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Practical Probabilism

What to do when things are uncertain and yet a decision must be made? The doctrine of "Probabilism" seems helpful. In the absence of certainty, when an alternative is both plausible and approved, in the judgment of at least some reasonable authorities and by at least some rational arguments, Probabilism says that it's OK to choose it – even if more authorities or arguments support a different decision.

In other words, Probabilists see wide "gray zones" within which free personal preference can govern. It's not a sin to go against the majority. Yay, Free Will!

(cf Free Will (1999-04-11), Freedom Evolves (2003-07-03), Asimov on Happiness (2007-11-07), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-09

- Friday, June 09, 2023 at 17:22:22 (EDT)

Humility, Virtue, Honour

According to Wikipedia, Cambridge University's Gonville and Caius College has three gates:

... symbolising the path of academic life. On matriculation, one arrives at the Gate of Humility (near the Porters' Lodge). In the centre of the college one passes through the Gate of Virtue regularly. And finally, graduating students pass through the Gate of Honour ...

... such a nice architectural metaphor for progress in learning!

... and on a lighter yet equally important note, "Students of Gonville and Caius commonly refer to the fourth gate in the college, ... which also gives access to some lavatories, as the Gate of Necessity." 😊

(cf Franklin's Virtues (2008-05-23), Humility, Learning, and Respect (2021-01-28), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-08

- Thursday, June 08, 2023 at 07:33:03 (EDT)

Be a Better Ally

In the 2020 Harvard Business Review article "Be a Better Ally" authors Tsedale M. Melaku, Angie Beeman, David G. Smith, and W. Brad Johnson talk about how to apply allyship effectively "... as a strategic mechanism used by individuals to become collaborators, accomplices, and coconspirators who fight injustice and promote equity ...". They focus on the workplace and suggest:

... excellent suggestions throughout life!

(cf On the Subjection Of (1999-08-21), Learning to See (2000-02-08), Race and Love (2004-08-06), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-07

- Wednesday, June 07, 2023 at 11:56:19 (EDT)

Hui Cheng on Meditation

In "Struggling to calm your mind? Buddhist monks in Hacienda Heights offer meditation tips" in the Los Angeles Times, monk Venerable Hui Cheng of the Hsi Lai Temple suggests discusses ways to "Do good deeds, say good words, and have good thoughts." He advocates sitting meditation, walking meditation, eating meditation, and activities like calligraphy and structured exercises – all designed to focus and calm the mind.

"... What has happened in the past is history. Nothing for us to bother ourselves over. What has yet to come is the future. Something that does not require speculation. The most important thing at this particular point is now — just to become aware of the present moment. ..."

(cf Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), Mantra - Attention, Attention, Attention (2017-05-27), Attention Means Attention (2019-09-18), Present in Every Moment (2019-11-25), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-05

- Monday, June 05, 2023 at 17:56:22 (EDT)

Work as School

From "Episode 034: Systems Thinking in the Real World" (2017-05-24) of the Greater than Code series of conversations, a fascinating observation by Janelle Klein:

I have a thought I wanted to run by you all. I've been thinking a lot about one of the ideas in The Fifth Discipline that I think I might have gotten out of the Fifth Discipline Field Book. One of the ideas that Peter Senge brings up is to think of a learning organization as this hybrid between a business and a school. If you imagine that you're learning so much in the context of your job that it feels like you're going to school, and mastery is just baked into part of your job, the union of those two systems is kinda-sorta what a learning organization is, or characteristically would look like.

If you think about that system model, one of the interesting effects is there's a fundamental shift in the direction of money flow. In the context of a business, a business pays employees; and in the context of a school, the students pay tuition to get an education. If you put these systems in equilibrium so that currency flow is off the table and all of the transactions between people occur at a point of equilibrium or barter, such that — this is where the idea of open mastery came from — finding that point in equilibrium, and you design a system around it, this is what originally gave me the idea of, "What if we built a software education support infrastructure into the industry?"

(lightly edited from the transcript; cf FifthDisciplinarians (2000-09-10), KnowledgeAndSociety (2002-03-25), Learningful Life (2021-07-02), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-02

- Friday, June 02, 2023 at 11:40:59 (EDT)

Beyond Thought

Don't hate the arising of thoughts or stop the thoughts that do arise. Simply realize that our original mind, right from the start, is beyond thought, so that no matter what, you never get involved with thoughts. Illuminate original mind, and no other understanding is necessary.

... Bankei Yōtaku, from the book Bankei Zen: Translations from the Record of Bankei, translated by Peter Haskel [1]

(cf No Method (2010-01-21), Without Effort, Analysis, or Expectation (2010-08-04), Mantra - Open the Aperture (2018-10-30), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-31

- Wednesday, May 31, 2023 at 21:17:09 (EDT)

Facts to Fit the Theory

A half-remembered SF short story, long lodged in an old brain — and the Internet comes through with the citation! Thanks to "Megha", in response to the thumbnail description "Analog magazine story from late 60s/early 70s. Zen/Psychic culture defeats an invasion", the answer in Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange:

I think this may be "Facts to Fit the Theory" by Christopher Anvil. I found it in the collection "Interstellar Patrol II - The Federation of Humanity" It can be found here.

This is a short story, published in 1966, in ANALOG. There is a planet under threat by evil alien invaders, and the inhabitants of the planet were both pacifists (practicing 'self-control') and opposed to the methods of the Federation, who was otherwise offering to bring them under protection. There is a series of hijinks, wherein the federation tries to get a treaty signed (to save them from the invaders) but which are mysteriously foiled by the inhabitants, due to religious objections.

The invasion happens, or at least the evil aliens land, but each aggressive act they attempt is foiled by seemingly-natural causes (while the inhabitants fail to otherwise fight back), until finally the younger colonists lose their tempers and summon storms & the like to interrupt a large ceremony with a planned atrocity (meant to subdue any resistance). The local adults do scold them for lack of self control and the other damage caused by the large storms. The story ends with the federation observers trying to figure out how to report this turn of events.

Yes! – and esp. memorable to This Unfortunate One, a comment by a character near the end, re the importance of self-control and appropriate response to provocation: "... Did you have to use a sledgehammer to squash a gnat? Don't you know what you can do with small measures rightly timed? How long do you think it's going to take to straighten out this mess? ..."

(cf MeritScholarships (2004-02-10), Traveller's Rest (2016-04-27), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-30

- Tuesday, May 30, 2023 at 17:26:38 (EDT)

Shining Through the Thorns

From the Rick Hanson essay "See the Person Behind the Eyes", a poetic suggestion for how to notice the Good:

Sensing the deepest layers in people can nourish you in other ways, too. For example, I had a relative with a big heart but a difficult personality that drove me a little crazy. Finally, I started to imagine that being with her was like looking at a bonfire through a lattice covered with thorny vines. I focused on the love shining through and warming my own heart, and didn't get caught up in the vines. That helped both of us a lot.

(cf Find the Beauty (2011-04-03), See the Good in Others (2018-01-02), Untold Stories of Extraordinary Good (2022-12-24), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-29

- Monday, May 29, 2023 at 11:06:22 (EDT)

More Optimism

In "The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking" Lesley Alderman writes about how "... constant negativity can also get in the way of happiness, add to our stress and worry level and ultimately damage our health ...". He quotes psychologist Rick Hanson, "We were built to overlearn from negative experiences, but under learn from positive ones."

Alderman suggests:

(cf Optimist Creed (1999-04-16), Don't Panic (2010-11-17), Just One Thing (2012012-02), Negative Thinking Patterns (2015-08-28), Power of Optimism (2016-02-23), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-27

- Saturday, May 27, 2023 at 11:42:00 (EDT)

Retirement Mental Health Advice

"4 habits to help you stay mentally sharp in retirement by Jenna Schnuer suggests:

... all in strong resonance with key points from a 2010 pre-retirement class, captured in Retirement Tips - 1, -2, -3, -4, and -5. And don't forget the prime goal to aim for, when looking back at Life:

"On the Big Stuff, I pretty much did OK"!

^z - 2023-05-25

- Thursday, May 25, 2023 at 08:46:55 (EDT)

Rainbow Soap

Wash hands, and return wet bar of soap
To the dish — and suddenly a brilliant
Violet pinhead-light starts to glow
Underneath it!

The spark shines steady, slowly
Shifting through the spectrum —
Blue, green, yellow, orange —
Pick up the soap, and
Abruptly it's gone.

What could it have been?
Perhaps a bubble,
Catching the light,
Perfectly aligned to be seen.

What a marvelous Universe we share!

^z - 2023-05-23

- Tuesday, May 23, 2023 at 08:55:47 (EDT)

Like Being Dizzy Drunk

Like being dizzy drunk,
Overwhelmed by chaos,
Blindfolded rolling down a hillside,
Swirled in a whirlpool,
Thoughts all in a mess,
With nonsense words scribbled
      on the mind's blackboard
      and then half-erased —
That's what it's like to try to study
      while falling asleep!

^z - 2023-05-22

- Monday, May 22, 2023 at 19:46:30 (EDT)

Created for Dust and Ashes

From Martin Buber's Tales of the Hasidim: the later masters, pps 249-250, a zen-like story about Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765-1827):

Rabbi Bunam said to his disciples:

"Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: 'For my sake was the world created,' and in his left: 'I am earth and ashes.'"

... or in another form, without attribution, in "What I Carry" and many other places:

It was said of Reb Simcha Bunim that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam – "for my sake the world was created." On the other he wrote: V'anokhi afar v'efer – "I am but dust and ashes."

^z - 2023-05-22

- Monday, May 22, 2023 at 05:53:46 (EDT)

Relaxing into Boredom

Emma Brockes in her essay "I took my kids to the playground without bringing my phone – and it was a revelation" talks insightfully about the tension between doing and being. She writes of the contrast between selfish-distraction and unselfish-presence:

In and of themselves, these idle periods have no apparent value. But increasingly they strike me as the solid matter of life and the moments I’ll look back on with the deepest nostalgia.

I’ve been having this sense for a few years now, but it’s pathetic that what has sharpened revelation is the experience, twice in a row, of accidentally going out without my phone. After the panic subsided, I sat in the sunshine while my children rode their bikes up and down and then ditched them to play in the sand. I watched a barge make its way up the Hudson. I pointed out two sparrows enjoying a sand bath. (What even is that?)

Brockes concludes: "The funny thing is that of the two experiences of boredom, fighting it was the one that delivered the greatest sense of dead time, of passively waiting for something to end. The other – phoneless, rooted in minor-league bird watching – felt as active and urgent as only the best use of one’s time can."

(cf Running Bored (2003-10-11), Kundun (2010-03-31), Moments of Mindfulness (2016-09-15), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-18

- Thursday, May 18, 2023 at 08:29:34 (EDT)

Compassion and Balance

"Reckoning with compassion" by Jessica Locke is a complex look at a complex problem: the tug-of-war between self and world, and how to reconcile independence and interconnection. Locke begins with describing an awakened being:

... who takes up a stance of radical compassion and focuses on the wellbeing of others – even enemies and strangers – before their own. The bodhisattva counteracts self-cherishing by undertaking the work of other-centred altruism as both the method for realising ‘the way things truly are’ – that is, interdependent and void of separate existence – and for expressing that realisation through compassion for others. In that sense, cultivating compassion is tied to the accumulation of wisdom, and together wisdom and compassion are what allow the bodhisattva to behave ethically and experience the world non-dualistically. It is a profoundly tender, richly intimate way of being in the world. ...

... she describes an advanced contemplative practice:

... for inculcating this radically diminished sense of self known as ‘exchanging self and other’, in which the practitioner imaginatively ‘exchanges’ their own happiness for others’ suffering. Being willing to give up happiness and take on pain enacts the kind of unbiased, boundless altruism that is the hallmark of the bodhisattva. ...

... and concludes:

Experimenting with reversing habitual responses like defensiveness or selfishness is profound. Relaxing our territoriality and letting go of our need to always be ‘right’ (or at least our need to make sure others know when they are wrong) can have a salutary effect on how we engage with others. But there are also profound problems with this approach.

The quandry is that some selfish people deliberately abuse, coerce, and exploit other people who are striving to be selfless. The victims may then blame themselves, suffer, and never heal. It's tough to be balanced; Locke examines both sides carefully. Some people desperately need to "take on the suffering of others" and let go of "self-aggrandisement and greed". She concludes her analysis:

As an ethical training, radical self-abnegation is not an end in itself but a means toward deeper connection. If its practice deepens confusion, re-enacts traumatic scripts or exacerbates self-enclosure, then that practice is not the right one for this moment. Caring for and healing oneself is not the same thing as unduly reifying the self, and asserting a boundary is not the same thing as self-cherishing. This is something that we would do well to investigate for ourselves. What does it look like – or feel like – to assert a boundary without trading in a self-other dualism? How can one hold someone accountable not from a place of imperious anger but as an expression of unbiased care for social wellbeing overall, which can include one’s own welfare and happiness?

What is medicine for some of us may be poison for others. Whatever it takes to get us there, the work of compassion is ultimately about restoring our felt sense of interdependence and intimate connection with others and with the world. From that comes all manner of ethical attunement and skilful action. This thicker understanding of what is at stake in the compassion movement can help us approach that ethos with critical intelligence. It can help us keep in mind that compassion is a profound intimacy with the world, which can be cultivated using more than one method.

... it all comes down to balance ...

(cf Unselfing (2009-01-14), Unselfing Again (2009-11-01), Ground of Being (2013-10-03), Forgiveness and Oneness (2013-10-08), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-17

- Thursday, May 18, 2023 at 08:28:54 (EDT)

May All

May all find peace
        like ocean after storm
May all find joy
        like mother and child
May all find hope
        like sparrows at sunrise
May all find

^z - 2023-05-14

- Sunday, May 14, 2023 at 07:17:00 (EDT)

Nest of Love

Surrounded, safe from falling,
Cozy warm, cuddled,
Fed, shielded, loved —
And then, pushed out
To make our own way in the world
And build our own nests

^z - 2023-05-12

- Friday, May 12, 2023 at 05:31:21 (EDT)

Like a Breath of a Breeze on a Blossom

Like a breath of a breeze on a blossom —
Far less than a touch —
Wind stirs the petals, spreads the pollen
Connects past and present
With what may yet be born —
Like a word, like a thought, like a smile

^z - 2023-05-11

- Thursday, May 11, 2023 at 07:58:28 (EDT)

Robert Rubin on Bayesian Thinking

"I’m a Former U.S. Treasury Secretary. Here’s How I Make Hard Decisions." is an anecdotal NYT op-ed essay summarizing key points in Robert Rubin's soon-to-be released book, The Yellow Pad: Making Better Decisions in an Uncertain World. The journey is good, though the route is unsurprising. In a nutshell, Rubin counsels:

All quite obvious, and nontrivial to do in real life. Echoing Benjamin Franklin's decision algorithm, Rubin writes:

At the heart of my own approach is “probabilistic thinking,” the idea that nothing is 100 percent certain and that everything is therefore a matter of probabilities. Whether my choices would affect a few people or millions of people, my preferred tool for applying probabilistic thinking has always been the same: a simple yellow legal pad. On my yellow pad (or more recently, my iPad), I’ll list possible outcomes in one column, and then my best estimates of the probabilities associated with those outcomes in another.

My goal has never been to quantify every aspect of every decision; that would be impossible. Instead, my yellow pad has become both metaphor and means, a way of applying a questioning mind-set and incorporating probabilistic thinking into the real world. There are, of course, decisions throughout my life that looking back I should have made differently. But the yellow pad has served me well, allowing me to think in disciplined ways about risks, probabilities, costs and benefits, and substantially increasing my odds of making the best possible choice. What’s more, I believe the yellow-pad approach can be beneficial for everyone.

For example, applying probabilistic thinking to real-world events changes the way one thinks about risk. Too often, decision makers trying to anticipate a risk focus on a single potential outcome, or perhaps a small handful of outcomes. Probabilistic thinkers, on the other hand, recognize that risk is a wide range of possibilities.

Rubin goes on to emphasize the importance of trade-offs among multiple competing goals, of embracing nuance and complexity, and of evaluating past decisions based not just on their results but "... also analyzing the judgments that led to the decision and took place before those outcomes occurred." All excellent points!

Bottom line: try to be a Bayesian thinker, basing your judgments on evidence and updating them when new data come in. Remember:

Beliefs are Knobs,
not Switches!

(cf Mantra - Beliefs Are Knobs, Not Switches (2017-07-03), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-09

- Tuesday, May 09, 2023 at 07:10:39 (EDT)

Pandemic of Pain

Nicholas Kristof's essay "Why Americans Feel More Pain" (New York Times, 3 May 2023) discusses suffering as a symptom of societal dysfunction. Part of the problem is linked to drugs (including alcohol); part is from trauma, abuse, oppression; part comes with age and poverty, injury and stress.

There are hopeful approaches, Kristof writes:

Dr. Daniel Clauw, director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan, believes that we already have a toolbox of remedies that can help 80 percent or 90 percent of chronic pain sufferers but that our treatment system and insurance protocols betray those in need.

“We’ve really over-medicalized pain,” he told me. His first recommendation to patients with chronic pain is simple: Get more sleep and exercise. There’s no simple solution, he emphasized, and it takes work by patients to recover.

“I’m a huge advocate of physical therapy,” he added, and he also sees positive results from yoga, acupuncture, acupressure, cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation.

He mimics addressing a patient: “Mrs. Jones, I don’t know if acupuncture is going to work for you, or if it’s going to be physical therapy or chiropractic manipulation. But I do know that if you try three of these non-pharmacologic therapies, on average one of the three will work pretty well. And then the next year we’ll try two or three more, and you’ll get better yet.”

... and so much more to be done.

(NYT gift link) - ^z - 2023-05-07

- Monday, May 08, 2023 at 08:34:06 (EDT)

Smudge on the Glasses

Smudge on the glasses —
Wipe it off, and
It just moves to another place
On the lens or
On the cloth —
Hiding for the moment
Ready to reappear
Like many things in life

^z - 2023-05-04

- Thursday, May 04, 2023 at 08:32:07 (EDT)

Holy Fool

Thoughts on humility and love, from "Ted Lasso, Holy Fool" in the NYT by Tish Harrison Warren:

The holy fool, or yurodivy (also spelled iurodivyi), is a well-known, though controversial, character in Russian Orthodox spirituality. In his book “Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond,” the historian Sergey A. Ivanov writes that in the Orthodox tradition the term designates “a person who feigns insanity, pretends to be silly, or who provokes shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness.” In other words, the holy fool is a person who flouts social conventions to demonstrate allegiance to God. Holy fools dwell in ordinary, secular life, but they approach it with completely different values. Rejecting respectability and embracing humility and love, holy fools are so profoundly out of step with the broader world that they appear to be ridiculous or even insane and often invite ridicule. And yet, they teach the rest of us how to live.


... The so-called foolishness of holy fools is tethered to their spiritual insight. They offer a change in perspective. What appears “normal” and “successful” in the world is revealed by the fool to be hollow, vain and pointless. What appears foolish, it turns out, is the true path of flourishing. Above all, a holy fool is an icon for radical humility. ...


... Holy fools are marked by this sort of opulent, irrational, prodigality of grace. As Dostoyevsky sketched out the main character of “The Idiot,” Prince Myshkin, perhaps the most famous holy fool in literature, he wrote: “His way of looking at the world: He forgives everything, sees reasons for everything, does not recognize that any sin is unforgivable.”

(cf Hanson on Humility (2013-03-28), Mantra - Love, Simplicity, Humility (2016-03-29), ...) - ^z - 2023-05-02

- Tuesday, May 02, 2023 at 08:20:34 (EDT)


Poet John Donne, according to the conclusion of Katherine Rundell's biography Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne:

... wrote poems that take all your sustained focus to untangle them. The pleasure of reading a Donne poem is akin to that of cracking a locked safe, and he meant it to be so. He demanded hugely of us, and the demands of his poetry are a mirror to that demanding. The poetry stands to ask: why should everything be easy, rhythmical, pleasant? He is at times almost impossible to understand, but, in repayment for your work, he reveals images that stick under your skin until you die. Donne suggests that you look at the world with both more awe and more scepticism: that you weep for it and that you gasp for it. In order to do so, you shake yourself out of cliche and out of the constraints of what the world would sell you. Your love is almost certainly not like a flower, nor a dove. Why would it be? It may be like a pair of compasses. It may be like a flea. His starting timelessness is down to the fact that he had the power of unforeseeability: you don't see him coming.

The difficulty of Donne's work had in it a stark moral imperative: pay attention. It was what Donne most demanded of his audience: attention. It was, he knew, the world's most mercurial resource. The command is in a passage in Donne's sermon: 'Now was there ever any man seen to sleep in the cart, between Newgate and Tyburn? Between the prison, and the place of execution, does any man sleep? And we sleep all the way; from the womb to the grave we are never thoroughly awake.' Awake, is Donne's cry. Attention, for Donne, was everything: attention paid to our mortality, and to the precise ways in which beauty cuts through us, attention to the softness of skin and the majesty of hands and feet and mouths. Attention to attention itself, in order to fully appreciate its power: 'Our creatures are our thoughts,' he wrote, 'creatures that are born Giants: that reach from East to West, from earth to Heaven, that do not only bestride all the sea and land, but span the sun and firmament at once: my thoughts reach all, comprehend all.' We exceed ourselves: it's thus that a human is super-infinite.

Most of all, for Donne, our attention is owed to one another. Donne's most famous image comes not from his poetry, but from the words he set down in extremis, in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions:

When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

On his deathbed, facing down what he imagined to be the end of everything he had known, this was what he most urgently wanted to tell. We, slapdash chaotic humanity, persistently underestimate our effect on other people: it is our necessary lie, but he refused to tell it. In a world so harsh and beautiful, it is from each other that we must find purpose, else there is none to be had:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

There's a characteristic bite in the passage, which stands as both promise and warning: death is coming for you. But they are glorious words. If we could believe them, they would upend the world. They cast our interconnectedness not as a burden but as a great project: our interwoven lives draw their meaning only from each other.

In his hardest days Donne wrote that his mind was a 'sullen weedy lake'. But it was fertile water: in it, things were born. From his prodigious learning, from his lust, from his fear, came work strong enough to ring through the barricade of time. Donne was honest about horror and its place in the task of living, and honest too in his insistence: joy is also a truth. Who else of his peers had been able to hold grotesqueries and delights, death and life so tightly in the same hand?

There's a scientific term, autapomorphic, which denotes a unique characteristic that has evolved in only one species or subspecies. That was him: there are ways of reckoning with the grimly and majestically improbable problem of being alive that exist only because four hundred years ago a boy was born on Bread Street to Elizabeth Donne. John Donne was super-autapomorphic.

Pay attention!

(cf Attention, Attention, Attention (2015-03-03), Attention Means Attention (2019-09-18), John Donne's Commonplace Book (2023-04-19), ...) - ^z- 2023-04-30

- Sunday, April 30, 2023 at 11:13:50 (EDT)

System Dynamics in Practice

One of Tim Haslett's papers, "Reflections on SD Practice" (from the 2007 ANZSYS conference; published in 2009 as Systemic Development: Local Solutions in a Global Environment, ed. James Sheffield) makes several key points about pitfalls and challenges in applying mathematical modeling to real-world decision challenges:

... thoughtful and important issues to be aware of in real-world situations!

^z - 2023-04-30

- Sunday, April 30, 2023 at 09:47:02 (EDT)

Tim Haslett

Australian Tim Haslett (1944-2023) was an enthusiastic thinker and teacher. Below are some excerpts from an obituary-celebration by Tim's Monash University colleagues John Stephens and John Barton, and his brother Stephen Haslett, titled "Master educationalist, Shakespearean scholar and systems thinker".

Tim was an energetic, enthusiastic professor:

... at the first class, Tim introduced himself in a booming voice and an infectious, quirky smile with: "My friends, call me 'Tim'. It’s best we quickly outline some subject content here ... then mull over whatever takes your fancy at the pub."

Tim's own research used graphical methods to capture ideas and develop insights:

True to his enthusiasm for something new, Tim developed a special research interest in the field of non-linear dynamics including the importance of “local rules” in decision-making. Normally, this would have involved mastering the mathematics of complex systems of equations, but Tim was able to avoid this by conceptualising the social and management problems he was tackling using diagramming techniques and the application of the powerful simulation software packages that were becoming available – he let the software do the maths. This led him to completing a PhD in this field.

Tim organized a group, the "Action Research Cohort", of people working on real-world System Dynamics consultation applied to organizational-change challenges while also pursuing their PhDs:

Tim used to think of the "cohort" in cycling terms as a "peloton". Essentially, everyone was on an equal footing, but there was always someone lined up for a final sprint to the PhD line. Participants always got behind this member to support them. Success meant the award of a yellow guernsey signed by all members of the peloton. Tim typically signed off with the words "thanks for the opportunity to work with you".

Reflecting on Tim’s involvement, one graduate, now a respected academic, said: "The difference Tim made to my work and life is so significant. His level of engagement and interest in his students was unsurpassed. His PhD cohort presented the best learning experience in my life. He got me through the difficult times in my thesis, he opened my eyes, he hugely influenced my way of being."

Not all survived the numerous "hill-climbs", but this did not diminish Tim’s support. One participant, whose job disappeared while she was on secondment to another role, humorously noted that "apart from my 'dad', he became the longest standing man in my life, he has truly made a resounding difference".

... deep, wide, high praise indeed – for a top bloke!

Tim Haslett
1944 - 2023
Systems Thinker

(cf Fifth Disciplinarians (2000-09-10), Jack Smart (2013-04-13), ...) - ^z - 2023-04-29

- Saturday, April 29, 2023 at 07:02:01 (EDT)

Bayesian Fauci

A key comment near the end of Dr. Fauci Looks Back: 'Something Clearly Went Wrong', an interview by David Wallace-Wells with Anthony Fauci, published in the New York Times magazine:

"... when there are people pushing back at you, even though they in many respects are off in left field somewhere, there always appears to be a kernel of truth — maybe a small kernel or a big segment of truth — in what they say. One of the things that we really need to do is we need to reach out now and find out what exactly was it that made them push back. ..."

The important point that Fauci makes, repeatedly and in diverse ways, throughout the conversation is the critical virtue of open mindedness — continuously looking for new evidence, continuously updating old beliefs, and continuously asking "How might I be wrong?"

(cf Bayes vs If (2018-12-07), Ideas vs Beliefs (2019-05-22), Bayesian Life Analysis (2019-05-30), Chance, Cause, Clash (2021-01-21), ...) - ^z - 2023-04-25

- Tuesday, April 25, 2023 at 10:46:49 (EDT)

Mark Twain on Plagiarism

From a letter by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) to Helen Keller in 1903 [1]:

... The kernel, the soul–let us go farther and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them any where except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.

When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten thousand men–but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his but there were others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone, or any other important thing–and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite–that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that. ...

(cf Antient Commons (2003-11-03), Unreliable Narrators (2005-04-12), Emerson Eulogizes His Brother Charles (2007-01-07), Cryptomnesia (2020-02-20), ...) - ^z - 2023-04-25

- Tuesday, April 25, 2023 at 10:35:17 (EDT)

Fine the Way I Am

"No, no, I'm not the greatest. I’m just OK. And I don't need to become the greatest. I'm fine the way I am."

... Sifan Hassan, Dutch winner of the 2023 London Marathon. She holds 1 mile and 5km world records, and won three medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

(quote from "London Marathon: Sifan Hassan stops twice and dodges bike in dramatic win" [1]) - ^z - 2023-04-24

- Monday, April 24, 2023 at 08:58:06 (EDT)

John Donne's Commonplace Book

From the biography Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell, in the second chapter ("The Hungry Scholar"), a rhapsodic description of the poet's commonplace book – a personal hoard of powerful ideas:

During this time we know Donne was collecting his fascinations in a book: a collection of scraps and shards of knowledge known as a commonplace book. Its current whereabouts are mysterious: Donne gave it to his eldest son, who left it to Izaak Walton's son in his will, who left all his books and papers to Salisbury Cathedral. If it is ever found, it will cause great and joyful chaos among the Donne community. Because, simply, Donne wouldn't be Donne if he hadn't lived in a commonplacing era; it nurtured his collector's sensibility, hoarding images and authorities. He had a magpie mind obsessed with gathering. In his work, as Samuel Johnson said disapprovingly, you find the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together. The practice of commonplacing — a way of seeking out and storing knowledge, so that you have multiple voices on a topic under a single heading — colours Donne's work; one thought reaches out to another, across the barriers of tradition, and ends up somewhere fresh and strange. It's telling that the first recorded use of the word 'commonplacer' in the Oxford English Dictionary is Donne's.

The commonplace book allowed readers to approach the world as a limitless resource; a kind of ever-ongoing harvesting. It was Erasmus, the Dutch scholar known as 'the prince of the humanists', who codified the practice. The compiler, he wrote, should 'make himself as full a list of place-headings as possible' to put at the top of each page: for instance, beauty, friendship, decorum, faith, hope, the vices and virtues. It was both a form of scholarship and, too, a way of reminding yourself of what, as you moved through the world, you were to look out for: a list of priorities, of sparks and spurs and personal obsessions. Donne's book must surely have had: angels, women, faith, stars, jealousy, gold, desire, dread, death. Then, Erasmus wrote

whatever you come across in any author, particularly if it is especially striking, you will be able to note it down in its appropriate place: be it a story or a fable or an example or a new occurrence or a pithy remark or a witty saying or any other clever form of words ... Whenever occasion demands, you will have ready to hand a supply of material for spoken or written composition.

As always with any intellectual pursuit, there were those who were anxious about achieving the ideal commonplace book, and, as it always does, the market seized on a way to monetise that anxiety. It became possible to buy ready-prepared commonplace books with the quotations already filled in: years' worth of work achieved without lifting a quill. Buying a ready-made text meant that you avoided the potential pitfalls: for instance, of making a heading and then finding either too much or not enough to fit. Sir Robert Southwell (there are many famous Robert Southwells of the period: in this case, the President of the Royal Society rather than the saint who was disembowelled) had a commonplace book in which some headings were confidently set down and then left forever blank (Academia and Tedium), while others (Authoritas and Error, Religio and Passio) left him scribbling in increasingly tiny handwriting at the foot of the page, and scoring out other headings to make space. Crucially for Donne, though, the commonplace book wasn't designed to be used for the regurgitation of memorised gob-bets: it was to offer the raw material for a combinatorial, plastic process.

The ideal commonplacer is half lawyer, building up evidence in the case for and against the world, and half treasure hunter; and that's what Donne's mind was in those early days. This is a poet who in one single poem could pass through references to Aristotelian logic and Ptolemaic astronomy, to Augustine's discussion of beauty, and Pliny's theory on poisonous snakes being harmless when dead.

T. S. Eliot, a man who had in common with Donne both poetic iconoclasm and good clothes, loved his writing. He said: 'When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience,' whereas 'the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary.' For Donne, apparently unrelated scraps from the world were always forming new wholes. Commonplacing was a way to assess material for those new connections: bricks made ready for the unruly palaces he would build.

Donne's heterogeneity, which so annoyed Johnson, wasn't a game: it was a form of discipline. Commonplacing plucks ideas out of their context and allows you to put them down against other, startling ones. So, with Donne, images burst from one category into another; when he writes in ribald, joking defence of sexual inconstancy, he compares women to foxes (fairly normal in the poetry of the day) and ruminants (not normal):

Foxes and goats, all beasts change when they please: Shall women, more hot, wily, wild then these, Be bound to one man?

Love is a fish: a 'tyran pike, our hearts the fry'. Birds are lassoed to justify infidelity: 'Are birds divorced, or are they chidden/If they leave their mate, or lie abroad a-night?' In 'The Ecstasy', love is cemented, a balm, concoction, mixture, allay: terms stolen from alchemy. The writing is itself a kind of alchemy: a mix of unlikely ingredients which spark into gold. Images clash up against each other, and the world looks, however briefly, new.

... perhaps rather like this ZhurnalyWiki!

(cf Commonplace Books (2010-05-10), Great Conversation (2020-04-23), Urn under the Arm of the River God (2022-02-20), ...) - ^z - 2023-04-19

- Friday, April 21, 2023 at 12:20:21 (EDT)

Birding, Zen, and Birdcast

In "Trying to Find Your Place in the World? Try Birding From a Different Angle." [1] Ty Burr discusses how he turned to bird watching and how a new perspective can catalyze enlightenment:

BirdCast lets us look down from above, and that changes everything. A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Colorado State University and U. Mass Amherst, it’s a website that lets us see them from a vantage point hundreds of miles above Earth, capturing each night’s continental migration as collected by over 140 radar stations across the country — data gathered about birds on the wing. The site went live to the public in 2018, around the time my own birding was deepening from a lifelong side project into something more personally, even spiritually, necessary — a way of being in the world that I had trouble finding elsewhere. After 40 mostly satisfying years as a film critic, I began to feel all those imagined visions closing around my head. I yearned to shake them off, to return to reality; birding has come to seem one of the more graceful ways to do that. (So has Zen meditation, and the overlap between the two can at times be nearly complete: Each activity teaches you to be acutely present while encouraging the self to dissolve.)

... other senses like hearing can likewise add depth and breadth and height to understanding:

I discovered BirdCast through a friend and fellow birder I call Hardcore Jim, because he’s the kind of guy who takes online courses in sparrows. Over the past few springs, Jim has been helping me learn to bird by ear — to separate the robinlike chirrups of a rose-breasted grosbeak or a scarlet tanager from, um, a robin — which, once you get tourist-proficient in the language, is like a giant aural map unfolding in front of you. BirdCast is like that, but much bigger. ...

Burr concludes:

To me, the nightly BirdCast map has come to mean a great deal, not least a corrective to our human-centric view of the planet. BirdCast reorients us in both space and time. It shifts our understanding of ecosystems from the narrow — the street, the neighborhood, the town — to a vast globe that birds traverse twice a year because they must. Looking at that ceaseless neon flow forces a viewer to acknowledge patterns that long predate our appearance on the stage and, unless we succeed in our drive to kill everything on the planet, could long outlast us. Within this epoch the thing that matters — a bird setting out on a journey a thousand miles long, not data but feather and bone — is still here. But BirdCast helps us see that one creature and ourselves as fractals of a larger picture in which we are infinitely smaller yet bound by conscience and consciousness to obligation.

(cf BirdlessSilence (2004-06-05), BirdySunset (2006-12-03), Slow Birding (2022-12-22), ...) - ^z - 2023-04-19

- Wednesday, April 19, 2023 at 13:06:53 (EDT)

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