Monday, February 28, 2011

Packing up

This time in Rockport, Texas, on the Texas Gulf Coast is about to end.  We have been renting a condo that has a canal at its back door.  A boat could take the canal right out into the Gulf of Mexico.  We do have palm trees and other such tropical vegetation everywhere around us.  We have all sort of big birds flying around: great blue herons, egrets, pelicans and tons of squawking gulls.  

It is warm and muggy.  We have been wearing shorts every day.  The highs today and tomorrow are expected to be 75 degrees.

We will probably be back in Wisconsin next weekend.  The highs there are predicted to be 34 or 35 degrees.

Walking around in shorts, running outside on roads clear of snow and ice have given us a very welcome break from winter.  We are now prepared to face another month or two of bare trees, frozen, flower-less ground and the few birds hearty enough to stick out the winter.  

It doesn't take all that much heat to remind us there are other seasons besides winter.  However, particular and sensitive as we are, we are happy to leave before too much heat and humidity build up.  

There is some question of the morality of spending money and effort to avoid winter, I guess.  But the National Geographic map of animal migrations opened my eyes to the large number of species of marine animals, fish, birds, and mammals that migrate.  So, now I feel that I am just being part of nature as we dodge part of the cold.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Trivial tweets and silly cellphone calls

We have noticed the large number of broadcast comments that seem rather empty.  A cartoon in the New Yorker captured the complaint well.  We see a man stepping onto the stairs of a passenger car on a train.  He has a cell phone to his ear and he is saying into the phone,"I am getting on the train."  Then, we see him finding a seat while he says on the phone," I am taking a seat." Each little change is commented on, even though none of them is really worth commenting about.  

I have never visited the Twitter website but I often hear that many of the tweets are similarly lightweight.  

I think the novelty of having a chance to be in steady contact with others will wear thin eventually.  Until the new medium is completely explored and people adjust to having new powers, there probably will be lots of creation and transmission that doesn't make a huge difference and isn't worthy of storage in the Library of Congress.  

Still, give us a break.  We do find occasional items worth noting and sending off to others. They often say that the way to improve one's writing is to write.  I think that speaking and writing are arts that are given rather limited chances to develop in many people's lives.  Of the three R's, writing can be the most artistic, the most revealing.  But it takes a while to find what to say and how to say it.  So, today's fluffy comments about the city traffic may be honing the sharp eye and skills of tomorrow's stirring journalist or enriching novelist.  Meanwhile, hang in there and do your part to tune into the people and channels you like and suppress the ones you don't.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Handling difficult people

I got an email the other day inviting me to take a course on how to handle difficult people.  That's interesting since I, myself, am a difficult person.

I actually have some experience in teaching others about handling difficult people since teachers have to do that all the time. The best book I have used in connection with the subject is "Teacher Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon.   The book and his others on parenting and leading in organizations emphasize the need to listen fully, carefully and accurately to what others are saying.   Nothing helps a person become difficult faster than not being listened to, even though most people don't get listened to, most of the time.

Gordon next emphasizes what he calls "I-messages", that is statements about myself, not statements of accusations or blame or admonishments to, or about the other person.   The frustrated and fatigued parent or teacher dealing with a difficult child often raises that well-known lecturing finger and delivers some sort of negative statement about the child.   Nine times out of ten, that same negative statement, true or partially true or not, has been leveled at the recipient before.   It is not likely to help the situation, the speaker or the recipient.

When I was 34 and had been teaching at the university for 6 years, I was selected to be the major administrator of a group of 40 college students on a trip to Britain for 11 weeks and a tour of several European countries for 3 weeks.   I had not been out of the US except for a trip to Canada and I had no experience or training in 24-hour-a-day oversight of a diverse group of energetic but inexperienced young people.   To try to prepare myself, I did what academics often do: I read a book.   It was "On Becoming a Person" by Carl R. Rogers.

It, too, emphasized the need for openness, honesty and acceptance of the other person in any relationship.   Rogers' words helped me keep a semblance of cool most of the time.

The problems of my being a difficult person for others to get along with and of my being difficult for me to understand and abide continue, but I am working on them both.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Humans and machines

To many people, especially 'people' people, the subject of computer technology often seems somewhat dry or even anti-human.  But I think there is a side to computers that actually leads to a better understanding and appreciation of humans.  

The current issue of The Atlantic brought the subject back to mind with its main article on minds and machines by Brian Christian.  The article is actually titled "mind VS. machine" because of recent contests between the IBM computer called "Watson" and Jeopardy experts.  But the subject is an old favorite of mine.  

Think about it: tools, not just rocks for hammering and sticks for poking but pliers, ropes, edged objects like knives and swords, are the very stuff of human life.  Want to do something but you can't?  Simple!  Invent a tool that enables you to reach your goal.  Over time, we have gone a step further and invented machines, some that enable ground transport or water travel or flying through air or space.  We have also tried to invent machines that can tend to work we want done more or less on their own, without human intervention.  Thermostats are often given as examples on older discussions but today, monitors on smoking, carbon monoxide and other substances and events are commonplace.

The reason this subject is relevant to the education and training of people is that trying to invent machines that can do what we do and what we want done sometimes sheds very valuable light on us, on just what we can do, what we actually do and how we do it.  

Yes, maybe sometime in the future, computers will rise up in a war against humans.  But so far, I think we are doing pretty well.  Just comparing the spine of a human body with a machine can show what a marvel we are and how far we still have to go before our machines can match us.  Just compare the feelings and interchanges and results of a discussion between a group of lively, intelligent college students or senior citizens with machines of comparable ages and you will see that given lots of time and money, some machines can be built that can do or out-do us in particular endeavors but mostly, we are still pretty amazing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Feelings noted

I like to try to stay aware of what my friends are reading.   One friend mentioned Cynthia Bourgeault.  I started reading her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing.  The text quickly got my attention when she started talking about an ancient view of one's emotions as dangers.  The image is one of a person being captured by strong feelings and at least temporarily under their control.

It happens that "Thoughts Without a Thinker" by Mark Epstein also touches on very similar material.  Many Americans take Asians and Buddhist to be people who are emotionally constricted and maybe emotionally tight.  Our society tends to feel that a person who expresses her emotions fully and easily is healthy and alive.  Epstein does treat patients who are wrestling with feelings they don't want to feel, much less, express.  He goes to some lengths to discuss the ideal of knowing and observing or noting one's emotions without reacting to them or falling into their grip.

One-point meditation is usually the first tool that people try in any meditative practice.  The point of such an activity is to keep the attention on one's breath or some other anchor and to return one's attention to that anchor over and over, whenever it has been found to wander off into some subject or worry.  However, most of the sources I have looked at emphasize that much of the worth of meditating comes from moving from simple one-point practice to the quiet, steady observation of one's emotions, noting and observing them without getting hooked into them.

With the usual American conviction that each emotion is precious and justified and to be accommodated fully, it can feel odd to begin to note feelings of fear or disgust without making plans to take some action related to 'solving the problem'.  However, many traditions advise learning to do just such things.  Since the emotions tend to be transitory, it can make sense to note and just see for a while or several whiles.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Objections to comments about books, etc.

Yes, Ecclesiastes knew that "of the making of books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh."  However, of football games there is no end, either, and much eating expands the flesh as well as wearies it.  As long as we live, we will be doing something.  For my money, it might as well be writing and reading.  Clearly, there can be conversation as long as we are able to think and push words back and forth.  But that communication can be a truly joyful communion of you and I -- back and forth, agreeing and disagreeing, comparing and contrasting our observations, our ideas and our reactions.  Besides, you telling me about what you have seen and heard and read increases the tailored, intelligent input I get.

At one time, I wondered how scholars and commentators and scientists could still be studying the ancient world.  Surely, I thought then, everything about Alexander the Great and Socrates was known.  What more could be learned, especially so long after they lived?  Then, I realized: each day, each year, each era begins anew.  With our recent events, our knowledge and our confusions, we ourselves, living our lives as we do just now, see events and personalities somewhat differently than those before us did.  Even the 30-year old sees the world and those she knows and herself a little differently than she did when she was 20.

I read that no play has been discussed, interpreted, compared to the current day, commented on more than Shakespeare's "Hamlet."  Many different views of the young man's problems have been constructed and compared.  Yet, it may be that some new version is even now being constructed by someone.  

The human conversation goes on and on. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

The importance of palm trees

The first time I visited Florida was the spring of 1960.  Lynn and I and another couple rode in their car from Maryland to Orlando.  I remember spotting my first palm tree.  The sight gave me an instant feeling of being somewhere truly new.  Ever since, I have had a respect for the emotional effect of vegetation.  Whether it is palm trees or giant cactus or undulating fields of wheat stretching off in every direction, the nature of the plants can determine the nature of the feel of a place, to a large extent.

Other presences matter, too, of course.  Alligators or black bears or armadillos or small, swift chameleons can all affect the feel of where you are.  But the plants are right there, in view, not seen once in a while but steadily.  We actually have some palms, inside, in central Wisconsin.  There is even one outside a bar, but it is made of metal.


The natural vegetation just stands there, silently, continuously, like mountains or lakes, but alive, like me.  Different sunlight hours, different rainfall, warmer or colder temperatures – all those factors from latitude differences stand behind the plants, nurturers of us all throughout our lives.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

remote for reading

Most tv's are situated in a room arranged for several viewers.  The set and its controls are a bit distant from any of the seats.  So, of course, without the tv remote control, there is more work to channel-hopping.  The remote allows a viewer to rapidly scan through channels, hop back and forth between them,

The Kindle and similar ebook readers allow a reader to do much the same thing with multiple books.  Just as getting up for the chair and moving over to the tv set and returning to the seat slows down switching and sampling, marking one's place in a book, finding another volume and opening it slows down the transition.  But the modern reading device allows you to keep track of where you are in multple books automatically.

I gave Lynn a new Kindle for Valentine's Day.  The main motivation for that gift was the new software in the latest Kindle that allows the user to see the page number in the printed book version of the text of any Kindle page.  Since the Kindle can show a book in about 8 different font sizes, the page numbers change.  In the Kindle, the numbers automatically adjust and are called "locations".  The words at any location remain the same, regardless of the font size being used.  Clearly, that effect requires special programming.

The print page numbers are not displayed continuously, as the locations are.  Still, they are available and that may help in a book club discussion where some people have Kindles but most have paper copies.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Deciphering codes

In Disney's "Jungle Book", King Louie, king of the apes, wants to be a man, to walk into town like the other men do.  In the feral boy, Mowgli, Louie sees what he thinks is the tool he needs.  Mowgli is a male human and thus must know what Louie sees as the big secret, the TOOL that will enable him to do what men can do.  Louie thinks this pivotal key is fire.  How do men make fire?  

Well, yes, fire is very important but I wonder if Louie isn't focusing on the wrong target.  I think he should try for literacy, the ability to read.  And yes, write, too, but if Louie could read and took up reading, he could see his way clear to a number of things: wealth, investment, inventions, etc.  Not to mention, as Lynn pointed out, he could learn tons about fire, how to make one, its nature and chemistry, etc.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind read.  In an African village, he read about the production of electricity in a library supplied by America.  He put together what was needed to make a wind-driven generator.  That machine delivered electricity for him and his family in a place that had not had any electricity before.

Note: yesterday's post contained  a link but it may not have been clear that it was a link and that it leads to this article stating some odd results about product displays in stores:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Turn on the lights

Is there a particular kind of lighting that makes you want to buy things?

My friend is an expert in lighting and she has kept me aware of the importance of lighting in all aspects of life.

Once in a large underground cavern, the guide temporarily turned out all the lights so that we could experience subterranean total darkness.  I mean, it was dark!  Absolutely nothing, at all, to see.

I get to wondering what do things, what do I, really look like?  The morning light does this, the evening light does that.  What does the world truly look like, regardless of the lighting?  Basically, that is an unanswerable question. The light always matters and without any at all, there is nothing to see.

I guess the only thing to do is try to put together all the images and try to see a commonality in them.  Me with a flashlight beneath my chin in a monster mode, me in a rosy soft light, me in full sunlight.  I guess there isn't just one me, or one world.  I think we both must have an appearance but I can't see just it only, without a time, a place and a lighting condition.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Using data to make decisions

My wife and her brother are good users of Deming's admonition to use data to make decisions.  
I decide on the way to the market that I would enjoy ham for dinner.  They wait until they get to the market to see what looks good and what is on sale that day instead of going in with a set mind.  

I guess I have too much faith in the magic power of my mind.  I have trouble remembering to check what we have in the cupboard and refrigerator before going to the market but they steadily do a little inventory before trotting off to buy.  

They are using actual data from the world to guide their decisions, not internal conceptions of what ought to be or what will probably be.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Exercise those muscles

I felt this way for a long time.  Besides, it just stands to reason.


Strength training does more than bulk up muscles

It may reduce depression, give older people better cognitive function, boost good cholesterol and more.

February 13, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times

Strength training has strong-armed its way beyond the realm of bodybuilding.

A growing body of research shows that working out with weights has health benefits beyond simply bulking up one's muscles and strengthening bones. Studies are finding that more lean muscle mass may allow kidney dialysis patients to live longer, give older people better cognitive function, reduce depression, boost good cholesterol, lessen the swelling and discomfort of lymphedema after breast cancer and help lower the risk of diabetes.

The full article is available here:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Good-looking people like you enjoy reading this

Suggestibility in Hypnosis

Wired article on placebos

Good three-minute video on placebos

The top item is a booklet by my favorite hypnotist, Mary Elizabeth Raines.  The whole subject of suggestibility, placebo effect and the effect of the mind fascinates me.  I see that it also fascinates hundreds, probably millions, of other people, too.

We all know that there is such a thing as a mental effect.  The athlete who is up for the game, the warrior who is aroused or berserk, the dying patient who will not let go of life, the grandmother who singlehandedly lifts the auto that has pinned her grandson - clearly humans can sometimes be under special influences that change their basic properties.

Besides the thoughts and sensations we are aware of, our unconscious or subconscious mind is continually at work, sending impulses to us on how to form words we want to use, keeping our heart beating, our gut digesting, and making us fear the bogey man.

I recommend the short video above on the subject of suggestions we derive from taking pills of substances that normally do nothing much to us but can be powerful if taken with the right suggestion.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting that piece of paper

Whatever they may think of themselves, students are not stupid.  They are all born with natural talents and abilities.  It is true that school is meant to enhance and extend their natural talents but it is smart to keep in mind that the basic body and mind skills are far greater than the additions schooling provides.  

It does seem more important than ever, though, to get the extras that schooling provides.  At least in the US and similarly developed countries, the statistics continue to show strong correlations between education and other good things, such as wealth, happiness and longevity.  Correlation is not causation, as doctoral students must incessantly repeat.  It may be that some more fundamental drives, spirit and motivation work both at getting the individual on the trail of success in education and also at producing wealth, happiness and longevity.  

Adult students and trainees often refer to going to school as "getting that piece of paper."  The image of a degree written on a diploma may emphasize that most of the hours spent in school do not seem all that mind-expanding and often involve curricular material that the student already knows.  Adults of age 30 and on often know a great deal, even about subjects they have not formally studied.  Besides that, by age 30, the brain has completed its initial growth and myelination. So, the adult brain is in good shape and capable of making excellent judgments and inferences.  It is not surprising, then, that the alert and thinking adult student can often anticipate the teacher and the curriculum, guessing correctly at the next step in a process or revelation and development in a novel or a history.

The education process can seem to be merely going through the motions in order to be granted "that piece of paper".  I am here to say, though, that the process of being checked, tested, validated is not trivial.  It is true that eventually you have a piece of paper but it means that you have been verified, that you have been evaluated and you passed!  Not just one, but many, have witnessed your passage and stand behind the judgment that you are ok.  Not all those teachers and professors are equally tough at testing of course, nor does the whole bunch agree on precisely just how much you know or how well you know it.  Heck, many of your teachers and professors never met or even heard  of each other.  Still, the eventual result is that a reasonably qualified and diverse group of judges has agreed that you have the right stuff.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Walking in your shoes

Understanding leads to sympathy.  Once we understand another's situation, we usually find that we can see how we would act, think and feel as that person does, if we were in that situation.  Sometimes, it is difficult to understand all the important aspects of another's life.  Some of the most challenging or threatening parts may be hidden.  The other person may consider them shameful or embarrassing.  Some of the hard parts may be so hard that it is frightening or tiring to talk about them.

It is surprising how often some difficulty seems to be the fault of the person experiencing the problem.  You know the sort of thing: I wouldn't have gotten a flat tire if I had paid more attention to debris in the road.  I wouldn't have gotten scammed if I were a more alert person.  

You can see the strategy: if the difficulty is my fault, maybe I can stay more alert, try harder and avoid difficulties in the future.  On the other hand, if difficulties are rained down indiscriminately on the just and the unjust equally, there is no hope of avoiding them.  Better to take a little blame and maybe gain some hope.

There is another side to putting myself in another's shoes, though.  It is a side that only the Baltimore poet, Ogden Nash, has made clear.  Yes, I can see that except for the grace of God, I could be that homeless wretch.  However, it seems equally true that except for the grace of God, that wretch might be Lady Gaga or the governor of Michigan.  Furthermore, but for the grace of God, I might be more handsome and quite a bit richer.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The stalwart idiot and the lovable pig

I find many of the minor characters in tv dramas fascinating.  I think that maybe writers have both permission and purpose in making some of the minor characters quite reliable.  They tend to have certain unusual personality traits.  

Whenever Dr. Lilith Sternin appears in "Cheers", I perk up.  As psychologists sometimes tend to be, she seems especially locked inside herself, full of academic and pseudo-objective terminology and jargon and vigorously defended against stray or impermissible feelings.  Lilith and Frazier Crane make a great pair, big on ideas and concepts and low on self-knowledge.  The other day, the pregnant Lilith and her husband were taken with the notion of situating their lives off the grid in a back-to-nature setting of pure air and clean living in which they would raise their own food and stay close to the actual physical side of life.  Three hours in a cold cabin with no luck using two stones to spark a fire, they both forcefully admitted their desires to go back to their urban and wealthy lives.

What sort of legal staff a real urban hospital has, I don't know, but the one in Scrubs seems to have one resident lawyer.  He is perpetually afraid of the chief of staff and is confused and hesitant on every issue. Maybe he would have been happier as an accountant or a solitary sculptor chipping away at marble.  The one time he seems happy and secure is in singing in his barbershop quartet.  He is reliably frightened all the time, especially on legal questions.

In Dharma and Greg, the husband's closest male friend is Pete, who is a fellow lawyer in the law office.   Pete is steadily piggy.  He shows surprising disregard for the feelings of the women he is interested in.  He tends to think pick-up lines such as "Does this look infected to you?" are intimate and the fast track to bedding some woman.  He seems to be right just often enough to confuse himself and divert himself away from improving his awareness and manners.

It's not nice to laugh at people but these characters warm my heart while giving me a chuckle.  Maybe I like them because they are more like me than I realize. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

A little doubt will do ya

The PhD process consists of examination of ideas and a search for what is true.  Both currently accepted truths and possible new additional truths are of interest.  But you can't focus on truth without a steady awareness of falseness.  Semi or incomplete truths may contain bias, superstition, or simply be full-sized error.  Thus, a person seeking to fulfill the doctoral degree requirements gets very familiar with doubt and the processing of doubting.

Any statement of a truth needs to be in some form or language if it is to be communicated to others and remembered.  The statement needs to make sense, to be comprehensible to others.  Even a diagram or chart needs to be in a form that will be understandable by others.

Even if it seems weird, we can focus for a moment on the size in inches or millimeters of the statement of a truth.  We are getting used to being able to project letters, charts and photos in many sizes, from microscopically small to big enough for a rock concert or stadium.  If the size is way too large, we will not be able to grasp the shape of the letters.  Similarly, with a message written in too small a form.  We need to get the statement in a form that has an appropriate magnification level.  These days, the level of magnification is often referred to as the "zoom" level.

We are listening to a series on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, who desperately and deeply wanted to follow Christ, that is, imitate Christ.  Even though Francis lived just about 1000 years after Jesus, just what one with such a desire should do was not a settled question.  Francis and his band of very intense and determined young men worried about what the appropriate zoom level of right imitation was.  If Jesus ate meat for breakfast, did that mean they should eat meat for breakfast? What about the type of sandals Jesus wore?  Did he wear a robe?  Belted or unbelted?  What color?

More relaxed observers might say that such details are too fine, not relevant, are in fact a distraction of living as He did.  But others aren't so sure.  What if some detail of posture, diet, habit, etc. makes a crucial but unnoticed difference?  Sure, professional doubters can doubt that this detail or that is important.  Modern approaches say that it can help to start experimenting.  Try wearing a belt while another group wears none.  See who seems at the end to have lived the more Christ-like life.  That can help, but it takes a long time.  

We can't check every detail at once and have to use our best judgment as to where to start. We doubt that the question of the belt matters very much, but not the practice of prayer.  We can only decide which way to experiment by good use of our doubts, whether in the matter of religion, or financial investment or which book to begin.  Those quiet doubts about this path or that are important guides for our lives.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Many stances on technology

It can still be helpful to recall that one of Time's important ideas in the current world is tv.  Although many Americans have more tv channels, movies and YouTube downloads than they know what to do with, much of the world has little or no broadcast.  Even getting a regular supply of electricity is not easy.  While some of us spend a large part of the day checking our smartphones, that is not true for a very large percent of humanity.

Despite the fact that electric computers date from at least as far back as 1950 and popular use of the world wide web can be dated back to about 1990, many people have little or no interest in learning to use modern communications technology.  Whether it is telegrams or party small talk, many people simply don't find much to say and have little use for widespread communication.

Some students of technology development and spread use the handy rule of thumb that old technologies don't die.  They just shrink.  We still have blacksmiths and anvils and forges but fewer of them.  We still have archers but in the US, they take a different form, hunting with compound bows capable of delivery many pounds of thrust with much less effort.  People still spin thread and still make cakes from scratch.

However, skills and interests do change.  Many older people do use computers.  No doubt, more are developing web sites and figuring out both how to use them and also what to put on them to extend their interests.  These days, you can expect a teenager to be glued to a cell phone and a senior citizen to be reading her newspaper but there are a wider range of exceptions than we might suspect.  Many teens in the world have no access to light after dark, no cell phones and no money.  Many older people can't read or even see well enough to read.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is that relevant?

I have learned my law from movies and my medical law from the characters of the lawyer and Bob Kelso in "Scrubs."  I learned that hospitals don't want to be sued.

I have learned that if a trial attorney introduces a subject or makes a comment that seem to have nothing to do with the matter at hand, the opposition or the judge may ask that person to explain the relevance of what was just said.  So, in trying to show why the butler didn't do it, the defense attorney might state," My client is a dachshund owner."  If that doesn't seem to relate to innocence or guilt, the prosecutor might say, "Your honor, relevance?"  If the judge also feels that the comment might be off the track, he might  follow with "Yes, counselor, what is the relevance of being a dachshund owner?"

Whenever we are exploring the relevance of one factor or variable to another, we may be getting into deep waters or simply into nutty waters.  Some theorists say that the occurrence of event B is relevant to event A if the probability of A occurring in the absence of B does not equal the probability of A when B occurs.  In other words, if B has no effect one way or the other on  A, B is not relevant to A.  This is much the same thing as saying that A and B are independent.

When someone asks for an explanation of relevance, the explanation itself may contain statements that also seem irrelevant.  Thus, the possibility of an infinite regress lurks.  

Relevance is similar to determining meaning in that both depend on people's knowledge, sensitivity and ability to articulate their ideas. I might be some sort of genius or psychic intuitive that senses a connection that others don't, but unless I can explain that connection persuasively, my insight will not be accepted by others.

I was impressed by Robert Morley's confession that he could not answer the question What were the original 13 American colonies?.  He stated that as a substitute he offered a list of the 12 Apostles.  Confidence men and flippant wits may try at times to assert a relevance that is lacking but establishing presence or absence of relevance is not cut and dried.  The relevance may be there but not make it into our understanding.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


If  the eye has absolutely no light, it cannot see.  If the ear has no sound, it may supply a buzz or other sound on its own.  We need  stimulation.  We are built for it.  The world, especially the animal world, is full of predators and prey.  We have evolved to be alert, to  recognize and deal with change.  So, it is fascinating to me to note  internal and quiet changes inside me that relate to my senses and mind  deciding on their own that something has been re-labeled "standard" or  "typical" or "nothing much".  

 On  our first stay in Gulf Shores, we lived in a condo on the 12th floor, with a view that showed nothing but the the waters of the Gulf of  Mexico.  When I first looked at that view, I thought it would be boring.   It included only water.  But over the next weeks, I found that  the water was always changing.  Very calm and lake-like sometimes and  boiling and churning in big waves and currents at others.  My eyes  seemed to take the measure of that emotional expanse of water on their own, and often.


On our 2nd stay in Gulf Shores, my eyes and brain had decided without  telling me that the view was nothing special, just old, ordinary stuff.   I had enjoyed the fun of getting in the mood with the water but they had had enough.  "So, what else have you got?", they said in a bored voice.


In our house, we have a dining room window with a metal lattice just on the other side.  A dropmore honeysuckle vine grows right against the window.  Its trumpet flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds and when they take nectar from the flowers,  they are right on the other side of the glass, very close by.  When one of us spots an energetic little visitor, we call out "Hummingbird!".  We  watch closely while the little wings beat at 10 times a second and the bird hovers at one trumpet mouth after another.


We  have probably observed 20 or 30 visits.  Again, my mind decided I had seen about all there was to see with those birds feeding  Now, I are more likely to announce a visitor more quietly and uninterestedly.  Ho hum.  Another hummingbird.  It is a mystery just how we glide from excited to complacent as we become habituated.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Not always so

Nobody likes waste or throwing money away.  So, for years, houses in central Wisconsin were not equipped with air conditioning.  Sure, it got quite hot and humid at times but those times were rare.  It made sense to just experience them, maybe even appreciate them, instead of fighting them with special installations.  

Similarly, south Texas does experience some strong cold spells.  But for economy's sake, it doesn't make sense to build houses and buy snowplows for the number of times it is actually more wintry than in Wisconsin.  Even the animals and plants seem to be prepared to stand the occasional brrrr instead of actually planning on living easily and comfortably during those rare winter storms.

It easy to think in primary colors: north is cold and south is warm.  True enough, basically, but given human ingenuity, flexibility and culture, it is possible to have a great old time skiing, skating and driving in the north while shivering, quaking and sliding off the roads with cold in the south.  You have your basic and reliable trends but you also have your random but gripping deviations.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Evolving shapes and formats

 It  seems to me that things in this world come in waves.  They start, they  build, they peak and they fade.  Where is the sunset at noon?  Where is  the sunset at midnight?  The potential is there all the time but the  components take a different form and we don't see the delightful gold,  pink and green in those forms at that time.

Similarly,  we know that the baby will talk and run later.  Just after birth, its  muscles and nerves are in an arrangement that does not include speech  and full motion yet.  All the while things are coming and going, waxing  and waning, we are living our lives, observing, remembering, loving,  suffering, thinking.  Some of peaks and valleys of experiences and  development please us and some don't.  

Some  moments of development are so fulfilling that we want them to stay  still.  We want to stay in those states of falling in love, winning the  game, making the sale.  Some traditions of Buddhism talk about the  Hungry Ghosts, creatures who are hungry but cannot eat, cannot be  satisfied.  Life is constantly rising and falling and contentment for us  is temporary.  If she accepts my marriage proposal, my rival fails.  If  we win the game, they will not feel contented.

I  really like talking to my mom.  At a very early age, I couldn't talk  and neither of us expected it.  For a long time, though, I was in a form  and she was in a form that did allow us good talk.  After her death and  cremation, her existence changed into a state where she can't talk.   Her atoms are still around but in her present form, I get less  satisfaction from talk with her.  She is not now in a talking form.  I  remember when she was but she isn't now.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Different operating systems

Different operating systems
I think it was statements made by Deepak Chopra trying to show that the world and our experience of it are different.  He pointed out that many insects see patterns on flower petals that I don't see because of the particular range of wave lengths that humans can detect.  Small animals detect the vibrations set up by my foot striking the ground but I can't.  I have read that a dog's nose is about 60 times as powerful as a human's.  Beyond what other animals can do, Chopra pointed out that the room I am in is filled with signals and beams that I know nothing about, unless and until I bring a radio set, a tv set or a cellphone into the picture.  With the help of those devices, I can detect wavelengths and make use of them.  

When discussing the sensory input parts of ourselves, we usually mean detection from outside of us.  However, memory and reflection inside our heads are also important tools for decoding and living in the world.  Besides, humans are highly social animals.  So, my memories, my reading of a situation and its possibilities are important in guiding my life but I am also influenced by what you remember, conclude and detect.  How I was raised affects what I can see, what I can trust, what I plan.  You were raised differently but I can't really grasp what you hold in your mind, memories and habits from your background, culture, education, and reading.  You  can't really grasp those parts of me.  

As I age, both my physical senses and my memories change.  Young things like you can taste, attract, and hear all sorts of things that I ignore or cannot detect.  Old things like me can remember JFK as an interesting guy while he means little to you.  

None of us really has a tight grasp of the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  We are all using abstract murky models of the world to guide us, models that differ from each other and are off in unknown and unknowable ways.
(Note: some sentences in this post have earned the copy-editor's disapproval for structure and diction.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

a ball

We went to a science presentation.  The whole thing was delivered on a six-foot globe suspended from the ceiling.  Most of the time, we saw that globe as the earth.  It spun and we could see Australia and the oceans, as with the normal model of the earth.  We were told, though, that the spin was an illusion produced by the right pictures being handed off to different projectors around the room.  Although we "saw" the earth spinning, the globe actually stayed still, merely hanging.

The presenter said there were only 59 such globe/projector arrangements in the world and 43 of them are in the US.  

It didn't seem that important or different, except for the fact that the presenter was using a globe as a whiteboard/screen.  But as time went on, it began to seem a worthwhile new medium.  We watched weather storms move across various continents.  The data was collected by satellite and had a real-time delay of three hours.  So, we saw that "biggest in memory" storm sock into already soaked Queensland, Australia three hours after it happened.  We saw it from a god-like viewpoint, watching the eye of the storm develop and the whole thing twirling into the land.

Another impressive data-set showed all the airplanes in the air over the entire world as they made their journeys throughout a day.  They were represented by small yellow-gold shapes and swarmed like goldfish across land and sea.  We were told that about 62,000 flights are made in the world each day and that at any time, a person has about 5000 planes overhead.

For awareness of the entire planet, this method of presenting may well show us new angles about ourselves and our home.

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