April 30, 2001
Ruthie's Double asked me for my opinion about
decision-making yesterday, which got me to thinking about the subject.
Proposed clues for a private detective in search of better decision-making:
Consider the possibility that we're already doing what we need to do to get to the bottom of decision-making, except we are adding extra stuff on top. Clue: try moving in the direction of decreasing rather than increasing. Try to add nothing extra.
Imagine that you cannot find this fundamental quality of decision-making in any single idea or place in your mind or body, but
it includes everything in your mind and body. Clue: try leaving out nothing at all.
Look into paying particular attention to the little cracks in your view of the world, the things that don't seem to quite fit. Clue:
be on the lookout for anomalies.
Consider the possibility that your biggest obstacles are not things that are far from you, but rather
things which are incredibly close to you but you systematically fail to see them. Clue: if
you start to uncover things that you realize have always been closer to you than the nose on your face,
you may be on the right track.
Keep in mind that the story that we tell ourselves about who we are and the factors we imagine must go into the process of making
a decision are never the whole story. Clue: try to keep in mind that there is always something huge missing from every story we tell about ourselves.
If you find yourself moving in contradiction to the above clues, consider the possibility that you may be on the wrong track.
April 29, 2001
Spent the afternoon hanging out at Gracie's Birdcage, a loft space where a bunch of artists/computer folk/zine makers/etc.
have a weekly brunch where people just get together and eat and chat. It's actually just this one person's space,
which he's opened up to semi-public access for this and other community purposes (people sometimes come in
and do video editing, or work on the computers, etc., as well). A great community-building idea.
Simple, hot, and deep.
Some of the people behind Gracie's have also been working on a collaborative Internet art site for many
years: check some of the projects out on sito.org. Some notable ones include Gridcosm (imagine a 3x3 grid of images
submitted by anyone who wishes to log in. Once the 3x3 grid is completed, the whole image gets shrunk down
and becomes the new center tile) and HyGrid (a similar idea,
except you have a center square surrounded by four squares, above, top, left, and below; each time a square is filled
in any of the new squares can be chosen as a new center square and the grid can be extended. The actual structure
of the piece is not a flat plane, but rather a tree). To say the site is hard to navigate is an understatement, but
the guys behind sito.org (originally Otis.org --- but Otis College of Art and Design threatened to sue unless they
changed their name) revel in their counterintuitive, difficult-to-use design. For example, check out the tiny '?' icon
which can be found on most pages, which leads to their rather comprehensive, yet well-hidden, help system.
More reasons radio sucks.
April 28, 2001
The ArsDigita story as told by
the founder, Philip Greenspun.
ArsDigita was a successful open source software services company until the founders decided to bring in some VC
funds and an outside CEO. They also neglected to protect themselves by insuring that they retain majority control
of the board of directors. A sad tale of naivete, typical VC bullshit and screwups (not that there aren't good VCs out there---
there are a few, but unfortunately many terrible ones), and not covering your bases by making sure you retained control
of your own company.
The Japanese had their first chance to reform themselves a decade ago with the government of Prime Minister
Morihiro Hosokawa, but he resigned abruptly for mysterious reasons, which I personally think had the
stench of back-room pressure and possibly blackmail. The lugubrious LDP regained power and held it, ineptly,
until things got horrible with the gaffe-ridden, embarrassing, intelligence-challenged, style-free, tactless, and
inertia-filled administration of Prime Minister Mori. Now, with Juniciro Koizumi winning the prime ministerial
position over the objections of the LDP old guard, Japan has one more chance, late though it is.
The pain will be much worse now than it would have been had Hosokawa been able to complete reforms a decade ago,
and I am not as sure that Koizumi has the same skills that Hosokawa had. But the incoming prime minister, who is
a fan of John F. Kennedy and who is now being compared to him, at least gives Japanese people some hope.
Looking back over the history of Japan you can see that Japan tends to get into ruts, but when revolutionary change is
needed, it is often quite dramatic. We'll see what happens this time.
My next project is going to be writing a simple typewriter simulator. I want to get back the sense of finality that comes with typing. Somehow I think it leads to better writing. So it will be difficult to erase (my typewriter simulator will simulate the
last typewriter I owned, back in high school and my freshman year of college, which had an erase ribbon, but it was slow
and could only "remember" the last ten characters you typed. If you had to erase something on a line above, you had to
carefully position the platen and manually type each character to be erased).
April 26, 2001 #2
Ruthie's Double raises a bunch of good points regarding
washing machines and other things, in response to my earlier post. Of course I didn't
mean to imply that there are no negative consequences to the introduction of a change --- in fact, I think the key
is that there are many connections and unintended consequences of every change. It's naive to think that
one can write any sort of simple story about anything --- we live in an intricate and complex web of interrelationships.
We tend to try to assign moral value to a specific item; i.e., is the washing machine "good" or "bad"? I don't think it's
really useful to do this as a rule, however. A change might be "good" in a certain context, for certain people, when used in a specific way,
under certain conditions, from a certain point of view. "Bad" in other contexts, from other points of view. What's interesting to me is simply looking
at the connections, the way a change ripples out into society and civilization and the ecosystem, causing all sorts of
hidden things to occur. So I think we can talk about "good" and "bad" in terms of the impact on people at a given
moment in a certain context, but the larger story is that there is a complex web and it makes sense to look at as much
of the web as we can (i.e., "good" and "bad" are global systems terms, not terms that really apply to elements of a system
What interests me about the washing machine example (which is just a hypothesis) is not whether or not the
technological change was "good" or
"bad" in itself, but the fact that when we envision the effect of changes, we tend to think of just the immediate effect and imagine
everything else will stay more or less the same as it is now. We don't really consider the possibility that a single change
will effect a series of changes that could cascade via hidden connections to something quite different from what people
originally intended or imagined.
For example, everyone knew the washing machine (and other household appliances) was supposed to save time.
But we also imagined that everything else would remain constant, fixed, unchanged: housewives would stay at home,
pushing buttons in the house of the future. But of course once something gets adopted (and of course the technical
possibility doesn't mean the adoption --- there is often quite a bit of inertia that slows down or stops the adoption of
something new), it opens up a series of possibilities which can change things in unexpected ways. These changes may
be both good and bad --- but what interests me is the fact that we tend to imagine that these changes will not occur.
Standard theories of counterfactual reasoning formalize this idea;
the default concept behind counterfactual reasoning is to imagine a world in which everything is the same as it is in the
actual world, with the exception of the counterfactual. I.e., "what if unicorns existed?" --- one imagines a world in which
everything is the same as it is today, with the exception of a new species -- unicorns. However, a world in which
unicorns really existed would have many other changes --- an evolutionary history for unicorns (why the single horn?
why is it straight and not curved? Etc.) Unicorns would compete with other animals for habitat. Much would have to be
different in such a world, but we tend to ignore this fact. Similarly, when a change is introduced into a system, many
interconnected things can change, both for "good" and "bad". So we ought to be careful to introduce change. On the
other hand, we cannot avoid unintended consequences altogether, so there is no point in trying to avoid all loss
--- we will always lose something.
What surprised me about washing machines, however, was the fact that adoption was so recent --- somehow I
had assumed that most people had had washing machines at least by the 20's or so. The fact that they weren't widespread
(despite having been invented near the turn of the century) until the 40's --- this is what led to my suspicion that there
might have been a connection between the success of feminism and the adoption of this technology. I certainly had
been predisposed to assume that there wasn't such a connection prior to learning this fact. There are lots of things
we take for granted today about the way we live that have unexpected histories --- probably the reason for the
popularity of Witold Rybczynski's books.
As for making clothes, however: I hate the clothes I own, and I hate the clothes one can buy in most stores.
This is a whole subject I could go on about for a while, but since I've written so much already, I think I'll stop here for
April 26, 2001
Arianna Huffington is a Republican, but I couldn't agree more strongly with her
on this subject.
Throwing drug offenders out of college has got to be one of the stupidest, most counter-productive
policies enacted in the long, sordid, and idiotic history of the "drug war".
Do something about it.
Via Molly Steenson's Girl Wonder: Exploding Dog.
April 24, 2001
Just got back from Olympia where Miranda July gave a performance of
a new piece that she just wrote, a "one-off" as it were; I again helped, making some graphics and editing some video clips for her.
It was satisfying to help her make something so quickly, where I was able to just do the video and graphics work in two
days (most of that spent trying to find and play a video game for a particular sequence in the work). As usual it was
refreshing to be in Olympia.
Ruthie's Double says this:
I'm terrified a woman's life becomes filled with banality. Working to feed the children, laundry, housecleaning, bill paying, the preparation and clean-up of meals. I do not spend a moment on personal hygiene; thinking I'm outsmarting it! Ha! I saved 10 minutes not putting on make-up or shaving my legs! Life could take up all one's time. I'm filled with panic, much more comfortable disregarding this strange, foreign abyss of life-living. My solution: I'll make art all day, then eat dinner out in a paint stained sweatsuit. I'll never go anywhere but my studio: unless it's to a museum, gallery, movie, or lecture about art. I'll take special pride in the fact that the morning after my show opens, what do I do? Wake-up and start another one. And when this starts to feel like evasion, what do I do? ...
It gets even better but it was the first thing she wrote, the original impetus for the whole series of thoughts, that drew my attention.
Susan just did a bunch of writing for a Popular Science CD-ROM
on "the most important inventions of the last millennium," which turned out to be a more illuminating assignment than it might have at first
appeared. I was flabbergasted
to discover that the washing machine was not in widespread use until the 1940's. The very first
laundromat opened in 1935. Prior to this, unless you were rich enough to have servants or were able to take all of
your clothes to a Chinese laundry, you had to wash by hand, using old fashioned washboards, a bucket,
and a clothesline.
So as recently as the 1930's, household chores
took up so much time that it was very difficult if not impossible for both spouses to hold down a full-time job,
which brings up the following possibility: feminism as we know it today was made possible (or made much more
possible) by a technological shift ---
the washing machine. If this is right, the change actually happened relatively quickly: in only one generation or so.
Talk about the law of unintended consequences (in this case a good one).
I was recently watching a documentary on the "home of the future" --- made in the 1950's. Of course, they
had videophones and a pushbutton kitchen, like the Jetsons. They had a scene with the man calling his wife on
the videophone asking what was for dinner. The wife told him what it was going to be, and proceeded to push a few
buttons. It's almost laughable today: if all you needed to do in the kitchen was push a few
buttons, why would the wife have to stay home?
The fear of the destruction of creativity and independence associated with housework and motherhood ---
this is very much stronger and more visceral in my female friends than I had realized. I grew up with a certain naive
feminist presumption: men and women were now more or less equal, with some inherited physical and psychological
differences, perhaps, but nothing that defined any categorical differences. But I was surprised to learn that this issue of housework and motherhood
can be such a serious and dark issue for some of my female friends. Now I see: it was only a couple of generations
ago that most women were limited not only by convention but also by the fact that housework literally was a full-time job.
The limits really were crushing for women in many ways.
Culture mirrors these technical limits:
The House of Mirth comes to mind --- gender roles even circumscribed women in the social
Another thought. Why is it that, even today, women still end up doing more of the housework,
and men are often much more slovenly (I include myself in this). Of course this is not
a universal rule, but it's a common pattern. The first explanation is simply that it's lingering social
convention. But then I started to think of additional factors, and then I thought about the role of culture in creating genetic selection pressure: the co-evolution of
culture and genes.
Since mating in humans is heavily circumscribed by cultural factors (those attributes seen as "attractive" can
vary quite a bit as cultural norms vary), this implies that culture can have an actual genetic impact. For example,
the odd fact that I retain many samurai physical characteristics, such as greater than normal speed (my
dad was a track star in high school, for example), despite the fact that it has been hundreds of years since my family
had a castle and hundreds more years since samurai were regularly involved in the warfare that
caused the original selection pressure that preferred those traits: Japan for a long time (and even today) mated very
systematically, so for hundreds of years my ancestors only intermarried with other samurai. Similarly, now that
nerds are more useful to society, perhaps we'll eventually see a migration towards more nerd characteristics in
the general population...
And if domesticity is influenced by any sex-linked genes, perhaps because domesticity was valued
culturally for so long, this created selection pressure in favor of more domestic-oriented women. Now, however,
that women can fend for themselves, the pressure to select men with lots of money, etc., will probably lessen
considerably, and perhaps the men who take care of their personal environment will also be more favored in the long
April 22, 2001
has a new show, "alias", at Postmasters.
April 20, 2001
On the way to T'ai Chi this morning, flower petals rained down from the air, in slow motion, in front
of the car and onto the windshield. They were blowing out of the top of a garbage truck.
April 19, 2001
Meanwhile, over at Bovine Inversus, Demian is clearly getting into the
comedy act of koans, though maybe a little light on the sit-down component (i.e., koans are supposed to be
funnier if you have to sit down to get them).
But seriously. I came across this while doing some web surfing because of debates I've been
having about Sufism with a non-Sufi Muslim:
All is the Beloved and the lover is a veil
This struck me as quite insightful. It is too bad that Sufis are sometimes persecuted in Islam (though they are also
sometimes honored, there seems to be a bit of a curious confusion within Islam regarding the Sufi orders; some
say they are legitimate, some claim they are heretics. Needless to say I am rather sympathetic to the Sufis).
The Beloved is alive and the lover is dead
(Yes, I know. I'm quoting poetry.)
Ruthie's Double plans to post her novel online, with
a little button that says "support the author" for voluntary donations if you enjoyed the work.
An interesting and simple notion. It's giving me ideas.
April 18, 2001
I'm quoting from memory here, but there was a Zen koan that started something like this:
A monk came to his master and began to quote a poem:
He was warning his student of the dangers of letting other people's words stand in the place of his own direct
a limitless breeze across the universe...
His master shouted "You're on the wrong track!"
It's funny how often people want to rely on the words and reports of others, instead of finding out for themselves
what's really up.
Of course, I always thought it was funny to have a koan warning against relying on other people's words, when
anyone quoting the koan (like I am doing here) is using other people's words. But like a good joke it's not the words
but the context and the way you tell the joke, er, I mean the koan, that counts... it's not as though Zen masters
are opposed to quoting poetry in general (those Zen guys are so situational...)
Speaking of my own words: I have always thought of koans as Buddhist sit-down comedy. ha ha heh ha. <cough>
I guess you had to be there. (heh heh...)
April 17, 2001
In a more than pleasant surprise, Caterina Fake emailed me a couple days ago
saying she was driving through Portland with Stewart Butterfield,
would I be available for lunch? And of course I enthusiastically said yes, and they arrived and we had a very
fine time together. Of course, took them to Powell's, the biggest new+used bookstore
in the world, and Stewart bought a grocery bag full of books; the paper handles of which finally ripped off when he
added one last book (on the design of books), bought afterward at the last minute at our beloved crazy zine store a block
away, Reading Frenzy. They got to see Susan's
advice column in a real paper copy of the Willamette Week. I wish they'd had more time for me to show off one of my
favorite cities in the world, but alas they only had a few hours to blow on us here in Portland, but it was a very good few hours.
April 15, 2001
Judith (Calamondin) says: "wow. don't go to the netart portal
verybusy and pull the dropdown to
'INDEX A-Z: PROJECTS' unless you have hours and hours and hours and hours and..."
Peter Merholz (Peterme) muses:
I've recently been reading about the power
of Group-Forming Networks. GFNs are "Networks that support
the construction of communicating groups create value that scales
exponentially with network size," says David Reed, creator
of the model, in his essay "That
Sneaky Exponential --- Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community
Building." This stuff has interesting relationships to
the Rule of 150, which Malcolm
Gladwell discusses in The Tipping Point -- up
to 150, there is a "community memory"
that works such that either you know how to find something out/do
something, or you know the person who does. Beyond 150, you no
longer know whom to turn to, and need to go through intermediaries,
and a communication breakdown occurs. Research in cognition supports
this, primarily Robin
Dunbar's work written up in Grooming,
Gossip, and The Evolution of Language.
Which reminded me of a number of thoughts I've had over the years about group and network formation and
in particular group sizes. Of course, the activity we're involved with here and now, weblogging,
is the epitome of a group-forming exercise; every weblog, particularly when we link to each other,
can be the launch point of a new network of associations, people, ideas --- weblogs are an easy way to
connect. Furthermore, these connections are self-organizing; we read the weblogs we enjoy reading, and
thus the sorts of flame wars that plague USENET and other online "communities" are more muted here (though
not nonexistent) --- it's easy to get on someone's good side by simply linking to them, and furthermore if someone
really hates what you're writing, it is likely they'll just stop reading you, rather than waste time posting about how
much they dislike you. (Though of course this still happens).
I've thought about other community scales, and I emailed Peter that I have also noticed a "rule of 10" and a "rule of
30" ... The rule of 30 is that 30 people seems to be the limit of people you can associate with closely at any
given moment... I recall when I lived in a coop in college, it was about 35 people, and I felt I knew everyone in the
coop quite well. But my friends who lived in larger coops found they tended to break into smaller cliques.
The rule of 10 is... this seems to be the limit to the size of a tight-knit development team. I think larger organizations
can be built with these general sizes in mind; teams of ten or fewer people networked together into larger groups;
tightly-knit communities of up to 30 people or so (perhaps associations of people you've worked closely with in the
past) embedded in larger associations of up to 150 people or so. Above 150 and you need to establish careful
conduits or interfaces between the groups to prevent too much dissipation of social attention.
I encourage you, by the way, to start a weblog if you don't have one already.
April 14, 2001
Smiley No More.
The unnecessary suffering of
animals in the slaughterhouse (via Metascene). It was in tenth grade I first read Thoreau, who mused that he felt that he might
eventually decide to stop eating meat, but he didn't have that much sympathy for fish. I thought that sounded like a good
idea, so I swore off eating beef, but decided to continue eating chicken and fish. I call this my "mammal-free" policy.
There was just something a bit too eerie for me, eating creatures who had relatively large brains, who were much like
me in most ways. I don't really know for sure whether I "ought" to stop eating chicken also --- perhaps I will do that as well,
I've been thinking about effective and ineffective use of technology, techniques, devices. Not just technology:
also devices as in literary or artistic devices. When we use a device, or a technique, or a technology, or an algorithm...
if we make the technique point to itself, or be just a sign for itself, it becomes contrived; when we use technology, I think
it's best to use it just as a way to funnel or guide something else, something more deeply connected, something
mysterious. Otherwise the piece just becomes a sort of puzzle; a giant puzzle (or a small one!)
On the other hand, an arbitrary constraint can create a certain pressure, a space in which the creative process
can find a more, not less, intense expression. Reduce the variables and you can modulate the variation in more interesting ways.
April 11, 2001
Fresh and newly refreshed links for you:
We are all exceptionally grateful that Heather Anne at Lemonyellow is writing more frequently again. Also:
Kenneth Mroczek has been writing regularly, and
in case you hadn't noticed, Ruthie's Double is back
from her travels (though she is going away briefly once more).
Samantha, a good friend of Heather Anne's, has started a weblog of her own,
Meanwhile, from my referrer logs, some of the more notable are
Lixolux, a weblog of poetry,
Consumptive, an art and photography themed site, and
Ethel the Blog, a literary weblog.
Try this Yale test of your unconscious ethnic/racial bias.
A million people have taken it already.
April 8, 2001
This is no joke: the bankruptcy judge assigned to the PG&E case is shown here in the Los Angeles Times
in a photograph --- posted without apparent humor --- above the caption "Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali is
called a 'reasonable man.'" I myself feel a lot more reassured about the fate of
the California power crisis with this man on the case. (I'm serious about this also!)
My friend Doug Cutrell informed me today about something some of you may already know:
don't eat orange roughy. Apparently, the orange roughy is a fish that lives for 80 years, and it doesn't reach sexual
maturity until around 14 years. So this is a species that reproduces slowly, and the Australian fishing industry has
pretty much decimated the orange roughy -- and it's not coming back anytime soon.
Thinking a lot about the general versus the specific. The general: the abstract, categories, the vague
ways in which we dice up the world into generalities. This is not the tree that confronts me now, it is just
one of a class of trees. I do not see you, I see a person, I see someone I desire, someone I am bored by, someone I
hate. We turn things into qualities, and we lose their specificity, their particularity, their uniqueness in themselves.
On the other hand, when we think about our lives we often fall into the trap of
trying to micromanage our existence, trying to control all the details, far into the future,
or at least those details that we imagine are crucial to our well-being.
We become obsessed with the best way to get ahead in the current office imbroglio, or how to
win the affection of this person, or... But perhaps
there is something to be said for stepping back from this control freak position: to let our
choosing faculty relax in its tendency to try to determine the outcome, but rather just monitor the overall feeling, the
color and tenor of the energy of our lives --- and in this way, oddly, to give the details of the world the space to come forward to greet us in all their
glory. In other words, we can fade the control freak back, and let the world in its specific, concrete way present itself and become itself. Kafka once said (italics added):
You do not need
to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table
Do not even listen,
Do not even wait,
be quite still and ordinary.
The world will freely offer itself
to you to be unmasked.
It has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy
at your feet.
Speaking of Kafka, I am often rather shocked to notice how many people think Kafka's The Trial has some sort
of political import or is a commentary on the arbitrariness of bureaucracy... while of course his
metaphors are informed by observations of the real world, it's clear to me that Kafka's book is about the fundamental
existential condition of man; not only modern man (as some have suggsted), but all human beings in every time period.
It's a book about the Fall; as Kafka once put it, "We are sinful not merely because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not eaten of the Tree of Life." The crime K. is accused of is the crime we are all accused of;
and he is told the parable of the gatekeepers to the Law (quoted below for those of you who have not read
"Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man
the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says
he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then
if he will be allowed in later. 'It is possible,' says the doorkeeper, 'but
not at the moment.' Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper
steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the
Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: 'If you are so drawn to it,
try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only
least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after
another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already
terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him.' These are difficulties the
man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be
accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look
the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin,
Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission
enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of
the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be
admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper
frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his
and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great
put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet.
The man, who has furnished hinself with many things for his journey,
all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper
everything, but always with the remark: 'I am only taking it to keep you
thinking you have omitted anything.' During these many years the man fixes
attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other
doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing
to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly;
as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since
his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the
in his fur collar, he begs the fleas as well to help him and to change the
doorkeeper's mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not
whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving
Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams
from the gateway of the Law. Now he has not very long to live. Before he
all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one
point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer,
since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend
low toward him, for the difference in height between them has altered much
the man's disadvantage. 'What do you want to know now?' asks the doorkeeper;
'you are insatiable.' 'Everyone strives to reach the Law,' says the man, 'so
how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever
begged for admittance?' The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached
end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear; 'No
else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I
now going to shut it.'"
The fact is that we all have access to the Law; but if we try to gain entry, we will
never be granted admittance. That is because it is impossible to gain access to the Law by dint of effort or pleading;
yet it is also the case that the Law (so to speak) is open to everyone at all times. The trick is somehow to
learn how to cross the threshold of the gate without ever passing through it.
The Zen people call this the "gateless gate." We cannot gain entry because we do not have to go through the gate
in the first place. There is another way. But we only have our lifetime to pass through the gate that is not
a gate. More precisely, we only have this one moment. Luckily we keep getting the moment back again. But we
don't get a second chance. Thankfully we don't even need the first chance.
April 5, 2001
Most of you have probably noticed that MIT is planning to put all of its course materials
on-line for free.
I think it's disgraceful that Harvard College (my alma mater) doesn't issue an
unequivocal apology for firing Raymond Ginger for refusing in 1954 to tell University officials whether he
had been a member of the Communist Party. What are they afraid of? A lawsuit?
Not only was this action wrong, it disturbs and shocks me that Harvard can only issue a mealy-mouthed
"looking back, many people would not find it appropriate" sort of pseudo-response ("many people" --- implying
that honorable people could disagree? that other people, even now, could ethically think it was fine and dandy?)
Where is the moral courage?
April 2, 2001 (#2)
The five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. This list betrays a fundamental bias, which is that every
one of these "five senses," which is presumably meant to be exhaustive, involves the "sensing" of that which
is external --- as though that which is inside our skin is a colorless, dimensionless point (to use a phrase
I picked up from a poll I took recently...) But this list leaves out vastnesses. For example, what about our
kinesthetic sense, the sense of what is happening to our own bodies, how we're holding ourselves, our
proprioception, the way we feel, our internal organs? We have an odd difficulty even noticing that
we are ignoring the spread out, dimensional quality of our own bodies; so much so that for us to even consider
another possible sense modality, we imagine that we're talking about psychic abilities.
It seems to me that we have a tendency to think of ourselves, in general, as dimensionless points, floating here,
"observing" the world through our "sensory apparatus." But we are actually spread out, compound, multiple.
Even our thoughts have a field of sources: surfacing from a vast, embodied system including our unconscious,
all of which is tied in fundamentally to our physicality among other things.
April 2, 2001
What are the virtues and limitations of the "bohemian" life? When I was younger I had an attraction to this, and like
many people I thought of it primarily as an increase in freedom, choice, a relaxation of unnecessary constraints.
Later, though, I met a lot of older people, American baby boomers, for whom their early adoption of the "bohemian"
had turned into a sort of excuse for bad habits, self-indulgence, and neuroses writ large --- all of their worst
personality traits, untempered by socialization, simply splayed out over everyone and on everyone, each other, their
loved ones, the people they lived and worked with. In some cases they re-adopted many of the asshole behaviors
of the parents they had originally rejected --- but now with the rationalization of further "shocking" people. Others,
on the other hand, used their freedom to more fully
explore what it means to be human in a perceptive, careful, and incisive manner --- these people are real artists,
or philosophers, or meditators. They didn't just use the idea of freedom to amplify their bad habits without
a sense of shame, but rather they used freedom to go beyond the limitations of convention and find not just
amplified habits, but something beyond habits, something in some sense more real than anything that can be explained.
I still admire the bohemian impulse, but true freedom isn't freedom to grossly
exaggerate our egos and unexamined habits, but rather it is freeing ourselves to a larger space to find something
delicate and real and indescribable.