Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Message length

I am interested in the limits message length imposes on our communication.  When I look up "message length" in Google, the first page of results is all about text messaging but the subject I am thinking about is much bigger.  Most teachers, professors and speakers are quite conscious of how long they have.  "We can give you one minute" for your introduction, "Classes here are 50 minutes long", Obama's memoir will be published in two volumes.  

Say my angel visits me.  She has a message of great importance.  I believe it but I really hope I don't fall asleep while listening to it.  Oh, she is delivering a written message, but like the cash register receipt that includes coupons and deals, it goes on and on and on.  I have flitty, flighty attention and my focus may wander before the message has been completely spoken.  I wear hearing aids and I may miss some of the important text.  I don't want to get into the business of how much I remember.  I can't even guarantee that I will understand all the heavenly terms nor that the whole business will be acceptable to me.

860.3 million words are one estimate of the number of words spoken in a whole life of an English speaker

So 860.3 million words certainly sounds like a lot. However, getting our heads around that number requires some perspective. Here goes: In one lifetime, the average person speaks the equivalent of the entire text of the complete 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED) more than 14.5 times.Nov 12, 2015

How Many Words Do We Speak in a Lifetime? | ProEdit

That figure seems large enough that most important messages will at least fit in a lifetime's capacity. Note that we didn't get into words WRITTEN.

Text messages and Tweets and maybe other social media allow up to 280 characters.  Up to here, this post contains 1749 characters.  If the spaces are skipped, the count drops to 1435.


[By the way, see "Spaces Between Words" by Paul Saenger for the invention of spaces between words and the resulting development of silent reading. https://fearfunandfiloz.blogspot.com/2018/05/slow-silent-social-reading.html ]

Don't you think it can be romantic and intriguing if he sits down beside her and he only has time and opportunity to say one word to interest her?  Ok, one sentence.  Or, how about if you get a chance to speak to the Pope or the king or the president but he only has 10 seconds to listen?  

I have heard that "brevity is the soul of wit".  Google tells me the phrase is part of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and that the speaker goes on and on.  Just like I have witnessed with speakers who say "quickly now".  Those words are a red flashing sign that the talk is being extended.  (471 words)

Monday, January 18, 2021

Peripheral vision

Not long ago, I read that it is not possible to be really aware of everything in my peripheral vision.  It's my vision, I can see things off to the side.  What do you mean, I can't be aware.  Well, I can be, if I try.  I can keep looking right at this monitor and see the mug of pens and tools on my desk out on the side of my vision.

I like to pay attention to my peripheral vision as a tool for showing myself parts of me that are not directly in my attention.  The Green Bay Packer Lionel Aldridge long ago explained the results of training he received to meditate and calm himself: pick an object or point in front and keep the eyes focused on it.  Without moving the head or the eyes, become aware of something in the peripheral vision and keep "watching it".  

I realize that we have other senses besides vision but I have not heard of peripheral hearing or peripheral smelling.  We have a book called "Listening below the noise".  It is definitely possible to attend to the flute part while the entire orchestra is playing.  I just tried sniffling a plate with onion, basil and cumin and I found I could concentrate on one scent, much like attending to the tympani in a performance.  As I have read before, what I do deliberately with my attention, matters very much.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

No longer with us

Today is the anniversary of our deceased daughter's birth.  She died more than 10 years ago after suffering from mental illness for 20 years.  Lynn warned me that she was separated from reality but it was when our daughter left a message on our answering machine that we could both see that she was cripplingly delusional.  

I have heard that people who are floating in delusions often use their background to frame their thoughts.  A chemist or lab operator might find weird things having to do with data and science.  Our daughter was an art major in college and tended to think in terms of the arts.  She was often convinced that she had created or composed popular works for which she was not getting royalties and credit that she "deserved".  

Mental illness seems to still be a giant puzzle.  We hope that improvements can be made in diagnosis and treatment.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

What mood to wear

I picture looking in a file cabinet drawer.   The folders are labeled with the names of moods.  I do get moods naturally so I don't have to choose a mood.  Merry Christmas, bills, time to eat, sore knee - there are always themes and experiences and people to think about.  So when I look through the folders, I am carrying a mood with me before I begin.  But Chade-Meng Tan (Joy on Demand) and David Eagleman (Livewired) and Lisa Feldman Barrett (7½  Lessons about the Brain)  have combined with my own experiences to show me that I can open this imaginary drawer and select my current mood.  

I don't have to go to the file drawer if I approve of my current mood.  Grouchy, wistful, confused, thankful, loving - like a diet of a wide variety of foods, a wide variety of moods seems satisfying and healthy.  Being sad after learning that a good friend is suffering is fully appropriate, so don't bother with choosing a different folder. I can be one-sided or childish and assume that being deeply happy is the right mood all the time.  Just keep choosing it?  No, that turns out to be overly simplistic and inadequate for the complexity of life and of me.  It's like the little kid who says ice cream and cake would be fine for all his food. It can seem like a view of heaven but it gets disgusting quickly.

It seems the key to getting into the mood I choose is attention.  Tara Brach's "R.A.I.N." steps help me check where I am currently, the first step.

R  Recognize

A  Accept

I    Investigate

N  Nurture

When I check my mood, I may find that it changes while being checked.  A more inquisitive, observational attitude may appear and be quite acceptable, helpful, even.

Much current thinking focuses on gratitude.  There are always dozens of things to be thankful for.  The past and the present contain lucky breaks, fine achievements, amazing love - lots to be grateful for. 

Friday, January 15, 2021


It can help the mood if music is played.  I am still listening to the 4th movement of Beethoven's 9th "Choral" symphony as I drive on errands.

We have monotone overcast skies with no real sun and we have snow on the ground so everything is white.  A rather monochromatic decorating scheme.  Good music helps put color in our minds and moods and that can help our cheer level.  

I wrote nearly two years ago a blog post about the video on the Metropolitan Opera Company web site.  When I started playing a CD of famous opera choruses this morning, the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" brought the Met's video to mind.  


YouTube is a treasure of music and movies of all types.  

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Kindly acceptance

I had a weird growth on my back so I went to see the dermatologist.  He took one look at my face and said he needed to take a sample of a spot to send to a lab for analysis.  He gave me fluorouracil, which kills cells that have a tendency to turn cancerous.  I used it for weeks and things went well, but a weird looking spot developed on the side of my head.  I wanted him to take a look at it.  Lynn had an appointment with him today and we had the idea that I could tag long and ask him to glance at me to see if I needed an appointment.

I thought I might get refused entry.  I didn't have an appointment of my own.  I thought billing and procedure might dictate an official appointment for any entry.  I was appreciative of the polite acceptance by the door symptoms checker and the department secretary, the nurse, and the doctor.  He glanced and said I was ok and didn't need an appointment.

My book club selected a book that is about slavery and contains instances of magic realism.  I have read enough about slavery (and about WWII) and I wasn't interested.  Sometimes, I can lend a certain presence to the meetings and I may be able to make a helpful comment.  So, I met online later today.  Mostly, I kept my mouth shut but I did contribute a few comments.  I thought I might be asked if I had read the book but I never was.  

I am biased toward negativity.  I can remember mishaps and slights more easily than kindly acceptance.  So, I am recording both instances of quiet tolerance so that I have a record of them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sex. sin and concentration

I have heard of religious practices in which the holy name is attempted to be spoken continuously, all the time.  I often hear of struggles with sexual impulses and attractions and religious convictions that sex is bad, shameful but admittedly helpful in replenishing the population.  

This morning, I read Prof. J. Kreiner's Aeon article on medieval monks' practices to try to keep their mind on performing their duty to study and concentrate on holy writings and not get distracted.  


Modern thinkers and analysts have had more centuries to invent questions and objections and doubts but they also have smartphones and tablets that have thousands of ways to distract and send minds into lustful and glutinous thoughts.  If our drives toward misbehavior and destruction are strong enough, we do find life better if drives are harnessed.  

Later, I read Dr. Srini Pillay's article on the brain's need for variety and its limited ability to concentrate.


His comments reminded me of my psychophysics class where we learned that our eyes are continuously moving and that those movements are essential to vision.  Movements called "saccades" refresh our vision continuously.  I also think of the phenomenon of walking away.  When programmers or mathematicians get stuck on an intractable problem, they learn to walk away for a while, take a nap or some sort of break.  When they return to working on the problem, it is often easier to see what's needed.  

Taken together, I think it makes sense to try to accept our design and wiring as it is.  When we first think of improvements, of complete heaven, we are often seduced into simple thinking.  We can decide on overly primitive ideas and principles that fail to account for the actual complexity of our lives and environments.

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