Archive for September, 2014

E.T. Where are They?

When you statistically look at the universe it’s difficult to believe the earth could be the only planet with life. There are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone. About 1/5 of them are similar to our sun. We’ve already discovered thousands of planets around those stars, with thousands to billions left to be discovered. Calculations suggest there are around 10 billion earth-sized planets in our galaxy alone. The odds that life hasn’t popped up somewhere else are exceedingly small, and getting smaller as we learn more about the universe.

So where are they? Try as we might, we have not been successful in finding the slightest clue whatsoever to support the existence of other intelligent life. There are some factors that are hard to gauge, such as the effect of time. Not only the time in which the life came about, and the time it might take any signs of it to reach us (at the speed of light it could still be millions of years, depending on the distance), but also the span of time in which the civilization is detectable. There are reasons to believe that civilizations don’t last indefinitely.

bugBut still…statistically the odds are they are out there.

On the other hand…we don’t normally “make contact” with many of the life forms we’re around daily.

Can This Be Real?

JeterBookLast night Derek Jeter hit a walk off single in his final appearance at Yankee Stadium. His 20 year career winding down in a way that plays more like a movie script than reality.

What must it be like to be Derek? He is a beloved character in NYC, and pretty much throughout all of sports. So much so that in his last season other teams are going overboard honoring him when the Yankees come to town to play.

He has had a great career filled with championships, MVP awards, etc. He is legitimately respected amongst his peers.

He has managed to avoid all of the controversies that surround sports and most sports figures even though he’s been in the center of the media for his 20 year career. There’s never been so much as a serious insinuation that he has used PED’s, beat up any women, pulled a pistol on anyone, isn’t a good teammate, or does anything other than work hard and come through in a pinch for his team.

Of course he is rich. He’s been one of the highest paid athletes in sports, with many lucrative endorsements to ‘supplement’ his income. And the chics seriously dig him. He dates models and celebrities.

The team practically carried him off the field on their shoulders last night while tens of thousands of people in the stadium all had tears of joy in their eyes. Is this really someone’s life? What more could one want?

Well, there is always more, isn’t there? They aren’t going to win a championship this year. They didn’t win one last year. Derek is the quintessential ‘winner.’ Wonder how he feels about that?

He’s a bit of a playboy. He’s not married and doesn’t have children. Does he care? Is that a goal? Is he going to wake up one day and wonder why he didn’t make starting a family a priority? Was he really in love and got dumped by one of those hot models he dated? Money and fame can’t exactly remedy these things, though it might be able to compensate in some superficial ways.

A woman told me recently she wished she had my life. I laughed ironically because she doesn’t know much about what my life is really like. It must look fantastic to her. But of course there are pains and challenges. Thought it’s far from perfect, I should appreciate it more.

We don’t really know what Derek’s life feels like to him. It might not be filled with rainbows and unicorns at home. Maybe he is driven to be a great ballplayer to compensate for other issues.

Who am I kidding? It would be awesome to be Derek Jeter. I sure hope he appreciates it as much as he appears to.

Move Past Go

We’re often put in positions to make decisions we are ill equipped to make (especially when we’re young), yet some have lasting impacts on our lives. If only we could see how they would turn out, or at least have the wisdom of more advanced years to pull from.

Most decisions eventually lead to more decisions, though our usual goal in making them is to reduce or take away options. We had an option. We decided. Now it’s settled. No more decision…except the next one.

We have to watch out for decisions that result in the drastic reduction or changing of options. Do something deemed wrong and choices get taken away. You no longer have a say. An obvious example is breaking the law. Get caught, go to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect your $200. Options drastically reduced, and most of the remaining ones aren’t so nice.

So many decisions get made on auto-pilot, often with little real reflection about where they will ultimately lead. On balance this is good thing. We build guidelines and shortcuts from our environment and experiences to make us more efficient. We don’t have to actually decide because the decision is made for us and/or seems obvious. Of course…that can backfire.

Know that you have imprisoned yourself with your choices? We have all done it to an extent. Our lives are moving along a trajectory we set through decisions, most of which were simple or obvious. Decisions to comply. Yet as we choose, the more we find our options appear to be dwindling as time plays it out. How likely is it to end up where you want?

This is extremely hard to gauge in many cases, so we muddle along. We have to make them. Even choosing not to decide is a choice. So what can we do?

We inherently tend to weigh all we’re capable of factoring into our decisions as we go.

Really? If you believe that, I have a $200 bill in jail waiting for you.

What really happens is more limited. When we actually stop long enough to think about it we size choices up relative to past experience, what we want, and how much perceived risk there is. That’s usually about it.

Past experience is the weight we carry that informs us about the relative consequence of our choices…even though much of what has happened is probably more random or just the result of circumstances we didn’t have much control over. We’re also subjected to the perceptions others have of their experiences or beliefs, which in turn were fed from people in their circles of influence. We have little ability to be objective about it. Whether by our decision, influence of others, or simply some circumstance, what we believe in is the correlation of cause and effect. There is usually a lot more to it than what we perceive.

How good are we at figuring out what we really want? We really just want to be happy. For the most part happiness comes from within. It’s a perception all our own. And thus…supremely elusive.

We’re pretty good at sizing up risk most of the time, self preservation (or discomfort) being what it is and all. We tend to make decisions that minimize risk, but when we make a bad one we lose more than we want. Thus is the delicate balance of deciding how much we’re willing to let risks limit us. So when we encounter the unknown we decide to shut down or run away to reduce our exposure to things that might be harmful.

And let’s not overlook how our sociology (our need to fit in or look good to others) plays into these.

What a pickle. We guess. We reduce risk and hope nothing bad happens. If things turn out moderately okay we often find solace in knowing it could have been worse.

But it could have been better. Maybe a LOT better.

Religion provides a pass. A way to tranquilize ourselves. Suffer through the shortcomings of today in exchange for the promise of a better tomorrow. As long as we get to pass go and collect our $200 occasionally some of us can be content.

Oh, how I envy thee.

If that’s not working for you then maybe it’s time to modulate the parameters above. Change the balance. Get uncomfortable. You don’t want jail, but do you really need the metaphorical $200? Is that where happiness is? Running in circles?

OutofJail

 

 

 

 

 

No More High School Reunions

HSReunion

Thanks to the ubiquity of social media we have spawned a generation who will never really fall out of touch with one another. Reunions and getting back in touch with old friends or old flames is largely becoming a thing of the past. Curiosity taken away. No more will we wonder where people are or what they are up to as we can all know just about every move our friends make if desired. And so a whole set of complex emotions will not be part of people’s lives going forward.

We still value some meetings in person, but when it comes to something like a high school reunion it could be fairly awkward for many who have the more curated versions of themselves posted on line. So not only is there less perceived need for it, there is actually a notable downside for some (many?). Many will still attend the events for a while, but in the long run they will become a thing of the past.

In the Flesh

WomaninArtGallery

I learned in school what an important work the Mona Lisa is. There are numerous technical reasons why this is so. There are emotional reasons, too.

But I always thought it was ugly. To me many of da Vinci’s other works were more profound and beautiful.

Then I took a trip to Le Louvre to see it in person.

Wow!

The true colors do not come through in any rendering of it I’ve ever seen. And they are sublime. The emotive subtlety of the brush strokes is lost in translation. The depth created by the shadows painted into the canvass is compressed. It is…not really the same work until and unless you see it in the flesh. You have to experience it.

It IS beautiful. It is deeply thought provoking, and I feel fortunate to have stood there in awe of it that day.

Likewise we hear about amazing or bad individuals. We encounter and get to know people regularly. We think we know something about who the important ones are. We don’t really know anything. It is only when you fully experience a person that you come to understand the relief of their particular canvass. Hardly anyone knows anyone intimately enough to get much past the surface, but without a doubt you don’t even have a clue until you get to know the things that aren’t apparent. The deep stuff. To walk in their shoes in good times and bad as they crawl out burned from their struggles or pull others along as they fly high when it may only look easy. You can choose whether or not to get to know someone deeply — truly, profoundly deeply — but don’t fool yourself. You can’t just juxtapose who you think they are on top of the sensibilities you already have and believe you get them. You have to give yourself up first.

For the most part we get by with our relatively shallow understanding of others…until the stakes or involvement gets high enough. Take marriage: our culture encourages us to marry someone before we truly know the depths of who they are. Indeed we often don’t even know who we are yet. We say the right things about taking it slow and being sure, but there are many messages in our culture that encourage us to get on with it. Then we are told to make the best of things.

Mona Lisa (Lisa del Giocondo *) was a mother of five married to a silk merchant who was many years her senior. She was his third wife. They purportedly were together and faithful until their deaths. In fact her pose in the painting, with right hand over left, is a way to illustrate this. Most people couldn’t care less about her, and the few who do are interested only because of the painting. Which raises the question…

What makes us want to truly know someone? What makes us want to know enough to risk ourselves in the process? When do we know? And finally, what about the process? The richness of discovering the layers one by one. It can be quite a journey, but you can’t really go there unless you are willing to expose your own flesh. Face to face. Eye to eye. Heart to heart. You have to let it all go before you can see.

 

* The author recognizes the identity of the woman is disputed. Nevertheless this version is generally accepted among historians.

Small, Powerful, Dumb Computer

GiantPhoneJust ordered the brand new iPhone 6 (the smaller sized one). Of course I have to have the latest and greatest thing, and in my opinion the industrial design and overall integration of Apple’s products are leaps and bounds above other systems out there, even though some of them may have one or two things they appear to do better on the surface.

The iPhone 6 is more powerful than the desktop computer I was using to create audio and video productions 10 years ago. It IS a great computer. Connect a nice keyboard and monitor and you have all you need.

But people don’t do that.

We fool ourselves into believing the marketing and technology promise. And thus people want to buy a phone that’s really a computer in tablet form. They don’t even care much about the phone. They want the power, but they don’t show signs of wanting to interface with it in a substantial way. It is very seductive: a magic device we can use to navigate our worlds with our fingers. But what can it really do in its form?

Sure…you can write a book or term paper on it…if you’re determined enough. You can code on it…if you’re willing to let the project take four times as long. Spread sheets, music projects, rocket trajectories, chemical compounds. It’s all possible, but the really great work isn’t going to be done that way. An Instagram photo is rarely going to be enough to change minds, or pave a new way. The great work requires more. We need to recognize what things are, and what their inherent utility truly is. We need to think about what we want to accomplish with the work we do, before we consider how. Be careful not to let the lack of capability and the seduction of convenience turn into a barrier to the nascent creativity within.

And it is the same with people. Better to understand who and what they really are before we bounce off the walls trying to shoehorn them into being what we need or wish they would be.

(Typed on a MacBook Pro)



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