The Seemingly Insignificant, Yellow, Transparent Lego


My “Holy Crud!” moment didn’t happen as I sat before my computer, with gritted teeth, spelunking through caverns of my mind for ideas. It didn’t happen for me in the midst of writing one of the many articles I’ve written, trying to find some kind of artistic niche in the over-populated world of psychological articles. It happened when I was trying to put together a Lego project for my son received for his birthday, and the instructions informed me that I neglected to add a crucial tiny, seemingly insignificant, yellow, transparent Lego.

“Holy Crud!” moments walk up on us when we least expect it, like a long lost lover we’ve never met before. “Where have you been all my life?” we ask when we eventually fall in love with them. Our romance doesn’t follow the format of a ’80’s romantic comedy, as we rarely fall in love with them on sight. Once we get to know them, through something as small and beautiful as a tiny, seemingly insignificant, yellow, transparent Lego, and they aid in modifying our personal philosophy, we develop an intimate relationship with them.

The difference between “Eureka!” moments and “Holy Crud!” arrives in moments in which we’re at a crossroads of ideas. If there are only two roads from which to choose, a “Eureka!” might provide a third road, whereas a “Holy Crud!” idea doesn’t provide a new road so much as it provides a new look to a worn path. We might think of this in terms of one of the old 1960’s overhead projector that we used in schools from the 60’s to the 90’s. Users of such projectors could place a transparent sheet over another to alter the projection on screen. The “Holy Crud!” moment places a new transparency over ideas we thought we thoroughly explored.

Our sixth grade teacher, a nun, asked the class what word we used when we were angry or frustrated. We sheepishly declined to answer aloud. When she asked us what word we used when we were excited. We sheepishly declined to answer. “You use foul language when you’re happy?” she asked. “What about when you’re curious or sad?” We all smiled at each other conspiratorially knowing that our lexicon was Not Safe for Nuns (NSFN). We took great pride in knowing all of the naughty words our teenage friends used, and we defined ourselves in our peer group by using them in context. I know I risk losing standing in the cool community by choosing a less explosive word, but in memory of my long since departed sixth grade teacher, I’ll stick with the NSFN word crud to prove my point.

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As the Philosophy of the Obvious article states, our Lego adventure began with us ripping the cellophane away and cracking open the little packages of pieces inside. The excitement to complete the project led us to ignore the systematic instructions that the company provides its customers. “We don’t need no stinking instructions!” I said to the enjoyment of my son. “A trained chimpanzee could figure this thing out. Right? Give me some!” we said slapping skin.

After we ripped the cellophane away then cracked open the little packages of pieces inside, we snapped the big blocks together. For those of us who aren’t great at building things, putting the first five to six big blocks together provides a sense of satisfaction. “It looks just like it does on the cover,” we say. When novices don’t follow the systematic instructions the Lego company provides its customers, we eventually encounter a problem. We encountered our problem about a fourth of the way through our project. One of our large constructs didn’t snap into another one quite right. It made no sense. It made so little sense that we had to drop the ego and consult the instructions. The instructions informed us that we would have to tear all of our hard work apart to insert a crucial tiny, seemingly insignificant, yellow, transparent Lego. In our frustration, we wondered why the Lego designer didn’t just include an extra little extension on the larger piece to render the little, yellow Lego unnecessary. 

After we complete the reassembly, and our frustration subsides, those of us with a mind’s eye so open to philosophical nuggets that we see philosophy where it probably does not exist consider the idea that there might be a philosophical component behind the Lego designer making the tiny, yellow piece so mandatory for completion.

In most real-world constructs, the little parts are as important as the big ones, and sometimes they’re more important. The spark plug might be one of the smallest parts on a car, for example, but if it’s not firing properly in a spark ignition system, proper combustion is not possible, and the process by which we achieve transportation doesn’t work. Perhaps, the Lego designers wanted their loyal customer base to recognize that some of the times, the seemingly insignificant is more relevant and more important, or as Heraclitus said, “The unapparent connection is more powerful than the apparent one.”  

“Life is filled with trivial examples,” Dennis Prager once wrote. “Most of life is not major moments.”

When developing a personal philosophy, most of us prefer to go it alone. We don’t want to listen to our parents, various other authority figures in our lives, or the proverbial instruction manuals of the way to live. “We don’t need no stinking instruction manuals.” We enjoy putting large concepts and constructs together to figure matters out, and we attempt to design our personal philosophy without the need for tiny, seemingly insignificant, yellow, transparent ideas. At some point, we realize we’ve made mistakes, but we won’t know how to fix them until we consult instruction manuals that detail the need to incorporate the transparent, yellow ideas to unlock larger, more confusing and debilitating complexities that inhibit us. After we reconstruct our project, we realize that that the crucial, unapparent connection we failed to make was so obvious that it was staring us in the face all along.

The philosophy of the tiny, seemingly insignificant, yellow, transparent Lego suggests that while big philosophical ideas and profound psychological thoughts often lead to big accolades, the philosophy of the obvious suggests that none of these advancements (whatever the scale) would be possible without the “Well, Duh!” or “I can’t believe you didn’t know that!” ideas that litter philosophy.

Once we learn philosophically obvious tenets and incorporate them into our life, we consider them so obvious that we convince ourselves that we knew them all along, or we can’t remember ever thinking otherwise. Yet, we lived a chunk of our lives without knowing anything about the tiny bricks in our foundation, and our mind somehow adjusted to those deficiencies.

How often do we subconsciously adjust to limitations or deficiencies? How many of us didn’t know we were colorblind, until some science teacher, in junior high, asked us to complete a colorblind test. If we failed it, and the science teacher told us that we were unable to distinguish the color red properly, we adjust to that reality going forward. The more interesting question is how did we adjust to that deficiency before? How often did we adjust to our inability to distinguish red for twelve years? What kind of adaptations did we make, in our daily life, to compensate for something about ourselves we didn’t know. How long do we some suffer through school before discovering that they are dyslexic? As one who is fortunate to have never suffered such deficiencies, I think it might blow my mind to hear such a diagnoses after suffering in the dark for so long.  

The mind-blowing reactions I’ve heard to people who learn of such a diagnosis, is that they don’t have much of a reaction. They say things like, “It made sense that the reason I was having trouble reading … or the reason I couldn’t match my clothes well … was because of a deficiency.” Most such sufferers don’t think about all the struggles they’ve endured, and how learning the diagnosis would’ve made their lives easier if they learned it earlier. Most don’t consider the information earth shattering, they just move onto the next phase of life that involves them approaching such matters with the diagnosis in mind. How many adjustments do we make prior to finding the tiny, seemingly insignificant, yellow, transparent blocks of information we learn. We just adjust, adapt, and move on. “Nothing to see here folks, just a fella doing what he does.”

Regardless how we arrive at this place, or exit it, we gradually move to the philosophy of the obvious. It can take a while to uncover what we’re trying to write about in an article, and on a website, but some of us uncovered our whole modus operandi (M.O.), our raison de’etre while trying to do something as relatively insignificant as cobbling a bunch of Legos together. This otherwise trivial experience in my life proved an embarrassing, humbling, and illuminating experience that changed the scope of this website.  

The early posts on Rilaly.com began as a warehouse of the weird. We were weird for the sake of being weird, as we sought to shock ourselves out of our comfort zone into new ideas. After a couple posts, we found the immediate properties such pursuits offer aren’t as rewarding as we initially thought they might be. We were weird for the sake of being weird, and we found that we were able to dismiss those ideas as frivolous. “He’s just weird, nothing to see here!” We had greater goals of discovery that we couldn’t see, and we loathed it that we were able to dismiss our ideas so easily. Our secondary goal was to be so unfunny that we might be funny, but our greater goal was to discover our deep thoughts as they lead to greater discovery. This led us to the notion that while a shock to the system might move us from our comfort zone temporarily, a provocative thought might modify our thoughts on a matter. To make such a progression, we initially considered it natural to move to big philosophical concepts and profound philosophical constructs, but as the philosophy of the tiny, seemingly insignificant, yellow, transparent Lego taught me, some of the times it requires a move down the scale to the philosophy of the obvious.  

If I Could Just Have a Moment


I was sitting at an ice cream parlor having a moment with my Brother and his two boys. I remembered how my Brother and I sat at this very ice cream shop with our Dad when we were the boys’ age.  I remembered how special those moments were to me at the time. My Dad had just passed at that point, so my memory may have been a little romanticized, but I didn’t care at that moment. I just enjoyed the tranquil moment for what it was, and what it used to be for us. I wanted this to be a moment for me and my Brother, but I also wanted this to be a moment that the boys would look back on with the same fondness I had. I wanted this moment to be as beautiful as the moments I had in the past, so they could be moments we looked back on in the future.

If we were all in a science fiction movie, and I had the ability to transport in time, I may have shut down the system with all of the simultaneous time leaps I was working through. The rapid leaps through time may have combined with all of the memories to cause a foreign substance to congeal in my brain until an embolism set off warning signals in the programmers’ algorithm, and forced them take me off the grid for my well-being.

false memoryWe are always manufacturing memories for good and evil in the past, present and future. We recall a time when Missy McNasty said something awful to us.  We remember how that comment ruined a future moment we had with Patty Pleasantpants, and how that could’ve been a beautiful moment the two of us shared, frolicking through the aftermath of used cups and popcorn boxes of a minor league hockey match. Missy wouldn’t allow us to enjoy that moment with her previous comment. It just ruined the mood for us, and it ruined that moment. We wish we could go back in the past and tell Missy what an equally awful person she was, so the next time we frolic with Patty we can laugh, and be happy, and have a great and memorable moment. Plus, we think if we could start confronting Missy types more often, we could be happier people in general.

The idea that we consult our memory for mood is a construct that we devise for ourselves in the present. We normally love frolicking through used cups and popcorn boxes of a minor league hockey match, but for some reason we can’t enjoy that moment in time. We know that we shouldn’t let Missy’s comments get to us like we do, but we can’t help it. We can’t enjoy happy moments when we decide that we’re going to be miserable.

You read that correctly, we decide to be miserable and happy based upon the memories we decide to construct at the time.  If we decide were going to be happy today, we will construct good memories that allow us to be happy. If we decide that we’re going to be in a bad mood today, regardless how much fun we’re having, we’ll construct the bad memories that we need to create to support the bad mood we’ve decided to be in.  We select memories that we’re going to construct. It’s a tough concept to grasp, and we normally use the term “selective memory” as a pejorative to describe someone that puts everyone else in a bad light while casting themselves in a favorable light, but if recent findings in psychology are correct, we all have selective memory.

In the paragraph above, I originally used the word ‘consult’ more often than I should’ve when writing about how we select memories, for it’s an incorrect term to describe how we remember. When we remember we don’t consult a memory bank, so much as we construct one…on the fly…regardless of the moment we’re in. We’re in total control of what we think, regardless what we think.

The incorrect word ‘consult’ also gives the image of one going to a video vault to find a specific memory, or going to a file on a hard drive. Memory is selective in a sense, but it is a selective in the sense that we reconstruct memory rather than reproduce it.  At the hockey match, we see someone who is wearing a David Bowie T-shirt, this reminds us of Missy McNasty, the David Bowie fan.  We can’t help but think about the awful thing she said to us, and we’re in a bad mood.  You were not in control of that memory, because it was right there in front of us.  To this degree, you’re not in charge of what triggers memory, but you are in total control of the construction team of your brain that puts the memory together.

In the book, You are Not so Smart David McRaney gives the analogy that memories are equivalent to a bucket full of Legos. We select the individual pieces from the bucket to create the product that we want to create at any given moment. We decide to locate the individual Lego pieces we want to create a memory that provides us either satisfaction or sorrow, depending on the mood we want to be in at any given moment.

This isn’t to say that all memories are incorrect, but they can be influenced. If memories were files from a hard drive that we simply had to locate, we would never be incorrect once we located them. If memories were videos from a video vault, we couldn’t enhance a memory to be happy and undress a memory to be sad. When we construct the same memory two different ways, depending on our mood, it should be obvious to us that we’re constructing these memories on the fly, but we usually qualify our minor errors by saying, “Well, that’s just how I remember it.”

How many of us have heard a friend recount a moment we’ve shared with them, and those memories run contrary to how we remember them? How many of us have believed that that friend was lying? “He knows how it happened,” we tell a third party. “He just knows that how it really happened makes him look like a fool.” How many of us have confronted that friend, only to find that they were genuinely shocked at the manner in which we remember things? It happens all the time, and some of the times they’re not purposely lying. They’ve just constructed their memory to keep them happy in their world. It may be delusional, but it happens to us more often than we might think.

Talking heads often speak of a narrative that a politician creates for the voters. The narrative that the politician creates is the story of what happened as they see it, or as they want you to see it.  The narrative usually contains a grain of truth to it, for if it didn’t we would locate all the Lego pieces in our bucket that refutes everything the politician said. A smart politician, with a smart team of advisers and speech writers, will assemble a narrative, that has just enough truth to get us nodding our heads in agreement with what they’ve done in the past. They will then add a wrinkle to the narrative that enhances our memory and in doing so they add a memory to our Lego bucket when it comes time to vote. They will then repeat that enhanced narrative so often that it creates a construct in our brain that is almost impossible to defeat by those who remember things differently. With politicians, and their narratives, we all have selective memories. If it is a politician that we favor, we decide to remember the past in the light the politician provides, but if don’t favor them we may construct a memory that runs counter to everything the politician tries to tell us. As McRaney says throughout his book, we’re not as smart as we think we are when it comes to our memory.  Memories can be influenced, manipulated, refuted, and changed entirely.

I couldn’t get over what a pleasant day I was having at that ice cream parlor with my Brother and his boys. I had all my memory constructs lined up in a fashion that made me happy.  If I had died right then and there, it would’ve taken a coroner a week to pry the smile off my face. I remembered laughing with my Brother and my Dad, as I laughed with my Brother and his boys. I remembered a sense of being rewarded for being good when I was eating ice cream as a boy. I remembered how long it took my Brother to finish his ice cream cone and how that started a cavalcade of jokes about how long it took my Brother to complete anything. The day was shaping up to be a memorable one that I thought I could call upon if I was ever feeling down, when one of the kids started to act up.

He started screaming for no reason. He started rough housing with his younger brother, he started disobeying his Dad and talking back.  He started screaming for more ice cream, and he did anything and everything he could to be unruly. I would’ve never done such a thing. My Dad would’ve tanned my hide. Especially in public, I thought. I would’ve been more respectful to those around me, I thought. How dare he ruin this perfect moment was my first thought.  He’s ruined our moment, my moment, and I was angry at him for that.

Until, I started taking a more realistic look at my past. I started to remember that I was just as unruly as my nephew at his age, in this very same ice cream parlor. I remembered being bored, just sitting there, while the adults tried enjoy a moment of tranquility. My juvenile mind had been racing at a hundred miles an hour trying to create excitement for myself, and I wanted more ice cream, and I started rough housing with my younger brother just to make something happen. When I got in trouble for doing it, I started to mouth off, until a screaming match ensued, and my Dad marched us out of the place angrily. I ruined that moment, just like my nephew ruined this moment.

I was no different than him at his age. We both suffered from the oldest boy syndrome of seeking attention by selfishly trying to entertain ourselves by being naughty and unruly during the slow moments, with no respect for the others around us who are trying to enjoy a moment of tranquility at an ice cream parlor. Prior to my nephew’s outburst, I had been constructing a narrative of the pleasant moments of my life that were, in retrospect, not as pleasant as I wanted to remember them being.