Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My critical thinking and me

I like investigation as an activity.  It seems like the path to some pretty good truth.  Investigation requires questioning and doubts.  You read or hear (or think) an assertion: A is x.  Is it really?  Or is that just an illusion?  What is the evidence that A is x?  How long has A been x?  The assertion gets interrogated as the investigation proceeds.


My personality, my childhood, my family life, the qualities of the age - science, debate and dialogue, even the invention and rise of mass media and advertising with its assertions that this product is better than that one - all those forces contribute to founding and maintaining a habit of critical thinking.  Since the habit is a habit of mind, I can't easily take a break from critical thinking. In general, the more I care about an assertion, the more strongly and persistently my investigatory habits kick in.


It's true that when I meditate, I can and do stop critical thinking. During those ten minutes, I just listen and look.  I am just aware.  Minds are thought-producers naturally but when I do realize I am into consideration, thought production or critical thinking, which I notice fairly quickly since I am used to meditation, then I go back to just observing and listening and not thinking or imagining.  But the critical/investigatory stuff comes right in as soon as it is allowed.  "Who says?"  "How do we know?" Etc.


Schools often tout their emphasis on critical thinking, which is indeed important in today's world of political, advertising and scams, continuous scientific debates about emerging ideas and possibilities and a stunning set of choices for money, energy and allegiance.  However, teachers and parents who live with bright, questioning kids can tell you about the greater burden of working with critical thinkers, as can politicians, executives and physicians as the world increases its communication and consequent dialogues among differing thinkers and doers.


Am I a good husband?  A good citizen?  Am I led by the nose by showy displays and claims?  Maybe.  Depends on who you ask, what you mean and what evidence can be pulled together for and against.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What happened to the old one?

He has never been impressed by computers and wanted to give them up when he retired.  People still want to email him, though, so they send the email to his electronically with-it wife, who tells him about his messages.  The other day, I said to him that he should get an iPad.  He said,"I have an iPad."  After picking my astonished self up off the ground, I asked when he of all people got an iPad.  He told me that his wife wanted a new iPad and gave her old one to him.  


That got me thinking about about the old version of things: old cars, old computers, old sewing machines, old cellphones.  You probably realize that the general trend in manufacturing has been toward greater and greater reliability.  Maybe you have heard of "Six Sigmas", just one of several programs to master and apply statistical, administrative and philosophical concepts that aim at making manufacturing and systematic mistakes, errors and mishaps rarer and rarer.  It is all part of the move toward higher levels of quality. Higher quality means things last.  Just look at the number of items shipped to less developed nations from our used supply of things.


As with my friend, you may be surprised.  You say you don't want the bother and expense of a smartphone but your son offers you his old with plenty of use left in it.  It was engineered to last ten years and it is only three years old.  Why not?  Your grandson's neighbor is getting rid of a jet-powered snowmobile, must have room for the new model coming in a few days and offers the boy and his parents a real bargain at $75.  It is worth $300 so it is a bargain.  They know it has been well cared for and they have a built-in contact with a good mechanic right next door.  It would be dumb to turn it down.


So, it goes.  You think things are based on price but it turns out contacts, friendships, aging, time and the push to bring out new models have all sorts of effects you wouldn't anticipate.  In my neighborhood, the white elephant exchanges to get rid of older, unwanted stuff have new broader appeal and usage.  In some cases, old models of husband or wives are on offer.  I am not sure how that is going to go.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Monday, July 27, 2015

The lure of bad boys

I could tell through high school and later that some boys and young men are attractive to some women just because the guys tend to be rebels, rule-breakers, daredevils.  I began reading "Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object" by Laurie Colwin, a novel about a well-off, upper class young man who died at an early age on his motorcycle, soon after he married.  The story is about the young wife left alone but it brings to mind the lure of bad boys.


I wouldn't say I was ever a great lover but I was definitely interested in women.  However, when I sensed or saw that someone I was attracted to was drawn to a derring-do kind of guy, I focused elsewhere.  I studied the Myer-Briggs personality test and I read about the derivative of it called True Colors.  I realize that a large section of humanity enjoys following the rules and looks down on those who don't.  I know that society tries to pressure everyone to follow the rules and most of the time, I like to go along with the rules and with proper behavior.


Sometimes, sets of rules are tyrannous or unfair or cruel.  Rules like that are meant to be disobeyed while being changed.  But playing "chicken" in a drag race or Russian roulette with a loaded revolver, doing things for the bare thrill has never appealed to me.  Whether it is a gift or a curse, I have never felt a need to get close to death unnecessarily.  I don't think I would be thrilled that a bullet just missed.  My imagination makes clear the great likelihood that another shot won't miss.  I don't think I would prove much to myself, or a girl I wanted to impress, by jumping my motorcycle over a canyon.  


I am often impatient to get there but trying to bury the needle of a speedometer doesn't draw me.  You bury the needle at 180 and tell me what it was like.  Try not to get mangled or mangle anyone else.



--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Competition and comparison

I was surprised yesterday when an Oregon friend commented on the competition and discord post.  I hadn't meant to send it out until this morning, which is my usual time of day.  Sometimes, I make mistakes and click on the wrong thing without paying good attention. 

An additional side of competition is the lack of ways to measure ourselves except by comparisons with others.  Such relative measurement is clear in our words for high quality such as "excell-ent" and "outstanding".  If you try to create some labels that teachers could use to express very good work, you can see the basic approach of saying a student is good because he is the better than others.  In fact, when teachers try to avoid competition and comparison, the hard-driving parents sometimes ask about relative standing: "Is he the best in the class?" "Is she the best you have ever seen?"  It is often surprising to me how difficult it is to communicate high levels of talent, genuinely valuable ability without comparisons.  Even with a new sort of ability, it is the rarity or scarcity of the ability that gets our attention: "Your child seems to be able to read other students' minds [and by implication, that is unheard of in anyone else]".
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Competition and discord

It seems part of being male to be competitive, to try to stand out, to win, to defeat others.  Walter Ong, a Jesuit scholar, in his insightful "Fighting for Life", discusses this basic characteristic.  If you think you know some men who are not competitive, you have probably overlooked some aspect of their lives.  Are they champion furniture restorers?  Do they know the football stats better than their friends do?


I used to think that competitiveness stays out of the lives of women but the more I watch, the more I doubt that it does.  Which Grandma gives out the best cookies?  Which young woman has the most boys vying for her attention? Who is the loving-est, most sensitive, best groomed?


We are in a contentious age, one where public and political partisanship and polarity are easy to find.  The presence of the internet, with its invitation for any and all to comment on any and all subjects, controversies and questions, makes verbal put-downs and insults easy. The structure of the internet makes it easy to see what comments, what good and not-so-good manners are out there.  


Besides the individual and personal contributions on the internet, the professional and semi-professional media are amplifiers of controversy.  In the year and a half before a presidential election with a large number of candidates, there is a spirit of energy and speed to out-comment, out-do, and out-audacious everybody else.  I think these conditions make it easier than usual to underestimate the value of clever cooperation.


Time magazine has a current cover depicting George Bush and Bill Clinton.  The story includes pictures of the two men in a golf cart and also pictures of George W and Clinton in a public event of some kind, shaking hands with the crowd.  I know that many people are repelled by bickering and backbiting.  It is difficult to be attracted to that sort of thing but I wouldn't be surprised if we see more evidence of friendliness, or at least respect, as the value of that sort of atmosphere shows itself.

Getting squashed

Lynn has two raised beds of vegetable gardening. One of them has only three kinds: zucchini, kale and Hubbard squash.  We bught a Hubbard squash in the past. That sort of squash can be a little scary.  The one we bought a few years ago was the size of milk crate, had bluish skin and strange bumps on it.  It looked like a Hollywood version of an alien pod, the sort that grows somewhere secret and ripens to burst with little green men.  


Of course, I was leery of it as food but it turned out to be quite good.  This time, Lynn actually planted the magic beans and invited the plant to produce.  The plant has five or six squash  growing on it.  As is typical of squash plants, the plant is very aggressive and is sending thick, strong energetic stems the size of garden hoses out of the raised bed, out into our prairie plants and into anything it can.  


Garrison Keillor once said that during zucchini season, he found the long green squash everywhere.  He was reading the paper in his living room and put a section he was finished with on the floor beside him.  When he picked that paper up, there was a zucchini under there! We have been experiencing that same pugnacious oversupply and had had our share of zucchini dishes and it isn't even August yet. Some of the squash will no doubt find its way to our neighbors and friends.  Some of the zucchini will be shredded and frozen in small batches for later soups and such.  The Hubbard will be baked in the oven and the meat frozen in dinner serving sizes for use over the coming year.


Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Friday, July 24, 2015

Emotion, brains, women and science

When I read a good book, especially a good non-fiction book, I like to highlight notable comments, facts and incidents on my iPad in the Kindle app.  I use the device to send the highlight to Twitter.  The other day, I started reading "The Emotional Life of the Your Brain" by Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley.  Prof. Davidson is a world-renown researcher who persuaded the Dalai Lama to loan some monks who are advanced and experienced meditators to his lab at the Univ. of Wisconsin to study what happens in their brains when they meditate.  Sharon Begley is an experienced technical writer who has collaborated on several books and written for Reuters and Newsweek. She has written and co-written other books about the brain.


The book starts off explaining the weight of opinion at the time Davidson began graduate school against the subject of emotion as a suitable focus for scientific study.  I quickly found parts that I wanted to highlight and send to Twitter.


Here are some of those Tweets:

Real smiling makes you happy. "Only when both muscle groups participated did we see a shift toward greater left-s... http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7177753-only-when-both-muscle-groups-participated-did-we-see-a …

Feelings go along with rational conscious thought "Yet we had fingered the prefrontal cortex. This region was co... http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7177756-yet-we-had-fingered-the-prefrontal-cortex-this-region-was …

Actresses are important in scientific research "I didn't trust the film clips we'd been using to induce the emot... http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7177758-i-didn-t-trust-the-film-clips-we-d-been-using-to …

Babies are good participants in brain research "First, babies are very expressive emotionally, giggling or cryin... http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7177763-first-babies-are-very-expressive-emotionally-giggling-or-crying-or …


Because I am a male and have been all my life, I try to stay conscious of what I see and learn about the life I haven't lived, that of a female.  Stories like "Excellent Women" by Barbara Pym help me notice the quiet female presence in our lives, from the months before birth on.


Davidson gathered evidence that positive emotions tend to be on one side of the brain and negative on the other.  He found that this was true across cultures and nationalities.   Then, he wanted to study young brains to see if they did the same thing.  He was able to get 10-month old babies but to elicit positive and negative emotions in them, he recruited some actresses to make positive and negative faces and voice sounds.  The babies' brains reacted the same way his adult subjects' brains had.


I think it is notable that we are all born from women and both sexes tend to hear their first human sounds from women.  I have repeatedly seen that women can jump from one sort of emotional expression to another quite different one and back to the first quickly, smoothly and convincingly.  It is impressive that women's emotional, intellectual and vocal abilities can be an important scientific tool.



--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

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