Archive for the 'ideas' Category


January 7, 2013

I think I’m one of those.  Actually, I think we all are, whether we’re effective at being one or not.  I think we are conduits for forces we are only dimly aware of.  Sometimes the forces mix with us and what comes out is, for example, art, sometimes it is addictive behavior or even psychosis, sometimes theoretical physics, sometimes a combination of things, including a combination of useful and destructive things.

What I have thought vaguely for a while is that I can hear some interesting things that I could never have thought of, and that I can translate them into words and try to communicate them to other people.  I want to let those interesting things come through into the world — they are more helpful than what I could come up with through my intellect.

What I think I’ve spent years doing is cleaning out my apparatus, the conduit apparatus within me.  I think someone had used it for relationships and acquiring stuff and influencing people according to what that someone wanted.  I think it had been developed well enough to do that, and that it was kind of like this person finding someone else’s fully loaded laptop and using it to pick up girls and pay off lobbyists.  It got kind of corroded and bent by being used for personal gain and attachments.  So it took awhile to get the junk and dirt out of it, retrieve some missing pieces, and get the thing up and running as it is intended to be used.

It takes a fair amount of effort for me to hear what I hear, and it often comes best as a reaction to reading or hearing what somebody else is saying.  I focus on the hearing part, including maintaining a good connection, and I tend to give shorter shrift to the translation and presentation part.  If I lose the connection, then the whole point is lost, so that’s why I put my energy there.

I have wished for a collaborator who would focus on the writing and translation part, but Gita has steered me away from that configuration — she thinks I should be doing the whole undertaking.  I struggle with the writing.  I think in parentheses and footnotes and gerunds — how to get those curlicued and nested thoughts into linear form, into short, declarative sentences, and into something that others can follow is a challenge for me.  And taking the time and having the patience to explain it all and not leave too much to be gleaned from between the lines — that’s a challenge for me, too.  Willy used to talk about how programmers get bored after figuring out the gist of a programming problem, and often are impatient with subsequent steps, including the debugging stage.  I’m probably like that.  Once I feel satisfied myself, I have to discipline myself to go further with the project after that — I either don’t hear a call to communicate it well or I override that call with some nonsense of my own (including residue from having a number of people tell me I don’t write well).

I feel somewhat better about the process of learning to communicate when I think of it as finding my voice.  That, in turn, leads me to recollecting the intentional misreading (by a friend of a friend) of the Latin phrase “cave canem” (beware of dog) into “cave caneam,” beware lest I sing.  (The friend of the friend is Debbie Roberts, who I think is a professor at Haverford College.)  I like the idea that somewhere inside of me I have a powerful voice, if I can only find it.  Again, to get back to where I started, I think we all do, it’s a matter of realizing our potential.



August 19, 2012

I’m not sure whether is employing new software or whether it’s just that the way I’ve used the site has recently triggered something that’s always been there, but I don’t like it.  I consider buying something, and then either they raise the price of the item I’m considering before I decide to buy it or they start sending me emails about even more expensive, related items for sale.  It’s enough to make me change my use of the site.

Similarly with the processes of posting comments to pieces on newspaper, and such, websites.  I long abandoned posting comments on the website of The Boston Globe.   It had turned into a “conversation,” and the results were not, in my opinion, for the better, in terms of quality or interest.  At the time, I didn’t much mind, because I was enjoying posting comments on the NYTimes website.  That was back in the days of the previous commenting format, in which the comments were numbered, for example, and everything was, I think, on a first-come, first-served basis.  And Marie Burns took top prizes.

I think Marie Burns can be found elsewhere on the web.  But there are other aspects to the old process I miss (such as the greater formality of most of the entries), and I am thinking I am detecting the degenerating of the whole enterprise into more casual interactions among commenters — better for the social networking, worse for the content, which I think benefits from focus on ideas, not on their reception.

I’m not against interaction per se, I just think it needs to be structured in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the primary enterprise.  I should probably also note that under the current regime at the NYTimes, I personally am able to post my comments without going through moderation — on the Globe website, there is only moderation after the fact, and for everyone, of course, I think.  But I am much less content with the dynamic now at the NYTimes as a whole than I used to be.

I also comment on the PBS NewsHour website, where many fewer comments are posted and I can’t quite figure out the moderation practices.  There the dynamic seems to vary, with some very interesting interactive threads and some seemingly random and oddly-inspired comments.

But, to get back to my original point:  just as I don’t enjoy the apparent algorithm I’m encountering, I find my interest in commenting on the NYTimes changing for the worse — I find myself feeling put off by the dynamic.

My reference to the dynamic on the NewsHour site makes me want to say that I really don’t know what makes an interactive experience satisfying and what doesn’t for me — I suspect for me it’s about openness and a focus on ideas and not personalities.  I wonder whether for others, it’s more enjoyable when it’s quite the opposite and has a greater component of reacting to one another.

I don’t know what the NYTimes’ objective is for their commenting feature.  With Amazon I’m going to suspect it’s pure profit.  So I really don’t know whether to expect that there will be other changes in the future to the commenting feature to try to maintain quality and not just traffic, for example.

I have been contemplating other changes in my life of late, and I’m not sure how this issue fits into that.  I’ll be going away later this week and into the next, so maybe time away will help me determine what I’ll do about all this.  Maybe it will seem to me that the universe is nudging me to go in a different direction from what I’ve been doing and turn to something else.  Things in this world are always changing in some way.  Or maybe I’ll just come back with a different attitude towards the same activities.

Eliminating the category “evil,” not “evil” itself

August 9, 2012

There are certainly acts in this world that result in huge amounts of pain and suffering of others, but I don’t believe there exists an abstract category of “evil” and I do think that we create a problem for ourselves when we insist that there does.

I wrote a comment on the NYTimes website a few days ago, in response to the killings in the Sikh temple, about how once we start labeling people and things as evil, others are free to do likewise according to their own lights, and we are left to defend a border between words and action;  and about how I think that’s a necessarily permeable border, I don’t think we will ever eliminate some people’s crossing it, and I think we do damage to the community in our efforts to eliminate such crossings.

I wrote about how I would rather shift the whole paradigm to one in which we don’t perceive damaging and painful actions, and the people who do them, as evil.  I would eliminate the category, not try to eliminate contents to the abstract notion we have created.

I think this is related to FDR’s statement that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  It’s the idea of it that traps us, traps us in fear and traps us in dualistic thinking, and the two go round and round feeding each other.

God is a whole, there is no devil — only a golem we create or a bogeyman we imagine. God has a dark side, but behind it or within it, however we wish to conceptualize it, there is light.  There is always light, always.

Passing plays

May 25, 2012

I don’t actually have much experience playing team sports (Willy had a surprisingly negative attitude towards them, which I never quite understood; he fenced, épée, which I learned when I asked him early on in our relationship about his legs and he explained how lunging with a heavy weapon — he had no idea why his high school coach had assigned it to him, since he was very small for his age then — had developed them), but I was thinking this morning about passing plays I’ve watched in team sports like ice hockey or basketball.  I was reacting to exchanges that are not quite group discussions, such as one finds in the current commenting format on the NYTimes website.  Sometimes it feels to me like an object in play is being passed from one person to another until somebody finds the open shot — sees what would be helpful in that context to be seen.  Here, that would amount to sharing an idea or insight.  And one never knows from whom that will come — that’s one of the positive things about the internet and mass participation, I think.

The opposite of orthodoxy

January 10, 2012

I do actually understand the pairing as opposites of “liberal” and “conservative,” but what I personally find more helpful is the contrast between people with airtight belief systems and those who are more open and porous.  It’s sort of related to the contrast between ideologues and non-conformists, between the orthodox and iconoclasts.

So, I’m not sure what is really gained when people jump ship from conservatism to liberalism, or vice versa.  The trouble I tend to have is with people’s being doctrinaire and imposing their beliefs on others — that sort of dynamic is quite possible regardless of whether one is for big government or little government, EPA regulations or industry independence.

I think I’ve noted before that someone once said to me that he thought the orthodox of different religions had more in common with each other than with the less observant members of their own religions.  I suspect that’s true of politics, too.  And when people change party affiliations, I’m not sure they change personalities or emotional make-ups, and I’m not sure they don’t use the same attitudes and techniques in their new context.

What I enjoy more is taking off all the labels and disaggregating all the ideas that are usually tied up together and looking for the ideas that work, that make sense of a sort, that hold up to rigorous analysis, that serve the greater good.  I probably have the dubious advantage (or bias in favor of this approach) of being somewhat ignorant of what one is supposed to think — of which ideas are supposed to go together.  Of course, being too much of a free-thinker can leave a person with fewer sure allies and without the kind of community that people who seek group affiliation and are comfortable with it enjoy.  Willy and I would notice this when we would periodically look into private schools for our kids — we fit in nowhere, both because of family composition and our beliefs (or lack of a recognizable package of them).  We would laugh about how we were a party of two.  And we didn’t get that way on purpose, it’s just where our thinking took us, and by chance we seemed to think alike — at least about anything major (not so about things like whether dishes that will eventually need scrubbing by hand should go first through the dishwasher — him, yes, me no — or whether it makes a difference whether you soak a pan in hot or cold water — he claimed cold worked just as well, but I was never convinced, his scientific explanations notwithstanding).

Anyway, I guess I maintain that free-thinking on my own, not so much out of conviction or habit but because that seems to be the way my mind works.

An audience of one

January 6, 2012

I had an adviser in graduate school, whose own writing was very well received and whose books were quite popular among general readers, who told me he wrote for an audience of one.

He told me I should try that, too.

His was a businessman on the Connecticut coast, I think, he didn’t tell me who, or how he knew him, but his point was that this guy was intelligent and curious, but without previous knowledge of the subject, or even field, and hence needed the subject matter laid out for him clearly, with as few assumptions as possible.

So, I loved reading recently how Ron Paul seems oblivious to the size of his audience.  True, Paul is speaking, not writing, but Jeb’s actual audience was far bigger than the one he focused on when he wrote, and I’m wondering whether that process of amplification can occur in other contexts, too.  For example, with memes.  I am not sure how memes spread, but an idea seems to find more and more hosts through some process, and from this gather strength and influence.

I like the idea of people hearing an idea through their own thinking, of it being heard internally instead of being read with the eyes directly or heard through the ears.  This helps overcome the “not invented here” syndrome most of us are prone to — we react less to superfluous issues (such as, I could never agree with any idea from that person) when we seem to come to the idea on our own.  Of course, this involves letting go of creative control, attribution, acknowledgement, and the like.  But I suspect my ideas are in a sense like collages, anyway, and I accept Gita’s point when she says that she doesn’t think she’s ever had an original idea.  Who knows where they come from.

The part I do have an interest in working on is clarifying my ideas and learning how to communicate them so that others can understand them.  I haven’t yet found a process for doing this that particularly works for me as a non-student and as a single person.  And having been interrupted by family emergencies for years, I have a difficult time assuming I will have a chance to get back to something on my own timetable — it’s also a reason I initially stopped trying to do things that require large blocks of time and control over my schedule — so I tend to do things while looking over my shoulder and hoping the phone and the doorbell don’t ring and the mail doesn’t bring a certified letter.  But I suspect there is a way for me to improve my writing process, and even my writing, even with these shadows still lingering.  I am thinking that a place to start might be to go back to Jeb’s notion of writing with a specific person in mind.

Original ideas

August 14, 2011

I’m trying to remember who said it to me, the idea that she didn’t think she had ever had an original idea in her life; she was aware of how her ideas emerged from her interrelationships with others and their bits and pieces, which were also in turn derived from interrelationships with others — the kaleidoscope, if you will.   She didn’t come to this through social science, and she was mildly interested that others did.  In our current culture, coming to it through the social sciences provides a more generally accepted language in which to talk about the phenomenon, I can see, but I am concerned that the language is too limiting.  But maybe not, and maybe ecumenism will turn out to include the systems of our scientific disciplines, too, and we will find that all roads eventually  do indeed lead to the same understanding of the universe and our place in it.