Archive for the 'Time' Category

Out of Time

timehasrunout

This is it.

As promised over a year ago, this will be the final post for this blog. The reasons for this are primarily:

  1. I think it has reached a point where I am saying many of the same things over and over, only differently. Not useless, but less than ground breaking.
  2. It is time for ME to move on, which has been one of the underlying themes as well.

I figured the last day of the year would be a good time to make the change, but one thing led to another, and I couldn’t get it done. So here we are. It is not easy. I like doing this, but, in addition to the reasons above, I don’t really have time for it anymore.

My plan a year ago was to work through all of the posts I had in a draft state to get them online before signing off. I failed. Just like what happens in life, time caught up and I didn’t get everything done I wanted to do. There are dozens still sitting incomplete. I have decided to let them go. I’m not a big fan of symbolic actions because I think they ultimately don’t work. We know we’re doing it symbolically, which belies our sincerity and speaks as much to a need for drama. Show business can be powerful, but the power is often fleeting. All of that is true in this case as well. So…I’m not suggesting I will not write again. Only that it’s time for this blog to rest in peace.

On the occasion that I go back and read previous posts I am at once astounded and proud of how good and insightful some of them are, and also disappointed at how incomplete or lacking in any innovative thinking others are. To the astute reader, I have revealed a lot here, about myself, and human nature in general.

It was never for anyone but me. I never promoted it or cared how many people looked on. It’s simply my art, and started as a way to get some basic thoughts down. Something about writing things down codifies them, forcing the writer to think rationally in complete sentences and to ground statements and feelings. A worthy exercise, and one I think I got better at over the seven years of posts.

It evolved, as I knew it would, though I found myself surprised at how it evolved. I don’t know how obvious it is, but there was actually a turning point in the nature and presentation of the subject matter. It would be interesting to bring someone in to read through it all to see if that stands out. It’s blatantly obvious to me when I read many of the posts before and after that time. It happened over a number of months, but began here (not coincidentally, that post is the most linked to throughout the rest of the blog, barely beating this one.), and began to get momentum here. Life changes, sometimes in ways that there is no undo button for.

As a sort of farewell gift, I offer up my top 50 favorite posts (not already linked elsewhere in this one), which was an agonizing process that probably wasn’t worth the time it took, especially since the list would likely be different if I did it again next week. I hope that for those who come along later, this might get you started with what’s behind the scenes here. In chronological order…

  1. Common Sense
  2. If the Voltage Gets High Enough…
  3. Boundaries
  4. Start by Doing a Good Job
  5. Religion and Politics
  6. Hierarchy of Money
  7. Science Has a PR Problem Too
  8. Policies
  9. Brass Tacks
  10. Battle of the Unknown
  11. Compromise
  12. Love Will Find a Way
  13. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
  14. The Curse of Perseverance
  15. Love and Trust
  16. I See Dead People
  17. Serendipity
  18. Dedication
  19. The Drain of Friction
  20. The Value of Images
  21. What Life Really Is
  22. Ideal World
  23. The Chosen Ones
  24. Forgive
  25. A Metaphor for Life
  26. The Result of Answers
  27. Creativity
  28. In the Flesh
  29. Move Past Go
  30. The Pretty Girl Gets Kissed
  31. A Beautiful Story
  32. Hope is Not a Strategy
  33. Morality
  34. Caged
  35. Free Will is Fake
  36. Burning Ships
  37. Blind Spot
  38. Delusions
  39. Why Love Wins
  40. Strength
  41. One Step
  42. Trust, the Hidden Part
  43. Probability: Facts, Statistics, and Reality
  44. Changes
  45. Pride and Face
  46. Comfort
  47. Atheism: Instrumental versus intrinsic
  48. Reasons or Excuses
  49. New Information
  50. The Opposite of Success
  51. Bonus: the whole Happiness series

 

And here are a few random facts.

  • The most visitors to the blog in one day was on 1/6/2015, after this post.
  • 2015 was the busiest year for visitors, with 2011 close behind.
  • 2015 also has the most published posts, at 81.
  • Nearly 2,000 unique people visited the blog throughout 2015.
  • After the United States, Germany had the most visitors.
  • The most viewed page, by far, was the home page.
  • The most looked at post was this one, followed by this. It appears traffic to the site was more influenced by my use of a couple of popular terms people search for than the actual content of the blog. Humbling, though not surprising.
  • The longest time gap between when an entry was started and when it was actually completed and posted was 56 months.
  • There are almost 1,000 comments posted across the 493 blog entries.
  • There are over 22,000 comments not posted, as they marked as spam. Unfortunately some of those are/were legitimate comments. I never got to sorting them all out. Sorry about that.
  • There were 520 images posted over the course of the blog. The images are very important, and often contained additional information/meaning.

To quote a friend, “It’s time.” I could drone on about all that I’m thinking as the final letters get typed, and the unused material gets trashed, but it’s a frivolous delay of what I have decided.

It’s a lot like life. Time runs out while we still have things on our to do list.

I do have another potential endeavor in the works. If anything gets going on that I may return here to leave a trail of bread crumbs to it.

And with that, I bid you adieu.

All the best,

David Stewart

 

 

 

 

Infinite Game

infiniteseries

Short term thinking sometimes causes us to betray ourselves in the long run. It could be from making a bad, if convenient or safe decision. Often it’s from making no decision. How long is the long run? It’s hard to know, and seems to depend a lot on context. Some people tend to measure the world in flashes, and they’re happy to do something they call generous for a few seconds, as long as they get a payback before a few minutes up. More common and more celebrated are people who play a longer game. They build an asset, earn trust, give before getting, and then, after paying their dues, win.

There’s something else available, though, something called an infinite game.

In finite games (short and long) there are players, there are rules and there are winners. The game is based on an outcome and is designed to end. In the infinite game something completely different is going on. The point is to keep playing, not to win. In the infinite game, the journey is all there is. And so, players in an infinite game never stop giving so they can take. Players in this game throw a slower pitch so the batter can hit it, because a no-hitter shutout has no real upside.

A good mom, of course, always plays the infinite game. But it’s possible to build an organization or even a society that does this as well. Build hospitals and schools instead of forts and barricades…

You probably know people who play this game. You may well have been touched by them, inspired by them and taught by them. The wrong question to ask is, “but how do they win?” The right way to understand it is, “is it worth playing?”

What’s under the Peak

buildingsmountainpeakI often hear young people (we’ll use the Millennial generalization for convenience) talking about and doing things to “raise awareness” on certain issues.

Raising awareness…

It makes total sense to them. They have good intentions, and want to see the world be a better place. They think the way to do that is to raise awareness about issues they see. There is a tendency to give a little to a large number of things because they confuse symbolic gestures with real commitment.

They see the peak. What they fail to notice is that it comes with a mountain.

They know something is missing in their lives, but living them out on social media distracts them enough to muddle through.

Raise awareness, the Millennial catch-all, so others can engage in the hard, grinding work to forge the change. Little real sacrifice. Little guts, and ultimately fleeting glory. They’re robbed of the serotonin or oxytocin producing parts, which leads to more loneliness and isolation. People need to do the hard work together. That’s how we’re wired.

Changes

Continued from yesterday’s Fit or Adapt.

changes

Things change. The world, and our view of it. Some of us are more accepting of change than others, though it depends on the type of change as well as how much we’ve become invested in the status quo.

Once we are adults, the underlying core of who we are is pretty well fixed. It mostly forms in our early years, and then elements are added to it as we learn and grow through adulthood. I’m referring to the core of who we are, not so much our behaviors and ways we interact with the world. Those are informed by our core, but there are layers of conscious and subconscious actions, thoughts, beliefs, and memories in between.

But we can still change in ways that matter. It’s usually pretty slow. Triggered by our experiences and desires, or sometimes through shattering realizations. We usually don’t control it. It just happens to us, though one can do it consciously with great discipline.

Though we aren’t going to make major changes to who we fundamentally are, we sometimes have to adapt to differing circumstances. True adaptation requires often difficult transitions in how we perceive ourselves, which informs how we interact. This type of big change does occur with people sometimes, though it’s pretty rare once we’re adults.

While you may change in ways that make you fit into a situation better, you may at once be changing in ways that cause you to not fit as well into another. This may be by design, and could be a good thing. But it can also be disruptive, especially when you aren’t aware of it.

You change jobs, and move to a different city. After a time, the old place and people may not resonate with you nearly as much. You changed. They didn’t. Everyone is still fundamentally the same at the core, but the layers of things in between that were making it work before have now changed in your case (not theirs). You move on. They move on.

You get married, and have kids. The old relationships and sensibilities no longer work or make sense for you. You changed. Some change more than others through this transition. The ones who don’t get all the way there often struggle with the responsibility of a family.

You experienced things growing up (we all do) that caused you to build layers of boundaries and idiosyncrasies in how you process reality. You are programmed, and some of that programming is a function of you protecting yourself from negative events, feelings, and perceptions earlier in life.

These complicated layers are built on top of the core of who you are, but over time become indistinguishable from it. Until…sometimes…

It unravels. We get a new job, and a new place, but hate it. We long for the old relationships. The marriage changes. The kids grow up, and it’s discovered that a life devoted to that has now left a void. Or, we may find, through a series of events, that we added layers to ourselves that aren’t true to who we are (or want to be) at the core. Once we begin to grapple with all of that and see it more clearly, we begin to change in meaningful ways, even fundamental ones. I maintain that we are still fundamentally the same, but when enough of the extra junk gets stripped away or modified, it’s as if we have fundamentally changed.

I make no qualitative assessment of whether this is good or bad, a step forward or backwards. It simply is a thing that can happen, and may be a double-edged sword.

Suppose a person gets a job in which she is challenged in new ways that never so much as existed for her before, and is able to rise to those challenges, and feels a deep satisfaction relating to it. Self-esteem is at a new high. She wants more. Most of us have reached some new plateaus like this in life. They can bring about a lot of changes. It’s just that for most of us they usually happen when we’re relatively young, and still forming what our lives will be about. Anyway, she soon finds herself running with a different group of people, and is stimulated in ways unimaginable before. She begins to change in ways that go deep. The fundamental kind. Soon, the old life doesn’t satisfy the way it once did. It begins to seem flat and uninspiring. Well, that old life has a spouse and a family. What of them? They didn’t change, nor do anything wrong. Those relationships are now different, and there is probably nothing anyone can do about it.

Or suppose a person realizes through a series of emotionally trying events that his way of interacting with the world had been contrived, based on stuff built up from earlier events. Suddenly he begins to break down walls that were constructed as protection before. More vulnerable now, but also more sensitive to his surroundings. More affected by them. Ways of interacting that were comfortable before now seem hollow and devoid of meaning. Instead he begins to prefer, even needs, a different, perhaps more intimate way of interacting. The old people didn’t change. He did. But that doesn’t make his needs any less valid.

These types of big changes can be great (or not), but they can mess with the lives we have constructed for ourselves in the process. Some may be more or less profound than others, and thus the stress they can introduce varies, which also depends on how others react to it.

These changes aren’t easily avoided (assuming we’d even want to or think it a good idea) because we often don’t see them until we are in a new place looking back. By then it’s too late. We have a new reality now. We are different. Changed. Past tense. It has already happened. The stuff we actually observe as the changing is really just the fallout.

In many situations, especially where close friends, coworkers, family or spouses are involved, one will experience pressure not to change. They are there because they like (the old) you and are comfortable with the way things were. You feel the pressure to stay in it. In some cases these changes force us to grapple with our morality, the stuff we’ve been programmed with that seems unchangeably “right” or “wrong.” Others have put this on us in part so that we don’t approach life too frivolously, but as your awareness increases, it can become a cage. What we’ve previously concocted for ourselves starts to break down as we struggle with thoughts that we’re wrong, bad, evil, immoral, messed up, insane. It is possible we could be any of those things, so a good hard look is in order, but it’s also quite likely we have simply changed and nothing is really wrong, even though it may feel as such. Hopefully things that were barriers have been removed or modified. Change takes different forms, but in any of those it’s not at all easy, or sometimes even feasible to control. It happened, and now you have a new reality you have to work within. It also comes with a new space of possibilities.

What do you do?

  1. Sometimes we can undo it all, if we work hard enough. But usually what we’re really doing is adding another modifying layer on top of it. Life is additive. In time that layer can become pretty real to us, especially when we aren’t aware that’s what we’ve done, but we’re vulnerable to things coming along and stripping that contrived reality away.
  2. I say it’s usually best to take your lumps and move on from the old and into the new. It sucks sometimes. But it’s probably for the best in the long run. This is usually referred to as growth when looked at later.
  3. The option often chosen is to stick it out. Make it work. That’s the caged way. It can be pretty miserable sometimes, or not that noticeable. Think of the people you see who seem complacent in their lives. Some are great at compensating and seem really bubbly on the surface, but when you get closer the angst becomes palpable. Sometimes it can be manageable. It depends on your temperament and how much you are able to push yourself down in favor of avoiding the stress and consequences of the underlying changes. The biggest problem with this is it robs you of happiness. On some level you know it, but many of us are pretty good at glossing over it on the surface. Other things start to affect you in unpredictable ways. The tension may mount, which causes issues, or you may eventually become resigned to it, and even content, but there will always be some unrest in there. Or…it may bubble up enough periodically that you eventually realize you need to opt for #2, which could mean that you just wasted years of your life (and maybe that of others) or possibly passed opportunities by that no longer exist.

Each of these “solutions” kind of sucks in its own way, but #2 has the highest probability of getting you to the other end of the tunnel. The other two may look like tunnels, but aren’t. They are caves with a light in them instead. You can probably survive in there, but you’re never going to see the actual sun.

Change of this type happens to all of us at times in our lives. Usually we’re young enough that we don’t fear following through or just roll with the punches. But when we’re older, more set in our lives, and believe we have more to lose…

changes2flower

 

Intervals of Time

impulseresponse

I wrote two articles yesterday (to be published soon) that included discussion of small intervals of time – milliseconds. Small intervals? To certain quantum functions the passage of milliseconds can be glacial. Today I am thinking about my friend Rob, who died a year ago. That makes me think about other endings, yet nothing really ends.

A year. Another interval of time. What happens in a year? Sometimes profound changesnewshoes are realized. Usually not. We cycle and basically stay the same: Another New Years Day (of hope), another Valentines Day (nice for some, not so nice for others), The Super Bowl, March Madness, a summer vacation, checking Facebook, a birthday, a few dozen trips to the grocery, neurons fire, cells divide, a new pair of shoes.

For Rob nothing happened.

Time seems to stretch out in front of and behind us, but that’s just our perception. It’s a perspective we use to give us context, and hope. There will be less tread left on the tires in what we call a year, but you’ll still expect them to work when you pull out of your drive as the sun does its thing in our linguistic definition of its interval of time.

Tires and shoes can be replaced. Many things can. Individual people can’t, but can the feelings we associate with them be replaced? Love is pretty good at finding a way – a recipient. We usually do replace people in the focus of our lives. We have a linguistic distinction for that, too. We call it “moving on.” And we sometimes say time heals all wounds.

Comforting perhaps.

Until you realize you don’t know anything and we really just made it up. We did. Time doesn’t pass linearly. It doesn’t really “pass” at all (look it up). It’s just a quantification we put to what’s for us a mesh of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and memories. There is no real moving on, as hopeful as that might sound. We make all of it up. All of it. The evidence is right in front of you. Your real experiences often don’t quite feel like they truly match the convenient, bottled up things you were told. The more aware of this you become the more unsettling it is, therefore we have a lot of incentive not to be aware. We brush the beginnings of that awareness aside, in favor of the comfort.

Everything is in an unquantifiable moment. Until there are no more.

 

Strength

BrokenedCup

In physics we talk about the Strong Force, which is one of four fundamental forces or interactions of nature. It is responsible for holding atomic nuclei together. Without it, there would be no matter. Nothing we know would exist.

The previous post referenced another kind of strong force: the one produced by the emotion of love. While it’s always strong and powerful, it is not to say that all love is the same. There are nuance differences in the kind of love and the strength to which it is felt. And its power follows accordingly.

Life is full of challenges, the vast majority of which can be handled, especially with help from the power of love. As noted before, love wins over the other emotions, but it is still relative, so that doesn’t mean it can win over everything all the time.

There are three basic classes of strength:

  • Fragile – things that crack and break under change or stress
  • Robust – things can tolerate certain amounts of change or stress
  • Antifragile – things that strengthen & improve in response to change and stress

We know glass is fragile from having experienced what happens to it under shock, just like we know steel is robust. It’s harder to tell with other things, like love, or the foundation of any relationship. Just how strong is it, or how strong is a particular love?

How can you tell if something is fragile, robust, or antifragile? Putting it under stress is a start, but the big and unavoidable factor is time. Time eats away at anything weak, eventually causing it to fade away. Power is diminished or lost, and it fails at what it was doing. If it was an integral part of something else…

Ripping the Band-Aid Off

child restraint 2

Though speeds are higher than ever, drivers are hardly ever killed in race cars anymore. Their construction has undergone sweeping changes in the past 15 years, much of which has been to make them safer.

F = ma

Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s one of the simplest formulas learned in physics. When 3500 pounds of metal slams into a concrete wall at 220 m.p.h. the violence tells us there is plenty of mass and (de) acceleration. The human body in the car, while having far less mass, still undergoes acceleration that’s often fatal.

So most of the technological changes have revolved around slowing down the crash. We can’t count on the driver being able to slow the car down, but we can use the car to change the deceleration curve for the human. Make the deceleration take longer and the force is more manageable. This, of course, is why modern cars crumple and disintegrate upon impact. They spread the force out over area and time. Air bags further slow the human’s deceleration. Saves lives.

Some will say that when the bad comes it’s better for it to be sudden, like ripping off a band-aid. Take the sudden pain and it’s over with sooner. This rings true for things like band-aid removal, tooth pulling (sometimes), pimple popping, taking bad tasting medicine, and a variety of other things.

But have you ever watched a nurse remove the bandages from a burn victim? That’s not a ‘rip it off’ scenario. How about when a close relative dies? Most people, while not wanting the other person to suffer, seem to appreciate having time to prepare themselves for it. In certain circumstances some of the initial stages of grief can be processed before the boom lowers.

There’s so much wisdom around us telling us to slow down in our lives. To take things in and live in the moment. That often applies to delivering the bad as well. Ripping the band-aid off is better for the deliverer, but not necessarily the recipient. Delivering the news is a burden. And since the deliverer has the power of choosing… We’re all inherently a little selfish, and pretty effective at rationalizing what we want, so unless we’re able to stop and think through it we can sometimes default to sudden, when gradual and gentle would work better. It’s selfish, but understandable.

When there is bad news, ask yourself whether you’d rather find out your mom is dead, or that your mom will be dead in a month. There’s no good way to do it, but where possible time will provide a means for things to sink in, which reduces the force of the blow.

Do We Have to Lie in that Bed?

CaveiPadIt would be nice if we could figure out how to use our human ability to reason to overcome the emotional characteristics of our species that are evolved adaptations for a lifestyle of consuming and reproducing.

Our species started in an environment much different than the one we currently inhabit. The survival of any individual proto-human was something that wasn’t certain on a day-to-day basis; food was scarce, predators were many, writing and language weren’t invented yet (so the formation of social groups had to be done by much cruder methods), and unchecked growth wasn’t nearly the problem it is today.

Because of our ability to dramatically shape the environment in which we live — on a timescale much shorter than evolution can respond to, no less —  the environment that shaped us is no longer the environment in which we live. On a daily basis, we’re incredibly safe, there’s plentiful food for (almost) everyone, we have the means to communicate abstractly to form social groups, and the space and resources available to us will no longer support unchecked, exponential growth. The adaptations that we carry that made us fit to consume and reproduce then no longer serve us now. 

However, we still have the instincts that made our ancestors fit for their environment. Fear, anxiety, and the fight-or-flight response still haunt us in situations where they’re hardly appropriate (giving an important business presentation is hardly as dramatic of an issue as potentially getting mauled by a predator that’s just ten feet away). Over-eating at individual meals still happens, despite the fact that food is generally plentiful enough that we don’t need to stock up between rare opportunities. We still obsess over social acceptance, despite the fact that we’re nowhere near as reliant on our immediate social groups for survival as we were in the past.

All of these ill-suited behaviors cause a tremendous amount of unneccessary suffering. Consuming and reproducing are no longer particularly appropriate behaviors, yet the sophisticated industrial machine knows just how to tap into our evolutionary insecurities (via advertising) to be able to convince us to worry about both.

Having a reliable way to reason ourselves off of the evolutionary path of least resistance would improve our collective lives immensely — we could combat the unjustified anxiety many experience daily, we could lead fulfilling lives without succumbing  to the immediate whims of society, we could avoid the problems associated with over-consumption and over-reproduction — the list goes on and on.

Crumbs

Ghosts

The leftover scraps that aren’t used. Not always actively discarded, just not cared for or even noticed in many cases. Think of projects started, but not finished. Photos taken, but not looked at more than (maybe) once. Ideas (poems, songs, papers, letters, thoughts) written down, but not revisited. Slowly turning to dust in an attic or on a shelf somewhere. Pieces of our history and makeup casually brushed aside in favor of the urgent and riveting moments of now. Like film frames on the cutting room floor these annals of our lives succumb to entropy and become trivia, or are completely forgotten. What story would they tell about us?

And what of the people along the way? Some, perhaps important at one time, now relegated to mere acquaintances, or lost to time altogether. Or truly gone. Even the unimportant ones had a story. We could have connected.

And we must know that even though we’re each our own little sphere of awareness in the world, we hold a place of unimportance for others, with the relatively few notable exceptions. Of course, many times it is unnoticed because the process/status is mutual. But sometimes we do see it. There’s that moment where we begin to realize that we’re the scraps of someone else’s life. Our existence may be acknowledged, and maybe we even get a smattering of quality time, but it becomes obvious we don’t really have a place. Even though we may want to, it is not our choice to make. We are discarded. Not in a mean or callous way. Just a thoughtless one. Just like crumbs, we disappear under other footsteps into the pile of the carpet of life and will not be noticed. Quite a hollow feeling when we care enough to recognize it.

So many stories unexplored, like ghosts passing through one another without feeling. We’re too selfish or afraid. What could our lives be if those connections had been made or maintained?

Nurture.

Risk of Patience

RiskPatience

How risk averse are you? It’s in our DNA, actually. While we each are more or less prone to take risks in certain domains relative to others, there is a generally higher appreciation for adventure in some overall. Sometimes we look on from the sidelines, wishing we could muster that, while other times we appreciate the comfort of relative safety. Time is the element that changes us.

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat behind someone at a busy intersection watching their decision making from my perspective. Plenty of gaps in traffic sufficient enough to merge or get across go by, but they sit…and wait…for what seems like the perfect opportunity. Sometimes they get it, and the decision is easy. Other times their patience eventually wears down and the willingness to risk more or be more aggressive rises. I’ve seen people make dangerous moves when a moment before a much easier one was available.

There are few things in life with so little risk that they are no-brainers, and yet we often wait…as if that perfect moment (or the answer) will reveal itself to us. At intersections at least, our willingness to take risk is tied to a combination of our patience and mood. Watching how novices manage stocks or play at the casino is another interesting exercise.

In many situations the actual risk is calculable. It may be changing, but often those changes aren’t so complex that it can’t be approximately worked out in real-time (like the intersection). As time passes without (the desired) results we become willing to risk more. As our situation improves we become more patient. Even when the waiting had nothing to do with the improvement we may simply asses that there is more to lose. The key is in how we weigh the trajectory. If our situation worsens, do we believe it will continue to get worse at the same rate? As the traffic builds at that intersection we know it will subside again soon (barring some other mitigating factor such as a shift ending at a nearby factory or something), but once our willingness to wait is exhausted, aggressiveness takes over.

Here’s another thought. Rationalization. When we’re young we’re generally more willing to take risks. Overall most of those risks work out well enough, even if not exactly how we envisioned them. Gradually we stop taking them, and pretty much stand pat. We have too much at stake now to risk it. We concede to time and the idea of “good enough.” But how much more risky is it really to tackle something with all of the wisdom you can bring to it at an older age than it was when you were a naïve kid? We look too much at what there is to lose, and the fear gets us. It’s like turning around at that intersection and going back home to watch TV.

Time erodes our position. Whatever it is you want to do or become, there is now less time to do, or to enjoy the fruits of it, than a moment ago. The risk in doing it may have increased, but waiting more also increases the stakes. Can we learn to see the truth of this such that we forgo the idea of the ideal moment and just get on with it?


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