^zhurnaly 0.9950

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Howdy, pilgrim! You're in the ^zhurnal — since 1999, a journal of musings on mind, method, metaphor, and matters miscellaneous — previous volume = 0.9949.

Love, Joy, Peace, ...

... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, ...

... from Galatians 5:22-23, an awesome list of virtues to remember, cherish, practice ...

(cf Underappreciated Ideas (1999-07-06), This Is Water (2009-05-21), Mantra - Uncertainty, Kindness, Peace, Hope (2017-06-29), Cup Full of Love (2021-08-02), Michael Gerson, R.I.P. (2022-11-19),...) - ^z - 2023-08-07

- Monday, August 07, 2023 at 15:59:43 (EDT)

Building is Thinking


... that is, building prototypes is part of thinking better about complex, difficult questions — from Chapter 6 ("Prototyping") of Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2016).

(cf Thinking Environments (1999-04-07), ...) - ^z - 2023-08-05

- Saturday, August 05, 2023 at 17:39:33 (EDT)

Politzer on Banjos

The Physics of Banjos: A Conversation with David Politzer, in the "Ideas Roadshow" series of interviews (2014, Howard Burton) is strangely frustrating, like a series of beautiful chords that don't cohere to make a melody. There's smart philosophy and references to deep ideas, but minimal take-away knowledge and few real glimpses of the beauty of Nature. Politzer – Nobel laureate theoretical physicist – tells Feynman stories and defines the target of investigation:

... there is something common to the sound of all banjos, by which I mean drums with strings. It could be a gourd with a goat skin and gut strings. It could be steel strings, Mylar top, and a resonator back. They all sound different, but they’re all recognizably banjo. If they’re recognizably banjo, then the accounting of that aspect of their sound has to be in the fact that it’s a drum with strings, because that’s all they have in common. ...

He discusses banjo design features, but without ever coming to memorable, useful, clear conclusions. And at the end of it all, "So What"? Yes, banjos sound neat, and yes, there are countless subtle engineering issues surrounding their design. Yes, and ...?

(cf Musical Values (2001-11-03), Universal Music (2013-01-26), Mantra - Notice the Music (2014-12-06), Winter's Tale on Music Everywhere (2014-12-23), ...) - ^z- 2023-08-05

- Saturday, August 05, 2023 at 06:24:11 (EDT)

Nothing to Prove

letting go of the need to prove you're smart 24/7 is also good for your writing, which can then become less a virtuosic performance of your dazzling intelligence and more an offering of open-ended observation and insight that someone else can enjoy participating in

... a gentle wise thought by Chen Chen shared by Taz Chu ...

(cf Bluffing versus Humility (1999-04-22), Christensen on Humility (2010-09-03), Thinking v Decisiveness (2014-04-30), ...) - ^z - 2023-08-04

- Friday, August 04, 2023 at 07:29:54 (EDT)

Rule of Three

"What three wins do I want to accomplish today?

Executive coach J D Meier describes his "Rule of Three" as a personal goal-setting method – focusing on outcomes, not tasks – and recommends defining:

... and perhaps lifetime goals as well! He quotes Benjamin Franklin who would ask himself (see Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin):

The Morning.


... early morning and late evening – not bad times to pause, reflect, assess – and accept!

(cf Franklin's Virtues (2008-05-23), Happiness Buffer (2013-12-22), Learning to Pause (2015-08-10), Creative Threes (2020-01-10), You Are a Poem (2020-02-10), Gratefulation and Gratituding (2021-11-11), Vespers (2023-06-21), ...) - ^z - 2023-08-03

- Thursday, August 03, 2023 at 07:55:13 (EDT)

Essential Life Skills

In the 2021 article "Life skills that help inside and outside of schools" author Rifka Schonfeld summarizes seven key ways to regulate one's own behavior, from the book Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare:

Schonfeld continues with a list of "essential life skills" from Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinksy:

(cf Improving My Mind (2003-06-22), Best Self (2013-12-14), Emotional Intelligence (2015-04-14), Resilience Skills (2020-12-14), Peak Performance Improv (2021-05-10), Build Resilience (2022-02-10), ...) - ^z - 2023-08-02

- Wednesday, August 02, 2023 at 08:34:57 (EDT)

Unwinding Anxiety

Judson Brewer's 2021 book Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind is chatty and rather long for its content. The central metaphor is a "three gear" process:

So as Brewer describes it, the result is to create new healthy habits that persist. Mindfulness, curiosity, openness, and loving-kindness are often part of that new reward. Brewer recommends "RAIN":

Recognize what is happening right now
Allow and Accept it, without trying to suppress it
Investigate the body sensations, emotions, thoughts
Note the experience without trying to analyze or fix it

All good, though perhaps not particularly original or surprising. That doesn't make it less valuable to practice!

(cf Come SAIL Away (2011-11-26), Mantra - Be Curious and Kind (2023-07-17), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-31

- Monday, July 31, 2023 at 14:00:36 (EDT)

Mantra - Pause on Each Threshold

Pause on

... from the book Meditation Made Easy by Lorin Roche, a gentle suggestion for how to make moments of mindfulness:

... As you move through your day, you can use any threshold as a moment of awakening. Pause at any doorway, even an open door, and take a conscious breath, instead of blasting in. ...

... and perhaps likewise take advantage of other common interruptions – e.g., when a phone rings, a text-message chirps, a truck rumbles by – to pop out, rise up, and for a few seconds just be ...

(cf Mantra - Be Early (2015-04-19), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-29

- Saturday, July 29, 2023 at 15:09:51 (EDT)

Take Ownership

From "How a ‘Swole Woman’ Lifted Her Way to a New Outlook and Online Influence", two key concepts:

... and a great body-mind metaphor:

"I can get stronger, and my body doesn't just exist to either be a meat sack that holds my brain in, or to look attractive to other people."

... good thoughts about balance and strength!

(cf That Feeling of Weightlessness (2012-06-23), Mantra - We're the Best (2017-11-26, Love the Plateau (2019-11-30), Build Resilience (2022-02-10), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-27

- Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 05:46:31 (EDT)

Donmai and Faito

From "Self Taught Japanese" and "Just a little Japanese, two useful loanwords:

... the latter perhaps a bit akin to Deadpool's catchphrase "Maximum Effort!"

(cf Misogi Harai (2008-02-11), Japanese Boyfriend Scale (2009-07-01), Enso (2012-02-29), Omamori (2012-03-09), Shikake (2012-12-18), Chengyu (2019-07-06), Ikigai (2020-07-18), Shokupan (2022-12-18), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-21

- Friday, July 21, 2023 at 20:43:53 (EDT)

Easier Just Knowing You Exist

"There is a connectedness that
makes everything easier
just knowing you exist.
Part of our journeys
toward enlightenment."

... a beautiful comment by a beautiful friend, this morning as we were thankful together for having met more than a decade ago, and for all our adventures together since then. Perhaps there are echoes of a remark by Anton Chekhov about Leo Tolstoy and the blessing of shared hard work:

... when literature has a Tolstoy, it is easy and gratifying to be a writer. Even if you are aware that you have never accomplished anything, you don't feel so bad, because Tolstoy accomplishes enough for everyone ...

... just as friends help one another every step along the path, we lift each other up whenever someone falls!

And perhaps there are also echoes of the song "Our House" – which inspired another beautiful friend, more than a decade ago, to bestow the trail names "Cat One" and "Cat Two":

With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy
'Cause of you.

Yes! 🐈 🐈‍⬛

(cf Virtual Friendships (1999-11-05), Chekhov on Tolstoy (2005-07-15), Running Friendships (2012-03-06), Friendship and Meditation (2012-11-06), Mantra - For Us (2015-11-28), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-21

- Friday, July 21, 2023 at 10:54:35 (EDT)

Eight Life Goals

In "The Art of Choosing What to Do With Your Life" (NY Times, 15 Aug 2022) Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey offer a useful list of "enduring categories" for the human mission, based on Thomas Aquinas:

... an interesting (and non-exclusive) list of options to consider!

(NYT gift-link; cf What Is My Life? (1999-04-30), .Bennett on Life (2000-03-19), My Ob (2002-08-18),Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), Life As a Work of Art (2008-11-11), Personless Mission Statement (2009-04-29), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-20

- Thursday, July 20, 2023 at 16:24:03 (EDT)

Signs of Intelligence

Excerpted from "People Are Revealing The "Dead Giveaway" Signs That Someone Is A LOT Smarter Than They Let On" by Raven Ishak, which was based on a Reddit discussion [1]:

... clues to watch for — and perhaps practices to cultivate in oneself.

(cf Genius and Complexity (1999-05-25), Classy People (2000-04-01), ExtraOrdinary (2004-04-09), Characteristics of Superforecasters (2015-11-21), Learning vs Performing (2016-02-08), Superfluid Intelligence (2018-06-09), Six Secrets of Intelligence (2019-10-10), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-19

- Wednesday, July 19, 2023 at 11:04:44 (EDT)

Back in Balance

Tidbits from Back in Balance: Using the Alexander Technique to Combat Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain by Richard Brennan (2013):

Chapter 4:

... This is exactly what Alexander meant when he said that if you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing will happen by itself.

Chapter 7:

In his book Man's Search for Meaning, the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Dr Victor Frankl, wrote a very good description of what Alexander meant by the word inhibition:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.

In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our happiness.
Chapter 8:

The main direction to prevent the habit of pulling the head back is:

  1. Allow the neck to be free
        so that
  2. The head can go forward and upwards
        in order that
  3. The back can lengthen and widen

Chapter 10:

It would take too long to look at every movement we make, but the following principles can be applied to working at a computer, driving a car, running and swimming, or to any of the thousands of activities we do.

Chapter 11:

During his years of discovery, Alexander realized that the body, mind and emotions did not only affect one another, they were in fact inseparable – he referred to this principle as psycho-physical unity. This fundamental principle of the Alexander Technique, which states that the body, mind and emotions are merely different facets of the same entity, means that if we change one thing we change all of them.


The habit of rushing from one thing to the next is a problem that not only affects us physically, but it also affects us mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Feeling that we do not have enough time affects us mentally: by over-stimulating the mind, eventually causing mental blocks, an overactive mind that gives us little or no control over persistent unwanted thoughts, and endless worry for no reason. It affects us emotionally, because it can cause us to lose control of our anger and react irrationally, which eventually can damage relationships with family or friends. It can affect us spiritually, because it prevents us from being in contact with the peace and tranquillity that should be the very essence and foundation of our lives. Stress prevents us from 'being human' in the truest sense of the word and turns us into doing machines, which in time will start to break down.


It is important to differentiate between doing things quickly and rushing our movements: there is nothing wrong with doing things quickly, it is constant hurrying that harms us.

and finally, in Chapter 13:

... I began to notice that my everyday life became more of a flow and much less of a struggle. After a month or so, I began to notice how restless my mind was, constantly telling me I was not good enough or that this or that was wrong with my life. Over time, practising the technique seemed to help me quieten my mind, and the more peaceful I felt, the more I could see how much out of control my thoughts had been and how much I was constantly reacting to my own thoughts.

I began to see clearly that there was a definite correlation between the amount of mental activity that was going on in my head and how tense my back muscles were. I still have Alexander lessons today, not because of any back pain, but because there is always something I can learn about myself that can improve the quality of my life and consequently the lives of those around me. One of my pupils once said to me that since he started to have Alexander lessons everyone around him at home had changed for the better. The family, however, were adamant that the only change that had happened was within the man, who had become much more pleasant to live with. Even in business meetings and other social situations, the atmosphere can be much more harmonious and efficient if those participating are calmer. When working in companies I have certainly found that people are able to think more clearly and as a result can be more creative with their ideas after a course of Alexander lessons.

The experience of the Alexander Technique actually puts you in touch with your own true essence, an experience that some people may not have had since childhood. It can give us the power to alter our consciousness, which can allow spontaneous gratitude to take the place of negative thinking; since our consciousness has no limits, there is no end to how attentive or appreciative we can be of this amazing existence. The more aware we are, the more alive we will feel and the greater our capacity to enjoy life will be. ...

So much wisdom in not-doing — with awareness!

(cf Comments on Don't Do That (2012-02-19), Alexander Technique (2012-03-12), Body Learning (2015-06-19), Bubble of Peace (2023-07-05), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-18

- Tuesday, July 18, 2023 at 17:33:34 (EDT)

Mantra - Be Curious and Kind

"... curiosity and kindness don't take work.
They take practice and recognition ..."

... and we should be observant and loving to ourselves, and to others!

So suggests Judson Brewer of the Brown University Mindfulness Center, interviewed in Joshua Rothman's "Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Change Our Minds?" (New Yorker, 10 July 2023). Rothman explores Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (C.B.T.) and suggests that it might be (sometimes?) helpful to gently examine one's own beliefs, without judging (too much!) or clinging (maybe!). His essay concludes with a lovely metacognitive metaphor:

The mind is an alien place; it's impossible to describe anyone’s completely and accurately. This only makes it more powerful when a therapeutic model offers you a way of describing yourself to yourself. Do we really have "core beliefs"? Are we really shaped by our "automatic thoughts"? Simply by proposing such ideas, we can make them almost true. It's by believing in descriptions that we allow therapy to slide from theory into practice. Scaling the rock face of our own problems, we can carve the rock in fresh ways, inventing handholds; we can create new routes where none seemed to exist. ...

... shades of Richard Wilbur's poem "Mind", eh?!

(cf Present-Moment Reality (2008-11-05), Mantra - Notice and Return (2014-11-30), Befriending the Self (2015-05-15), Wakeful, Open, Tender (2016-08-25, Intuitive Eating (2019-12-20), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-17

- Monday, July 17, 2023 at 08:50:24 (EDT)

More Lessons on Relieving Anxiety

Quotes from the book Don't Worry: 48 Lessons on Relieving Anxiety from a Zen Buddhist Monk, by Shunmyo Masuno (2022, translated by Allison Markin Powell):

(cf Without Anxiety about Imperfection (2015-05-21), Worry, Stress, Anxiety.html (2020-03-04), Lessons on Relieving Anxiety (2022-11-11), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-16

- Sunday, July 16, 2023 at 18:53:14 (EDT)

Time to Think

Kind correspondent Lila das Gupta recommends Nancy Kline's book Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind. A summary of Kline's "10 enablers of thinking", from her web site:

(cf alternative synopsis at [1], and here: Learning to Pause (2015-08-10), Superpowers - Systems Thinking, Asking, and Listening (2019-01-29), Listening (2020-01-17), Disagreement under Disagreement (2020-12-02), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-16

- Sunday, July 16, 2023 at 07:30:04 (EDT)

How to Teach a Slug to Read

The children's book How to Teach a Slug to Read (by Susan Pearson, illustrations David Slonim, 2011) is brilliant in its rôle-reversal conceit (and the pictures are full of subtle cleverness too!). Addressed to little kids, the suggestions are wise. Slightly abridged:

(cf ReadAloud (2002-03-20), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-14

- Friday, July 14, 2023 at 16:07:18 (EDT)

It's OK

The new picture-book It's OK: Being Kind to Yourself When Things Feel Hard is far from deep literature – it's preachy and obvious – and that's totally all right! The lesson it teaches is vital. When something happens that's stressful or sad, hurtful or bad:

I put my hand on my heart, and here's what I say:
It's OK — I love you. I'm with you today.

... great wisdom, even if not great poetry. (And the artwork is sweet!)

(It's OK: Being Kind to Yourself When Things Feel Hard, by Wendy O'Leary, illustrator Sandra Eide (Shambhala Publications, 2023); cf Positive Thinking Techniques (2017-09-21), See the Good in Others (2018-01-02), For Positive Thinking (2022-02-07), Life Is Hard, and It's OK (2022-03-04), Lessons on Relieving Anxiety (2022-11-11), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-14

- Friday, July 14, 2023 at 15:46:09 (EDT)

Enthusiasm and Luck

“You make your own luck, when you have the right attitude.”

      What traits beget good luck?

"Enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm and ... um ... enthusiasm."

... said Dean Porter (1939-2022), artist and professor at Notre Dame, as quoted in the Washington Post essay "What friends of other ages — and life stages — can teach us" by Renee Yaseen.

Yes, and...!

(cf My Own Weather (2009-094-17), Three Keys to Success (2011-10-26), Make Your Own Luck (2011-11-24), Mister Pollyanna (2020-01-28), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-14

- Friday, July 14, 2023 at 07:32:04 (EDT)

Meditation Secrets - FAQ

Meditation Secrets for Women by Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche (author of Meditation Made Easy) offers some welcoming Q&A at end of its "Introduction":

... funny, and wise advice! — more best-bits to follow.

(cf Meditation Made Easy (2008-11-01), Mantra - There Are No Secrets (2015-10-02), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-13

- Thursday, July 13, 2023 at 07:21:28 (EDT)

Humility, Sadness, and Striving

Beautiful thoughts about life and humanity in David Wolpe's "As a Rabbi, I've Had a Privileged View of the Human Condition" (NYT 2 July 2023):

... All of us are wounded and broken in one way or another; those who do not recognize it in themselves or in others are more likely to cause damage than those who realize and try to rise through the brokenness.

This is what binds together a faith community. No religious tradition, certainly not my own, looks at an individual and says: "There. You are perfect." It is humility and sadness and striving that raises us, doing good that proves the tractability of the world and its openness to improvement, and faith that allows us to continue through the shared valleys.

... and:

... Sometimes it seems, for those outside of faith communities, that religion is simply about a set of beliefs to which one assents. But I know that from the inside it is about relationships and shared vision. Where else do people sing together week after week? Where else does the past come alive to remind us how much has been learned before the sliver of time we are granted in this world?

... and:

... Two practices have enabled us to stay together. Over the years I have encouraged people to learn about each other's lives before they explore each other's politics. When you share the struggles of raising children and navigating life, when you attend meetings and pack lunches together, when you are on the same softball team and sit near each other in synagogue, you don't start each conversation with how the other party's candidate is a scoundrel.

The second is listening. We, who do not know ourselves, believe we understand others. We must always be reminded that each person is a world, and that the caricatures we see of others on social media and in the news are just that — a small slice of the vastness within each human being.

Learning and Listening ...

(cf Operating System of the Universe (2019-10-17), Tikkun Olam (2019-12-11), Two Thoughts (2020-10-02), Created for Dust and Ashes (2023-05-22), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-12

- Wednesday, July 12, 2023 at 07:37:28 (EDT)

Omnium Gatherum

"Working Methods" is a lovely essay by Keith Thomas in the London Review of Books (10 June 2010) describing how (some, classical) historians (and other researchers) work (sometimes). In brief, they (often) try to:

What's most funny-true in Thomas's essay are his descriptions of how real people work — "... error-prone human beings who patch together the results of incomplete research in order to construct an account whose rhetorical power will, they hope, compensate for gaps in the argument and deficiencies in the evidence ...". And hilarious are Thomas's descriptions of chaotic piles of materials, spilling into one another, overflowing into wastebaskets, and (often, eventually) left to be rummaged through and discarded by a later generation ...

(cf comments by Language Hat et al, and Commonplace Books (2010-05-10), Great Conversation (2020-04-23), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-11

- Tuesday, July 11, 2023 at 06:05:38 (EDT)

Positive Daydreaming

"The key thing is learning that you can control your attention. Many people don’t appreciate that."

... quoting Prof Jonathan Schooler, from the 2022 NYT essay "In Defense of Daydreaming" by Melinda Wenner Moyer. Key takeaways:

... and perhaps that's the secret: daydream actively, with energy and enthusiasm!

(cf Ultimate Freedom (2017-06-18), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-09

- Sunday, July 09, 2023 at 07:49:48 (EDT)

Hasta Luego

I won't say 'See you tomorrow' because that would be like predicting the future, and I'm pretty sure I can't do that.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1949)

(cf Problems of Knowledge 2010-07-29), Metacognition and Open Mindedness (2015-11-15), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-07

- Friday, July 07, 2023 at 08:26:58 (EDT)

All the Gold Stars

Rainesford Stauffer's new book All the Gold Stars was highlighted in "Off the Clock", a review-essay last month in the NYT by Emma Goldberg, who observes:

Stauffer traces the history of the term “ambition,” how it shifted from being seen as a vice (synonymous with soliciting votes for office in ancient Rome) to a virtue (associated with serving God and country, through work). Then she asks whether we can be ambitious about life outside our careers, including in how we parent, take care of friends, get to know neighbors or even just play. She captures, too, the moments when people realize there’s a cost to spending time only on work: when a young woman learns that the company to which she’s devoted 40 to 50 hours every week won’t give her adequate leave to be with her sick mother; when another woman grasps that her self-worth is so bound up with her job performance that she has allowed her relationship to become a casualty of her professional stress.

All the Gold Stars describes the author's own problems, perhaps in a bit too much digressive detail. Stauffer's bottom line, however, buried on pps 255ff, is worth pondering:

... Rather than landing on a single new definition of ambition, I found a stratosphere of everything I missed when I thought ambition was only one thing.

I'm ambitious about being a friend. My goal is to follow up with friends like I follow up with pitches. My motivation is to become someone on whom others depend, who listens, who shows up, not when it's convenient but when it's needed.*

I'm ambitious about imagination. My goal is to move away from what I know I can get right and sit in everything I've been too scared to try. My motivation is to not edit my imagination down to what I would change about my life, my dreams, or my circumstances, but rather, what I can see even beyond them.

I'm ambitious about interdependence. My goal is to contribute: to mutual aid groups and folks doing good work in my area, to care I provide my communities and friends. My motivation is that to care for others, I have to practice asking for care myself.

I'm ambitous about this pause. Not the future I can envision; not the deadline I've met. This second, the only one I get for sure.

... wonderful thoughts!

And an optimistic mindfulness-footnote: perhaps it's possible, although doubtless difficult, to do this important work – integrating Community, Acceptance, and Awareness – within a conventional job context. Not everyone can afford to flee The System, even partially. Bills must be paid, kids must be raised. The table doesn't set itself, the dishes don't wash themselves. Yet there's hope for self-actualization and insight, even in the hardest circumstances. At least one must hope so!

*Echoing the classic words of Colossus in Deadpool 2: "This is what friends do. They show up! Not when convenient or easy. When hard."

(cf Plenty of Time (2009-03-09), Every Moment is an Opportunity (2009-03-24), Dimensionless and Therefore Infinite (2010-02-03), Mindfulness for Beginners (2013-07-18), Enlightenment Is Not (2015-07-06), Moments of Mindfulness (2016-09-15), What Friends Do (2019-11-26), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-06

- Thursday, July 06, 2023 at 10:18:54 (EDT)

Bubble of Peace

Maybe it's just all about awareness? – Eliza Brooke's essay "How a 14-Minute Video on Posture Changed My Life" (NYT gift-link [1]) begins:

The world is loud and full of interruptions, from the phone buzzing in your pocket to the garbage truck backing up outside your window. It's rare to find yourself in an environment that is totally tranquil — rarer still to be in a head space where you’re able to dissolve into that bubble of peace. ...

She describes ASMR and its stress-reduction benefits:

... as an anxious person living through abnormally anxious times, listening to strangers talk in soft, competent, unfailingly kind tones helped slow my spiraling thoughts ...

... and goes on to discuss "unintentional ASMR" with the archetypal example "Alexander technique lesson with Diana Devitt-Dawson" (described by some as "the 'Citizen Kane' of ASMR videos" or "possibly the greatest 14 minutes in ASMR history"). Brooke concludes:

In a way, this video embodies the curious nature of ASMR itself. The first intentional ASMR videos responded to clips and comments on YouTube about a weird, nameless sensation; it feels fitting that despite ASMR’s present-day popularity, some puzzles within the genre persist. A video such as Devitt-Dawson’s feels like an encouragement to marinate in the unknown for a while, to recognize the many questions it prompts as intriguing but irrelevant.

The first time I watched Devitt-Dawson's lesson, I felt as though I'd been transported into an office phone booth, only it was the best phone booth ever — serene, silent, with no looming editors or pesky colleagues waiting to make a call. This is the paradoxical beauty of it. By capturing the absurdly soothing quality of certain real-world situations, unintentional ASMR can create the kind of peaceful environment that is so difficult to achieve in life. That is, until it's time to exit your happy void and return once more to reality.

Perhaps the central insight is simply mindfulness ("lon" in toki pona?) – conscious existence in the present moment.

(cf This (2013-03-09), Linguistic Origins of Mindfulness (2015-05-11), 2017-02-18 - Death by Do Loop with Stephanie (2017-03-20), This Moment (2019-01-09), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-05

- Wednesday, July 05, 2023 at 13:48:55 (EDT)

Careers, Jobs, Tasks

A sad progression over the generations:

Our grandparents had careers.
Our parents had jobs.
We complete tasks.

... from the essay "Why Poverty Persists in America" by Matthew Desmond, quoting sociologist Gerald Davis – with the caveat, "... Or at least that has been the story of the American working class and working poor."

(cf Our Balance Sheet (1999-09-22), SeverePrivilege (2000-06-07), Freeedom Peace Commerce Education (2002-09-13), Optimistic Pessimism (2003-03-19), Vast Injustice (2006-01-13), Philanthropy and Charity (2010-03-28), Utilitarian Lifesaving (2013-10-20), Pandemic of Pain (2023-05-07), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-03

- Monday, July 03, 2023 at 06:25:34 (EDT)

Seek Out Awe

In her opinion-essay "What a musician turned cognitive scientist wants you to know about life", after some personal anecdotes Maya Shankar advises:

Look for opportunities to practice imaginative courage, remember that why you do something is more important than what you do and, whenever possible, try and seek out awe.

(in the Washington Post 2023-06-26, adapted from a May 2023 commencement address at the Julliard School; cf Art, Courage, Life (2000-07-03), How Great Thou Art (2005-03-16), This Is Water (2009-05-21), Mantra - Help, Thanks, Wow (2015-01-06), Numinous (2020-08-09), Scout Mindset (2021-11-14), ...) - ^z - 2023-07-01

- Saturday, July 01, 2023 at 17:30:18 (EDT)

Most Beautiful Day

“… last Sunday I woke early to the most beautiful day in the history of the world, as my brother calls every day of his life …”

... what a perfect attitude!

(from the Margaret Renkl essay "The Nature of Joy" in the 26 July NYT ...) - ^z - 2023-07-01

- Saturday, July 01, 2023 at 11:40:58 (EDT)

Snowy Petrels

Lyricism from The Worst Journey in the World (1922; Chapter III, "Southward") by Apsley Cherry-Garrard:

... There are many other beautiful sea-birds, but most beautiful of all are the Snowy petrels, which approach nearer to the fairies than anything else on earth. They are quite white, and seemingly transparent. They are the familiar spirits of the pack, which, except to nest, they seldom if ever leave, flying "here and there independently in a mazy fashion, glittering against the blue sky like so many white moths, or shining snowflakes." ...

... quoted phrase credited to "Wilson" in the Discovery Natural History Reports.

(cf Birdless Silence (2004-06-05), BirdySunset (2006-12-03), Birding, Zen, and BirdCast (2023-04-19), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-28

- Wednesday, June 28, 2023 at 07:30:58 (EDT)

Moynihan on Conservatives and Liberals

"Liberals are people who would like to see things improved, and conservatives are people who would like to see things not worsened."

... said Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) in a 1987 CSPAN interview with Brian Lamb (as quoted recently by E J Dionne Jr via Jeffrey Tyler Syck).

Moynian spoke of the need for balance in life – the sad fact that there are many ways for things to go wrong in the world, and for big complex systems to decline. Good, nuanced, mature thinking!

(cf Lyndon Johnson Political Philosophy (2006-10-06), Righteous Mind (2020-07-12), Humane Conservatism (2020-12-29), Liberal Party, Conservative Party (2022-02-25), ...)^z - 2023-06-27

- Tuesday, June 27, 2023 at 06:51:06 (EDT)

Perlis on Programming

Some selected "Epigrams on Programming" by computer scientist Alan Perlis (1922-1990):

5. If a program manipulates a large amount of data, it does so in a small number of ways.

6. Symmetry is a complexity reducing concept (co-routines include sub-routines); seek it everywhere.

10. Get into a rut early: Do the same processes the same way. Accumulate idioms. Standardize. The only difference (!) between Shakespeare and you was the size of his idiom list – not the size of his vocabulary.

12. Recursion is the root of computation since it trades description for time.

15. Everything should be built top-down, except the first time.

19. A language that doesn't affect the way you think about programming is not worth knowing.

25. One can only display complex information in the mind. Like seeing, movement or flow or alteration of view is more important than the static picture, no matter how lovely.

30. In programming, everything we do is a special case of something more general – and often we know it too quickly.

35. Everyone can be taught to sculpt; Michelangelo would have had to be taught how not to. So it is with the great programmers.

48. The best book on programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland; but that's because it's the best book on anything for the layman.

63. When we write programs that "learn" it turns out we do and they don't.

101. Dealing with failure is easy: Work hard to improve. Success is also easy to handle: You've solved the wrong problem. Work hard to improve.

108. Whenever two programmers meet to criticize their programs, both are silent.

The complete set of Perlis proverbs was published in SIGPLAN Notices Vol. 17, No. 9, September 1982, pages 7 - 13 ...

(cf Alice in Wonderland (2008-03-22), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-26

- Monday, June 26, 2023 at 07:08:56 (EDT)

Garden and Library

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

... by Cicero, from Wikiquote:

Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit.
– To Varro, in Ad Familiares IX, 4

(cf Boston Public Library (2002-06-20), GotLibrary (2003-09-17), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-25

- Sunday, June 25, 2023 at 07:38:00 (EDT)

Truth, Justice, and ...

Erik Lundegaard's 2006 essay "Truth, Justice and (Fill in the Blank)", describes some of the evolution of the Man of Steel's catchphrase:

... and re the absence of "the American Way" sub-clause in the film "Superman Returns, Lundegaard concludes:

... There's no reason to be upset. Superman is right back where he began: fighting a never-ending battle for truth and justice. That should be enough to occupy any man. Even a Superman.

And as of 2021, the mission statement is: "Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow"!

(cf Heroes (We Could Be) (2018-01-25), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-24

- Saturday, June 24, 2023 at 07:52:21 (EDT)

Pure Waiting

In a 2008 essay "Waiting Is" spiritual writer/speaker/teacher Peter Russell suggests:

"Waiting Is"—a phrase immortalized in Robert Heinlein's celebrated sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

For most of us waiting is not easy, often a bore. Waiting for a bus or train, we look for something to do to pass the time. Sitting in a doctor's waiting room, we idle away the minutes thumbing through magazines of no particular interest.

We want the waiting to be over with, so that we can get on with whatever is the next task at hand. Yet in treating waiting this way, we deny ourselves a most valuable opportunity.

Pure waiting, not waiting for any event to happen, just waiting without wanting, can be a profound spiritual practice.

When you simply wait, not waiting for anything in particular, not wishing things were different than than they are, the mind relaxes. And, as you let go of wanting, you will probably find your awareness of the present moment expanding.

Many, from Buddha to Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle, have encouraged us to be more aware of the present, to "be here, now". And numerous practices aim to help us become more aware of the present. Most, however, lead to focusing of the attention on some aspect of the present—the breath, a visual object, a mantra. The focus may be effortless, nevertheless it is there, a very faint directing of the attention.

With pure waiting, on the other hand, there is no attempt to be aware of any particular aspect of the present. Instead, with nothing to do, no particular thing to wait for, there is space for more of the present to reveal itself. We begin to notice aspects of our world we were not aware of before—the sound of a clock, or a distant conversation; a tree gently waving in the breeze; the touch of clothes against the skin. It does not matter what. It will probably be different every time, simply because the present is different from one moment to the next.

As you get the hang of simply waiting, you will find yourself being present in a relaxed, innocent, undirected way.

So the next time you have to wait for something, use the time as an opportunity to become more awake. Instead of waiting for that something, simply wait. No expectations. Simply stopping, and waiting, with an open mind.

Nor do we need to wait for a late bus or be sitting in a "waiting room" before we can practice waiting. Any moment of the day we can choose to pause for a while and simply wait.

Waiting without expectation for whatever is next. Maybe a bird flies past the window. Perhaps the refrigerator starts up. Or we find we have wandered off on some thought. It doesn't matter. Waiting is.

You can start right now. Pause. Take a breath. Relax... And wait...

... a powerful meditative practice – and it's all about Acceptance ...

(cf Hurry Patiently (2008-12-14), Waiting Is (2011-01-17), Light Pause (2015-03-21), What Is Zazen (2017-02-11), Do Nothing (2020-06-28), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-23

- Friday, June 23, 2023 at 12:08:29 (EDT)

Dizzy Doc

"The Dizzy Doctor" – Timothy C. Hain, M.D. – has a sense of humor as well as a deep collection of medical information and professional commentary in his online "book". Dr Hain is a Professor Emeritus at Northwestern University Medical School and has been focusing for many decades on vertigo and hearing disturbances – though he also notes parenthetically, concerning his long list of exploratory research: "(maybe a few too many interests here)".

Self-awareness and self-deprecating humor as well as solid data and critical thinking – what's not to like?! Some sample snippet snapshots from his web site:

... re periventricular white matter lesions (pwm), which can reduce thinking ability:

Cerebral white matter lesions are common, alarming, and often called "incidental" by physicians. Perhaps for this reason, the author of this page (Dr. Hain) has been emailed several times with vigorously phrased requests to weaken the language concerning the cognitive consequences of white matter lesions. I just report what the literature has to say, and unfortunately, "it is what it is". Still, in response, I have adjusted the language in some places to use more "academic" terms for reduced mental function.

... re the psychology of tinnitus treatment:

The bottom line is that it is unusual (although not impossible) for people to get substantial relief from medication, devices, diet, or surgery. In fact, "obsessing" about tinnitus, generally tends to make it more persistent and worse. Thus paradoxically enough, doctors tend to discourage reading of web pages like this one, or joining of support groups. Most people "get used" to tinnitus, and learn to "tune it out". When this doesn't happen, the treatments that work the best for tinnitus are those that alter ones emotional state – antidepressants and antianxiety drugs, and ones that allow you to get a full night's sleep.

... re the placebo effect in treating tinnitus:

There are numerous devices and medications for tinnitus that are probably placebos. See this page for more discussion. If a placebo works for you – that's wonderful !

... re sexual activity and vertigo:

It is with some trepidation that we offer a few tentative observations concerning the association between sexual activity and vertigo. To our knowledge, the world literature has remained rather silent on this subject. For students – a good topic for research ? Nevertheless, as a result, the content of this page is based on a combination of consideration of mechanisms and clinical material from the author's dizziness practice in Chicago Illinois.

First, it is highly unusual for patients to come in stating that their dizziness began or was triggered during a sexual encounter. We think that this is mainly due to shyness, as a little bit of thought about dizziness would suggest that it should occur rather commonly.

... re migraine headaches:

Migraine is a "committee" diagnosis – meaning that a group of people got together somewhere and decided what they were going to call a "migraine". Modern genetics has established that there are a large number of genes that contribute slightly to the probability that someone will be diagnosed with "migraine". In other words, we are not dealing with a "disease" – we have a group of symptoms that are subcategorized by a committee that was set up prior to the advent of modern genetics.

There are several other "committee" diagnoses relevant to vertigo – including Meniere's disease. For "committee" diagnoses, "ruling out everything else" is usually required by the diagnostic process. Some disorders that we deal with commonly in dizzy persons, such as "cervical vertigo", don't have a committee, and being undefined, are less studied than disorders fortunate enough to have their own committee. On the other hand, if one needs a committee to define something, it means that the "somethings" very existence is subject to negotiation.

... re placebos in general:

Hope springs eternal in the hearts of man as the saying goes. There are an immense number of medications or regimens for migraine, some of which are probably placebos. By placebo, we mean a substance or procedure that has no net positive effect, aside from providing hope and the "placebo effect". We do not think that there is no value for this. Still, we think it might be preferable to pick a medication or procedure that has been proven to help to a greater extent than placebo, when this is available.

All great advice, with superb metacognitive awareness of the practical limitations of medical knowledge, eh?!

(cf True Names (2003-10-16), Comfortably Numb (2008-03-13), Gross Anatomy (2008-07-13), Humerus Fracture (2008-10-15), UltraMedicine (2008-11-21), Differential Diagnosis (2010-10-07), Double Vision, Ringing Ears (2014-07-10), How Doctors Think (2014-10-28), Magnetic Resonance Imagery (2018-01-13), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-22

- Thursday, June 22, 2023 at 08:08:26 (EDT)

How the World Really Works

Vaclav Smil writes engagingly and at length (rather great length!) about science and public policy issues. His 2022 book How the World Really Works analyzes the global situation through the lens of energy and materials, and applies good methods to help understand tough problems. It shines a spotlight on what Smil calls the "four pillars of modern civilization: ammonia, steel, concrete, and plastics" – along with the inputs and processes needed to make and distribute and use them and other key components of life.

From the concluding chapter of How the World Really Works, important points on size and inertia of large modern systems, and on the pitfalls of forecasting:

... We do not have a civilization envisioned in the early 1970s—one of worsening planetary hunger or one energized by cost-free nuclear fission—and a generation from now we will not be either at the end of our evolutionary path or have a civilization transformed by Singularity. We will still be around during the 2030s, albeit without the unimaginable benefits of speed-of-light intelligence. And we will still be trying to do the impossible, to make long-range forecasts. That is bound to bring more embarrassments and more ridiculous predictions, as well as more surprises caused by unanticipated events. Extremes are fairly easy to envisage; anticipating realities that will arise from combinations of inertial developments and unpredictable discontinuities remains an elusive quest. No amount of modeling will eliminate that, and our long-range predictions will continue to err.

This is not a contradiction, not a forecast to dismiss future forecasts, just a highly probable, if not inevitable, conclusion based on the unforeseeable interplay of the inherent inertia of complex systems, with their embedded constants and long-term imperatives on one hand, and sudden discontinuities and surprises—be they technical (the rise of consumer electronics; possible breakthroughs in electricity storage) or social (the collapse of the USSR; another, much more virulent pandemic)—on the other. What makes all forecasts even harder is that now the key transformations have to unfold on enormous scales.

... echoes of John Sterman's observations about forecasting complex systems!

(cf Forecasting Lessons from Systems Dynamics (2017-07-05), Systems Dynamics Advice (2017-07-12), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-21

- Wednesday, June 21, 2023 at 13:44:13 (EDT)


Suggestion from the "Cats Against Anxiety" deck of cards:

Good night

Before you go to bed tonight, write down 3 things you're grateful for. This may include the people you love, daily experiences or whatever you like. Think about these 3 things as you go to sleep.

... bedtime thankfulness and gratitude – why not? 😊 😊

(cf ThanksFor (2001-11-22), Mantra - Help, Thanks, Wow (2015-01-06), Gratefulation and Gratituding (2021-11-11), Comments on Thanks (2021-2022), Optimism - Review Your Day (2023-06-09), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-21

- Wednesday, June 21, 2023 at 07:14:19 (EDT)

Self-Reinvention, Self-Transformation, Self-Fulfillment

Excerpts from a letter to employees by Daniel Zhang (in the CNBC article "‘When we meet again, may we all be carefree’: Read the outgoing Alibaba CEO’s memo to staff"):

… This change signifies a new phase and new journey, not only for the company but also for me personally. Time flies, and this year marks my 16th year at Alibaba Group. My appointment as CEO and Chairman of Alibaba Group was beyond my imagination. Being able to fully dedicate myself to the roles for as long as I have is truly due to the trust, support, encouragement, and patience I have received from everyone. For this, I am forever deeply grateful. …

… [We] enabled the digital transformation of businesses, and made positive contributions to society. Together we withstood the challenges brought about by the pandemic and weathered the uncertainties of the macro environment over the past three years. Through prosperity and adversity, we grew stronger, shared unforgettable experiences, and persevered through it all together. I am grateful for the friendships and bonds forged during this journey that is more valuable and meaningful to me than anything else.

Over the past 24 years, we have initiated self-reinvention many times. Today, we are all standing together at a new starting point, hoping to unlock new growth through self-transformation. … I hope everyone will find the best path and platform for themselves. Your self-fulfillment will benefit society and the company, but more importantly, hopefully will help you discover how to be the best version of yourself. …

… My friends, the landscape may evolve, but the mountains remain and the rivers will continue to flow. Let’s start a new chapter. When we meet again, may we all be carefree!

... so optimistic, so charitable, so focused on self-actualization – and so good!

(cf Optimist Creed (1999-04-16), My Ob (2002-08-18), Improving My Mind (2003-06-22), Best Self (2013-12-14), Mantra - Give More Praise (2019-07-28), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-20

- Tuesday, June 20, 2023 at 08:05:16 (EDT)

Most People Seek to Be Good

David Brooks, New York Times columnist, in a recent essay writes:

... I hold the belief that most people, while flawed, seek to be good. I hold the belief that our institutions, while fraying, are basically legitimate and deserve our respect. I hold the belief that character matters, and that good people ultimately prosper and unethical people are ultimately undone. ...

(cf Optimist Creed (1999-04-16), Esse Quam Videri (2003-08-02), Karma (2009-07-15), Eagles Are All about Efficiency (2020-05-12), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-19

- Monday, June 19, 2023 at 07:23:41 (EDT)

Working Well and Looking Long

Emily Riehl is a mathematician (category theorist and professor at Johns Hopkins), a musician (bass guitar), and an athlete (rugby, Australian Rules Football). During a 2017 "PhD + epsilon" interview by Beth Malmskog, Professor Riehl describes how she is a highly productive professional using a radical time management strategy:

I read Hardy's A Mathematician’s Apology in high school and my main takeaway was from the forward written by C P Snow, who described Hardy’s typical day: he devoted four hours in the morning, from 8-12, doing math, and then spent the afternoon watching cricket. It struck me as a particularly aspirational life style and so I’ve always focused more on working well than on working long hours. My main time management strategy is to start work on the thing that is due the soonest last, when I'll be the most focused. So, for example, if I have a referee report due in three months, I wait until almost three months have passed, and then start to read the paper. I also do the preparation for my teaching in the hour or hour and a half before class, in what often feels like a race to figure out how to prove all the theorems before I rush across campus. Occasionally this gets me in to trouble, for instance when I was trying set up a transfinite induction over the reals and couldn’t understand why the intermediate stages were all "countable" (aside: I'm now firmly in the camp that believes that the axiom of choice is clearly true, while the well-ordering principle is clearly false). But this approach is very effective at reserving time for research and other long-term projects.

Riehl's career vision is awesomely inspirational:

In a decade's time, I hope I'm working on projects that I can't even imagine now and have found a way to be a part of larger mathematical and public conversations.

(cf If You Need a Theorem (2018-11-08), Clarity, Understanding, Community (2020-09-03), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-28

- Sunday, June 18, 2023 at 19:58:50 (EDT)

Cults and Conspiracies


Ross Douthat's fascinating NYT op-ed "This C.S. Lewis Novel Helps Explain the Weirdness of 2023" hints at an excellent hypothesis about many current and classic social-personal problems – human psychology gone astray. Douthat springboards off the fantasy-sf-novel That Hideous Strength, wherein a techno-elite conspiracy is connecting to satanic powers. He cites Zoe Curzi's description of her experiences in a post-rationalist group that maybe was trying to save the world, but maybe went down a rabbit-hole of cultish groupthink.

Douthat said in 2019 [1], "The wild theories are false; even so, the secrets and mysteries are real." Yes! And the best way to understand secrets and mysteries is patient, open, rational, evidence-based discussion – that is, science.

(cf ScienceAndPseudoscience (2001-10-06), ScientificRevolutions (2002-08-16), ExaggeratedCertainty (2002-12-16), PickyAboutFacts (2003-03-11), ...) ^z - 2023-06-17

- Saturday, June 17, 2023 at 14:58:57 (EDT)

More Gratitude Revisited

"Gratitude Really is Good for You. Here’s What the Science Shows" by Christina Caron underscores the value of thankfulness. Caron's essay speculates that "... a small dose of gratitude, once a day, is ideal ..." and recommends being specific about what we are grateful for. It offers a "List of questions to generate gratitude" by Prof Joel Wong. A sampler with representative prompts from various categories:

1. What went well this week?

25. What opportunities have I had to serve others?

30. What do I appreciate about the view outside the window of my home/office?

39. Who makes me feel like I truly matter?

64. How have I grown as a person or what character strengths did I develop as a result of [a specific] stressful experience?

80. In what ways is my life a gift? In what ways have I experienced grace (undeserved favor) from life, others, or a higher power?

100. Who in my culture do I admire or is a role model? (This could be someone you personally know or a historical figure.)

See List of Questions to Generate Gratitude.html for a copy of Prof Wong's suggestions.

(cf Gratefulation and Gratituding (2021-11-11), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-16

- Friday, June 16, 2023 at 09:53:35 (EDT)

Systems Thinking for Kids

From the transcript of "Episode 039: The B-Side of Software Development with Scott Hanselman" in the "Greater than Code" series of podcasts (dated 11 July 2017):

JESSICA: Yeah. Also, I think systems thinking is both the biggest thing that we're coming to in code and that helps us more than anything with creating software systems. It’s also a fascinating thing that’s coming out of code because we finally have the opportunity to really study systems because we can change them so fast. My secret hope – well, it's not very secret – is the software industry can change the world by teaching all of us more about systems thinking.

SCOTT: I think that those are very reasonable things to hope for. I think that we need to catch the kids before they're 10 because after having now raised two kids up to 11, I realized that a 10-year head start is an eternity. You can’t snatch a 20-year old out of school in a trade and make them the same developer. You could make them developers, put them in a bootcamp but they will be different people with different paths. It's hard to teach systems thinking if one has spent 20 years of their life not thinking about systems. Bootcamps will teach you 'for' loops and syntax but you'll always be a little bit behind, unless it’s naturally coming to you. My kids can't code. It’s too early. I keep them off the computer as much as possible.

JESSICA: But they can problem solve.

SCOTT: They can problem solve. They are systems thinking. I have conversations with my nine-year old because we listen to a podcast in the car, listen to Marketplace which is his favorite podcast. He will talk to you about currency fluctuations and how the dollar here goes against South African Rand and stuff like that and why those things matter, but he couldn't write 'for' loops to save his life. I would argue that they can pick up the syntax at some point but you have to get systems thinking early. We need to teach systems thinking at first grade and second grade.

ASTRID: I really like the focus on the systems thinking and the problem solving because I think it is way more inclusive. I think there are a lot of people who are very intimidated by the idea of trying to learn how to code, but they are solving problems and making decisions all the time, and I don't think that they realize that those things are related. They think they're very separate things and they don't see that if they can bring them together, it's a very powerful thing.

(cf Systems Dynamics Advice (2017-07-12), Thinking in Systems (2017-11-03), Systems Thinking in a Nutshell (2022-11-05), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-15

- Thursday, June 15, 2023 at 17:41:11 (EDT)

Optimism - Review Your Day

From a "Cats against Anxiety" mindfulness card shared by a friend (thank you, Dr A!) a feel-grateful suggestion:

Review your day

Take a moment before going to bed to reflect on what you did today. Note the activities you enjoyed and activities you found rewarding. Consider how you can build your day to incorporate a healthy balance of both.

Note the positive focus – thinking back about events that were enjoyable and rewarding – rather than remembering the hard, the painful, the costly, or the unpleasant!

Thank goodness for optimism!

(cf Optimist Creed (1999-04-16), Tough-Minded Optimists (2009-12-22), How to Be an Optimist (2011-08-24), Power of Optimism (2016-02-23), Mantra - Be on Good Form (2016-05-10), Mister Pollyanna (2020-01-28), Gratefulation and Gratituding (2021-11-11), More Optimism (2023-05-27), ...) - ^z - 2023-06-09

- Sunday, June 11, 2023 at 06:20:41 (EDT)

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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