Flamingo and the Quotations

Day 83: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

Let’s jump right in.

Yesterday:

I was born ambidextrous, so I know this first hand.

More like you were born ambidextrous, so, you know — both hands.

For our readers, that’s the best I’ve got today. What follows will almost certainly be downhill.

Zak, when I first met you, before you married my sister, I’m pretty sure you were under the impression that the Socratic method was not only for philosophy but also for socializing.  Actually I’m pretty sure that exact thought must have been going through your head during that season of life.

“I like your green tee-shirt.”

“Thanks.”

“Is green your favorite color?”

“Um… actually, it is.”

“And why’s that?”

To clarify, is that how we became friends? Because I’m pretty sure with your sister it was the purple dress 🙂

do love to socialize that way. What’s your favorite this? Between these two (ridiculous) options, which would you choose? How many X do you think you could fend off before Y happened?

And you got it right — the money question follows: “Why”?  We get a glimpse inside someone’s head, how they reason, feel, communicate, react. By beginning with ‘random’ questions there is an innocence to that barrier slowly eroding — the opposite of global warming, if you will.

Zak, in other letters I’ve often bemoaned the lack of sound advice to be found in classical literature for picking up girls.  It turns out I’ve just been reading the wrong books all this time.  The Greek philosophers certainly didn’t let you down.

Not a lot of commentary here. I just really appreciate this observation. A hearty laugh burst out when I read it. It rings just as true this morning and makes me smile.

I agree we can’t always take the advice of Greek philosophers — that why may only get you so far. But hey it got me to the girl, and for the rest, there’s that faith thing you mention.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I realize I mostly just commented on your post yesterday. I had originally wanted to write about why curiosity was a good thing, and to some degree, I suppose we’ve suggested the benefits of being curious. But your post yesterday was just that good that I couldn’t help myself – my brief musings on curiosity simply wouldn’t have been as good.

p.p.s. I’ve had this thing lately where I’ve been acting like a flamingo. Your sister has been irate and told me to stop it. I didn’t want to, so I put my foot down. I guess she won anyway…

p.p.p.s. The title of this post kind of sounds like a really bad name for a band…

Passionately Curious

Day 81: Monday

Morning, Tim!

At work, we have this commitment to “being curious over right”. The idea here is that, rather than being committed (with ego) to a position or idea, to take on the lens of curiosity and understand why people might be coming to a different conclusion, how their background and experiences contribute to their understanding of the thought at hand.

In your last post:

You could present the most pointless and ridiculous ideas to him, and he would always dive right into them with you head first.  There wouldn’t be even a moment of hesitation to ask how worthwhile something really was.

I think there are hints of that theory in your professor’s actions. There seems to be a passionate commitment to curiosity, a keen desire to explore in order to better understand patterns, connections, ideas.

It’s curious that we have a commitment to being right. Certainly, the spot of dopamine the brain receives when being right helps. But put up mechanisms to fight our own ignorance, as if we don’t want to even explore the possibility that we aren’t right. What causes this blindness?

First, we love putting on the lens of confirmation bias. I’ve linked to the below comic before, but it’s one of my favorites so here it is again.C4C4E4A9-363E-4112-97D0-11964D9AC29F.jpg

The idea here is that we seek information that confirms what we already believe. Rather than take an objective lens, we put on blinders to information that is contrary to our existing beliefs.

Second, we don’t want our ego to be hurt. The way this pans out is our unwillingness to challenge others. We accept as fact or highly researched opinion others points of view, failing to challenge for fear of embarrassing others. Too often someone will state their point of view, perhaps more confidently than what they could otherwise back up if someone continuously asked “why”. But societal norms suggest we don’t do that to others — and likely because we would have a hard time handling that being done to us.

Third, there are elements of peer reinforcement. We fall prey to group think, choosing to go along with the crowd to balance the need for relationships and/or not have to do the hard work of thinking ourselves.

I like the idea of being curious. It’s something I look for in those I hire — people that are passionately curious to learn more, to understand how things work and why others think the way they do. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed that too. I hope we can continue to be curious.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Alive

Day 79: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

I have a new mentor of sorts at work. He’s a pretty amusing guy – wise in how he approaches situations, doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s retired from a great job, and I think he does the work with my company largely because it’s intellectually engaging and he can make a difference – but he doesn’t ever (seem) to let it overwhelm him. I admire that. When we get on the phone and I ask how he is, he has always responded ‘alive!’

Not that there couldn’t be more, but it’s enough to move along the conversation and, at least honest.

I’ve been a bum of a correspondent recently. Lots going on. Unlike Bob, I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed. I hope to dig out soon.

Until then…I’m alive.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Ps here are a few pictures of all the new geese exhibits they had at the zoo! Remarkable.


Also one close up of the sleepy bear…

Circles and Lines

Day 75: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

This is the signature of composer Giacinto Scelsi:

Pretty jokes, right?  The circle and the line represent the Eastern and Western perspectives of time…

Remember the movie Groundhog Day?  Bill Murray somehow gets caught in an endless circle where he’s reliving the same boring day over and over again.  But literally.  He wakes up every morning in the same stupid little town where he was supposed to spend only one day—groundhog day—to film an on-site news special.

That movie is pretty popular.  Probably because a lot of us can relate.  Time is moving in an endless circle, with no final destination.  The story of my life.  Right?

Well, take away the pessimism and that outlook is basically the Eastern perspective of time.  Life moves in cycles.  The cycle of seasons, of days, of birth, death, and rebirth…

Then there’s the Western view.  Remember Machiavelli’s The Prince?  Machiavelli basically thinks that a ruler should be as cruel or dishonest as necessary to instill civil order.  As the saying goes, the end justifies the means.  So if there’s an end, then time moves linearly, right?

Some people say that Christian thought proposes a strictly linear view of time.  We waited for the Messiah, he came, and now we’re waiting for the end.  The same people who point out these things also tend to complain about how boring our vision of Heaven is.  Just eternally praising God?  In an endless circle of eternity?

The East and the West aren’t as different as we sometimes make them out to be.  We just don’t think about things the way the early Christians did.  There’s a reason Dante’s nine circles of Heaven are the least appealing part of the Divine Comedy for the modern reader.

In your last entry:

“I’d propose that by ‘willing’ we often mean lacking desires that are against what’s ultimately best for us, and, when they do appear, being able to deny them anyway.”

I became a composer because I had a poetic vision.  I think everyone has that on some level.  I mean the ability to look at something and see potential in it.  That’s what an artist does.  But you know, things are complicated.  While in the process of realizing it, it’s easy to lose sight of that vision—that end, if time is linear.  

“We always say ‘Gertrude Stein’ – she said, ‘In the beginning was the word. Then they put two words together, then they made a sentence, then they made a paragraph and they forgot the word.’”

-Morton Feldman

But every time I hear something beautiful and see what it does to people, it makes up for the sacrifices I’ve had to make along the way.  I’m like an old gramma who never studied music.  They’re really the ones who appreciate this stuff the most.  The rest of us tend to get too caught up in everything to remember the reasons we’re making music in the first place.

But an old grandma is fantastically disinterested.  She doesn’t care about anything but the music right in front of her, and that music is simply a gift—no strings attached.  I wish I could appreciate my peers the way an old grandma would.

So the moral of the story is be like an old grandma every now and then.  But I don’t mean to stereotype.  My apologies to all the mean and anxious grandmas out there.  I hope I didn’t offend you.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Your father, the accountant

Day 70: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

I appreciate the clarification — indeed there are many advantages to not utilizing technology at all. In your last post:

For one thing, not having direct access to information means that I have to rely on personal human contact to find out about stuff.

This is interesting in that it creates relationship. Both parties benefit; you benefit from getting something and having human contact in the process while the one you are in relationship with needs to be needed and also gets the human contact. There is an exchange, a known give and take that helps relationships work.

I know we’ve talked about responsibility in a number of ways, but in particular moral responsibility as a spectrum. A certain shirt pattern may darken someone’s day, spinning them into a tizzy and furthering a breakdown. Obviously there is very diffuse responsibility here, very unknown to the shirt wearer. There are also actions much closer to full moral responsibility — yet it seems all have been shaped in some way by the world and circumstances we live in.

I was curious your guidance on the value of blame.

Blame: Feel or declare that (someone or something) is responsible for a fault or wrong.

In many ways, I see the best version of blame as responsibility accounting. It is attempting to understand which parts of the responsibility pie get divvied up and to whom.

At work there is a philosophy of “taking your 100% responsibility”, the idea being that blame doesn’t add anything to the picture. Understanding your component is likely the best you can do (and even that is likely suspect) — and we should rather shift our attention toward curiosity. Now this curiosity, I admit, is a bit elusive. It’s often described as a curiosity about the situation, asking questions such as “Within my role, what am I to do differently?” “What are the triggers or warning signs — the patterns — that I can recognize that might allow me to change course next time I fall into this tendency?” or even “Why am I so quick to dole out responsibility to others, even if I rightfully don’t have a very large ‘100%’ of the pie?”

I’m torn. In many ways, there can be benefits from understanding where responsibility falls; for instance, understanding when blame lies outside when we’ve followed an appropriate course of action may not bog us down (and conversely, when responsibility does fall on us, understanding the weight and necessity of change to correct). Yet, there does seem to be something compelling about simply shifting toward curiosity. I suppose we may also be getting at the same thing — do not merely blame, but also ask questions to understand the underlying patterns and course that lead up to such an event.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I also love exploring  diffuse responsibility with respect to its implications on free will. Good stuff.

Overwhelmed – thanks a lot, healthcare…

Day 68: Friday

Morning, Tim!

So I obviously missed my Wednesday post. Not that I didn’t write it — it was scribbled through tired eyes while on a plane home. Unfortunately, without internet, I was unable to actually post it.

If you’d like to torture yourself, it seems the zoom on this image allows you to read the handwriting. For less torture, please see below for what, upon reflection, is exhausted stream of consciousness.

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Morning, Tim!

Obviously this is quite late. I’m on a flight back to Chicago right now, and all of my electronics are out of battery. That might seem weird since you are seeing this online — it was first written in very poor handwriting while experiencing turbulence, though.

I just spent 3 days at a healthcare IT conference. Quite the spectacle, some 40 thousand people convene to discuss how technology both new and old play a role in advancing care delivery. There were companies that helped patients schedule appointments, nurses communicate with one another, physicians dictate their notes. Still others provided security around the information, connected devices to the cloud to share data and enable care delivery in the patient’s home.

I love technology. It allows me to communicate with you seamlessly and empowers smarter, faster decisions to be made all the time. in healthcare, this translates to better patient care and opportunities to save lives. Getting to work in healthcare tech is even better than tech generally — not only is there ample room for healthcare to catch up to other industries, the passion healthcare entrepreneurs bring to helping others is truly inspiring. So I love technology.

I also hate technology.

Phones and tablets abound, alerts all over the place. An amazing amount of opportunity — yet as with everything that comes to mind, the greatest of strengths can also be the greatest of weaknesses. The ability to connect anyone at any time allows a a father to video chat and say goodnight to his kids — so too does it enable a man to get caught up in work, unable to de-tether while home as that same child yearns for attention, guidance, and love. Technology enables the spread of information, empowering scientists to collaborate on wonderful breakthroughs — so too does it enable groups to congregate and self-reinforce radical beliefs that bring harm to others. Technology can help focus, it can be the largest distraction. It can educate or inundate, facilitate encouragement or discrimination. But it doesn’t do any of this itself. It is a tool, used by people, often exacerbating the existing intuitions — booth virtues and vices.

I hope to have kids someday. I’m not sure what to do with technology. TO disallow is to deny the world these kids will be born into, disadvantage them in a world where these skills will be table-stakes. Yet, there seems a certain sadness that comes with this, a weariness weighing on a heavy heart and off-put mind. What about play and creativity, about bodily movement? We are physical beings — is using only our minds a hindrance to what our development might otherwise be? How can they use these tools for good — to help others — and not be addicted and lose themselves?

How do I do that?

Until tomorrow,
Zak

Until Monday,

Zak

A proliferation of purpose?

Day 66: Monday

Morning, Tim!

I’m wifi-less at the moment, so I’m not sure when this will end up heading your way. Crazy to think of traditional mail and how, for a very, very long time, you wouldn’t know when something got delivered — just hoped that it did some time in the future.

We’ve talked about this before, of course. Words perhaps carried more meaning. Each time I wrote (presumably) I’d have something to say. The yearning for a loved one that much greater — and rightfully so! If all you got from your loved one was a letter every couple of weeks, it better be a darn good letter!

So here I am, put under the same circumstances, writing to you with all of the pressure of traditional mail…

Thankfully that’s not true. And, moreover, if it’s not that good you have tons of other things to read! Tremendously more than you ever could, a wealth of information in front of you.

Last week you wrote that human contact was the end purpose of language. And I believe it that to be correct.

In more recent times, there has been an absolute proliferation of written language. Books, followed by more prolific newspapers, followed by regular blogs and junk emails, followed by and even more consistent [hourly] updates on Twitter or Facebook.

Do you think that the amount of language has proliferated? Has there been more language, more desire and reach for human contact? Or simply a change in form? If there has been a shift in the amount of language, with more desire for human contact, what it is the cause?

Hoping this gets to you before too long, of course. Say hello to the pony express for me!

Until tomorrow,
Zak

Could you have meant porpoise?

Day 64: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

When you first left for Italy I had moderately regular thoughts about you over there during fashion week. I was eager to get the lowdown on what it was like, and knew you’d have some pretty good takes:

“…jean jackets with one arm torn off…”

“…frilly with all kinds of colorful feathers…”

“…art like flamingo jackets…”

“…use a pen to write something that makes your friend cry…”

I’m not sure the last one will really catch on, but I suppose I know nothing about fashion…I hope yesterday was just a taste of more to come.

And, inspired by the talk of art and communication, I thought I’d write a poem.

Others
make me
a Sandwich

Squishy
Not on Rye
No bag of chips

Paper plate
Unevenly spread
Nevertheless, calories

Why
am I
a Sandwich

FullSizeRender.jpg

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Trip to India

Day 62: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

You may be immediately suspicious of my title — and rightfully so, as I didn’t actually take a trip to India. That said, it’s a little less dubious than when I tried to pass off a visit to Cologne

I did, however, visit Devon street, which was much closer to experiencing India than I ever had before. I went with a friend who took us to what he called a cabbie restaurant – nothing fancy, just very authentic. We had food from Hyderabad, what he described as the southernmost northern tasting – and in being so, took some spicy queues from the south. My friend ordered in what I believe was Hindi. We ate mutton biryani, chicken 65, and paratha. We ate with our hands as my friend told me about chicken 65 being a leaked recipe from the ever popular 65th item from the Buhari hotel restaurant.

It was an interesting experience. Unique. Growing up in a very rural, very small town in midwest America I didn’t encounter different cultures. I don’t say ‘often’ there because that wouldn’t be true – we simply didn’t encounter them at all. In college I wasn’t really faced with them either. It’s interesting to see how gigantic the world is, and wonder how anyone could act as though they’ve figured it out.

It’s eye opening – starting to see how much you don’t know. And ever more realize there is so much you don’t know that you don’t know.

It seems important to interact with things different than what we know. The unknown can be terrifying – the downside risk seems overwhelming at times, so fearing embarrassment for a cultural misstep, a violent act for reasons we can’t really explain, or perhaps even a bad case of diarrhea, we sometimes find ourselves closed off to new experiences and unknowns.

I’ve hated the city for quite some time. Growing up in my farm town I had space, I had nature with beauty abounding. I could see stars, breath fresh air, get a moment without smelling the sewers, hearing the whizzing of machines or the honking of car horns. Yet getting a taste of India helped me appreciate what the city has to offer.

Diversity isn’t a pillar, Tim. It’s no end in its own. But it’s remarkable how it helps provide perspective.

The world is too big for us to ever stop learning. We at times act like we learn what we like – growing up experiencing some positively and decide ‘yes’ and others negatively, deciding ‘no’. But the world is far too big – something completely unknown might be good. While we fear the downside of it being bad, we also must realize that all the good was once unknown to us as well, was once foreign. We have to continue to learn, continue to grow and develop, continue to take share ideas and life together…

…and food. Because that was good stuff.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Oh! Almost forgot. Though I regrettably didn’t take pictures of my food (because that’s a thing now-a-days), I also had Thums Up, what my friend described as ‘Indian Coke’. Owned by the Coca Cola company, it was less carbonated and less sweet, and the sweetness almost had more of a molasses quality to it. It was pretty good!IMG_1110.JPG

It’s All a Jumble…

Day 57: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

“When man wanted to make a machine that would walk he created the wheel, which does not resemble a leg.”

-Guillaume Apollinaire

Descending melody is a universal in world music.  Every culture that we know of has some examples of melodies that generally start high in pitch and end low.  Ethnomusicologists think this is simply due to the nature of our physiology: whenever someone breathes out to sing a melody, they start with a lot of breath and end with very little.  This makes it natural to descend in pitch toward the end of a melodic line.

If I were to indulge myself in speculation about this, I might even take the explanation a step further.  It seems like downward motion is a pretty universal part not only of our physiology, but of all of nature in general.  I mean, here on earth, things pretty much always move downward if nothing stops them.  Water, tree branches, trees themselves…  I guess in that way descending melody is a lot like Cage’s 4’33’’; it’s the sound of nature when people don’t interfere that much.

The so-called “lament meter” in ancient Hebrew poetry is probably an example of this.  Although we don’t have direct evidence of the original melodies, the lopsidedness of the poetic meter itself seems to evoke a diminishing energy toward the end of the verse.  The first part of the verse (the first “colon”) is generally longer then the second.

I feel like there’s something inherently lament-ful about this kind of verse structure.  Isn’t it kind of sad how everything on earth eventually falls back to the ground and dies?  Everything except for some small amount of helium, which, I understand, escapes the atmosphere because it’s so light.

But the really strange thing is how relatively rare this melodic typology is within Western concert music.  Our melodies tend to climax about two-thirds of the way in.  In a sense, you could maybe say our musical tradition is about contrasting the entropy the natural world with the creative energy of human life.

“Right, well, I mean… this piece behind me, I call it ‘The Afous II.’  And, I mean, it’s really about how confusing, you know, society is.  Because, you know, it’s all a jumble, isn’t it.”

-Adam Savage

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A river or a waterfall might tend to flow downward, but human discourse generally moves the opposite way: I say something, you say something, and eventually we reach some kind of logical consequence… an agreement or a main point or something like that.  Contrary to the entropy of the natural universe, human conversations, or “language games,” tend to snowball, accumulating more energy as logical discourse progresses.

Here’s a a very famous lament, which climaxes, no less, toward the end of each strophe.

God, who created all that comes and goes
and shaped this faraway love,
give me strength, since I already have the intention,
so that I see this love far away
in reality and in a fitting place
so that rooms and gardens
shall seem to me to be new palaces.

-Jaufre Rudel, source

Until tomorrow,

Tim