Thursday, February 28, 2013

Self control: pros and cons

Again, the two internal governance systems, fast and slow, which are the primitive, knee-jerk one and the more widely aware of multiple factors and longer time frame one.

I heard Kelly McGonigal on Wisconsin Public Radio where she was interviewed about her book and her teaching at Stanford University.  She works with people who want to increase their willpower.  (I had also heard of her twin sister, Jane McGonigal, who is an expert on the subject of electronic games, which, along with apps, are getting into more and more areas, such as health and brain or reflex training, not just pastimes and amusement.)  

Kelly's book, "The Science of Willpower" sounded useful so I downloaded it and started reading.  The book is a good partner to Duhigg's "The Power of Habit".  Smoking, drinking too much, drugs, procrastination can all be activities people want to stop but have trouble doing so. The general subject of personal change relates to something called "motivational interviewing", which is a sort of counseling approach that emphasizes finding, highlighting and resolving ambiguity (I want to and I don't want to so which is it, really?)

Whenever a well-educated and motivated person starts to study something these days, what with the sort of tools and communication available to us all, important ideas and themes are likely to emerge. McGonigal sees three important aspects to willpower: I will-power, I won't-power and I want-power. There was a short video describing the three and the need to be accepting of them all but it seems to be removed now.

After some thought, I began to suspect that anyone with strong willpower who thought he could redesign himself for a better fit with his world might be mistaken.  Sure, there is the problem we all know about, where I suspect chocolate chip cookies are not that good for me and that I might be a better person if I didn't eat so many.  However, there may be other important factors behind the scenes.  I may not really be smart enough to plan myself.  Besides, even if I come up with the perfect model, by the time I have made myself over, that model might be outdated. I have to have flexibility in my thinking to be able to deal with situations and demands and challenges I haven't met before, that are currently beyond my thinking.  

Research seems to point to a limited supply of self-control and willpower in us.  If I have exercised control over myself several times in the last hour, not having a cigarette, not having a drink, not losing my temper, I may let myself have a chocolate chip cookie that I would otherwise resist.  I do find that if I think carefully about cookies or other things I don't want or goals I do want to reach, the thinking carefully, concentrating on my feelings about what I want to be and do, it helps a lot.  Once I have resisted enough, it becomes a habit and it isn't so difficult.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My reactions and me

It isn't easy for me to remember to take a half step away from my reaction.  It seems as though "the day is dreary" or "the book is great" when actually I, me, myself, I find the day dreary or the book great.  At least, I did a moment ago.  

This is not emotion suppression.  It is a sort of emotion observation and maybe emotion appreciation.  The dreariness is in me, not the day, and the greatness is my conclusion, my feeling, based on my experience.  That is why the guy who just got a raise finds the day so great and the reviewer with a different background completely disagrees that the book is even good, much less great.

Many times in my life, I have noticed that I have a tendency to forget about myself.  In wrestling, I was planning what I was going to do to my opponent and forgot that he was planning, too.  In chess, I was just about to make a super move when my opponent checkmated me.  I count the attendance in a meeting and forget to count me, too.

Sometimes, I open up a little and I see that I am the one who feels the play is terrible but when I recall my reaction, the feeling comes over me in such strength that I forget it comes from me.  I quickly think of evidence, instances that made me just KNOW the play was poor.  The play!  Not me.  I came in a good spirit, paid good money for the ticket and did so in good faith and then: the lines, the lighting, the timing, the script!! With a little trouble and a little organization, I could assemble a convincing dossier about the play.  I could prove to the satisfaction of any reasonable judge or any prudent jury that my reaction was totally RIGHT, dammit!

It is a big help that my reaction passes or dampens down so quickly.  Usually, it reminds me of loading a web page into my browser.  Once in, that is the page.  But click on the "reload the page" curved arrow and the latest version pops in.  A later version, after my slower but broader thinking module has a chance, I don't feel quite so strongly. Just a few minutes and the really bads and the really goods are quieter and not as extreme.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Laughing

The song in the Mary Poppins show says that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.  But at our age, sugar is not good for our blood sugar levels and too much of it can cause serious damage and even death by diabetes.  We find it is much better to use humor.  

Meditation can lead to mindful perspective on our thoughts and lives.  You get the right perspective on yourself and you can turn out to be pretty funny.  We are quite used to marching out of the office to the kitchen to find that we can't remember why we left the office.  We could bang our heads against the wall in frustration but instead some chuckles at our foibles work as well with less damage. We both find my translation of what was said using my poorer hearing can be funny.

Of course, too much chuckling, giggling and chortling can be annoying to others, especially if they don't themselves find anything around them funny.  So, us merry senior souls have to filter our celebration of fun, tailoring it for social situations and civil acceptance.  Sometimes, the sight of a 2 year old or of young lovers or a snowbank or a sunrise is simply so beautiful, so evocative of wonderful memories that we have to laugh in delight.  At the very least, smile broadly.  

The Wikipedia has this to say about laughter, in a longer and more complete article:

Children are known to laugh a great deal more than adults: an average baby laughs around 300 times a day compared to an average adult, who laughs only around 20 times a day;[citation needed] however this can depend on a person's personality. According to some studies, the onset of adulthood causes a gradual change characterized by increased seriousness and a diminished engagement in laughter.[5] Laughter is an audible expression or appearance of excitement, an inward feeling of joy and happiness. It may ensue from jokes, tickling, and other stimuli. Researchers have shown infants as early as 17 days old have vocal laughing sounds or laughter.[6] It conflicts with earlier studies indicating that infants usually start to laugh at about four months of age. Laughter researcher Robert Provine said: "Laughter is a mechanism everyone has; laughter is part of universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way." Babies have the ability to laugh before they ever speak. Children who are born blind and deaf still retain the ability to laugh.


Laughter is not always good, as the portion of the Wikipedia on "negative aspects" of laughter points out:

Laughter is not always a pleasant experience and is associated with several negative phenomena. Excessive laughter can lead to cataplexy, and unpleasant laughter spells, excessive elation, and fits of laughter can all be considered negative aspects of laughter. Unpleasant laughter spells, or "sham mirth," usually occur in people who have a neurological condition, including patients with pseudobulbar palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. These patients appear to be laughing out of amusement but report that they are feeling undesirable sensations "at the time of the punch line." Excessive elation is a common symptom associated with manic-depressive psychoses and mania/hypomania. Those who suffer from schizophrenic psychoses seem to suffer the opposite—they do not understand humor or get any joy out of it. A fit describes an abnormal time when one cannot control the laughter or one's body, sometimes leading to seizures or a brief period of unconsciousness. Some believe that fits of laughter represent a form of epilepsy


Laughter is more of a social phenomenon than I thought.  The irritating laugh track of a sit-com can get people laughing together, enjoying unity with the group, even when they don't feel there is anything funny going on.

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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Visit dentist, attend school

When I go to the dentist, he studies the situation of my teeth and tries to figure what might lessen pain and improve health.  But when I go to the teacher, he starts telling me things.  Some of those things, I already know.  Some of them, I don't understand what he is talking about.  Some, I learn. It is possible that my teeth are much easier to evaluate than my knowledge, skills and tendencies to be kind, patient and a careful thinker.  

Strangely enough, there are some things I like better about the dentist.  With him, it is easy to get an A.  I just have to brush my teeth and avoid too much candy.  With the teacher, I make a diorama of Christopher Columbus landing in the Caribbean but it contains historical inaccuracies.  I don't have time or impulse to do the whole thing over and the teacher doesn't have time to look over my project again.  He does use a check sheet and he says that next time, he will give us a copy beforehand so we can get our work in better shape before he looks it over.

My parents are pleased when they find out that everybody who goes to our dentist has good dental health and no mouth pain.  But, they said they don't like hearing that all of the kids in my class have high grades on their project.  They frown on my teacher is an easy grader but they seem to approve of my dentist being an easy grader.  I guess it all depends on what the grade means and that is a murky subject.  I only got a B on my diorama but I wrote an essay that my parents, the kids and my teacher all said was eye-opening. 

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Boy Scout achievement and assessment

The typical high school or college class runs like this:

The teacher talks or conducts other activities for about 7 or 8 weeks.  Students listen, take notes and participate in the class activities, which might involve meeting in small groups to talk together, build or create something and such.  At the end of that time, there is a test of some sort.  Typically, the test involves reading questions or multiple choice items and writing out answers or choosing the correct choice. In a day or so, students are given information about their performance on the test.  The test results information might consist of a single grade or number, such as the well-know "A" for the highest level of achievement.  Students who don't earn a grade they (or their parents) like are urged to "study harder" for the next test on the next segment of instruction.


If this type of procedure is carried out enough times in a sufficiently calm and accepting atmosphere, it can seem as though it is the only way to conduct schooling.  But for the sake of comparison, look at this set of requirements for a Boy Scout to earn the American Business merit badge:

Requirements

  1. Do the following:
    1. Explain four features of the free enterprise system in the United States. Tell its benefits and responsibilities. Describe the difference between freedom and license. Tell how the Scout Oath and Law apply to business and free enterprise.
    2. Describe the Industrial Revolution. Tell about the major developments that marked the start of the modern industrial era in the United States. Tell about five people who had a great influence on business or industry in the United States. Tell what each did.
  2. Do the following:
    1. Visit a bank. Talk with one of the officers or staff. Chart the organization of the bank. Show its relationship with other banks, business, and industry.
    2. Explain how changes in interest rates, taxes, and government spending affect the flow of money into or out of business and industry.
    3. Explain how a proprietorship or partnership gets its capital. Discuss and explain four ways a corporation gets its capital.
    4. Explain the place of profit in business.
    5. Name five kinds of insurance useful to business. Describe their purposes.
  3. Do the following:
    1. Pick two or more stocks from the financial pages of a newspaper. Request the annual report or prospectus from one of the companies by writing, or visit its website (with your parent's permission) to view the annual report online. Explain how a company's annual report and prospectus can be used to help you manage your investments.
    2. Pretend you have bought $1,000 worth of the stocks from the company you wrote to in requirement 3a. Explain how you "bought" the stocks. Tell why you decided to "buy" stock in this company. Keep a weekly record for three months of the market value of your stocks. Show any dividends declared.
  4. Do ONE of the following:
    1. Draw an organizational chart of a typical central labor council.
    2. Describe automation, union shop, open shop, collective-bargaining agreements, shop steward, business agent, and union counselor.
    3. Explain the part played by four federal or state agencies in labor relations.
  5. Run a small business involving a product or service for at least three months. First find out the need for it. For example: a newspaper route, lawn mowing, sales of things you have made or grown. Keep records showing the costs, income, and profit or loss.
  6. Report:
    1. How service, friendliness, hard work, and salesmanship helped build your business.
    2. The benefits you and others received because you were in business. Comparable 4-H, FFA, or Junior Achievement projects may be used for requirement 5.
  7. Do ONE of the following:
    1. Make an oral presentation to your Scout troop about an e-commerce company. Tell about the benefits and pitfalls of doing business online, and explain the differences between a retailer and an e-commerce company. In your presentation, explain the similarities a retailer and an e-commerce company might share.
    2. Choose three products from your local grocery store or mall and tell your merit badge counselor how the packaging could be improved upon so that it has less impact on the environment.
    3. Gather information from news sources and books about a current business leader. Write a two-page biography about this person or make a short presentation to your counselor. Focus on how this person became a successful business leader.

There are 6 numbered sections but if you count separately what is required, there are 13 requirements.  Some sections have multiple parts while two only require one subpart of several to be completed. You might want to note that while the majority of requirements involve explaining or other language activities that can show mental grasp, there is a requirement to pay a visit and there is one to create and run a business "for at least three months", after investigating the need for it.  It is also required that records be kept.

The 13 requirements mean that the adult counselor (teacher, tester) checks off 13 adequately-done items.  Note that if the Scout does not convince the counselor of adequate performance, the Scout would immediately know exactly what must be improved. Note, too, that the counselor can evaluate a different Scout while the first one tries to improve his performance or assembles better EVIDENCE of it. Finally, note that Scouts who had done a good job passing the requirements could be given the task of assessing others, who would have a right of appeal if they felt they were not given a fair evaluation.

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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Great coffee

I like coffee,
I like tea,
I like you
and I like me.

I just made that up on the spot!  Ok, a few word were borrowed from things I've heard.  Self-acceptance (I can't manage to accept "self LOVE" - seems a bit too strong) and strong affection for others both matter.  They both enrich life and all that but please, first things first: COFFEE!

I am a material substance and an animal at that.  So, air, liquid and calories matter to me.  I start with coffee.  I can get poetic and romantic about pure coffee, well-made coffee, quisite coffee and ex-quisite coffee.  I could see that getting the whole beans, grinding them just the right amount, using them in the right proportion to make coffee soon after the grinding, all that took effort.  Effort is often good.  So, that must be the path of virtue. I don't mind virtue once in a while.

Then, while visiting a friend and appreciating her really great coffee, I saw that she kept a large amount of ground beans in a container.  Not frozen, not recently ground, just sitting in a tight container.  I started grinding larger batches and suffering coffee dust everywhere less often.  Finally, I decided to do a taste test.  Yes, the ground coffee sold in an airtight bag was indeed just as good as my recently ground beans.  

Now, I only want the ground bags, not the bean ones.  I have learned that air itself is probably the biggest ager and cause of coffee deterioration.  I think that light and heat are also causes.  Buying only ground coffee makes for less noise, less mess and less dust.  We sometimes run into a need for a grinder.  We recently got a bag of Costa Rican coffee that says "ground" on it but contained whole beans.  Makes good coffee but it needs to be stronger than our usual French Roast/Columbian Starbucks. Grinding a batch is a bit of pain but a local coffee bar ground the whole bag for me and I have an easy-to-get-into/easy-to-seal container for it.  Much less trouble and faster.
--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Friday, February 22, 2013

Leaders

There has been plenty of talk about leadership and the training of leaders for a long time.  It has often seemed odd to me that some discussions talk about leadership as though it is something that everyone naturally aspires to.  As far as I am concerned, Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" is a good take on the burdens and stress of being a leader.

On the other hand, it also seems odd that groups can mill and grumble but without a leader that serves as a center, group response may not occur.  Our experienced emergency medical technician instructor in a recent CPR class said that if we have to give someone artificial respiration, we should get right to work but should point to a likely looking person and say,"You!  Call 911!  Now!"  He said that if you say "Somebody call 911!", people can wait around for somebody else to make such a call.  You'd almost think that an emergency would tend to spark multiple calls instead of none but I guess that is not usually what happens.

There is always the possibility that leadership transforms into control and even tyranny but democratic procedures and the natural feistiness of many adults will quickly result in challenges, complaints and gripes in many, maybe too many, cases.  I don't know much about Lord Acton or his famous saying that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  If we are honest and accurate, nobody has all that much power, although the power to kill or arrange for death is an important one that people can and do have.  I have a suspicion that if we include all human parents there are or have been in say the last 10000 years, far more power holders have abdicated at some point than have clung inappropriately to power.  Whether that applies to retired officers, chairs and politicians, I don't know but I imagine many were not corrupted.

A major feature of being a leader seems to me to be facing contradictions and opposite opinions, most about what courses of action will best lead to a goal.  Of course, in a modern democracy, no one openly states that his main goal is the destruction or damage of a particular person, class, institution or practice but I imagine that is the goal of some.  I am a student of human decision making and I realize that for many, it is difficult to realize that nobody can see very far down the road to the future.  So, when a mayor or governor or president or chair or CEO decides we will take path X instead of Y, it is never totally possible to know after the fact that Y would have been completely better.  It is pretty certain there was no way for anyone at all to know about the negatives of X before trying that path.  Besides, in only a short time, other variables, not known or considered relevant can intervene or combine in ways impossible to foresee and evaluate.

A link that may be of interest: Psych Today on leadership

Teachers lead but aim for development of students while business, political, and military and sports leaders are aiming for group success and have a clearer way of knowing if there was success or failure, at least over the following decade.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Detectives

I thought the modern detective story could more or less be said to start with Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, not thinking of Baltimore's Edgar Allan Poe.  I have read that the first novel was written by a high-born Japanese lady in about the 1100's, so just for fun, I looked up "detective story" in Google and was sent to "detective fiction".  Turns out the Arabs and the Chinese have types of detective stories centuries before our country existed but generally they differ somewhat from our kind of story.  You can see something of the Chinese version by downloading "Judge Dee"stories, a Chinese fictional character from the Tang dynasty (600-900 AD).  The stories in Amazon Kindle form are composed by a Dutch scholar of Chinese history and literature, using an 18th century Chinese story as a basis.  

I have enjoyed many different sorts of detectives, from Tony Hillerman's Navaho policeman Jim Chee to Donna Leon's Commissaire Brunetti of Venice.  Of course, we know Miss Marple and that misplaced Belgian Hercule Poirot running around in Britain finding baddies.  We have enjoyed the gardeners Rosemary (a botanist) and Thyme (a former policewoman) and the wily Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle as he proceeds to stop badpersons ignoring or actually exploiting the WW II struggle between Germany and Britain.  

You can go in many directions with detective stories and it is only natural that strong imaginations would do so after there are more than enough gunshots, more than enough blood and more than enough lies about who did what.  I.J. Parker writes about medieval Japan and crimes that need solving and Georges Simenon, another Belgian, wrote many novels about Inspector Maigret, who mostly operated in France.  The woman anthropologist who writes under the name Fred Vargas and the Canadian author Louise Penny are in the business as are the many Scandinavians, such as the unsupassed-for-sales, Steig Larsson, the gloomy Hennning Mankell and Helen Thursten.  Kwei Quartey MD has written two good reads about Inspector Darko Dawson who tries to make justice prevail in Ghana.  There are many others.  Probably one for every major city in the world and most occupations.

Like many others, I very much like the tales of Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner of the No. Ladies Detective Agency in Botswana, Africa.  Her problems and projects often turn out to be less gruesome and criminal than most fictional detective work, as when the culprits turned out to be a group of baboon vandals.  I plan to write a fun and cozy (a genuine technical term for crime stories with less blood and gory descriptions) series featuring an astute and insightful kindergarten teacher and the troubles and puzzles she gets herself into, innocently of course.

Whenever I pay attention to a story, I tend to feel as though I have temporarily become the main character.  I have recently gained quite a bit of weight and am now 750 lbs.  I am a robot in the future who was built to fight and kill but possesses such sophisticated software that I have nearly qualified for full citizenship in the society of both 'bots and biologicals created by the Texas writer A. Lee Martinez in "The Automatic Detective".  I am now quite different from being Tenzing Norbu of the two books by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay, the Tibetan now a detective in L.A., who uses meditation and calming to keep his spirit and strength up.  

Sometime, I may get to Eric Garcia's T-rex detective from the group of dinosaurs who faked their extinction and now solve crimes.  Whenever I need a laugh, I return to the adventures of the Pink Panther and the highly unskilled and ridiculous Inspector Clouseau.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Individuals and individualisms

Much perspective on American lives and goals can be gained from the book "Buddhist Practice on Western Ground" by Harvey Aronson.  Shambhala is working to have all their extensive collection of Buddhist and mindfulness and meditation books in Kindle format and they have gotten around to the Aronson book.  I am delighted.  I did read the book a few years ago but when I can read it on Kindle, it is different.  I can easily highlight the important passages and collect them in an ordered file for printing or publishing or collect them with Kindle Fire or iPad on the special site kindle.amazon.com.  I actually prefer this latter way since it is an easy step to share those highlights on Twitter.

I have been checking regularly to see when the Aronson book is ready for a Kindle and now I have it.  At the same time, Love 2.0 and its dual emphasis on meditation and on the nature of love and how we love has re-emphasized for me some of the parts of Aronson.  Both Aronson, as a psychotherapist and a Buddhist teacher and translator and Sheena Iyengar, a blind professor of business at Columbia University who grew up both as a Sikh in India and as an American in New York, stress the difference between the US and much of the Asian world in the area of individuals and our picture of what and who a person is.  

Both of these authors stress the difficulty many Americans have understanding the normal, everyday Asian perspective.  It is a little ironic that we use the word "individual" to refer to a single person, a unit of humanity that cannot be further divided: not dividable = individual since most of the background assumption in Asian society is that going down that far, focusing on one person and that person's ideas, interests and goal is going too far.  If we were to start considering each heart, each set of lungs, each liver and each set of kidneys as the basic units, we would have gone into divisions we don't currently emphasize.  For much of Asian society, it is the group, often the family that is the unit and there are no important units inside that group.  

When Americans get a good view of the Asian perspective, they usually take refuge in ideas of freedom, of individuality and personal power, especially power of choice.  In Iyengar's The Art of Choosing, she explains how surprised she was to find that American grade school expected her to be developing her own picture of who she was and what she was to become.  But knowledgeable people increasingly put together evidence and theory questioning whether expecting each human to decide on a career and to decide on an employer and to decide on a love partner is such a good idea.  No question, it sometimes works well.  But confused, adrift, disappointed, lonely cases show that it sometimes doesn't work well.  

If Americans weren't quite so sure that Daniel Boone and his musket alone in the wilderness is the epitome of the best life, we might learn why other approaches to life, love and others can also work quite well.  If we weren't so certain that we know the path to living well, we might be surprised at what other paths do.
--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sex and love

It is clearly possible to have love without sex.  My parents and sister loved me without any physical excitement in me or them.  However, sex is important in human life and I have seen two TED talks recently that have some important insights into the subject.

Esther Perel is a therapist and author.  Her TED talk on desire in marriage was put on the TED web as part of Valentine's Day.  Her talk is a shorter version of her ($3 on Kindle) book "Mating in Captivity".  She talks knowingly and helpfully about people being very hot for each other but slowly, or sometimes rapidly, cooling off during marriage. She explains connections between our early upbringing and our interest in exploration and excitement.  She asks,"How can you desire what you already have?"  Perel makes a good case for the right balance in marriage between comfort/security and excitement/novelty.

Laura Morgan Steiner has a TED talk on domestic violence.  Steiner explains that she had a boyfriend that slowly increased violent behavior toward her and eventually beat her as much as two times a week.  He also held a loaded gun to her head several times.  She talks about the question everyone asks: Why does she stay?  Why doesn't she leave? She says that in the midst of that relation with its beatings and danger, she never thought of herself as a person in a situation of domestic violence. She mentions several contrite, dramatic apologies made to her by her boyfriend accompanied by deep, persuasive assurances that he would not behave that way any more.

A search of the TED site on "sex" resulted in more than 1800 TED talks on the subject.  You might not find the ones on bonobo or plant sex all that exciting but then again, you might.  The anthropologist Helen Fisher has dozens of TED talks on sex and love and is a well-known thinker on those and related subjects.

Most TED talks are 20 minutes or less and attain a surprising amount of depth in that short time.  They are free and can be viewed through any internet connection.
 
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Monday, February 18, 2013

Being of two minds

The usual phrase in a will is "being of sound mind", meaning I know who and where I am, I am in full possession of my faculties.  "Being of two minds" usually expresses indecision: I should go and I should not go. The picture of what a mind is has been changing for decades. I'm sure that the ancients knew that not everything going on in them was part of their conscious mind but it is usually the fairly recent latecomer, Sigmund Freud, who is credited with getting more attention for the subconscious mind.  

I have read several books on the subconscious and mentioned them in this blog.  I attend a short discussion group weekly with several other retired professors, most of them philosophers, and we have been discussing various aspects of research and thought concerning the human mind.  The first book related to the topic was "Phantoms in the Brain" by V.S. Ramachandran MD PhD and Sandra Blakeslee, who is a well-known science writer and journalist. Ramachandran is discussed in "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge MD, too.  That book is a good survey of many aspects of the enlarged knowledge that the brain controls our actions but our actions, habits and environment steadily modify the brain at the same time.

Ramachandran was interested in the odd but bothersome experience of people who have lost an arm or leg but still feel pain, sometimes excruciating pain, in the not-there limb.  Many reports of such a situation have accumulated, at least back to the 1600's.  Ramachandran concentrated on the idea that the sensation of pain had to come from the sufferer's brain and devised a simple box of mirrors that can convince the unused area of the brain that the limb is gone and to stop sending pain signals about it.

The most helpful shorthand for the conscious-subconscious parts of our brain that I have found is that of Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking: Fast and Slow".  Our reflexes and our subconscious are fast, just what mammals subject to gravity and predators and enemies need.  The fast system works quickly and is governed by our subconscious but it isn't critical of ideas.  We can communicate with that system through various means.  Technically, every time we speak or write, we are dredging ideas and impulses from that system.  Repetition and practice as well as meditation and hypnosis help to move ideas into our subconscious.  

Life is not much fun if we can't be spontaneous but instead require ourselves to ponder every decision.  Still, it may help to run things past the slower thinking, more rational and critical mind whenever there is a question about an action.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Litotes, humbuggers and stress

There is a famous character in literature, French literature, I think, who is surprised and pleased to find that he has been speaking, not poetry, but prose all his life.  Similarly, I am surprised to discover the my parents, my family and me have been using litotes all our lives.  In certain groups, nearly every sentence is litotical. "Lototes" is the name given to an utterance that uses the opposite of a term to describe something.  When my wife asks if I love her, and I say,"Well, I sure don't hate you", I am being stupid but litotical.  When I say,"Man, it is hot out" to mean that it is very cold outside, another litotes has appeared.

litotical - Wiktionary en.wiktionary.org/wiki/litotical English. Adjective. litotical (comparative more litotical, superlative most litotical). Of or pertaining to litotes

I can't say how many people have asked me about this word.
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Humbuggers - a term created by the lawyer, lawyer prof and dean and writer Toni Bernhard to refer to the many people in the world that more or less apply the label "humbug" to everything.  Deny-ers, critics, doubters, dislikers, people who are against most everything.  What a great word! I applaud Prof. Bernhard, author of the book "How to Be Sick."
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The stress of retirement - the stress of retirement requires a good meditation practice - too many choices, too many needs, too many fun ideas, too many causes you absolutely MUST support.  Support?  Just "support"? You can do better!  You need to petition!  You need to demonstrate!  When  demonstrating, you need to carry a sign.  A good sign, with good, catchy, original art and a good catchy original slogan.  Now, what color should the background be?

Before we were interested, beguiled really, by an empty calendar.  We had no obligations and could do anything we wanted.  What did we want?  Just to relax.  Just to enjoy whatever.  Sometime later, "whatever" got a little boring.  Ok, we will join that committee.  Yes, we will bake those muffins and get them there in time for the event.  Sure, we can miss the broadcast we like since we have recorded it.  Then, ooops!  Too many recordings to ever sit through.  No space on our formerly empty calendar.  We are searching for a therapist who can help us deal with the stress that emerged from retirement.  

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

Saturday, February 16, 2013

C'est moi!

The song was sung by Robert Goulet in "Camelot" and it explains the power and glory of the 'parfait' knight, Sir Lancelot.  The lyrics explain his many virtues and exemplary qualities.  

A knight of the Table Round should be invincible,

Succeed where a less fantastic man would fail.

Climb a wall no one else can climb,

Cleave a dragon in record time,

Swim a moat in a coat of heavy iron mail.

No matter the pain, he ought to be unwinceable,

Impossible deeds should be his daily fare.

But where in the world

Is there in the world

A man so extraordinaire?

C'est moi! C'est moi, I'm forced to admit.

It's nice when I can face my strengths and openly state them, without false humility but, as Frank Lloyd Wright said,"with honest arrogance".

It is also nice when I get to the point of knowing and standing up to my weaknesses.  I don't have to parade them but I face them and respect them, while working to lessen them.

The third, even quieter part of me makes my world.  I am wise to make my world balanced, not too sweet and not too sour.  Like Goldilock's little bear friend, just right.  But it is tempting to let me slip out of focus, to forget that MY attention, MY fears, MY favorites and MY dislikes color my world, my attention, my view.  It is easy to forget that I pick the direction, that the memories, the feelings, the recognized possibilities are MINE.  I have a choice, in fact, a steady stream of them and I get to make and re-make them all.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lao Tzu, Goethe and facing all there is

When I was in college, I found the writings of the ancient Chinese philosopher in the library and started reading some of them.  At the time, I didn't know the difference between Confucius and the man often referred to in our alphabet as "Lao Tzu". [Listening to the excellent Grant Hardy in his Great Course, I learned that a better spelling would probably be "Lao Sy".  Sounds like our word "lousy" sounds but of course he has nothing to do with that word.  Hardy said that little is known about him and that the "name" simply means Great Teacher].  One scholar of Chinese said that while Confucius embraced the idea of duty and responsibility, Lao Zi thought that Confucius was "a busybody".

What gripped me in my first readings was the idea that life is best lived by the people who roll up their sleeves without baring their arms, an impossibility, normally.  The point is to live smoothly and with grace.  The point is very difficult to envision in any clear sense and that is part of the point. I was reminded of this man while taking a break from "Love 2.0" to look at another book.

I have heard of "Centering in Poetry, Pottery and the Person" by Mary. C. Richards many times.  Since the savvy author of Love 2.0 mentions centering and related ideas, I thought of the book, checked, and was happy to find the 1962 book available in Kindle format for a good price.  When I read the opening quote from Goethe, I was instantly reminded of Lao Tzu.  Both of these geniuses could really use their brain and both realized that thinking is valuable but that it has limits.  At the bottom of our lives is presence, just being there.

Way-making (dao) that can be put into words is not really way-making, And naming (ming) that can assign fixed reference to things is not really naming.*

*Ames, Roger; Hall, David (2010-05-12). Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation (Kindle Locations 1477-1480). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


My favorite translation of these opening words is "The way that can be told is not the way."

"Dann man gerade nur denkt, wenn, das wor├╝ber man denkt, man gar nicht ausdenken kann." (Then only are we really thinking when the subject on which we are thinking cannot be thought out.) —Goethe (1749-1832)**

**Richards, Mary Caroline (2011-05-18). Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (Kindle Locations 36-39). Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.


So, one or more times a day, pause in silence and just be there a minute or two. Take a deep breath and appreciate it.  Look around and see. Use words later.

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

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