I’ve always made analogies to understand concepts better: TikTok is a hacked version of books or showing how sugar is a hacked version ketosis. I didn’t realize that those points in retrospect not only are in the same domain, but also reveal something general and surprising about humans. People can be seen as balls in a vector field (see fig. 1). We all have incentives, yet our internal happiness or growth or wealth or even how humans operate biologically doesn’t jump and accomplish our incentives (or goals) immediately; they take time and effort. If your goal is to become a writer, you’ll need to ensure your incentives are aligned in the vector field of life to ensure that you (a ball) are going to tend to roll there, not magically become a writer after writing a 4-page essay. Likewise, if you want to stay fit, you’ll need to keep your vector field in the direction of draining your long term battery (adipose tissue) not your day-to-day battery (glycogen) by fasting one day and thinking the few pounds of water weight you lost is actual weight (Karpathy). Surprisingly this concept of “hacking” is prevalent in almost everything in life and explains a good deal of why humans act the way we do; thinking ourselves as balls driven by incentives that lead us to goals are so subjective, yet so general.
Fig. 1. You can think of us as balls following certain incentives. @SlackHQ (Slack Incorporated). "ok boomer" Twitter, 21 Nov. 2019, 7:01 a.m.,
When you think of the term “hacker” you might think of Anonymous or some middle-aged white man in Russia in front of some green screens. Yet every day, you look at one when you look at yourself in the mirror: we’re all hackers in our own ways. Whether it be eating a sugary snack or drinking a sugar-filled Starbucks in the morning to “wake you up”, you’re hacking your digestive system. We were designed to eat meats and nutrient-rich vegetables while having fruit and other sugary snacks in moderation (not even close to the sugar levels in processed foods) yet we all hack our systems to ensure we run on our glycogen cycle every day and get as far as we can to ever reaching ketosis (Processed Foods and Health.). We are hackers. Think of the students who take a particular class and have a huge group chat to share questions and answers between periods of a test; they’re hacking the test as well. They are hackers. Abstractly and in the context of this expository essay: hackers are balls (representation of people) that don’t take the vector field route to the goal. They go straight across the field and get to the goal. Despite how efficient drinking sugar or “hacking” a test is, the outcome of hacking never materializes: you crash after the sugary drink and need more; you keep on “hacking” tests because you don’t know whats going on in the class. In more ways than some, we’re just dumb creatures thinking there’s always a way out — they’re isn’t.
As much as we pride ourselves with winning awards or getting higher salaries, we fall back onto the hedonic treadmill. We’re all just creatures trying to accomplish a goal and we all need to follow the vector field there. That’s why thinking of ourselves as balls on a field that accomplishes goals is the best representation of ourselves. No ball is on a higher field than the other; most of us default to the same happiness as before that new car. As humans we’re also pretty mobile (unlike now) so we move around a lot. In fact, we just can’t wait to move around more: whether it be to get some food or meetup with a friend or more recently: update our feed and salviate on new information to either cancel people’s lives with a click of a button or spin up a new conspiracy. Don’t believe me? Look at the influx of day traders backed by teenagers; they’re putting a dent in traditional stock trading: that’s saying a whole lot about how much we want to either move or stir stuff up; similar to how balls roll around and knock into one another. These traders move around (make huge and swift decisions) always have goals (bump bitcoin to $10k) and bump into one another or even lose sight of what their initial goals were.
These goals are blackholes; once you figure out the right incentives on this vector field of life, you’ll be able to reach that eventual goal. These incentives are learned, not given. Take for example a goal of getting a job in a field you don’t have much experience in: early in your life you’d just apply for the job with a nice cover letter. Later on, you’d realize that your network would be a more powerful activator so your incentives would be aligned towards: making some friends in the field you want to get into, after getting to know them, ask if they could recommend you for any positions they may know of. A few weeks later, there’d be a much higher chance that you would get the job than just applying online. The great thing about this analogy of life is: not only are you a ball rolling around towards the goal with the incentives on a vector field, but those incentives are strengthened every time you reach a previous goal, so it’d be much easier to reach goals later on in life if you’d accomplished many goals prior. Take for example getting ready for a marathon: from previous goals you’d know your incentives were to fast X amount of time and eat X amount of food specifially for your body, so learning what incentives you’d need to reach your goal would be much easier to get ready for that marathon.
As you get older, figuring out exactly what incentives on the vector field you’d need to get to the goal gets easier. But its possible to learn rapidly from the start as well, but schools unfortunately don’t allow that: The K-12 system (in America) misaligns the incentives towards reaching the goal of a good education. It instead aligns it with intentionally hacking tests (via learning only what the teacher says) and hacking extracurriculars to ensure that students have a better shot at a good college (thus increasing the prestige of the HS and in some cases the home values of neighboring houses). If schools really weren’t aligning their students to “hack” their system, tests shouldn’t be any different from a blood test; yet they’re stress-inducing, anxiety prone, and sometimes downright hard “tests” that test your ability to learn what the teacher thinks is the best for students to learn (whether that be specific problems or specific pages from some overpriced textbook). This mentality of “hacking” your way through tests and ECs not only leads students to higher rates of depression and suicude, but it also leads to higher rates of bullying. You see, bullying isn’t some unknown phenomenon that happens between students; it happens (verbally) because students really just want to hack another system: the status system. Students bully one another, either repetitively throughout a school year or on any given day because students who are trained to hack systems also want to hack the system of status to ensure they’re on the top. You might see this in our everyday lives online as well: the “Karens” of the world trying to justify their status of being American or tech journalists trying to dethrone tech because they want to think they are more important than the new tech released (Naval).
Fixing this education system that incentives students (balls) to get from 0 to 100/100 on tests without following the vector field of incentives (actual learning) or incentives students to go from 0 to “non-profit in Africa” without following the vector field of incentives (understanding systemic issues) is hard. The only true way to stop yourself from hacking this system is by starting to get genuinely interested in the subjects and delving into them in your free time. Or here’s an even simpler solution: just try to do some problems out of the homework; try to write a few more paragraphs to post on your blog; publish a website that has all the facts you’ve outlined on your history poster and ask for advice from some professors. Not only will this ensure that students are following the vector field of life, but as a byproduct, will tend to make them happier. With recommendations with the network you make early on and the realization that you need to follow certain learned incentives to reach your goals, students would be much more fulfilled with their lives that being a prop for Harvard (if you do get into Harvard by enjoying your education than hacking it, that’s insanely better). Unfortunately, if you enjoy your education than hacking it, in the long term, there’s going to be a systemic gap between a 4.0 and your GPA. This will reduce your chances at a good college and a good future, but if you make the most of it in HS, you’d be more set off than any MIT undergrad. What type of authority do I, Surya Dantuluri have over this? Well, I’ve noticed some signs, gotten into specific networks and programs; I’m starting to know a lot of genuinely interesting people who are recommending me to others as well as almost getting into prestigious accelerators that a majority of Ivy league kids haven’t. In this way, I’m creating really meaningful incentives to get to goals I want to achieve and along the way make meaningful friends and connects to get there (that many students at Ivy leagues aren’t utilizing until later on in their career).
At the end of the day, we’re all rolling balls and our incentives are different for whatever goals we want in life. Our goals might even just be to get on with our day with a meal: you can hack it with sugar or you can drink water and some nutrient rich/low carb foods to create the right incentives towards finishing your meal. As we grow older, we as balls, get to understand what incentives we need to get to the goal as well as have those incentives stronger (easier to do) and ultimately be a better human and live a more meaningful life. You can definitely hack your life by going from 0 to Google or 0 to Stanford for status reasons, but long-term you, as a ball, wouldn’t be satisfied, neither will you understand the right incentives and goals to living a fulfilling life. Make sure you don’t hack the system. Enjoy the process, enjoy your education, enjoy your friends, enjoy nature, enjoy your food, and most importantly, enjoy being yourself.
“Biohacking Lite.” Karpathy.Github.Io, karpathy.github.io/2020/06/11/biohacking-lite/. Accessed 16 June 2020.
“Processed Foods and Health.” The Nutrition Source, 24 June 2019, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/.
“Seek Wealth, Not Money or Status.” Naval, 28 Feb. 2019, nav.al/seek-wealth. Accessed 16 June 2020.