🎙Tom Morgan: The Voice Telling You It's Time To Move
"I want to help people get out of stuck places and into a different stage. Because I saw the wasted human potential. People at the top of their fitness landscape, just going around in infinite loops."
Today I’m joined by my dear friend Tom Morgan for a wide-ranging conversation around finding flow, recognizing resonance, the idea of moloch and slack, prophets and truth in the modern world, embodiment, and connecting mind and heart. Tom is one of my favorite writers and idea synthesizers. You can find his work at the KCP Group and on Twitter.
It was a deeply personal conversation because I struggle with a lot of these questions as I’m trying to navigate this new stage of my life. You can tell from the way I wrestled to formulate some of the questions. So, don’t hold it against Tom that we spent a lot of time on ideas such as following your curiosity, being vulnerable, and navigating personal crises.
I hope you find the conversation as interesting as I did. Tom managed to articulate his mission in life towards the end. So it was definitely worth it.
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A few of my favorite quotes:
The tension between following your curiosity and the friction of giving up your position:
“I've noticed that when people stop getting interested in things, it is a signal that there's no more growth left for them in a topic, and they need to move on either professionally or personally onto a different thing. But because the frictions are so great, particularly in finance, people cannot move to a different thing. But your interests and what you're gripped by, and what you're passionate about are much more significant in terms of directing your future growth.”
Find the intersection of what you’re uniquely good at and what the world needs:
“It's about what you can do plus what the world needs. And you, you can't neglect either of those things because it's a conversation, right? Your flow with the world, you have to be open to feedback from the world.”
The obsession with finding meaning in work:
“This ruined my life. This whole idea ruined my life decisively for very many years. …. I left Wall Street in I think 2017, started my crisis. And I said that for my second act, it needed to be something meaningful. … All of it was based on what I wanted to do, which was help people in stuck spots. … But every time I tried to do something, the door would slam shut in a really like devastating way. Things would not work out for me. And I was also not intrinsically interested in any of these avenues. I was just telling myself I was because they were meaningful. So I was saying, this is meaningful because obviously it's meaningful to be a social worker, but it wasn't actually interesting. … And it was only when after a series of like catastrophic failures, so massive, massive depression, that I basically gave up and started just doing things for intrinsic benefit and intrinsic pleasure that my employers found me and this role found me in the last year of my life has been an expressively fun, challenging.”
Leaving the local peak of a fitness landscape to (maybe) find your way to a higher one:
“The point of any organism is to get to the highest global peak. But what happens is you can get to the top of a smaller peak and then get stuck there repeating the same behavior. And so what you then have to do is go back down into a valley so that you can explore an adjacent and potentially higher peak. What takes you back down is never going to be rationality, and it's never going to be competitive and competitiveness. It's never going to be anything that took you up to the top. It's going to have to be something radically different, which is why all turning points work irrational, and all or moves involve the sacrifice of something that was very important to you getting up there, most often money or prestige or status. All of the things that are holding you in a typically the stuff that got you up to the top.”
The modern predator’s tools are language and abstraction:
“The thing about voices that is very interesting is the conceptualization from McGilchrist that the left hemisphere has language. And sexy language, right? Good syntax, really articulate words. And because those are the things that we use to manipulate the world, like a predator, the predators tools in the modern era are language, right? Because it gives us power. Conceptualization, abstractions, give us power. And you know, the bargain you make to moloch, who is the Canaanite got of child sacrifices, throw whatever whatever you value most onto the furnace and I will grant you power. And whatever you value most often is, your time, right? You will sit there in an office dying in return for your salary, right? And it, that literally is the sacrifice that you choose to make. But that voice often is very loud and incredibly rational and persuasive and articulate.”
[00:01:00] – [First question] – Integrating wisdom from successful investors.
“You watch the whole like information sphere discard that person because they got into a topic that was unacceptable or they did something that was unacceptable and they just basically get wholesale canceled. And whenever I see that now, I'm just like, oh, you're not exercising discernment. You don't have enough self-confidence to say. There's something in here that's valuable and there's something in here that's idiotic. And I'm actually able to determine what those things are. And I don't need someone else to tell me what that is because, you know, as we both know on Wall Street, negativity sells better and sound smarter.”
[00:04:00] Believability and understanding what makes people successful.
“A lesson I wish I’d learned much earlier in life is that a lot of people are not always believable in the same domains that they think they are.” "Articulate & Incompetent."
“You get into this really weird situation where the luck skill continuum and the ability to give retroactive explanations gets blended and I guess results are the ultimate arbiter, but I think it's one of the great problems in investing.”
[00:07:00] Tom’s background
[00:10:00] Finding resonance, how to decide what ideas to pursue.
“Our exploratory attention is a better guide of our future growth than our narrow attention. I was in Newark Airport in the security line. And I heard this podcast and the speaker just says, Carl Jung, had this idea that your future self directed your interests in the present to guide your growth. And I was like, well, that sounds mental, but it's also kind of interesting. And at least without believing sort of the present and future aspect to it, it is fairly well known that your right hemisphere is taking in about a million times more information, maybe a trillion times more information than your left hemisphere. It directs your attention towards what you should be paying attention to next. And I believe that we feel the direction that we should be going in next as resonance.
“If you regard the information landscape as sort of this three-dimensional field around us, we should be navigating that gradient based on how interested we are in topics around us. … One thing that becomes directly relevant to people in finance is that in my own experience and subsequently, I've noticed that when people stop getting interested in things, it is signaled that there's no more growth left for them in a topic, and they need to move on either professionally or personally onto a different thing. But because the frictions are so great, particularly in finance, people cannot move to a different thing, but your interests and what you're gripped by, and what you're passionate about are much more significant in terms of directing your future growth. And so that's like, that's almost a meta comment because that's, that idea was resonant to me. And also it has directed my future growth in a lot of very strange ways.”
[00:15:00] Moloch and slack, motivations.
“Anytime you target something implicit for its own enjoyment, things go really well. Your life unfolds in this beautiful synchronistic way, but everything has to be done for implicit enjoyment.”
“When you're exactly on your flow, you move at the same speed as the world. So it feels like time is not passing because you're moving at the same speed as the world. If you're out of your flow time, feels like it's grinding, right? … And there's all these really weird accounts of how that feels the most desirable thing is to be like exactly on the center line. And almost everyone knows when they're on the center line because they just have this intrinsic feeling of meaningfulness, which we describe as the flow state.”
“The Shaman is a guy in a community, you can use, you know, hero, prophet, comedian, visionary entrepreneur for the same time. And it's someone who uses the flow state to go into a different experience outside of their existing paradigm and see something else. The shaman would get themselves into a trance state and they would experience the world from above and it would give them a completely new framing on an issue, but then they could come back and speak to the rest of that tribe in a way that would heal them and reorient them back in the right direction.”
“The thing that kind of blew me away, because I'd never thought of it this way is people that spend more time in flow are more likely to have insights that allow them to reorient their life in the right direction.
So Vervaeke says like the more time you spend in flow, the more of an insight cascade you have, right? The more insights you have, the better you are at calibrating your life towards that meaningful thing.”
[00:22:00] Danger of optimizing life for flow.
“Here's the area of lost souls, the people that haven't found meaning in life. But also people that get addicted to flow get lost in here as well. Right? The people that spend all of their time in the zone and it just bliss junkies. Just chasing it. And at the end of the movie, he has this, this peak experience performing jazz, and he walks out and there's Dorothy Williams, this jazz singer, who's recruited him off the street to have his like life-changing moment. And he says, well, what happens next?
And she says, well, we come back and do it tomorrow.”
[00:26:00] Do you have to find fulfilment and flow in your work (always)?
“This ruined my life. This whole idea ruined my life decisively for very many years, which was that basically I had an intellectual understanding of all of these things, but my intellectual understanding got in my way
I left Wall Street in I think 2017. Started my crisis. And I said that for my second act, it needed to be something meaningful. … All of it was based on what I wanted to do, which was help people in stuck spots. … But every time I tried to do something. The door would slam shut in a really like devastating way. Things would not work out for me. And I was also not intrinsically interested in any of these avenues. I was just telling myself I was because they were meaningful. So I was saying, this is meaningful because obviously it's meaningful to be a social worker, but it wasn't actually interesting. … And it was only when after a series of like catastrophic failures, so massive, massive depression, that I basically gave up and started just doing things for intrinsic benefit and intrinsic pleasure that my employers found me and this role found me in the last year of my life has been an expressively fun, challenging.”
[00:30:00] Finding the match between interest and what the world needs.
“It's about what you can do plus what the world needs. And you, you can't neglect either of those things because it's a, it's a conversation, right? Your flow with the world, you have to be open to feedback from the world.”
“And that is the biggest conceptualization that I think is missing from Western culture is that requires vulnerability and an openness to feedback, but also an awareness to the synchronicities and coincidences that are going to show you that you're going in the right direction.”
“The way that I see my niche, which is still evolving. And I don't think I've mastered it, is sort of finding perennial concepts and relating them back to investing, you know, building this Trojan horse from rationality to spirituality.”
[00:35:00] Finding important ideas that recur across domains and selling research to hedge funds.
“You get 50 to a hundred emails every morning from your analyst team.
And then you have to call your clients and relay the most important insights from those 50 or a hundred emails, knowing that everyone else on the street is doing the same thing at the same time. So it has to be relevant to your clients. It has to be what the world needs, right? Like it is sort of weirdly it's coming to me now. It is kind of this Taoists combination, right? It has to be what they need and it has to be what you're interested in.”
“And then after the crisis I'd moved to sort of a more synthesis stage. Get all the ingredients that I've assembled from my career to date and from inhaling the internet. And I'm trying to synthesize them all into something that communicates something of reasonably lasting value.
Because if you're just talking about market moves that week, that's a massively commoditized piece of information that I'm not very good at it. So it's sort of leaning into what I felt I was good at, which was pattern recognition, but all pattern recognition is fundamentally creative.”
“The act of synthesis is fundamentally creative. You're bringing something new into the world that was not there before, because it's a completely new combination of ideas and the world will respond to that if it's useful.”
[00:39:00] Identifying high-ROI information.
“The best sales situation is when you're selling something, you know, is true, you know, your client needs and you know, will add value to them. Then it is the best job in the world because your conscious and your unconscious are aligned. The worst job in the world is when you have no alignment with what yourself. You know, the other person doesn't want it, you're completely out of integrity and it will eat your soul.”
“So when I heard the analyst speak and I knew what the analysts was saying was true or likely to be profitable or wildly different from what everyone else was saying in the market. I had enough reps that I could pick that up and communicate it. And I'm not saying it was right. I'm not even saying it was always true. It just has a higher return than other things.”
[00:42:00] Recognizing when someone is in resonance.
“If you lie there’s this momentary, microscopic dissonance either in your voice or in the way that you're behaving with other people. And by contrast, when someone is completely embodied, you can just hear it.”
“There's this crazy idea that when you're hearing a prophet or a shaman speak the truth to you, it snaps you back to that frequency, right?
It snaps you back to the truth rapidly and that can heal you. And that's something that Joseph Campbell talked about that took me years to understand, which was that myths were there to harmonize the mind and body, which could, you could see this as the left and right hemisphere.
And it's this really weird idea that I couldn't contextualize for a really, really long time, but it's basically this idea that if you, if you're told a story that reflects the outside world or reflects your own reality accurately, it brings you back into harmony with the outside world. And we can get stuck off in our heads in all these abstract concepts that have no bearing towards the truth. And we can tell ourselves stories about ourselves that aren't true at all. And it takes someone coming back to us and telling us the truth, however unpalatable that is, that will snap us back to that frequency.”
[00:47:00] Where to find mechanisms for truth.
“I think a lot of us do not have harmonious relationships between our heads and our heart. And often I think of the distance between our head and our heart as the mile of crap that Andy Dufresne has to swim through in the Shawshank redemption, it's all our traumas, all of our protections, all the things that prevent us from seeing the world clearly.
But every time I see like a massive debate. Like spring up around cancellation of people or misinformation or disinformation. All I think of is that this would not be a problem if most people would, were much more grounded in their own bodies and able to determine for themselves what they felt was true.”
[00:52:00] Finding aha moments.
“For me, the boundary period between waking and sleeping. So at night I had no productivity at all, but what I do is I now assemble the ingredients. I'm like, here are the things that I would like answers to.
And I think it was Edison who said, never go to sleep without a request to your unconscious. And then I'll wake up in the morning, often, incredibly annoying the earlier like 5:00 AM and have a bunch of solutions, all of which seem completely obvious at the same time. And so there are things that you can kind of program.”
“But the, the irony of slack and the Greeks called is Kronos time and Kairos time and Kronos time is moloch, which also, ironically is the other name for moloch in these traditions, Saturn, Kronos and Moloch, they've all been equivalently the same God, the God of time. And then there's Kairos time, which is sort of the inspiration time, which you just can't control when it comes. You can create the kind of circumstances where it shows up, but you can't force it to show up. Cause it just, it just doesn't play by the same rules.”
“And the thing that I think is, is most neglected in our circle and really is I think really quite important is the idea that nothing, nothing will emerge into a space that's full, nothing grows into a space, nothing. You know, if the womb is full, a baby will not grow into it. Right. But that space is often created by a breakage, by a vulnerability. And a lot of people who I talk, I tell about my story. They're like, wow, you lived through, you know, two years of constant suicidal ideation. You must be so resilient now. And I'm like, absolutely not. I am not resilient at all. I am much more vulnerable than I ever was and I feel the world much more keenly than I ever did.”
“And I think a big reason for my crisis was having a son, something I haven't contextualized. Right. But when you have a child, you make a bargain in that your life is going to be destroyed if that child, that child dies right. You, you, will, you will mourn that child with the same intensity with which he loved them. You create a spot of vulnerability in yourself that would actually ruin your life. Right. And that, that is the shadow side of the love that you feel for that person. And so like, when you think about the slack in your day, that slack has to include some kind of conception of vulnerability.”
[00:58:00] Vulnerability and authenticity on the internet.
[01:01:00] Dealing with envy (but poorly articulated). Opening yourself to feedback.
“When you're chasing something intrinsic, you'll never get bored of it because you're on the path. You'll never get bored and you'll get rewarded for it one way or another. But again, like it's the nuance that it has to be something that the world needs, right? Like if I was, if there were no constraints on my process, every article I wrote, I wrote would be like a million times more pretentious even than what I write now.”
[01:05:00] Finding role models, being discerning.
“That is again the same principle, which is that you never, ever, ever, ever worship the prophet. Right. Think about all the times that human has put themselves at the apex of a system and how utterly catastrophic it's been almost every single time.”
“Think about your, your own parents, right? You go through this stage of like unquestionable adulation. Then when you're a teenager, you're like, oh my God, they're the dumbest people in the world. And then you just learn to integrate the best and worst of them.”
[01:08:00] How does Tom think about his own mission?
“I woke up two days ago and realized what I wanted to do in my life. And I think this wonderful poem from David Whyte where talks about like the, the point where you meet the world is actually pretty small.
And most people get blinded by the fact that it's pretty large and they got an infinite number of options. But the thing that you can do, that's uniquely yours, that the world needs is actually a pretty small point. You just need to find it. And I say, just finding it's like the hardest thing in the world.”
“Because often it just, it involves destroying yourself to find it right. Oh, he's destroying the ego, right? Letting that unconscious charisma flow through, you often have to get the ego out of the way and it kills you. Right? At least that was certainly my experience. Right. What I want to do with my life is help people out of moloch into slack. Help people out of stuck places and into a different stage where they can get themselves out. Because I saw the wasted human potential. I saw from people at the top of their fitness landscape, just going around in infinite loops that couldn't get themselves out because they didn't know how to trust and trust their hearts effectively.”
“You actually realize that is sort of the meaning of life, which has helped help people find their way out of this kind of egoic, very abstracted form of existence into something where they can finally co-create and I believe that's the purpose of every human life. And in fact that is right-left-right. So right left right, certainly McGilchrist thinks that you take information in from the outside world on the right hemisphere. You cut it up into categories on the left, and then you place it back into its global context with the right hemisphere again. So he says, you listen to a piece of music, you learn the notes and then you play it creatively and intuitively that's literally how you learn anything. That's the definition of intuition. You take, you attend 3000 management meetings. You unconsciously work out where all the patterns are. And then you gain this intuitive ability to determine what's true when you're interacting with another person, but it's also in this sort of weird fractal sense, the trajectory of a human life that we go through this stage, where we're uncritically in the farmers' children, we're completely in the moment.”
[01:13:00] Leaving the local peak of a fitness landscape is scary as hell.
“What happens when you're at the top of the landscape, but as it did for me was your unconscious starts to give you signals. You want to get out, but because our culture disregards them. And because of the terror that involves, I started getting all these psychosomatic illnesses that were unsolvable, but then the reason why they were unsolvable was because I needed to actually move. Right. Like I needed to move away from the thing that was stressing me. What it was is often listening to a couple of things and reading a couple of things that, cause that tiny little mind fracture where you're like, ah, shit, that's true. And that's true and it's gonna, and it's gonna break something open and when you hear it, you follow it because you just know it's true.”
“The point of any organism is to get to the highest global peak. But what happens is you can get to the top of a smaller peak and then get stuck there repeating the same behavior. And so what you then have to do is go back down into a valley so that you can explore an adjacent and potentially higher peak. But the problem is you can tell is, is if it's moloch, that takes you up to the top of the peak, the evolution of cooperation that we understand as you know, nature red in tooth and claw.
What takes you back down is never going to be rationality, and it's never going to be competitive and competitiveness. It's never going to be anything that took you up to the top. It's going to have to be something radically different, which is why all turning points work irrational, and all or moves involve the sacrifice of something that was very important to you getting up there most often money, right? Or prestige or status. Right? All of the things that are holding you in a typically the stuff that got you up to the top.”
“You turn into sort of this unformed human being that, hates himself, and everyone hates with the dead soulless eyes. Or you sacrifice everything and take enormous risks and risks, but it actually doesn't work out, but to explore the adjacent possible, right. And to follow the voice that's telling you that it's time to move.”
“The thing about voices that is very interesting is the conceptualization from McGilchrist that the left hemisphere has language. And sexy language, right? Good syntax, really articulate words. And because those are the things that we use to manipulate the world, like a predator, the predators tools in the modern era are language, right? Because it gives us power which is really interesting. Conceptualization abstractions, give us power, abstractions of moloch. And you know, the bargain you make to moloch, who is the Canaanite god of child sacrifices, throw whatever you want on there, through whatever you value most onto the furnace and I will grant you power. And whatever you value most often is, your time, right? You will sit there in an office dying in return for your salary, right? And it, that literally is the sacrifice that you choose to make. But that voice often is very loud and incredibly rational and persuasive and articulate.”
“You have this conceptualization of the voice of conscience, which often is like a physical sensation because your right-hand spirit is also connected to your heart center and is connected to your body in a different way. And then you'll start to get signals from your body and this tiny little voice that nags at you being like you're in the wrong place, you're in the wrong place. It's very easy for the, for the voice, with a million times less information to be like, here are these incredibly well-rehearsed rationalizations for why you should, why you should not do that, which is another reason why these slack practices are useful, because anything that puts you in your body gives you a, just a higher probability of getting clear signals.”
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