Sisyphus

Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Epistolary literature. Are we in Corinth? Camus wrote to us.

Heck, track 2

Lonesome

This track is about whale song. It opens and begins with them. The guitar is so rich. A spare but driving bass drum. Keyboards walking amiably along with chosen lyrics. Electric guitar recalling, for me, Lyle Lovett. From the first track, spare and elemental, this track is symphonic. 

Lonesome—
Lonesome—

Always lonesome—
I have heard your lonesome song.

Round the fire, come throw your hands up;
dance with us till we can stand no more.

Though the rain crash down 
around us,

and the gale blow out the sun,
sister, when you’re feeling lonesome,

call my name—
I’ll sing along.

So the road you travel’s wanderin’,
So your worries win you nothin’,

Tell me ’bout your troubles, darlin’,
hold a mirror to the setting sun.

Though these days of joy and sorrow
wear us out—

summer dress!—
brother, when you’re feelin’ lonesome,

call my name,
I’ve got a shoulder

where you can rest.

Lonesome, lonesome—
Sister, when you’re feeling lonesome—

Call my name!
I heard your song.

Call my name:
I will sing along.

The opening electric guitar makes me think of the 90’s.

There is a delightful and mournful xylophone(?) during “though these days of joy and sorrow…”

After the second invitation to a shoulder, the guitar gets so close and strong. With headphones on, it is almost overwhelming. There is actually a rising throughout , then a drop…followed by two final, lonesome whale songs. 

 

Heck, track 1

I pause my Meshuggah playlist to listen again to track 1. I’m not a music writer, but I like this album, the musician, and writing, so it seems like a good use of my time to think about all three at once. 

I don’t know how to write about music, but I do know that writing down descriptions and facts is something people do. And maybe they should. I know that I should.

Finding multiple references to a person increases our reason for  positing that they existed, or were a popular mythic figure. 

So I’ll write about the tracks of the album Heck, by my friend Michael Huff.

No News

Clean strumming guitar. Bass and treble distinct. I recall the advice of Ted Kooser, or the gist, anyway: Don’t qualify a noun with an adjective when the picture that will most likely come to the reader’s mind is right without it. Only use adjectives to tell the reader to imagine something else.

Michael’s treble notes sparkle like icicles. The bass notes are dulcet. 

(It starts off jangly and rumbly. The vocals sweet and matter of fact, as if he were reading a personals ad. “Looking for you” rises and tapers for an instant.)

“someone worth imitating
looking for you”

(Then the notes descend, then level.)

I’ve got no news.
I got new shoes.

(As if prompted by the recollection of his new footwear, he begins walking. Bursts of staccato. Pause after each word. Each word played with a single note of the guitar.)

When I have something to to say,
It’s said,
And then I listen back.

(Return the rolling notes of the guitar.)

Someone worth not imitating,
Looking for you.

(Recall that Elmo also waxed poetic about his new shoes. This time, after “I’ve got no news”, the guitar hits a high, sad, quizzical note. And “I got new shoes” is more resigned.)

I’ve got no news.
I got new shoes.

(Here there’s a repetition of the mode used first the time, but this time it, is it more resolute?)

When I have something to say,
It’s said,
And then I listen back. 

I like this song partly because it’s procedural. I like the way “I’ve got no news” qualifies “I got new shoes.” I like the way “I got new shoes” uses the doing verb “got” rather than be verb phrase “have got.” I imagine the act. The procedure of trying them on. But, still, he hasn’t any news.

Is this absence of news in regard to what he’s looking for? (Someone to imitate, to not imitate.)

Is he walking more? With whom is he talking?

The subtle diminution of agency in “It’s said.” He is not forbearing such that he walks through it step by step. Know a thing is to be said. Deciding to say it. It’s not that cumbersome. As he knows something is there to be said, so it comes out.

And then he listens back. Listens back. To hear what is produced.

The Simple Present

1.

The burnt cheese clung fast to the bolt heads that secured the pan to its handle. To spare the integrity of the sponge, he employed his thumbnail in separating the charred glue from the slick black pan. Still, some must have gotten stuck between the panhead bolts and the nonstick surface. He must have pushed it farther and farther in, until it formed a ring around the bolt shaft. The surface tension of the water would keep it from flushing it out, unless he were to soak it. Imagine steaming it, or a high-pressure stream. It didn’t matter, was too little to matter. The pan would do its business on its own. The heat would sterilize it. If he were to try to scrape out the gunk with a razor, he would damage the pan, defeat the integrity of the surface.
      The lights glowed a clean white overhead. He ran his tongue over the faces of his front teeth.
      “What do I do with these?” he mumbled, folding in half and laying out four ziplock bags, one halfway overlapping the halved other. He let the question do its quieting work, break up the condensing buzz of unvoiced doubt. Breathed lightly through the nostrils. Turned his attention back to scrubbing the countertop.
      
“I feel so happy,” he said.
      This was the procedure.
      Nature abhors a vacuum? 
      Does it, though? Or does it love it more than anything? Can’t leave it alone for a second?

The aim was to produce more verbal thoughts, not fewer. The aim, the immediate aim, wasn’t to produce less thinking. Call that thinking? A vague, semiconscious stream of half-seen images and half-felt impressions? And commercials are flash fiction.

He met his friend at a fair. She had a booth, selling soap. Wanting to tell her something about himself, he said, “I’ve been writing, sort of.”
      “Yeah? What about? Just random stuff?”
      Wanting to be funny, he replied, “I’m sorry, have we met?”
      She sort of laughed.

He started taping Standards up on the wall, surrounding himself with them. Because how do you know when an area is clean? He took a photo of the area in question and emailed it to himself, then opened the file on his laptop. Then, sitting in his chair, he held it, screen flat against his lap, a sheet of paper on the screen. He traced the relevant lines and planes.
      It always took several drafts. But each was a little better than before, usually. And they gave him something to look at, to reference. Something to answer to.

Because rules were otherwise impossible not to argue with, he set them for halves of hours at a time. Each an experiment. Each set free from at the end of each session with it.

Some proved so salutary, he set them more or less in stone. They could always be argued with, but only out loud. Never in quiet anxiety.

2.

They had met online. Had liked one another instantly, moved in together more or less instantly. Wondered if this had been a mistake, more or less, instantly.
      But they both powered through, in their own ways, mostly without the other  knowing the extent of it. She taught him to face discomfort foursquare. They developed a talent for holding brutal, precise conversations. 
      He described in detail what he disliked about her. She somehow reciprocated without it quite feeling that way. Or maybe she hadn’t. It couldn’t have mattered after what he had said.
      But things got better, then kept on getting better, for the only reason things ever actually get better. 
      Things got so good it didn’t make sense. But, having been present for it the whole time, they knew precisely where they were. The disorientation they sometimes felt was what comes from contrasting two abstractions against one another, or reading a book while riding in the car. Whenever they looked around, they knew where they were and that it was a real place.

3.

He moved away out of what must have been necessity. Otherwise, why would he have?

The Problem of Genre

If a plague carried off the members of a society all at once, it is obvious that the group would be permanently done for. Yet the death of each of its constituent members is as certain as if an epidemic took them all at once. But the graded difference in age, the fact that some are born as some die, makes possible through transmission of ideas and practices the constant reweaving of the social fabric. Yet this renewal is not automatic. Unless pains are taken to see that genuine and thorough transmission takes place, the most civilized group will relapse into barbarism and then into savagery. In fact, the human young are so immature that if they were left to themselves without the guidance and succor of others, they could not acquire the rudimentary abilities necessary for physical existence. The young of human beings compare so poorly in original efficiency with the young of many of the lower animals, that even the powers needed for physical sustentation have to be acquired under tuition. How much more, then, is this the case with respect to all the technological, artistic, scientific, and moral achievements of humanity!

The Collected Works of John Dewey: The Complete Works 

To summarize all of the essays I’ve placed here up to this one: I’m confused by genres. Maybe it’s my tendency to think in spectra instead of delineated categories.  Law, scripture, and fiction all appear to exist on a gamut to me. Which is fine. But maybe I haven’t properly understood the distances. Where we can, for our purposes, draw boundaries.  

In Candor and PerversionRoger Shattuck’s eighth thesis asks us,

In order to affirm literature in its full humanist sense, let us eschew the freestanding text. Its indiscriminate use today provides evidence of deadening stylistic conformity. Rather, let us take advantage of the full range of terms like book, work, poem, play, novel, essay, passage, chapter, and the like. There is no need to modify serviceable expressions like “the text of” a work, and “sacred texts.” But let us refrain from endorsing, indirectly and inadvertently, the doctrine of textuality by chanting “text” in every other line of what we say and write.

Shattuck and Camille Paglia diagnose a problem with US culture to be a failure to do what Dewey describes above. I have a friend who studies eighteenth century English novels. He knows a lot about the development of epistolary novels. He can tell you about Clarissa. But sometimes talking with him about literature, I feel very sad. He has the expertise of the specialist, but he doesn’t seem to care about the cultural significance of myth and ritual.

Isn’t it interesting how a document can affect someone’s behavior? I think that is fundamentally what compels me, and I think it’s because of something missing in my development. I’m looking for some standards. So I look at law, at procedures, at scripture. I look periodically at fiction, but I usually find that wanting. I’m rereading Klinkenborg’s novel Timothy. I’m in love with it at the moment.

For Michael

Did you know that US Supreme Court Justices give frequent interviews? Interviewers (journalists, mostly) often introduce an interview by informing the audience that Justices are famously reluctant to grant interviews. Why? I don’t know. It suits them? Adds to the prestige? As if they were granted an audience with an angel. We do call them Justices. Isn’t that strange? Doesn’t it sound celestial? While the term Judge is evocative and has the same root, it isn’t lofty the way Justice is. Judge is also a verb; Justice is also a Goddess. And if you consider this verb in its full sense, it also is wonderfully descriptive, but Justice is a Platonic ideal. You can judge the quality of borscht. Justice looks only over society. But if we follow this line of thought too far it feels cheaper. Poultry versus chicken; beef versus cow. 

Antonin Scalia gave plenty of interviews. One of his favorite topics was what Justices do not do. They don’t philosophize. They don’t navel gaze or ask deep questions about life. They don’t have constituents to consult or represent.  They do read law, and they strive to apply a set of principles to the practices of interpretation and application. That practice would sound more sober if it were singular, but it applies to both -ions. 

Angel has come to have a strange flavor, hasn’t it? Robert Price and others argue that the existence of angels in Judaism and Christianity is, in some ways, a concession to polytheism. The old gods got let back in through angelology. To me, because of childhood memories, the word angels brings to mind kitsch

Scalia was vocal that Justices should not seek to apply the spirit of the law. One reason being that bills are not adopted by individuals but by congress, and the wording of the bills is usually crafted carefully so that they will be voted in favor of, not to voice the intentions of any one person or group. They are full of compromises, and those compromises exist in the sentences written. So to imagine what the authors hoped would be the ultimate outcome is to misunderstand the genre of statute. Maybe you can do that with poetry, but not law. There is no spirit to consult. Isn’t that lonely?

Scalia, religious, has the difference between the genres of scripture and statute firmly in mind, whereas Breyer and others treat the former more like the latter, a living document that does or should embody the saecular (thinking again of roots) spirit of the polis. 

Yet there are various ways in which Justices can glean the intent of the law. One must be familiar with related laws and decisions. A popular principles of jurisprudence is stare decisisstand by previous decisions. English Common Law was built by stare decisis, through Judges trying to make the outcomes of trials more rather than less predictable, by following rather than constantly deviating from existing judicial reasoning. And as for gathering insight into what the lawmakers intended, besides reading the text, Justices have few alternatives to looking at how the law was actually applied at the time that it was adopted. In other words, looking at what it appears to have meant to them at the time.  Scalia gives the example of cruel and unusual punishment. He argues that we know the legislators did not think they were abolishing capital punishment when they ratified the Bill of Rights because “when the cruel and unusual punishments clause was adopted, the death penalty was the only penalty for a felony.” It doesn’t, in other words, matter what a poll would show to be citizens’ take on the meaning of the phrase cruel and unusual today.

A friend once related to me that Justice Thomas had purportedly been consulting a dictionary. (This friend had ambitions to be a lawyer at the time. She thought it showed his lack qualification. To think that a dictionary would have any bearing on the interpretation of a statute!) Others have made this criticism. I think it’s a strange complaint.  Legislators (or the people actually doing the writing) are not writing in Python. The legislators who vote aren’t reading in Python. While there are terms of art, there aren’t only those. It’s not as if they had a glossary on hand when the yeas and nays were being counted. By ridiculing the use of a lexical, it’s as if we’re asking the legislators to read using only context clues. Sometimes you need to check and see that the meaning of a word is what you think it is, amirite? He hadn’t, by the way, been reading a current dictionary, but one contemporaneous with the adoption of the Constitution. It was the Commerce Clause in question. (Recall that the meaning of the phrase well-regulated has been notoriously problematic.) Our language is well-regulated in one sense but not in the other. 

But isn’t this a lovely phrase from Learned Hand (quote from the above-linked article):

“It is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary,” Judge Hand wrote in a 1945 decision, “but to remember that statutes always have some purpose or object to accomplish, whose sympathetic and imaginative discovery is the surest guide to their meaning.”

The mundane is transcendent

In this essay I don’t provide context for my assertions. That is provided in my essays on Peterson and Rother.

Spirituality is an intuitive substitute for the ambition to improve the world tangibly. It’s like depression. It keeps us from getting killed by going back and challenging the alpha too soon. We know, somehow, that we have to aim very high, to be roused, and to provide context to our mundane efforts. Mediocrity isn’t motivating.

The patterns that Peterson illustrates in Maps of Meaning are essentially the same, minus important details, as Rother’s Improvement Kata illustration. Peterson’s illustrate the structure of our most enduring religious myths. They are abstract and spiritual. Rother’s is the meta-pattern that guides the lower-level patterns. It is pragmatic, a training tool, a pragmatic ritual. It is an infinitely scalable pattern. It rouses and provides context.

From Maps of Meaning, one of many illustrations of the ascent from the unbearable present towards an ideal vision of the future, iteratively. 

 

Rother’s Improvement Kata, his model that makes explicit what he inferred to be happening organically at Toyota. 

These models are vital. We need them. 

“The world is too complex to be represented and acted upon without radical functional simplification.”

I’ve been working this pattern with five Learners for two weeks. Each session, I ask them the coaching questions. 

Spirituality aligns one’s actions with a transcendent objective. Heaven and hell are intuitive concepts. Yuval Noah Harari observes that spirituality is trailblazing. It is the elements of religion without the rules, without the precedent. It’s exploratory.

Harari defines religion this way:

Religion is anything that confers superhuman legitimacy on human social structures. It legitimises human norms and values by arguing that they reflect superhuman laws.

In spirituality, you are working without the norms, in some way. Obviously, you are operating inside some set of norms, insofar as you must or are inclined to.

Persisting in spirituality (exploring) without striving to orient to both a zenith and a nadir primes the mind for hedonism and ennui or worse. Attaining a goal for which you have strived is depressing unless that goal is only a milestone.

If survival isn’t a challenge, then we can be hedonistic. If we’ve learned better than that, we can be spiritual or religious. If we’re disillusioned, we can revert back to some variety of hedonism. If we continue beyond our disillusionment, we can set unattainable mundane direction, and challenges that force us to change our minds.

The intuitive understanding is important and has to come first. Steps don’t get skipped only delayed. But to stop at the step of spirituality without developing a vision and a plan to move towards the ideal in this life is a to misunderstand the path. We encourage each step along the path so that we can continue making steps. 

So it’s tricky. We have to be empirical and objective and follow nature on our path. Our path must be terrestrial. But it must lead to heaven, which also must be terrestrial. And if we cause violence, we’ve set our fate. We’ve ruined everything.

Complacency is deceptive. It seems bad but is much worse. No one is harmless. This is the basis for Maps of Meaning. Peterson is known for talking about how to live a meaningful life, but his impetus for his research was to understand why people commit atrocities. You can’t understand one without understanding the other. 

Stoic philosophy emphasizes virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is pragmatic because one’s virtue is one’s destiny. When we talk about virtue, we are talking about the characteristics of the agent. We’re talking about habits and habit formation—myelination of the axon.  

So while a Stoic would advocate focusing on what you can control and detaching yourself from the outcome, in Rother’s method, the application of the scientific method to daily activities, we use the Deming Cycle: 

  • plan and make a prediction, focusing on what you can control,
  • execute your plan faithfully (do),
  • study the results,
  • reflect on the meaning of those results and attempt to draw conclusions, or rather, material for a revised theory and a new prediction, on which you act, and
  • formulate a new plan again.

It’s not the essayification of everything. It’s continual experimentation. It isn’t revelatory, either. Or reading about it isn’t. You already know about it. It’s been embedded in our culture for thousands of years.

If we understand Buddhism, Stoicism, and Pragmatism in our bones, then we’ll understand that religion and spirituality are stepping stones. Not bad, just inferior.

The Ionian philosophers were using pure reason, were essayifying everything. The next step is to develop an experiment. Document everything. And experiment again.

But what happened with Buddhism is happening with science. The call to study what is in order to learn what can be is giving way to dogmatism. Research is being preached instead of questioned and demonstrated. 

A trap that I see my peers fall in is to treat published papers like scripture, to overestimate the value of others’ research as it pertains to them. There is no substitute for direct experimentation. And our experimentation should emulate the quality of those that pass peer review, but, failing that, we shouldn’t fail to experiment. Instead, the poorer the quality of the experiment, the more modest our conclusion should be. Which is fine. Even a very good experiment on only yourself may only tell you about yourself. That’s an admirable start.

If we design the experiment to our utmost, then our job is to identify the  limitations of what conclusions we can draw from it. Then perform another experiment.

Worshipping published research is maybe better than worshipping an idol, but maybe worse than worshipping an imaginary character who lives in and knows your heart and always gives you heaven-sent advice. The imagined personal savior is at least abstract and amorphous. It can grow with you. The meaning of research can only grow and expand with additional research. We can’t shirk our own flawed experiments.

The method for detaching yourself from the outcome is to treat all efforts to achieve an aim as an experiment. Every time you do an experiment, make a prediction (a description and a metric), execute faithfully, and gather the results. Study the results. Day dream. What did you learn. Be parsimonious. What did you learn? Be ruthless. What did you learn? Are you sure?

Use those results in the planning and prediction phase of your next experiment.

Imagine if prayer were replaced with meditation, and meditation on the breath were supplemented with meditation on the results of the last experiment and what the next experiment should be. Instead of attachment to outcomes, holding fast to this iterative process.

A Buddhist would have you detach yourself from all outcomes, actually stop outcomes. That’s the goal.

Outsourcing our experiments to others is unethical, because it deprives our soul of direct experience. 

“As long as our brain is a mystery, the universe, the reflection of the structure of the brain, will also be a mystery.”

Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Water Stories

Everything was drenched. The cloud canopy was aglow in the cooler wavelengths of deluge. Everything was slick. I commuted between neighbor cities. Arrived, I pulled into the vaguely unreal parking garage.

After changing to gym clothes, I walked to the Y, ran on the treadmill, and then stretched. This undid the pain from the long commute.

In Austerlitz, Sebald inserts 82 photographs. Or is it 84? According to this essay, the answer is 87. 

In an interview with Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm, Sebald agrees with Silverblatt’s observation that the narrative description circles around artifacts of the holocaust but mostly avoids them. The photographs follow that pattern. Many of the photographs are disturbing,  are of oppressive architecture and dismal scenes, but aren’t concentration camps. Silverblatt says that this “invisible referent” and “silent presence” is  “always left out but gestured toward.”

Sebald gives his reason for this approach and concludes his reply by saying that “…so the only way that one can approach these things, in my view, is obliquely, tangentially. By reference, rather than by direct confrontation.” 

The narrator’s thinking is so absorbed by a subject that, besides not wanting to speak about it directly, he doesn’t need to, because the residue of that thinking is evident in his observations on other artifacts. 

And that’s something strange about reading. Unless the reader recognizes and generates a challenging set of questions and,  by rereading the text and related texts, and by developing and testing hypotheses, endeavors to answer them, they remain what Rother calls a “permanent beginner.” (Page 18.) Never abandoning their habits completely enough to master a new  set, they spread out their existing patterns. They recognize and appreciate other skillsets but they never become proficient. 

Any text is so saturated in its context, it is necessarily more implication than assertion. And unless the reader can surface these implications, they are swept along. They follow patterns, in effect, under compulsion. Not that this needs to be described so disapprovingly. Floods can be talked about from a more geological perspective. 

 

The Objective

So, this isn’t a blog, but here’s an update: I made my presentation on the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata today. The audience was three IT managers. Of course, nothing I’ve written here was in the presentation, which was entirely a case study on a coach/learner improvement effort a project manager and I executed. The presentation suffered three major revisions—two after two rehearsals, and one after I slept on it. Cut were opinions and such. The details of the case study were expanded. The problem was my larynx was tight during the presentation, so I must have sounded like kermit the frog. This is a basic process error. A simple pre-presentation checklist would certainly have covered this.

Seth’s pre-presentation checklist:

  • Rehearse once per day for the three days leading up to the presentation.
  • For every fantasy you have of it going poorly, identify what is happening in that fantasy, and ask yourself if there’s something you can do to prevent that specifically. If you can, include that countermeasure in your next rehearsal, or at least mentally rehearse it. 
  • Review each slide and ask, “Why is this here?”
  • On the morning of the presentation, practice and speaking from your chest instead of your throat.

Or something. I don’t know. It’s a start. I need to get better at Word Press or CSS so I can adjust the vertical whitespace. Having the same amount of space before and after the header of a list is ugly af.

So, largely I was worried about the reaction of one of the three people, and his reaction was, relatively, very positive. It was basically, “OK, let’s try it. What do we do next?” Which I take to mean I prepared well for the presentation, not that this would have been his reaction regardless . 

Doing the kata this week has put me at odds against myself. This is normal, of course. Or it happens conspicuously and very often. I decide I am wrong-handed. I decide I like math and hate English. I decide I should only read. I decide to devote my life to drawing king fishers. (None of the above are made up.) This conviction is that I need to rely less on references and more on experiments.

On page 364 of The Dream of Reason, speaking about the Romans’ complicated admiration for Greek art, literature, and science, Anthony Gottlieb observes that the Romans, while more industrious than the Greeks, were less interested in empirical research. “The educated classes did not discard Greek intellectual habits altogether, but neither did they embrace them wholeheartedly. As a result, their philosophy was second-hand and so was their science, and second-hand science means no real science at all.” Going on, he says, “The romans wrote and read encyclopedias and compilations of interesting facts, but on the whole they did not share the Greeks’ drive to observe, understand, hypothesize, calculate and generally keep alive the spirit of inquiry.”

Stupid Romans.

When thinking about aims, I vacillate between the more demotic goal and the more martial objectiveAim is good, but less concrete. An aim seems in the air. End is archaic except in hackneyed phrases, though at least two authors have used it as a pun in their book titles. I can’t say goal without thinking about soccer. That’s certainly not true. A friend recently said that Every time I do such and such, I think such and such, but how could she know that? 

I also keep thinking about Schellenberg’s concept of non-believing faith.  Which is basically imagining that something is true, imagining how you would logically behave if it were true, and then attempting to behave that way. An example he gives is how a participant in a foot race behaves.

It turns out by a quirk of human psychology that, for most of us, the impetus of loss aversion is greater than goal attraction. We are more aroused by the threat of losing what we have than the possibility of getting something extra.  Sports psychologists use this to coach athletes to act as if a victory is rightfully theirs.

Lanny Bassham, an olympic gold-medalist, wrote a book based partly on this titled With Winning in Mind. His recipe is: write a description of your future self already having achieved a level of mastery that you currently aspire to. Describe, also, how that feels. Then describe, in detail, the process, day by day, week by week, to achieve that. Make copies of this short story, and post it in several places throughout your house, and read it through at least once per day.

Imagine having won, as if it were already a fact about you, and then behaving the way the imagined you behaved in your head to achieve that win, makes you more likely to win. You’re less likely to shirk during practice or give up the race early, because doing so would deprive you of something that, in your mind, is already yours. Behaving as if something is true, even though you know, logically, that it is not, is an intelligent way to behave. 

If you inadvertently found yourself running next to  a person in a foot race, and you overhead them saying aloud, “You’ll win. Keep going. You’re almost there. You’ll win. Good work. Keep going,” you probably wouldn’t correct them with the observation that they don’t in fact know whether they will win, unless you were rooting for another racer. But even if you did, it likely wouldn’t do any good, because the racer isn’t under any such delusion.

Conversations about what we believe and don’t believe rarely make much sense because they rarely get into epistemology. Interestingly, non-believing faith shares one characteristic of a common test of belief. I don’t know which philosopher coined it, but I’m sure you’ve heard that one way to define belief is an idea on which you are prepared to act. Belief motivates behavior. If a coworker tells you that they have a sure win on the NYSE, ask to see proof that they bought futures in it. But with non-believing faith, you also behave based on this mental construct. 

But I’ve left out one important feature of non-believing faith. In Schellenberg’s description of it, it is an idea about the universe that isn’t obviously false. For this and other reasons, it isn’t a god in any detail, or even a god at all as is popularly imagined. It’s instead an idea that there is some metaphysical object that is of ultimate importance and value.  Importantly, we cannot currently describe it in any detail (we’re a super young species, with an even younger set of active religions, a vanishingly young set of philosophical ideas, and a practically non-existent set of scientific observations and theories) and so we shouldn’t claim knowledge or even non-believing faith in any detailed descriptions. But we can use our imaginations and try to conceive, based on what we have experienced about the world, what behaviors seem to inclined towards a greater good, and which seem petty and short-sighted. 

Of course there are limits to this. We need standards by which we determine whether any prescribed behavior is achieving objective results. Imagination alone isn’t enough. But neither are tasks and short-term goals. Without a far, far off vision, without a transcendent sense of direction, the mind finds problems to solve that it already knows how to solve. It walks in the circles it finds comfortable.

This is what I experienced directly this week, and it’s why I feel like a stupid Roman. Seeing how hard it was for me to achieve simple objectives. What a challenge it was to measure cycle times, make a prediction, record a result, and draw some conclusion, I look back at my he-said she-said rambling and wonder how I’m different from any other true-believing mimic. 

But that’s fine. I was struggling to understand an idea. Now I’m struggling to experiment.

stew

Today I got up with (or was it a little before?) the alarm clock. (Will the electric grid collapse today?) (Am I becoming more compulsive?) The Klinkenborg technique is to draft and rewrite a sentence in your head. Write it down afterwards. The Pomodoro technique is to focus on one process at a time, for 25 minutes. Pema Chödrön’s insight is, when your attention wanders, bring it back kindly. (Do not discourage yourself from noticing. That is the work.) BJ Fogg’s method is to write and practice minuscule recipes, which revolve around habits you already have, and to celebrate these minute behaviors. Ericsson documented the conditions under which you can reshape your brain. Identify a behavior you can’t perform. Find a way of getting feedback. Struggle to perform it every day. The soul is the unconscious mind. What we call god is the unconscious universe. The work of our conscious mind is to connect the two, so that the one reshapes the other, and then the other reciprocates. Cal Newport suggests that we do this without distractions. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observed that absorption is liberating. We learned to be self-conscious to keep ourselves from getting cast out. That god we must please is an elder. If we fail him, we have to contend with the source. What is outside the circle. Wayne C. Booth et al teach us how to have dialogue with our elders. Philip Zimbardo does not say that if we look on the past with love we can create more and more that is beautiful, but he does a little. He does observe that people who love the past act more responsibly. Peterson preaches the wisdom of dying to our past self, and so does Rother, and Ericsson, and Chödrön. We should only let live what we want to see more of? But of course it’s both. Always both. I used to be unable to follow through on my plans, and, also, I loathed, instant by instant, my past self. But that’s who made the plans. Who is this that turns this sentence over and over? I notice that the traffic light outside my window stays red for thirty seconds but green for only twenty-five. Main Street gets five second more than 4th. Is that reasonable? If you could even celebrate each time you brought your attention back. We strength-train by lifting, not just holding. Plato (or was it Socrates?) taught us that to learn is to remember. Later, we learned that recollection is its own deliberate practice, distinct from recognition. Can you ask yourself a question? How? Can you rephrase it? Jung said: however far-fetched it may sound, experience shows that many neuroses are caused by the fact that people blind themselves to their religious promptings because of a childish passion for rational enlightenment. Is that true today? If you rephrase it, isn’t it a different question? The three turns of the wheel is the more relevant teaching. Everything else follows.