Archive for June, 2014

Common sense is not common

June 29, 2014

. . . common sense is, as a matter of fact, nothing more than layers of preconceived notions stored in our memories and emotions for the most part before age eighteen. –Albert Einstein

Our common sense, or world view, is not “common” to all people. It is shaped by the culture we inhabit. It is like a pair of glasses few of us ever manage to take off, so of course we see confirmation everywhere we look.

Much of Western intellectual tradition has been inherited from the Greeks. Our science and philosophy in particular are shot through with beliefs and opinions and forms of speech that were once explicit doctrines of Plato, Aristotle, and the like, but have come to be embedded anonymously in the fabric of our thought. Of this embedded material perhaps the most fundamental is logic, the standard by which we judge reasoning to be “correct”.

Is logic itself “correct”? Some Eastern philosophers would call it “ignorance”. I use logic all the time in mathematics, and it seems to yield “correct” results, but in mathematics “correct” by and large means “logical”, so I’m back where I started. I can’t defend logic because I can’t remove my glasses.

Richard J. Trudeau, Introduction to Graph Theory


Mindless exercising, mindless reading … how did I go astray for so long?

June 29, 2014

I wish that someone had told me this long ago:

The purpose of exercising is not to complete a certain number of repetitions or lift a greater amount of weight. The purpose is to establish a mind-body connection and stimulate muscle growth and strength.

The purpose of reading is not to reach the end of the book as quickly as possible. The purpose is to learn and grow and incorporate the book’s ideas into one’s own knowledge.

How did I go astray for so long? Am I alone in going astray?

Ray Bradbury: An Ode to Books

June 27, 2014

A few of Ray Bradbury’s final words, before passing away in 2012:

When I was seven years old, I started going to the library and I took out ten books a week. The librarian looked at me and asked, “What are you doing?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

And she said, “You can’t possibly read all of those before they are due back.”

I said, “Yes, I can.”

And I came back the next week for ten more books.

In doing so, I told that librarian, politely, to get out of my way and let me happen. That’s what books do. They are the building blocks, the DNA, if you will, of you.

Think of everything you have ever read, everything you have ever learned from holding a book in your hands and how that knowledge shaped you and made you who you are today.

Looking back now on all those years, to when I first discovered books at the library, I see that I was simply falling in love. Day, after day, after glorious day, I was falling in love with books.

More …

Go a whole MONTH without sitting

June 24, 2014

I just read a New York Times article by a fellow who went a whole month without sitting.

After reading the article I’ve decided to give it a go as well. I just moved my chair out of my office so I won’t be tempted to sit.

Will you join me for 30 days of no sitting?

Consider this:

Even if you’re active, even if you get up at five and do your P90X, if you sit six hours a day those benefits are negated.

If you spend more than 11 hours per day in a chair, you’ll increase your risk of dying in the next three years by 40 percent–even if you exercise.

When we sit for long periods of time, the enzymes responsible for burning fat shut down. Sitting too much can lower good cholesterol, HDL, and lead to a slower metabolism. In essence, sitting can cause the disease process.

Here’s the New York Times article:

Such deep passion for the work that all else is dull and colorless

June 21, 2014

I get motivated and charged-up when I hear about people who immerse themselves so deeply in their work (or in their hobby or something), who have great drive and purpose.

Below is one of the world’s top young neurosurgeons talking to his female colleague, who is one of the world’s top neurologists. It is the evening, at the end of a mind-blowingly intense day of surgery. They are talking on the rooftop of the hospital where they both work and they are looking out over the evening city lights:

Every dinner party I’ve ever been to, no matter what the occasion, I’m bored out of my mind. Bored by the normal, bored by the happy, the unhappy couples, bored out of my mind by families. Good, bad, or indifferent.

There’s only one thing that interests me. It’s this [work, surgery]. What is there in a dinner party, a gallery opening, a movie, a novel, a Broadway show, that could compare with the case we had today [brain surgery]. Everything else is dull, without color.

You know what I do when I’m not here? I make time. I eat and I sleep. You know where I live? In the Hotel Mirabella. When I get bored with that I’ll move to a new hotel. No obligations, no strings. Every morning I wake up and the day is there before me. The job, the work, it’s incomparable.

Dr. Ian Bickman
Black Box

The power of rhythm to move us, change us

June 19, 2014

There was a fascinating segment on NPR today on how speech-writers employ cadence and rhythm in speeches to motivate and change us.

Here are a few snippets from the segment:

A gentle rhythm can calm us. A thumbing beat can get our bodies moving. And an insistent, deliberate meter can motivate us.

Think about a crowd chanting in unison at a football game, or people on a dance floor moving to a pulsing beat. Rhythm can create community.

One of the wonderful things about rhythm is that, when you’re involved in a rhythm, you take on a beat other than your own. For a moment we stop being ourselves and we all become part of a powerful group. I think we’re all looking for that opportunity to step outside of the “me” and become a “we”. [Rob Kapilow, composer and conductor]

More …

Read a book or article until it becomes a part of your being

June 15, 2014

Years ago I read a book which said (paraphrasing): Many people read a book once and then a few months later they have forgotten what they read. Such books have no lasting effect on the reader. The purpose of reading is to gain new knowledge that can be used as a step to gaining still more knowledge. If one has forgotten what was read, one fails to climb the tree of knowledge. One should read a book three or four times, or more. A book should become a part of you.

Recently I have been doing housecleaning and am embarrased by the huge number of books that I own, many of which I have read only small parts of, some I have never even opened. What a shameful waste.

From now on, I will buy fewer books. I will focus on one book until it becomes a part of me. Only then will I move on to the next book.

Create beautiful things and then let them go

June 8, 2014

The Buddhists have a practice of working diligently for several days on creating a beautiful design in the sand. The thing they create is called a sand mandala. Then, once it’s done they destroy it.

I never really understood that practice until today as I listened to an interview of Rosanne Cash (daughter of Johnny Cash). She said that when she performs on stage there are times when she connects very well with the audience: her energy is outflowing to the audience while simultaneously she is receiving energy from the audience. She said (paraphrasing): But this connection is only for a short time; when the show is over the connection is gone; it has made me realize the transitoriness of life – like the Buddhist sand mandala. Ah! That turned on a light bulb in my head. I now understand the Buddist sand mandala practice: things come into our life and then they leave, that’s simply the way of nature.

No worry before it’s time

June 1, 2014

Today I listened to a fascinating talk on mindfulness by Dr. Ellen Langer from Harvard University. Here are a few snippets:

Mindfulness is the simple act of actively noticing things.

If you live with somebody, notice five new things about that person. What will happen is the person will start to come alive for you again.

Our experience of everything is formed by the words and ideas we attach to them. Change the words and you will change the experience.

The placebo is a wonderful, wonderful drug. The placebo has cured a lot of people. It’s a very, very powerful medication. The placebo is unlocking your brain’s own pharmacy.

I think yoga is wonderful. I think running is wonderful. Once I decide that I’m going to start running because when I run, I’m going to be healthy, now I’m believing I’m being healthy… and that should translate into greater health. What I’m saying is many of these practices have a large placebo effect.

Events don’t cause stress. What causes stress are the views you take of events. [Epictetus]

Most things are an inconvenience, rather than a tragedy. Let me give you an example. Many years ago, I had a major fire that destroyed 80% of what I owned. And when I called the insurance company, and they came over the next day, the person, the insurance agent, said to me that this was the first call that he’d ever had where the damage was worse than the call. I thought, ‘Well, gee, you know, it’s already taken my stuff. Why give it my soul? You know — why pay twice?’ Which is what people so often do. Something happens, you have that loss, and then you’re going to now throw all your emotional energy at it and so you’re doubling up on the negativity.

I’m against compromise. The reason for that is because it’s an agreement for everybody to lose rather than finding the win/win solution, which is often out there.