The Story that Changes The World


Tom Morgan is not only one of the smartest voices I’ve come across in many years, but more importantly he is also one of the most hopeful. Tom spent the last 20 years working in markets on Wall Street and the City of London, and he just co-founded The Leading Edge, a media platform and applied learning network that “focuses on building more accurate maps of reality for effective people”. Cool! Tom also writes an excellent substack called What’s Important? where you can read this note and many others. You can contact Tom at [email protected] and on Twitter he’s @tomowenmorgan

Tom will be a featured speaker at this year’s Epsilon Connect, and he kindly agreed to write this note to introduce himself and his ideas to the Epsilon Theory Pack!

As with all of our guest contributors, Tom’s post may not represent the views of Epsilon Theory or Second Foundation Partners, and should not be construed as advice to purchase or sell any security.



I’m excited to attend Epsilon Connect this year. I wanted to introduce myself to Ben Hunt’s audience first.

I’ve spent the last twenty years on Wall Street and in the City of London. For the last ten of those years I’ve been exploring meaningful ideas within a financial markets context. I have recently co-founded a new media platform and community called The Leading Edge. The core goal of all our content is to answer three questions:

Where are our maps of reality incomplete, what needs to be added, and how will we act differently as a result?

Like Ben and the team at Epsilon Theory, I am obsessed with narratives. I don’t mean the false fantasies excreted by fraudster raccoons, but what we would now call “myths.”

We humans have watched each other succeed and fail over hundreds of thousands of years. We encoded the key patterns and processes in narratives. This is why the study of myth is the ultimate information alpha.

The great mythologist Joseph Campbell noticed that one story was so ubiquitous across time and culture he called it the “monomyth” or the Hero’s Journey. This legend remains a dominant subtext of our most popular movies and TV shows. It’s the precise structure of eleven of the top fifteen highest grossing movies ever. The multibillion dollar Marvel, Pixar, Disney, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Avatar franchises are overwhelmingly founded on this distinctive narrative arc.

The insight that blew me away, thanks to the remarkable work of Brett Andersen,[1] is that the monomyth reflects the universal process of a paradigm shift, or phase change, in any complex adaptive system. It applies equally to our societies as it does ourselves. This means if you can identify where you are on the map, you can anticipate the future.

The structure of the phase-change narrative is simple and precise. An incomplete model encounters an anomaly. The flaws in the model create dissonance, which eventually breaks the existing stale frame. The model then incorporates the anomaly and emerges in a more complete and complex form.



Thea Cooke has also represented this narrative in a spiral structure.



The best modern example of this narrative arc that most readers have probably seen is the 1999 movie The Matrix. It sticks pretty closely to Campbell’s model, but it also describes the direction of our current evolution of consciousness. 

I’ll discuss the core stages: stasis, the call to adventure, refusal of the call, crisis, crossing the threshold, encounter with the shadow self, death and rebirth and return with the boon.


Stasis

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”

– Morpheus

[Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) starts the movie as a bored cubicle monkey in a dead-end job (stasis). But he is sure there’s something wrong with the world, and that dissonance leads him to seek out answers].

For the last 3 years I’ve been primarily paid to find the most interesting people in the world for wealthy and powerful people. Gun to my head, Dr. Iain McGilchrist is that person right now. He wrote a book in 2009 called “The Master and his Emissary” which gave me a completely new understanding of the world. And he followed it up with a book called “The Matter with Things” in 2021, which is the most interesting book I’ve ever read.

McGilchrist’s focus is on the two hemispheres of the brain. The differences between brain hemispheres feels like a topic that’s been around for decades, but has also been broadly misunderstood. Pop psychology claims that one side of your brain is creative and one side is mathematical, but the fact is that both sides of our brains can do pretty much the same things. However, McGilchrist’s point with regards to the scientific rebuttals is that, just because both sides can do roughly the same thing, doesn’t mean the way they do them isn’t very important.

When applied to humans, the brain’s left hemisphere is narrowly-focused. It uses language, it is linear, and it is logical. In stark contrast, the brain’s right hemisphere sees the whole picture. But it has very little use of language. It is emotional and intuitive.

McGilchrist’s diagnosis is that the world is imbalanced towards the brain’s left hemisphere.

The nature of the left hemisphere is best described in one word: “disconnected.” With its very narrow focus, the left hemisphere deals in conceptual thought. It is highly verbal and abstracted from the world. As a result, we have created disconnected digital worlds in the metaverse, social media and video games. This draws us even further into our heads, away from our environment, our bodies, and each other. And frankly, when I look at the world and its various problems, I can see almost no aspect of our unfolding global “metacrisis” that isn’t being caused, in some part, by disconnection.

Because the left hemisphere is disconnected from the world, it deals in single points of control. This means it’s prone to make what Nassim Taleb calls “naive interventions.” My favorite example of this is Chairman Mao’s “Smash Sparrows” campaign. He instructed the Chinese population to kill the sparrows that were eating grain reserves. They largely succeeded, but it contributed to a locust infestation that was so severe it contributed to a famine that killed fifty million people. It’s the worst man-made disaster in human history. And it was all because we changed one variable in a complex system without understanding how it impacted the whole. Whether it’s single-minded pursuit of profitability, engagement or growth at all costs, this is a mistake we just can’t stop making.

Moreover, if you experimentally suppress the brain’s left hemisphere for ten to fifteen minutes, people start to see things they would ordinarily see as dead as alive. So the sun appears to be going across the sky giving you energy. The world becomes more animate. But if you experimentally suppress the brain’s right hemisphere for ten to fifteen minutes, people start to see living things as dead. So other human beings become like zombies, or machinery, or furniture. This kind of psychopathic mentality that sees other humans as mere pieces of meat to be dissected and manipulated is characteristic of the very worst parts of the Western materialist mindset.

If we’re currently imbalanced towards the left hemisphere, the implication is that the world is both more alive, and we are more connected to it, than we typically think.

The unconscious recognition that our current state of disconnection is unusual is driving a personal and societal dissonance.


The Call to Adventure

[A mysterious message on Neo’s computer tells him to “follow the white rabbit.” A woman with a white rabbit tattooed on her shoulder knocks at his door. He follows his curiosity (call to adventure). Trinity tells him about The Matrix].

If the nature of the left hemisphere is disconnection, what are we disconnected from?

If there’s one concept I want to amplify, it’s the idea of ATTRACTORS. These are forces that influence the parts of complex systems. I believe curiosity is an attractor. I recently gave a short 5 minute speech on this topic at the Sohn Investment Conference which went mildly viral.[2]

We use the word curiosity all the time but I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about what it actually means. The dictionary definition is “a strong desire to know or learn something,” and, if you reflect on that, it’s a pretty disappointing definition because it doesn’t really tell you anything. It doesn’t tell you where the strong desire comes from and it doesn’t tell you how you pick the “something” your curiosity is directed towards.

So, the question I would ask, and I’d ask you to really sit and try and answer it:

Can you force yourself to be interested in something?

Now, if I told you you had to spend the rest of your life as an actuary, how would you feel about that? You could force yourself to do it, but could you force yourself to be passionate about it? Think for a moment about the things you enjoy and the things that you don’t enjoy. How would you feel about a wine tasting, watching a five-day cricket test match or all 10 seasons of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey“?

We are clearly more interested in some things than others and we don’t have full control of that spectrum.

Our curiosity is the mysterious call to adventure that leads us out of a stale environment.


Refusal, Crisis and Crossing the Threshold

[At first, Neo balks at the implausibility of Trinity’s explanation and returns to his boring job (refusal of the call). But the agents of the Matrix find and interrogate him (crisis). This leads him to the mentor Morpheus who offers him a binary choice of the red and blue pills (crossing the threshold)].

Curiosity is a right hemispheric impulse. It connects you to the world. The left hemisphere can denigrate the contributions of the right. Particularly when they’re nonverbal, seemingly-illogical and emotional. The felt-sense that we need to follow our curiosity is rarely sufficient to motivate significant life changes. Very few people quit their jobs on faith alone.

This is the refusal of the call.

But cutting-edge science is increasingly supporting the idea of curiosity as an evolutionary attractor. It turns out that our previous understanding of evolution as this Darwinist dog-eat-dog arms race isn’t entirely complete. Recent advances actually show that evolution trends towards complexity. And I think a quick glance outside your window makes this relatively intuitive. We’ve gone from rocks to plants to humans to the Internet. Our environment is getting more complex at an exponential rate.

But we also have to step back for a second and define what complexity means. It’s actually a little bit difficult to get your head around because it almost seems like a paradox.

Something that is complex has very differentiated parts that are also very integrated into the whole.

What does that mean?

An undifferentiated economy would be a country that just exports copper: very strong when the copper market is strong, very weak when the copper market is weak. If an economy isn’t integrated, then you would have something like an emerging market bazaar where you have thousands of different businesses none of which are really working together. An economy that is both differentiated and integrated produces the supply chain miracle of modern capitalism, where diverse businesses work together seamlessly.

I think the best and most intuitive example of complexity is us. If you weren’t differentiated, you’d all be made up of identical cells: you’re a slime mold. And if you were not integrated, all your different organs and bones and skin would just be a slippery sludge on the floor. The fact is that we are composed of an incomprehensibly large number of differentiated parts that all somehow work together to make a complex and coherent whole.

Now, the thing about forces of evolution is that for them to act on us, we have to experience them somehow.

The systems theorist Ervin Laszlo calls this the “Holotropic Attractor.” Which is a bit wordy, but it just means a hidden force that drives us towards greater complexity and wholeness. He argues that, in humans, “this attractor manifests as instinct, intuition, or what might be described as subtle spiritual insight.”[3]

The concept of the holotropic attractor solves a fundamental evolutionary problem we rarely think about. The world is “combinatorially explosive,” which means there are too many choices and too little time. What we are attracted to narrows our list of potential options. Think about your romantic partner; you are attracted to them and they are attracted back to you. That’s intuitively easy for us to understand, but I think you also have to apply it to information: that there are certain kinds of information and certain kinds of occupations, perhaps, that we are better fitted to than others. Appropriately, Joseph Campbell also understood this. Perhaps his most famous quote is:

“Follow your bliss [differentiation] and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be [integration].”

Joseph Campbell

That latter half, integration, is very hard for the left hemisphere to grasp. Your niche needs to love you back: curiosity is a relational force. It’s something that we feel somatically. It is a two-way relationship that we have with our environment. This means that you have to really pay close attention to environmental feedback, particularly things like synchronicities — meaningful coincidences that seem to accelerate when you’re on the right path. The left hemisphere says there’s no such thing, the right hemisphere knows them when it feels them, particularly a cluster. I would go so far as to argue that synchronicities are the primary indicator of successful integration into your environment. 

The harsh fact of evolution is that it abhors stasis. If we reject our own evolution the typical result is suffering, and soon metaphorical or literal death. Refusal of the call ends in crisis. We all know people who cannot change, so they numb the call with distractions. It seems like this is where we are as a culture, too, with our heads buried in our phones as the gyre widens and the ravine approaches.

Sooner or later, we will all have a choice to make. That choice is whether we make ourselves open to the influence of attractors and surrender some egoic willpower to them.


Encounter with the Shadow Self, Death and Rebirth

[Neo’s adversary Agent Smith is an undifferentiated man in a black suit with a generic name. He represents conformity and a lack of differentiation. He is a man who is “stuck in the machine” rather than exploring his own individual evolution. Neo is shot dead by Agent Smith. After his death, Trinity kisses him and he is revived. This is the exact moment he transforms from Neo to “The One.”]

The left hemisphere can inhibit your evolution through disconnection. It blocks your felt-sense, your feeling of bliss when you’re pursuing differentiation, and it ignores external feedback. This leads to you being undifferentiated: you do the same thing as everyone else. But you’re also not integrated: you feel disconnected from life.

Our left hemisphere has many of the characteristics of a dictator. It seeks power and control at the price of life. Its relationship is fundamentally competitive with the right. It also lies and confabulates to protect its own control. Stroke victims who get their right hemispheres knocked-out will often flatly deny their own paralysis, claiming their limp arms belong to the man in the next bed.

The left hemisphere will never be able to anticipate its own decline. It’s why all of the articles produced by left-hemispheric industries like tech and finance read the same. It’s endless reductive diagnosis, few solutions and scarcely any discussion of consciousness at all. They can reduce the trees down to splinters and still miss the forest. This is because there’s one specific point beyond which many intellectuals simply won’t go. The more rationalist someone is, the harder it is for them to consider that there may be an intelligence to our environment that we can enter into relationship with. The disconnected limitations of our culture and neurology mean it is our mindset itself that’s the primary obstacle.

After years of talking about these topics, I have found the concept of “intelligent” attractors is always the greatest taboo. This is because it’s the anomaly that breaks our stale paradigm.

Why do we see a shot of Neo’s heart stop and restart at the climax (“apotheosis”) of The Matrix? Because he moves from being driven by his limited intellect to being led by his heart. Your right hemisphere controls your exploratory attention. A meta-analysis shows that the right hemisphere dominates in receiving and interpreting information from the heart and body. The heart is ubiquitously referred to as the organ of love. Why not the kidneys? Or the liver? My suspicion is that our heart is literally central to the process of connecting to attractors in our environment. Naturally you will find the head-centric intellect scoffs at such a suggestion.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Neo doesn’t kill Agent Smith, he reintegrates him into himself. Similarly, we need to reintegrate our highly developed left hemispheric skills in service of the whole. McGilchrist believes the right hemisphere should be the “Master” and the left hemisphere should be the “Emissary.” External stimulus and feedback always needs to take priority over the narrow will of the left hemisphere. The Taoists, somewhat embarrassingly, understood this more than two thousand years ago. They believe that there is a deeper reality, a flow, that you can harmonize with and if you do so your life goes great. The ideal state is an almost paradoxical “effortless action” where your narrow willpower surrenders some control to these broader forces that work through you.

This is the world of flow that’s waiting on the other side of the ravine.


Returning with the Boon

[Neo commits himself to freeing the rest of humanity from The Matrix.]

The hero’s journey isn’t finished until he comes home with the treasure. The hero, shaman, or prophet acts as a bridge to this new world. They reveal attractors to others. An open and curious community, like the one Ben has built, can make a tangible difference by researching these ideas, discussing them, analyzing them and then amplifying them. I am regularly reminded of Einstein’s observation that you can’t solve problems with the same level of consciousness that created them. The specific rebellion is to strive to strengthen our connections to what we love, and commit to following what we love. Whether it’s community or curiosity, most of the best things in life come from cultivating openness. The more open you make yourself to the world the more open it makes itself to you.

Put simply: the fact remains that reconnection is extremely good for us. According to a landmark study, the effects of social connectedness on health outstrip even those of diet, exercise and smoking.[4] I think we need to think about connectedness both in terms of social connectedness (our relationships) but also our relationships to the kinds of information that makes us come alive again.

How do we become more right-hemispheric as individuals? One of the most common criticisms of McGilchrist’s work is that he rarely offers specific advice. Thankfully, River Kenna recently wrote a spectacular piece on seven practices to bring more right hemispheric balance to our interactions with the world.[5]

A lot of contemporary spirituality focuses on the cultivation of “inner” states and practices, but often to the neglect of this “outer”, relational feedback. Especially in the case of synchronicities. The total simplicity of this approach means it doesn’t get the emphasis it deserves. But thirty years of research has shown that openness to new ideas and external feedback is one of the primary correlates of wisdom.[6] And wisdom itself correlates with flourishing and individual wellbeing.

How does the wider acceptance of this attractor address the metacrisis? Pursuit of complexity can make us positive-sum. When you find your own unique niche, it actually makes you less comparative, acquisitive, anxious and competitive. When you’re on your own path, you care a lot less what other people are doing. I think what most people really want is reconnection to purpose. It’s immediately obvious when you meet someone on the right path for them. Not only is their daily flow intrinsically desirable, it’s also meaningful because they can see how it serves the whole tribe.

This is the big payoff. Finding where what only you can do (differentiation) meets what the world needs (integration).

Becoming more holistic, more right hemispheric, also makes us less destructive and more empathetic. We literally experience the world as alive, which makes us less willing to destroy it. The right hemispheric perspective adds to more empathy and social trust, it creates more institutional compromise. The gyre narrows rather than widens. It also leads to more holism in the way that we interact with our environment. There are subtle signs this is already happening.[7]

This reconnection to purpose will allow each individual to have the faith in what their own head and heart centered path is. And if all of us realigned with the system the entire paradigm would resolve spontaneously. While it’s obviously naive to expect everyone to do it, the butterfly effect shows us that the aligned individual can sometimes have a massively positive impact on the whole. All major evolutionary changes are bottom-up. This one will likely be no different.

You will also now see how this essay addresses the core goal of all content coming from The Leading Edge: Where are our maps of reality incomplete, what needs to be added, and how will we act differently as a result?

To recap:

  1. Stasis & Crisis: Our imbalanced mindset is creating a crisis of disconnection.
  2. The Call to Adventure: Our curiosity calls us towards the anomaly that rebalances this disconnection
  3. Crossing the Threshold/Encountering the Anomaly: This “attractor” is a drive towards greater complexity. This is a right hemispheric impulse.
  4. Conflict with the shadow self: our left hemisphere is fundamentally competitive with the right and can inhibit our complexification.
  5. Death and rebirth: We move from being guided by limited intellect-centric wilpower to working alongside the power of emergence.
  6. Returning with the boon: On an individual level, pursuit of complexity helps us thrive as individuals. It may also help resolve our collective crises.

Excited to meet you all.


[1] I strongly recommend his essay Intimations of a New Worldview as well as his YouTube series of the same name.

[2] There’s a longer 20 minute version I’ve delivered at a couple of investment conferences.

[3] There’s a great short article on this topic here. Appropriately, Laszlo believes the holotropic is akin to “the force” from Star Wars. Star Wars is a perfect example of the monomyth and was explicitly inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell, who was a consultant on the film.

[4] Source: Social relationships and health.

[5] I’ve written about this in more detail here.

[6] Source: Thirty Years of Psychological Wisdom Research: What We Know About the Correlates of an Ancient Concept.

[7] Cultural historian Richard Tarnas’ has offered more than 30 pieces of evidence for the return of the right hemisphere:“The crisis of modern man is an essentially masculine crisis, and I believe that its resolution is already now occurring in the tremendous emergence of the feminine in our culture: visible not only in the rise of feminism, the growing empowerment of women, and the widespread opening up to feminine values by both men and women, and not only in the rapid burgeoning of women’s scholarship and gender-sensitive perspectives in virtually every intellectual discipline, but also in the increasing sense of unity with the planet and all forms of nature on it, in the increasing awareness of the ecological and the growing reaction against political and corporate policies supporting the domination and exploitation of the environment, in the growing embrace of the human community, in the accelerating collapse of long-standing political and ideological barriers separating the world’s peoples, in the deepening recognition of the value and necessity of partnership, pluralism, and the interplay of many perspectives. It is visible also in the widespread urge to reconnect with the body, the emotions, the unconscious, the imagination and intuition, in the new concern with the mystery of childbirth and the dignity of the maternal, in the growing recognition of an immanent intelligence in nature, in the broad popularity of the Gaia hypothesis. It can be seen in the increasing appreciation of indigenous and archaic cultural perspectives such as the Native American, African, and ancient European, in the new awareness of feminine perspectives of the divine, in the archaeological recovery of the Goddess tradition and the contemporary reemergence of Goddess worship, in the rise of Sophianic Judaeo-Christian theology and the papal declaration of the Assumptio Mariae, in the widely noted spontaneous upsurge of feminine archetypal phenomena in individual dreams and psychotherapy. And it is evident as well in the great wave of interest in the mythological perspective, in esoteric disciplines, in Eastern mysticism, in shamanism, in archetypal and transpersonal psychology, in hermeneutics and other non-objectivist epistemologies, in scientific theories of the holonomic universe, morphogenetic fields, dissipative structures, chaos theory, systems theory, the ecology of mind, the participatory universe–the list could go on and on. As Jung prophesied, an epochal shift is taking place in the contemporary psyche, a reconciliation between the two great polarities, a union of opposites: a hieros gamos (sacred marriage) between the long-dominant but now alienated masculine and the long-suppressed but now ascending feminine.”



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Comments

  1. That is a compelling analysis. The bit about hero’s journey reminded me of this excellent TED Talk from wayback.

    Superheroes inspired by Islam

    1,018,575 views | Naif Al-Mutawa | TEDGlobal 2010 • July 2010

    There now are 41 TED Talks mentioning superheroes. The resurrection stories in the Middle East predate Christianity, Islam and Jewish faiths by centuries, if not millenia. The prospect of sacrificing sons in battle was very real in tribes and times that desperately needed superheroes.

    It was a short step from there to “Come with me if you want to live.”

    Terminator (1984) - come with me if you want to live

    Come with me if you want to live | Terminator 2

    Good taste prevents me from providing the link to Arnold saving Jesus, but anyone who isn’t afraid of either hurting themselves laughing or burning in hell forever can dial it up on GlueTube.

    Aaron Swartz wrote some amazing content before he was hounded to his death by an overzealous prosecutor. I thought that he wrote an even more detailed analysis of the Batman story than either of these, but I couldn’t find it timely.

    What Happens in Batman Begins
    Warning: Naturally, spoilers follow — for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.1
    http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/batmanbegins

    What Happens in The Dark Knight
    Spoilers, obviously.
    http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/tdk

    Me again: I’d like to suggest the possibility that the content from any link in a post be automatically archived in an encrypted format. In the event that the link goes stale, the encrypted copy can be revived under fair use exemption for the purpose of scholarship. I have some emotional scars from links going stale, and my scholarly effort in commenting them rendered pointless.

  2. Welp. I like the article except for Note 7, which ends with:

    As Jung prophesied, an epochal shift is taking place in the contemporary psyche, a reconciliation between the two great polarities, a union of opposites: a hieros gamos (sacred marriage) between the long-dominant but now alienated masculine and the long-suppressed but now ascending feminine.

    Ugh. That annoys me, having been a female engineer for the past 40 years, nerd for 60+ years. I use both sides of the brain perfectly fine (as far as I can tell). So can men.

    Cheer up! I’m not going to pick an argument, but present my favorite dramatization of left-brainies overcoming terrible odds with right-brainie thinking. From the movie Apollo 13, the “Square Peg in a Round Hole” clip … 3 clips because I could not find a jumbo clip of all 3 connected:

    Problem:

    Implementation of solution:

    Success!

    Note that this became old news pretty quick, and faded from memory for most. Sometimes one has to be satisfied that you managed to do the right thing, and not get any fanfare for it.

  3. Tom,

    Myths are not simply tales of happenings in the remote past but eternal dramas that are living themselves out repeatedly in our own personal lives and in what we see all around us.
    ~Edward Edinger

    When people find it necessary to express in words an inner experience such as a dream, an emotion, or a complex feeling-state, they resort to a form of speech called metaphor that is the right brain’s unique contribution to the left brain’s language capability.
    ~Leonard Schlain

    Mashall McLuhan, Alan Watts, Ram Das, Joesph Campbell and Carl Jung along with a life long passion of the history of science, led this baby boomer to a lifelong quest of slowly giving up my nerdly formal engineering quest for certainty to go on a quest for understanding. The first time I met Ben Hunt was at a bar b q, where he happened to sit beside me (serendipity synchronicity, as I call this now). He asked me about why I’m interested in ET. I replied, “I’m giving up my quest for certainty and going on a quest for understanding.” His surprising (at the time) reply, was, “Yes, yes, yes!”

    I’m writing this morning at a coffee shop in Boise, Utah, attending my youngest grandson’s college graduation this evening. Saw a man with one arm, joined by a woman with one arm. Man and two women with one artificial legs. In and out getting coffee. Another woman. Reminded me of the bar scene in the original Star Wars movie. Serendipity synchronicity.

    IMO, we need both sides of the brain for optimal serendipity synchronicity.

    Looking forward to connecting and sharing your view of the Semantic Universe.

    right brain, left handed, Jim

  4. Avatar for RZebr RZebr says:

    Inspiring post.
    I wonder where LLMs like ChatGPT would fall in McGilchrist’s scheme of left/right hemispheres. As I understand it, they see the whole picture (right), are “intuitive” rather than logical (right), but use language (left)…or do they?

    Sean

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