Archive for September, 2013

Measuring inflation

September 30, 2013

I get frustrated when I hear about how little inflation there is;  measured how, I want to ask.

One of the ways I see the cost of living increasing is the replacing of a higher quality item with one that doesn’t function as well.  The sticker price may stay the same or even go down, but the value isn’t the same.  Is that measured by indices of inflation?  It’s not just about enjoying a better quality immediately, it’s also about the longevity of the item.  As I understand it, chained CPI as a measure of inflation actually does the opposite, assuming cheaper substitutions are adequate and don’t create measurable loss.  I think it’s an underhanded way to avoid coming to grips with the impact of inflation without seeming to do so.

This morning I was thinking about the quality factor, though.

I have my thermostats turned down, because, like many around where I live, we just don’t want the heat to turn on until we are deeper into the autumn season.  Temperatures warm up outside during the day, so some chill at night and in the early morning doesn’t seem so bad.

But I don’t like being cold either.  I find a thick wool sweater is a big help.  They have gotten expensive.  Many sweaters for sale are now blends, often including synthetics, and I don’t find them as warm or as helpful in maintaining my physical comfort — I can become both sweaty and cold wearing them.

When I went to Town Day last weekend, I bought a big heavy wool sweater for $35.00.  I put it on this morning and went, “Yes!  This is what works!”  It’s warm, but it breathes.

But it makes me wonder whether one has to head back to some sort of more rudimentary economy than our mainstream one in order to maintain this sort of way of life.  Because I bought my sweater from a small vendor.  In cash.  No shipping, no bricks and mortar store, no advertizing, no separate sales tax (I have no idea whether such vendors pay it to the state nonetheless).

I don’t have the time to buy all my things this way, it’s not a very efficient way to acquire what one needs.  That cost in time and energy is not measured by economic indices, either, I don’t think.  But these are the realities.

Anyway, the sweater also amuses me because it is a little too loud and a little too big, but it does have a zipper and pockets, too.  It’s grey, but with burgundy, red, greens, and white in a pattern at the yoke and at the cuffs.  Kind of like a Norwegian sweater.  The pattern involves zig-zag stripes and fleur-di-lis.  And it was a one-size-fits-all deal.  Which will actually come in handy in the winter, when even with the heat on, I need to wear layers to keep warm — this will fit over them all.

It’s a nice way to beat the cold and inflation.

Framed heron

September 30, 2013

I was leaving the reservoir, after having walked around it, the other day, and crossing the little bridge above the brook that separates the res from the playing field.  I had made a detour first and gone up the spillway and under the bridge that’s part of the dam around this part of the res, to look at what was floating in the water more closely.  I came out of the spillway and turned to walk toward the (other) bridge, and then all of a sudden a large heron (a Great Blue, I presume) took off from the brook area to the left of the bridge, flew over the bridge, and then flew low over the brook to the right of the bridge for a bit, until it flew up to its right and over the trees along the banks of the brook, and towards the res.  I lost sight of it when it crossed the water and seemed to fly into some conservation land on the other side.

Framed by the trees on either side if the bank, the heron looked huge.  Magnificent.  I realized that I usually see the herons from afar and against a wide expansive backdrop of water and marshes.  They don’t look as big against such a background.  This one flying over the brook was pretty close to where I was, too, when it took off, so I saw it in all its actual bigness.  Its long reddish legs were hanging down, its wings seemed to fill the space between the trees lining the brook’s banks, it put on quite a spectacle doing nothing in particular.  I was its only audience, so it felt to me as if I had been treated to a private show.

Don’t want to consider that I probably flushed it from wherever it had been before I emerged.

Ad algorithms

September 27, 2013

Well, I’ve noticed that I seem to get ads for Christian singles dating services when I listen to Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas concerts on YouTube.  I get part of why that happens, but are they guessing I’m single on the basis of some other piece of information they have captured, or is that just a statistical guess?

This morning Jordan gave me a couple of pocket-sized New Testaments cum Psalms and Proverbs, which he had been given during the course of his commute to college in downtown Boston.

I’m probably more in need of a dating guide than the religious texts.

 

Addendum:  In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a story on the front page related to Christian dating, unfortunately a heartbreaker:  “A love story, in life and death,” by Bryan Marquard.

More on confirmation bias

September 26, 2013

“The “highlighting” I mentioned feels like reading something written on a wall.  If it, or our focus on it, is projected there from within us, that also doesn’t mean it originated with our thinking minds.”

I wrote this in a post two weeks ago and think it needs elaboration; certainly I’ve been trying to articulate my sense of the what’s a self-serving mental mechanism and what’s a way of gaining helpful understanding.  Confirmation bias as it’s usually used I think is about emphasizing what a fear or desire or predisposition draws us to noticing without our being sufficiently aware of this process.  Noticing what seems to be highlighted in one’s life, and then trying to infer a lesson from that, while remaining aware that that is what one is doing, I think is something else.

But before I get to that, I want to describe another form of confirmation bias.

Many’s the time I’ve perceived something that seems important and has a lot of explanatory power, but has been a little unclear to me or I have not felt confident about my understanding.  And then I’m in a bookstore and I’m pulling a book off a shelf and flipping it open and there it is:  somebody else has understood that, too, and they are explaining it in a way that clarifies it for me.

Now that is a confirmation bias in the sense of confirming what I could use to hear confirmed:  right on the money, the exact thing I understood confirmed for me, through a seemingly random set of steps (going to the bookstore, pulling out a particular volume, flipping it open, etc.)  I notice it because it’s surprising and helpful.  Do I have many experiences of browsing in book stores and pulling out books and finding what I read does not elucidate something I previously perceived but could have used clarification on?  No, I actually don’t.  In fact, I had to remind myself not to buy a book just because it contained an explication of something I was working on or contained an echo of a pattern I was currently experiencing in my life — I would have ended up with way too many books.  And I stopped a weekly trip to a bookstore I used to make, in part to avoid the issue.

This is to say that I think maybe we should have an open mind about the category “confirmation bias” and consider whether there are multiple varieties of processes which look like the interpretation of random events according to personal bias, with some being more helpful than others.

To get back to my original topic, of highlighting that does not seem to originate in the emotional or thinking self, I think the difference between varieties of confirmation bias will have to do with what apparatus of perception we are using and whence the prompt to pay attention.

I sense that we have an emotion apparatus, a thought apparatus, and a ground wire apparatus.  Just as “food flows through the phloem” and “water zips through the xylem” (if I remember Mr. Frick’s mnemonic device from high school biology correctly), we’ve got different apparatus for perceiving, as if we are multilingual.  Most of us don’t use what I’m calling our ground wire apparatus.  It’s what comes to the fore during prayer and meditation.  I suspect it, or something parallel, is involved when a writer or musician or other artist goes up into the cloud during creative activity.  It’s there, I think in all of us, even in people who have a really difficult time accessing theirs.  In some people it has developed into a huge conduit, in others it’s narrower at the moment.

Then there’s the issue of source.  Whence the prompt to pay attention to a potential input?  I’m saying that the prompt comes through the ground wire conduit, but where does it originate?  Not in the part of ourselves with which we identify as individuals — not in our imaginations or in our desires and fears.  I would make the analogy to solar wind or solar flares.

Clearly at some point we process a highlight that originates elsewhere, and comes to us through something that is not part of our ego, through thoughts and language which are bound up with our egos and the modes they oversee.  Our ground wire takes it in, it gets projected out as a highlighted thing in our material world, and we read it back with our senses and language and thoughts.  That’s the process I sense.

I am aware that this idea may sound far-fetched, and even among people who are open to other modes of perception, this one is considered a peculiar old native language, not the French or English we are supposed to be using in public.  The French or English equivalent I think are prayer and meditation.  But this highlighting business I think exists, is not confirmation bias as it is usually understood, because the emphasis perceived was not suggested by the self but by a different source, and actually allows the user to perceive the objects casting the shadows on the wall of the cave that Plato sees us as inhabiting.

[This is still a draft, but updated.  I may clean it up more later, but I wanted to post it now, in this form.]

Regeneration

September 24, 2013

I have encountered a version of what Richard Rohr talks about in today’s Daily Meditation, this “incurable wound at the heart of everything.”

I conceptualized it, when it came to me, as a very limited child who could not get back to godhead, or be easily guided back there by others on the outside.  We had to communicate to her from within and then give her a way of understanding how to fling herself into the arms of the Lord, the universe, however that concept is translated, so she could complete the cycle of death and rebirth.  Her remaining outside of that cycle, sort of marooned on the shoulder of the road, was a sinkhole for humanity generally, however small the hole actually was.  Like a small glitch in some hardware that crashes a computer.  That’s what I “got” when I peeled away all the layers of the onion.

Somehow we communicated to her to fling herself into the arms of a father — it was an emotional concept she did get, and her soul fluttered into the embrace she was able to expect would be there to receive her in a loving way.

What did I uncover?  Father Rohr teaches me that it is a universal issue that we contemplate and then accept as is, we don’t try to fix it.  So what was this disabled child version of mine all about?  Maybe it was a projection of “me” that I didn’t recognize.

But there’s more to it than that, I think.

I don’t think I’m the first to see what I saw or to come up with the kluge to get the child to crossover by conceptualizing God as a/the father.  I think it has been done before, and what was thought to be a helpful metaphor took on an unhelpful life of its own, to wit, some of the beliefs in our religions — God as a cranky old parent, for instance.

Is the wound incurable?  Can a sinkhole be filled?  How do we relate to black holes?

Father Rohr’s teaching makes me think that we need to accept that incurable wound as the entrance to the next phase, a version of “creative destruction” we must tolerate if not embrace.  We need to accept our fall during our physical lives, in order to open our hearts, and we need to accept our death when we move on from this world, we need to recycle — whether we conceptualize it as including reincarnation or just going back to source after a single lifetime.

But maybe Rohr is getting at something else, something that is just wound and not part of a cycle of death and resurrection (resurrection that, if not on earth, then puts us into eternity through reunion with God).  I don’t know.  But I will think about it — I am certainly willing to explore whether a prior conceptualization of mine was a step towards a further understanding.

But sometimes I think we’re just feeling different parts of the elephant, and that what I’ve felt has its own role in our clarifying our collective understanding, too.

Hats and memories

September 21, 2013

I developed a substantial sensitivity to sunlight on the skin on my face, starting about the time my father died this past winter.  My dermatologist prescribed a topical creme to reduce inflammation (in the blood vessels, I think) and told me to stay out the sun, wear a broad-brimmed hat when I am out in the sun, etc.  We also discovered that my skin won’t tolerate even the mildest sunscreen.

I was not unhappy wearing a  broad-brimmed hat this spring and summer.  Now it’s fall, more or less, and straw or raffia don’t seem right.

So I thought (now this, I admit, is a little illogical), “Okay, the sun is more intense in summer, maybe I don’t need to wear a hat all the time when I’m out anymore, now that the season’s changing.”  No one had ever said this would be a seasonal issue, and it had started in the dead of winter, but I thought, “Maybe,” nonetheless.

So I didn’t wear a hat for a few days, and now my face hurts.

Those who see confirmation bias are free to do so.

Anyway, it’s pretty clear this skin condition has not cleared up (I suspect that had also been my hope), that the season makes no (or not enough of a?  I got away with no hat for a couple of days) difference, and that I will need to continue the hat thing.

Here’s where I’m running into an emotional issue.  Willy wore a hat, I think it’s called an outback style.

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Once I start wearing a non-straw hat, it will remind me of him, as if I am adopting one of his habits.  That feels uncomfortable.  That is part of what I am trying to avoid.

I think my project is to find a hat that I like, that suits (season and hair), and hope that it (and its style, whatever it turns out to be) resolves the echo issue in an unexpected and helpful way.

unposted comment

September 20, 2013

I got around to trying to post a reply to a comment I made to T.M. Luhrmann’s “The Violence in Our Heads” on NYTimes.com too late for it to be included, so I’ll put it here.

ACW,
Maybe your guard is lower when you engage in those activities, so you hear more.

I would say there is more to hearing things internally than just hearing “voices” such as one hears from external sources.  Here are some examples, off the top of my head and not including more controversial categories like ghosts, spirit guides, angels, and past lives:

Sometimes there’s insight that just wells up from inside.  I think some people call that gnosis.

Sometimes there’s a comforting thought that does not seem to be one’s own.  When I was in pre-term labor, I got a clear message not to think this was something I was doing but that it was something happening to both the baby and me.  A conscious thought one way or the other on that topic had not entered my thinking at the time, I was too much in that numb crisis mode.  It wasn’t a voice, it wasn’t my own thought, it felt like it came from others as guidance.

And there are also artifacts of poor hearing or sight, in which the brain seems to create sounds or sights because of a dearth of real input.

So we could, if we discussing the topic of hearing things more thoroughly, probably come up with a taxonomy of things heard internally, including voices.

Evening out the highs and lows

September 20, 2013

I don’t disagree with the idea that suffering and love, and great suffering and great love, are related.  I read about that in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation.  I agree that great suffering can break open a human heart, and that as a result, that heart can encounter, and access, great love after.  It’s quite a roller coaster.  Lots of drama.

I don’t, though, think that’s a helpful place to rest ourselves for too long, in that stage.  I think we need to even out those highs and lows, through detachment.  I think Buddhists talk about this a lot.  I got cued to this piece (by Pema Chödrön) recently, and I really liked the idea of “no big deal.”  She writes,

This was one of the biggest teachings from my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: no big deal. I remember one time going to him with what I thought was a very powerful experience from my practice. I was all excited, and as I was telling him about this experience, he had a look. It was a kind of indescribable look, a very open look. You couldn’t call it compassionate or judgmental or anything. And as I was telling him about this, he touched my hand and said, “No . . . big . . . deal.” He wasn’t saying “bad,” and he wasn’t saying “good.” He was saying that these things happen and they can transform your life, but at the same time don’t make too big a deal of them, because that leads to arrogance and pride, or a sense of specialness. On the other hand, making too big a deal about your difficulties takes you in the other direction; it takes you into poverty, self-denigration, and a low opinion of yourself. So meditation helps us cultivate this feeling of no big deal, not as a cynical statement, but as a statement of humor and flexibility. You’ve seen it all, and seeing it all allows you to love it all.

I think it’s what I’m getting at here.

Algorithm, confirmation bias, or synchronicity

September 19, 2013

I posted the previous post and then went for a walk.  I got back and started on my usual tasks.  I googled “Crow on the Cradle” done by Jackson Browne for accompaniment, and when it was finished, I clicked on another Jackson Browne and David Lindley live performance (turned out to be “Before the Deluge”).  I got treated to an ad first.  It was about how MetLife walked the woman who was testifying in the ad, through the process of applying for life insurance — it was over the phone and easier than she thought.

I usually get ads on YouTube about stain removal.  This MetLife life insurance ad was a first for me, so it stood out.  And yes, it did remind me of my blog post about walking my mom (using a different method) through a phone conversation about a financial matter, despite her apprehension and with a positive reaction to the experience.

Do I know whether there was a material connection between the two incidents?  If I have looked at shoes online and shoe ads pop up on webpages I later browse, I assume cookies and algorithms and whatnot.  Here if what happened was due to such things, it would take a lot more sophistication in the software, so I don’t assume it was the mechanism.  Is it confirmation bias?  The two incidents happened close in time and with not much business in between (basically just my walk).  Is it synchronicity?  I don’t like to get too caught up in terms and definitions.  The way I would put it is that it feels like being an unwitting recipient of an unadvertized “buy one, get one free” special, or like pulling an apple off a tree and having another one fall down beside you as the branch returns to its place.  It doesn’t feel random.  And a mundane mechanism is not obvious to me.

Even without my ego to perceive both events in relation to me, they both happened in close succession in the same locale.  A post goes up, an ad with a similar theme plays on YouTube on the same computer a short time later.

Scripting

September 19, 2013

I complain about people writing scripts for others — in effect, telling the other person what the writer thinks they should say and do (and think).  Outside of the context of consciously writing a play to be put on stage or filmed, I am uncomfortable with the idea of writing scripts.  I object to the kind of script-writing in which one family member tells another how to react or in which a pundit tells a politician what to say, for example.

So I am amused that I found myself writing someone else a script.

My mother actually asked for this script.  She needed to call a brokerage firm and sell shares in a mutual fund.  We had taken all the preceding steps together — ascertaining, in consultation with her team of professionals, this was a good move for her, determining the cost basis (no easy feat under the circumstances), etc.  All she needed to do was to give the sell order.  It seemed to me not a good use of time and energy to put either me or her financial adviser on the account just to sell it, and although my mother had trepidation at the outset of this project that she could do it herself, once she saw how we could work through the determination of the basis, she became more confident that she could accomplish this objective.  And she knew I was there in the background as needed.  (The account had been in her name for years, but my father had managed it.)

So she agreed she would do it, and when I started explaining how such a conversation typically unfolds, she started taking notes and asking me to put my descriptions into examples of words to say.  So I did, and by the end of the conversation, she happily announced that she had a script now, and that that was what she needed in order to feel comfortable undertaking the transaction.

She accomplished the transaction yesterday, informed me that she had a confirmation number and insisted on giving it to me.  She repeated how important it was to her to have had a script.  (She understood the transaction conceptually and wanted it done, she just was concerned she didn’t know what to say — kind of like, for some people, not being sure of how to order in a French restaurant — which is, actually, not an issue for my mother, as her French is quite good.)

I am so glad I found a context in which scripting someone else’s conversation seems to have been a helpful thing.