the world.
Quote of the Week:
I fall straight into contradiction when I try to act and decide in order to be happy, when I make “being pleased” my future goal. For the more my actions are directed towards future pleasures, the more I am incapable of enjoying any pleasures at all.
For all pleasures are present, and nothing save complete awareness of the present can even begin to guarantee future happiness...
You can only live in one moment at a time, and you cannot think simultaneously about listening to the waves and whether you are enjoying listening to the waves. Contradictions of this kind are the only real types of action without freedom.
- Alan Watts
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Leaving you in peace,