I'm finally getting around to reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. I'm fascinated by the discussion of how Jobs developed what became known as the Reality Distortion Field. Apparently Jobs had a lifelong battle with reality and won.

One way to look at Jobs' life is that he was a liar and a con man with a gift for design. According to Isaacson's reporting, Jobs had no love for truth. Jobs learned how to lie, cajole, manipulate, and charm until people believed whatever he wanted them to believe. By all accounts, Jobs' mixture of cruel and unsavory skills caused people to produce seemingly impossible results.

That's one way to interpret events. But it's not the only interpretation. According to Isaacson's book, Jobs spent years trying to understand the nature of reality before he started bending it. Jobs dropped a lot of acid, travelled to India, followed gurus, became a fruitarian, meditated, and studied religion. He was clearly looking for something. What if he found it?

Jobs' spiritual journey probably led him to believe reality is subjective - more like a complicated set of ideas than a huge clump of matter. I've never tried acid, but from what I hear, it changes your view of reality forever. Before you take acid, a rock is just a rock. After acid, a rock is sometimes a rock, and other times it's just one possibility. When you consider all of Jobs' spiritual experiences, it's fair to assume he had an open mind about the nature of reality.

For context, keep in mind that physicists also have some whacky ideas about the nature of reality. Some scientists believe we are experiencing just one of many universes. Others question the nature of time. Einstein showed us that reality is different for observers traveling at different speeds. And in the quantum world, reality is smeared across probabilities.

Maybe it's simplistic to say Jobs was a liar and a con man. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he found the user interface for reality, and lying is simply one of the levers. We know Jobs spent years trying to find the keys to reality's engine. Maybe he found them.

The biggest head-scratcher about Jobs' career is how many times he transformed entire industries: computers, phones, music, animation, and more. And each success happened with a different mix of Apple employees. Do you believe all of that success was luck, or perhaps luck plus extraordinary business skill? Or is it possible something else was happening?

I don't believe in magic. But I can't rule out the possibility that reality has a user interface. Perhaps the Reality Distortion Field was exactly what it looked like.

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Apr 24, 2012
Scott, I am not sure Steve Job had a lifelong battle with reality and won, as he ultimately lost the "reality distortion" battle with the of cancer after believing he could cure himself without surgery or conventional treatments for nine months after being diagnosed. The result may have been the same from conventional cancer treatment, but waiting nine months probably contributed to his shortened life.
Apr 20, 2012
Personally, I think Steve Jobs had AIDS. We know he used a lot of drugs, many of which were the injected kind, "putting him in one of the risk groups for the disease." He looked like one of HIV's victims in his later years, "although this could also be the chemo." He had 2 types of cancer, both of which are statistically more likely to occur in HIV positive people, but are uncommon on their own, and rarer in combination. We know he was in India for a while, and who knows what he could have encountered there. We know he experimented with a wide variety of unusual diets, something that people who are medically desperate do, a lot. Bottom line, he was in a HIV risk group to begin with, and he showed several symptoms of the disease. Think about it.
Apr 20, 2012
"What?!? You've never dropped acid? I would have thought differently. It makes me wonder what the whole Scott Adams / Dilbert thing would have evolved into had you dropped a few times. I read your blog and strips regularly. It's quite amazing. All that, on a stock brain. Who would have ever thought."

He might just not be saying to be fair...I wouldn't be surprised, though I am not sure why he'd care at this point.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 20, 2012

I'm back like a bad penny. Blame it on the Friday.

Just one more thought to add...

There is an implicit risk involved in stereotyping human beings - may they be a celebrity, a protagonist or a creator. If there is a deception, it will be revealed at some point of time. The next generation of the deceivers have to face the consequences.

The deceit may not be purposefully calculated as was the case in the days of aristocratic empires or the post-holocaust rhetoric. It is more often the lack of righteousness or similar virtues that are hijacked by religion.

For instance, in the case of jobless steve, one may churn out a thousand peripheral influences prevailing around him, all for the simple want of just one right word that can describe his personality correctly.

Egotistic, dictatorial, narcissistic, tyrant, liar, conman, cheat, godless American trader, ethnic despot, hypocrite, coward, fraud, trickster... include a few positives as well... a visionary leader, an objectivist, a pathfinder, a trail blazer, a vanguard, an indiscriminate seraphic...

A thousand biographies may not define the person correctly, yet sometimes a single word may do... who knows... after all that's what humans are about...

Steve Jobs is dead... lets move on...

Apr 20, 2012
A lot of Jobs' success is absolutely luck. For example, he was lucky to be raised in Silicon Valley down the road from a genius like Steve Wozniak. He was lucky that the previous regime (before his 2nd stint) hired a genius like Jony Ive (the guy REALLY responsible for many of the great designs we've seen).

But that doesn't feel *quite* right either.

It was Steve Jobs who pushed Wozniak to create Apple. It was Steve Jobs who gave Jony Ive the freedom to do as he pleased (even if he publicaly took credit for all of Ive's work).

Jobs was at least somewhat of a sociopath. But then, aren't many great leaders somewhat sociopathic? I think you've said yourself that "leadership" is a form of evil. Oftentimes I find myself agreeing with that.
Apr 20, 2012
At the time of his death Steve Jobs was an immense success so now people are trying to explain his success.
If his products had bombed, the very qualities that his success is attributed to would be held responsible for his failure.

Let me clarify that by stating the above, I do not attribute his success simply to luck. In a world that is largely trending towards the lowest common level in everything, it is heart-warming to learn of a person who succeeded by trying to do things best.
Apr 20, 2012
I mostly agree with DNA...

I think of steve jobs as a master manipulator of western thought and ideology. He obviously knew his audience.

I also believe His study of buddhism and drug usage was nothing but a marketing ploy to create mysticism to market his product, and ego to a whole bunch drug using, buddhist wannabe brand monkeys.

Steve jobs almost become some sort of techno jesus out here in the west.

Bad mouth apple products and you may be burned at the stake.
Apr 19, 2012
I've read the disturbingly voyeuristic biography of Jobs. After reading it I came up with a theory as to why Jobs had so much success. Jobs had two things: taste and sense. That's almost the entire formula. If you think about it, very few people in the world have taste or sense. Usually artists have taste but no sense; those in business usually have sense but no taste. Jobs combined both. Add drive, a manic perfectionism, and an almost sociopathic disregard for other people's emotions and you have the keys to Jobs success.
Apr 19, 2012
Psychedelics are pretty amazing. I've never used acid, but I've used Mushrooms a few times which are supposedly the same, but have less "edge" to them -- far more pleasant -- and are much easier to acquire. I know a lot of other people who have used them and sadly, our experiences are quite different so you can't really experience the same thing as someone else. It grossly exaggerates the abstractions through which you see the world. Ever since the first time, I could "draw out" some of the abstractions in things I see and hear if I concentrate on something, while letting myself trance out a bit. It's been a long time (I'm a father, now), but I don't regret it at all. One of the handful of truly defining experiences in my life -- along with scuba diving, sky diving, and some other, less controllable events.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2012
A management consultant once explained to our R&D group that.....a rational person adapt to reality, while an irrational person expect reality to adapt to them. Therefore, all progress is caused by irrational people.
Apr 19, 2012
@gr8thands - Interesting story. I guess Ronald Reagan's reality distortion field was unable to penetrate Sam Donaldson's Toupee.
Apr 19, 2012
Hey, Scott, no time right now to completely answer the post. But a quick question for you: yesterday's Dilbert, concerning the Quantum Computer. Did the timing have anything to do with the just-announced reporting of the possible observance of the Majorana fermion? Just curious. Don't answer if you're too busy.

[The timing is not a coincidence. My comic caused the observance of the Majorana fermion just as I knew it would. -- Scott]
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2012
He had three things
1) a gift for knowing how things should be (a great design sense where he knew what reality could be)
2) strong competitive drive
3) luck that he was born when and where he was (if he was born 20 years later or in North Korea we wouldn't be talking about him)

His early success gave him the power to influence later projects when he had full control. Rarely does all this come together in a single person.
Apr 19, 2012
The irony of your observation is this: People use the facts they know of Jobs' life to confirm the truth of Jobs being a bully and reality denying liar, but themselves deny the facts of his transformative effect on the reality of numerous industries. Which was, after all, him denying the 'reality' of what those industries were before he got there...
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2012
So let me get this straight: the author of Dilbert, which features the Pointy-Haired Boss, a sociopathic jerk with no redeeming qualities who is shown as clearly demotivating and demoralizing to his staff, is extolling the virtues of Steve Jobs, a sociopathic jerk whose only redeeming quality was being a smart guy?

I can't see how that environment could possibly be anywhere worth working, even if it did get results. Then again, I own no Apple products on general principle. I don't want to fight with whatever DRM and memory-hogging you have to go through for iTunes, and I find Apple products completely and utterly counter-intuitive and infuriating to use whenever I borrow someone's -- I can't fathom why they think they're so awesome. There might be some nice features (being able to get local traffic/maps) but my experiences with their stuff have all been negative, whereas I've always done well with anything on a PC.

The difference between other products and Apple is the difference between reading classic literature like War and Peace, and ordering an non-customizable hamburger off a picture-menu. I want control of my experiences, not Apple's NoSpeak (it's like 1984's NewSpeak, except they eliminate vocabulary altogether).

Reality will always be cold, hard reality. We may experience it differently, but the physical properties of the universe don't discriminate.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2012
!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$ is a cuss word? I-d-e-n-t-i-t-i-e-s. Can you exempt me from that filtering? I never use vulgar slang.

All I'd said was the spirit and reality are not relative i-d-e-n-t-i-t-i-e-s.

+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2012

I write this as a native Indian with an ancestral lineage going back to 2500 BC. So please bear with my indulgence in this comment. I'll write in parts for clarity. (Besides, its a weekend here, Thursday and Friday in the Middle East, and I have two and a half days to go back to my reality.)


Presently, I belong to those from my generation who heard of Steve Jobs for the first time when the media splashed the news of his death on the front page. The only half eaten apples I knew till then are those that grow naturally in the wild in the dense forests of the Himalayan range.

My first reaction, when I heard the news, was: "Steve Who? Sounds like a character from the Bible."


I fail to understand the connect between his success and the few years he spent among buddhists on the north-eastern fringe of India. (And, trust me, Buddhist monks do not do drugs. They don't need to. The himalayas are full of herbs that can keep you sane without messing with your anatomy)

What beats me is the implied logic in your post. Steve Jobs lived 90% of his span in America and less than 10% in India. Yet one gets the impression from your post that his days in India turned him from an honest American drug addict to an Indian con man. That's too far fetched by any standards. Perhaps the reality has got distorted in your narration.


I wonder why theories in quantum mechanics are quoted along with Einstein. It was Max Planck, Neils Bohr and other genuises who discovered and worked on it. The uncertainty principle, which is often flouted as the bane of quantum mechanics, was actually the brain child of Karl Werner Heisenberg.

Einstein barely scratched the surface of Quantum Theory. He was more occupied by the macro phenomena in natural philosophy.

But that's a minor point. You have the humorist's license to promote what meets your eye. Reality is not always relative, but whatever it is on its dynamic path can be distorted by the witness of a moment.


Finally, a word about spiritual integrity.

Lets keep religion out of this.

Religion has failed so bad in its function, it is now time to release spirituality from its custody.

Spiritual strength of a person is useful while defining reality. The dynamic nature of reality is understood better by the stillness of the spirit. This relationship works best when one does not colonise the other.

Yet it's only a relationship; one does not depend on the other for existence. They are not relative !$%*!$%*!$%

The perception of reality can become distorted when an observation is made at an irretrievable moment of time. It does not mean that a field exists.

I believe there is no user interface between the spirit and reality.


But, hey, thats only me. An Indian buried in 4500 years of history.

I hope I am wrong on all accounts. I'd rather participate and witness new history in creation than live in the past. Steve Jobs can go recite the Bible. God bless his tormented soul.



+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2012
I love the parallel you draw between Jobs' reality distortion field and LSD.

Like you observed in a recent cartoon, I wonder if others will follow in Jobs' footsteps and try LSD, just as they have tried his management styles.

The thing in common between his management style and his use of LSD is that both take a certain kind of person to implement properly. I'm imagining hordes of incompetent middle managers one bad trip away from business failure.

As for you, I recommend you try the acid. It may indeed change your notion of reality. I'm surprised you haven't already, frankly, and I wonder if that statement was a distortion of reality in itself!

[That's an interesting theory. -- Scott]
Apr 19, 2012
dgb100: "I'm still amazed he allowed iTunes to go PC, but I guess money really is the most powerful motivator. "

90% of people with PCs use something other than mac. I'm sure a ton of iPod users never got a mac. iTunes was a good idea, but it had to be able to remain competitive in the market. So I'd file this one under survival. Plus look at it this way: people who would have never used mac before now are using apple devices and services. That alone was great business foothold. mp3's are not apple only formats so they'd be dumb to limit the sales of those goods to a niche group within the PC market.

As an aside, I think Apple's next two big steps as a company will happen in the next few years. First they are going to try and do some of the things Jobs left them before he died. Will they be able to pull off those products well enough without his reality distortion field in effect. The test after that will be what new vision will they embrace once they run out of his ideas. I think those two things will be able to attest to his ideas and abilities as well as the culture he was able to create and leave behind.

It'll be interesting to see the path Apple 4.0 takes.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2012
Let's see, Scott. I think hypnotherapy has been able to distort time as one of the standard perception tricks. Am I touching a nerve yet? I mean, you of all people should clearly know a bit
about the reality of 'reality', eh?
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