From the category archives:

Thinking

This ad is almost universally referred to as “The Crazy Ones” – but I prefer to focus on the actions of creative people rather than the pejoratives applied to them.

I almost titled it: No Respect for the Status Quo.

Thank you, Steve.

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A reminder of what we will lose if we abandon exploration — despite all its costs:

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These stanzas from Thomas Traherne’s “Walking” seem to resonate with the idea of small stones:

To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good
Nor joy nor glory meet.

To walk is by a thought to go;
To move in spirit to and fro;
To mind the good we see;
To taste the sweet;
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.

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Roget Ebert:

As I fell into the rhythm of the words, as I savored the way Dickens was planting his signposts for the development of the plot, as I watched him create unforgettable characters in a page or two, I felt a kind of peace. This wasn’t hectic. I wasn’t skittering around here and there. I wasn’t scanning headlines and skimming pages and tweeting links. I was reading.

What I am going to do, is take some time every day to read. I believe I’ll make it a practice to read in the room without the computer and the Wi-Fi.

I interpret “…the room without” as the rest of the world. My first daily read for the summer: Moby Dick. (It’s my first time.)

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A few excerpts from Esquire’s recent profile of Roger Ebert:

Ebert is waiting for a Scottish company called CereProc to give him some of his former voice back. He found it on the Internet, where he spends a lot of his time. CereProc tailors text-to-speech software for voiceless customers so that they don’t all have to sound like Stephen Hawking. They have catalog voices — Heather, Katherine, Sarah, and Sue — with regional Scottish accents, but they will also custom-build software for clients who had the foresight to record their voices at length before they lost them. Ebert spent all those years on TV, and he also recorded four or five DVD commentaries in crystal-clear digital audio. The average English-speaking person will use about two thousand different words over the course of a given day. CereProc is mining Ebert’s TV tapes and DVD commentaries for those words, and the words it cannot find, it will piece together syllable by syllable. When CereProc finishes its work, Roger Ebert won’t sound exactly like Roger Ebert again, but he will sound more like him than Alex does. There might be moments, when he calls for Chaz from another room or tells her that he loves her and says goodnight — he’s a night owl; she prefers mornings — when they both might be able to close their eyes and pretend that everything is as it was.

Ebert, describing what his journal means to him:

When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.

On ephemeral reactions:

Anger isn’t as easy for him as it used to be. Now his anger rarely lasts long enough for him to write it down.

On crime, and joy:

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Roger Ebert is a great example of what the so-called New Atheists have never understood: that living well is a far better way to ‘evangelize’ freethinking than pedantic and vitriolic argument, however rational it may be.

To the extent that humanists might imagine having saints, Mr. Ebert is surely one of them.

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Words once in common use sound archaic. And the names of the famous dead as well: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus…Scipio and Cato…Augustus…Hadrian and Antoninus, and…

Everything faces so quickly, turns into legend, and soon oblivion covers it.

And those are the ones who shone. The rest–”unknown, unasked-for” a minute after death. What is “eternal” fame? Emptiness.

Then what should we work for?

Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and spring.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4, #33 (Translated by Gregory Hays)

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William Zinsser:

The epidemic I’m most worried about isn’t swine flu. It’s the death of logical thinking. The cause, I assume, is that most people now get their information from random images on a screen—pop-ups, windows, and sidebars—or from scraps of talk on a digital phone. But writing is linear and sequential; Sentence B must follow Sentence A, and Sentence C must follow Sentence B, and eventually you get to Sentence Z. The hard part of writing isn’t the writing; it’s the thinking. You can solve most of your writing problems if you stop after every sentence and ask: What does the reader need to know next?”

Hmm, I guess I’ve got some thinking to do.

via @WaltPascoe and @zoewesthof

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Kate Monahan shares her experience with putting Carolyn See’s “charming note” idea into practice.

Quoting See:

“These notes are like paper airplanes sailing around the world, and they accomplish a number of things at once. They salute the writer (or editor or agent) in question. They say to him or her: Your work is good and admirable! You’re not laboring in a vacuum.  There are people out in the world who know what you do and respect it.”

And:

“These are paper airplanes of affection.  They are the glue of human sweetness in literary society.”

Tip of the hat: Mark Levy

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In an excerpt from from his recent project “A Week at The Airport“, Alain de Botton interviews the head of British Airways, and considers the true yield of ‘profitless’ industries:

Considered collectively, as a cohesive industry, civil aviation had never in its history shown a profit. Just as significantly, neither had book publishing. In this sense, then, the CEO and I, despite our apparent differences, were in much the same sort of business, each one needing to justifying itself in the eyes of humanity not so much by its bottom line as by its ability to stir people’s souls. It seemed no less absurd to evaluate an airline according to its profit-and-loss statement than to judge a great poet by his or her royalty statements. The stock market could never put a price on the thousands of moments of beauty and interest that occurred around the world every day under the airline’s banner: it could not describe the sight of Nova Scotia from the air, it had no room in its optics for the camaraderie enjoyed by employees in the Hong Kong ticket office, it had no means of quantifying the ecstasy of takeoff. In order to understand such things properly, society would have to learn to look at airlines as one might consider a work of art.”

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Attend Attentive

September 8, 2009

in Process,Thinking,Words

“…I know how difficult it is to refrain from searching. It takes long hours of waiting, indecision, boredom, exasperation, presence and hope. Hours in which one is mainly occupied in being attentive, letting things come, fighting against bad ideas, or against ideas, full stop. Rejecting inadequate words, and learning to recognize and welcome the right word. So writing, more than anything, is a matter of not writing, and of attend attentive: attentive waiting.”

– Anne Weber, in this episode of the Guardian Books Podcast

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No, I don’t mean Marshall McLuhan.

I’m doing some research on Glenn Gould at the moment, and was floored at the prescience of this passage:

“Electronic transmission has already inspired a new concept of multiple-authorship responsibility in which the specific functions of the composer, the performer, and, indeed, the consumer overlap. We need only think for a moment of the manner in which the formerly separate roles of composer and performer are now automatically combined in electronic tape construction or, to give an example more topical than potential, the way in which the home listener is now able to exercise limited technical and, for that matter, critical judgments, courtesy of the modestly resourceful controls of his hi-fi. It will not, it seems to me, be very much longer before a more self-assertive streak is detected in the listener’s participation, before, to give but one example, “do-it-yourself” tape editing is the prerogative of every reasonably conscientious consumer of recorded music (the Hausmusik activity of the future, perhaps!). And I would be most surprised if the consumer involvement were to terminate at that level. In fact, implicit in electronic culture is the acceptance of the idea of multilevel participation in the creative process.”

– From “Strauss and the Electronic Future” which appeared in the Saturday Review on May 30, 1964

I wonder what he’d make of GarageBand, MySpace and YouTube?

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Where's the focus on this thing?

The focus needs some work...

No, that’s not a pinhole-camera photo of someone with a plutonium throat lozenge in their mouth.

Researchers at IBM have created the first image of a single molecule using a “crazy powerful microscope” — with an exposure time of 20 hours.

And for those of you wincing at my second science post in one week, here’s a little excerpt of Lucretius, translated by Rolfe Humphries:

Never suppose the atoms had a plan,
Nor with a wise intelligence imposed
An order on themselves, nor in some pact
Agreed what movements each should generate.
No, it was all fortuitous; for years,
For centuries, for eons, all those motes
In infinite varieties of ways
Have always moved, since infinite time began,
Are driven by collisions, are borne on
By their own weight, in every kind of way
Meet and combine, try every possible,
Every conceivable pattern, till at length
Experiment culminates in that array
Which makes great things begin: the earth, the sky,
The ocean, and the race of living creatures.

Living creatures that can now capture images of those motes. Even if they are fuzzy.

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That’s how long it took the Hubble Space Telescope — pointed towards “absolutely nothing” — to capture the 10,000 galaxies visible in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image:

via gizmodo

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TED and Reddit recently ran an online poll to select questions for an interview with Ken Robinson. Here are a few snippets of his responses, with my own emphases in bold, for enhanced skimming:

“The basis of my argument is: creativity isn’t a specific activity; it’s a quality of things we do.

“The idea is you have to make the idea of creativity clear and operational. Like we have done with literacy.

On well-roundedness versus specialization:

“Schools and universities are built upon different forms of knowledge, and the way we most commonly think about them is as subjects.

And I think subjects is a poor idea, really, for the kind of work I’m interested to promote, because it suggests that the world is definable into entirely different sorts of content or subject matter.”

“I want, really, to get away from the idea of subjects and I think disciplines is a much better idea. A discipline suggests something which is a kind of an amalgam, a mixture of concepts, of practical skills, of techniques, of ideas, of data. I mean, mathematics isn’t really a subject. It’s a whole series of different sorts of disciplines. And I think that’s true of music. Music isn’t really a subject, but practicing music involves extraordinary levels — different levels — of ideas, of practical skills, of sensibility.”

On the process-view of education:

“The larger argument about this is that when I say public education arose in response to industrialism, it also developed in the image of industrialism. If you look at public education systems in their general shape, they are manufacturing processes. And a lot of it happens — we separate people by age, it’s a very linear process, very focused on certain types of outcome. And standardized testing is, in a way, the grand example of the industrial method of education. It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.”

“I don’t think there’s a kid in America, or anywhere in the world, who gets out of bed in the morning wondering what they can do to raise their state’s reading standards. They get out of bed, if they’re motivated, by their own interests and their own development. So I think we should be doing the opposite. I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.”

Doing, not just thinking:

“…in our culture, doing practical things is disparaged in education. It’s all about getting into a university and doing theoretical things. But the world turns on people being able to do things, not just think about doing things. And practical skills, like music and design, are intensely demanding.”

On providing feedback:

“So one thing she has to do is to make a dress. Well, it sounds easy, but try doing it. It’s extremely taxing to do it. But what was interesting was that the assessment that came back was very detailed. It referred to very specific things that she was doing about seams and cloth and pockets and buttonholes and the lay of the nap in the cloth. It was broken down into probably 30 very specific comments on the details of what she’d done. And it was a really helpful process of assessment. But if she’s had the thing and then just got a B for it, you’d think, “Well now, what do I do with that information?”

So, if assessment is textured and finely-grained, and is supportive and diagnostic, I’m all for it. If it’s coarse and simplistic and judgmental and uninformative, then it seems to me always to be negative and have the wrong sort of effects in education.”

Protecting personalization from creeping standardization:

“The things I’m talking about are not, it seems to me, eccentric or new. It’s not whimsy and its not a fad. From the beginning of public education, there have been people looking for alternative ways of doing things, better ways of thinking about organizing our institutions. More responsible ways of engaging children in their own learning. Kids are not widgets. Students are living, breathing people who will only learn if they are engaged properly. We have a responsibility to the development of all the students in the system. It’s important for them, the health of our communities and the strength of our economies.”

On engaging curiosity:

“Professional mathematicians have such a cornucopia of fascinating puzzles, questions, proposals and conundrums. A great math teacher really has endless opportunities to stimulate kids minds and get them engaged with things they’d probably never thought about before. Rather than just giving them techniques.

It’s like what’s too often done with music lessons; kids spend too much time learning scales rather than doing anything interesting. But if you get them right away learning the joy of making music, they’ll want to learn how to do it properly after that.”

Idea generation — and the development of taste and discernment:

“…an equally important part for every creative process is to act critically on the ideas you’re coming up with. To evaluate them. That’s why I define creativity, in the TEDTalk, as the process of having original ideas that have value. You have to figure out which ideas are good and bad. Which work and which don’t. Which are worthwhile and which ones are not. Then, of course, it raises the old question of whose criteria you’re using and whose values you’re operating, and that’s a part of the conversation. Being creative isn’t just about blowing off new ideas. It’s about critical judgment, as well.”

Collaboration:

“An awful lot of creative work doesn’t happen individually. It happens with people interacting with other people. The most powerful engines of creative thinking are groups. And the reason that’s true is because a great group models the human mind: it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, it’s distinctive. So, knowing how to form groups, how to get groups to work, how long to leave them doing it is a core skill of good teachers.”

Experimentation and contemplation:

“The second is to look outwardly. To try things you may not have tried for a long time, or have never tried but wanted to. Put yourself in the way of things. If you’ve never been to a science museum, go to one. If you’ve never been to an opera, go to one. If you’ve never read certain kinds of books, try them. If you always drive a certain way to work, try another way. If there’s some place you haven’t been yet, go there. Expose yourself to possibilities. See what begins to chime with you. My point about being in the element is some people make a living doing it, and others don’t. Some don’t want to. But it’s about finding your own personal element. And the more people are able to do that, the more enriched their lives become, and the more enriched the lives are of those people who are in contact with them.

It’s something that we all should do, and something that we all can do.”

There’s a should I can get behind!

Read the entire interview here.

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It's in stone, so it must be true...

It's in stone, so it must be true...

It’s a little hard to read, so here’s the transcription:

There ain’t any answer,
there ain’t going to be any answer,
there never has been any answer,
that’s the answer.

– Gertrude Stein, 1946

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