Pay less attention?

Some advice, via Daily Stoic, on how to better manage your mood that feels decidedly counter-intuitive.

How to keep your cool: an interview with James Romm
My own favorite is summed up in the quote: “Do you want to be less angry? Be less aware.” Anger often starts from noticing too many subtleties of the way others interact with us. In many cases, we’d do better not to notice the slights and microaggressions that can drive us nuts if we let them. One can will oneself to ignore such things — a practice many long-married couples will instantly recognize!

Twenty years of bullet time

John Wick’s son Neo turns 20 this year. Kind of.

The Matrix at 20: how the sci-fi gamechanger remains influential
Yet objects tend to shift during flight, and in the year 2019, The Matrix has endured as both touchstone and Rorschach blot, a way for people of vastly different ideologies to make sense of the world around them. The effects are still a marvel, but the film’s ideas have taken root in a destabilized culture where conspiracy theories flourish and individuals are defining for themselves what is and isn’t real, and what constitutes freedom in a heavily monitored, highly synthetic technological space. Neo may “follow the white rabbit” into a Wonderland of personal discovery, but we’re citizens of Wonderland now, having made a second home for ourselves where the laws of gravity don’t apply.

[…]

Yet the idea of the world as changeable seems far closer to what the film’s creators, the Wachowskis, had in mind. In the time between then and now, the Wachowskis have both gender transitioned and The Matrix seems at least a subconscious reference to the evolution to come. Much has been written about the film as trans allegory, and the reading bears out in the possibility for humans to define themselves however they like, outside the fixed identities enforced by the machines. Whenever Agent Smith snarls “Mr Anderson”, it feels like a menacing taunt, his refusal to allow Neo to untether himself from the matrix and discover who he actually is. That goes beyond red-pilling, which is about the authoritarian business of telling someone how things really are, and grants them the latitude to figure it out on their own.

The trans narrative escaped me then, and escapes me still. It’s certainly a philosophical film, though.

15 facts about The Matrix on its 20th anniversary
7. The actors were asked to brush up on their knowledge of philosophy before production began.

The Wachowskis had all the lead actors read Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, and Introducing Evolutionary Psychology by Dylan Evans and Oscar Zarate in order to better understand the world of the movie. In the film, Neo actually hides his illegal computer files in a copy of Baudrillard’s book.

Not everyone’s a fan, however.

The Matrix’s male power fantasy has dated badly
It’s this attitude which now seems so antiquated – so glaringly late-20th Century. Anderson isn’t kept awake at night by war or climate change or the rise of fascism. He isn’t campaigning for equal rights – and he certainly isn’t doing any Kung-fu practice. He’s a white-collar worker whose most pressing problem is a slight dissatisfaction with ordinary office life. He is, fundamentally, a less witty brother of Chandler Bing from Friends. And they have plenty of other brothers. One is the unnamed narrator (Edward Norton) of Fight Club. The other is Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), a disgruntled software programmer in Mike Judge’s cult comedy, Office Space. Both of those films came out in 1999, as The Matrix did. And as different as the three of them may appear, they all share a theme whose prevalence in 1990s pop culture culminated with the debut of the BBC2 sitcom The Office, in July 2001. The theme is that being a handsome, middle-class, thirtysomething professional is ultimately not very fulfilling. The Matrix may allude to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, to Jean Baudrillard and Jesus, but its central thesis is right there on the Office Space poster: “Work Sucks”.

Perhaps those confusing sequels were to blame for souring it a little.

The ending of The Matrix trilogy finally explained
One major theme that came to the fore as the series reached its conclusion had to do with the similarities between humans and machines. In the original, they couldn’t seem more different, but by Revolutions, programs in the Matrix are portrayed as being almost more human than our heroes, loving and happy individuals, as worthy of existence as any person. Further, characters from the first film who were firmly human or machine are portrayed in the sequels as having a little bit of both.

[…]

The humanizing of the Machines and the complimentary mechanization of Neo made for a storytelling turn that audiences weren’t really ready for. People who saw The Matrix couldn’t be faulted for expecting an ending that saw Neo winning by doing his Superman thing and eradicating humanity’s robot overlords. Instead, Neo triumphed by becoming a bridge between man and machine, sacrificing his own life for the sake of securing the future.

Bees, breathing and Buddhism

A painful lesson in Zen and the art of honeybee reverence
After the stings, I had a new kind of puzzle to solve. What were the bees trying to tell me with this intense pain? As I blew up, my thoughts came: I should know to pay closer attention and not brazenly steal from creatures I am trying to advocate for and protect. I shouldn’t take them for granted. Relationships with insects aren’t easy. And, as a friend reminded me, love hurts sometimes.

Breathtaking
This is conscious breathing’s more beguiling side: its capacity to interact with emotion, the psyche, perhaps even the spirit. A century of philosophical globalisation has seen a broadly Eastern conception of conscious breathing move from the esoteric to the mainstream. Today, certain techniques are so mainstream that your doctor is just as likely to recommend them as your hippie sibling. Hillary Clinton has said that, along with Chardonnay, yogic breathwork helped her get over losing the 2016 US election to Donald Trump.

How Buddhism resolves the paradox of self-deception
It might strike the modern reader as patently wrongheaded to suggest that any religious tradition contains the seeds of a solution more satisfying than secular proposals. For, understandably, many see religious belief as coterminous with wishful thinking and incompatible with reason. However, the Buddhist response sketched here depends exclusively on arguments about human nature that are equally open to dispute and defence. There is no recourse to mystical or non-empirical claims.

Looking East for answers

I don’t think we modern Westerners appreciate how easy it is for us to dip into Eastern philosophy. It’s all just a mouse-click away (and maybe feels a little superficial because of that?). It wasn’t always like that, of course.

How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis — David Hume, the Buddha, and a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment
But here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.

In fact, if you let yourself think this way, your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.

How did Hume come up with these ideas, so profoundly at odds with the Western philosophy and religion of his day? What turned the neurotic Presbyterian teenager into the great founder of the European Enlightenment?

And here the detective story begins. It’s a great read, and crazy to think that in the early 1700s, when Hume was building up his body of work, the number of Europeans who had studied Buddhism could literally be counted on one hand.

Now, of course, Buddhist-inspired meditation and mindfulness techniques are big business, with apps like Headspace and Insight Timer on millions of phones. But are they really getting us any further forward?

Meditation in the time of disruption
A 2016 blog post by Puddicombe on the Headspace site entitled “How to meditate in ten minutes” begins, “If you’ve decided to give meditation a shot, congratulations! You’ve also decided to improve your sleep, lower your blood pressure, increase your marital harmony and reduce your stress.” Puddicombe’s 10-minutes-a-day claim speaks to the hilariously modern expectation that self-transformation be fast, friendly, and neat. It also fits with the company’s broader focus on metrics and results. As with mindfulness meditation generally, the science surrounding Headspace serves the dual purpose of making meditation seem worth one’s time and dispelling the worry that one is being indoctrinated. In other words, the question is less about faith, which is unseen, and science, which—as those with faith in science believe—sees all.

Or, as the company’s chief science officer, Megan Jones Bell, puts it, the research is there “for people who need science as a belief point.” Jones Bell joined the company in March 2017. For her, meditation is in part a subset of mental health, and the people who seek out Headspace are looking for ways to nurse internal wounds. “Their motivation to change something or learn something new is coming from a place of ‘I’m not OK, and I need help,’” she says.

The distinction is important: Whereas some come to meditation as a way of reckoning with the incredible gifts existence has already given them, others come because they want to see what else is in the bag. This sort of rhetoric only gets ramped up in reference to meditation as a performance booster. For example, the promise that meditation will make you more effective at work seems to have a lot more salience and motivational charge than the promise that meditation will just make work feel a little less important overall.

They’re not the only ones wanting a quick fix. Katie Bloom from the Outline enrols on a 10-week introductory ‘happiness’ course from the School of Practical Philosophy.

Enlightenment can be yours for just $10
The fine print reads: “Jobs come and go. Physical beauty fades, markets rise and fall. Even close relationships can end. But the benefits of philosophy last a lifetime.” These benefits — HAPPINESS included — can be gained, according to the ad, by attending the 10-week introductory course at a place called the School of Practical Philosophy.

The clichéd, Hallmark-y, feelgood pop-philosophy isn’t to everyone’s tastes, though.

The classes had more in common with my Catholic K-12 education than with the philosophy courses I took in college. It’s difficult to characterize what we learned, because none of it really cohered. Each week had a theme (“The Light of Reason,” “Beauty,” etc.), and consisted of cherry-picked ideas from eastern and western philosophies and religions, devoid of context and presented as fact. We had souls, we were told; the proof was that our bodies and thoughts and feelings changed, but something inside of us remained constant. There was beauty in everything, we learned one week, a banal-seeming claim that set off an agonizing half-hour argument about whether there was beauty in the Holocaust.

But maybe getting to the bottom of Truth and being one with the fundamental nature of knowledge and existence isn’t what it’s all about, as Katie muses at the end of the course.

Here’s what else I learned. Two Watches looked forward to class all week. His divorce had been awful, his kids lived with their mom, and he was lonely. (“Even close relationships can end,” goes one of the SPP’s subway ads.) He worked in maintenance at Yankee Stadium. He hadn’t gone to college, and he didn’t belong to a church — his life was not teeming with opportunities to talk about the nature of wisdom. The lessons were fun, but the real appeal was community.

The students who stuck around until the final week reminded me of the many lonely people I had met while working in the service industry, people who often tried to turn a short, professional interaction into something lengthy and intimate. It was possible my classmates were not compelled by the notion that “three distinct energies governed the universe.” Maybe they just liked sitting in a room of people who would listen to them. The week before, an elderly widow had confessed in halting speech that it was hard to be kind to her husband towards the end of his life, because his illness changed his personality, made him mean. I watched as the woman sitting next to her, a stranger, squeezed her hand.

Rather than looking for answers, perhaps we’re just looking for people to ask the questions with.

Thoughtfully animated

I really like the delicacy of these live-action animations (that’s not the right term) from Catherine Prowse. The frailty of the models and the directness of the movements acting on them work well to illustrate the vulnerability of our inner lives, trying to get through each day.

Asleep on the Train: a puppeteered music video explores the wishful daydreams embedded in a daily commute
The stop motion short film follows a businessman as his daily commute gets wildly off-track, leaving the audience to guess if his adventure was real or only acted out in a wishful dream. A rich blue and orange color scheme is used in the design of both the train and the surrounding landscape, which stylistically connects the protagonist’s commute to the scenery he explores during his nostalgic escape.

Rod puppets in intricate felt sets profess The Need to Be Alone for Alain de Botton
Not long out of Kingston’s Illustration and Animation course, Tom Fisher and Catherine Prowse have directed a charming and impressively detailed short film for The School of Life, made entirely from hand-stitched felt. Featuring a cast of rod puppets shot in a live action format, The Need to Be Alone stars a red-spectacled, introverted protagonist called Alan – a tribute to its writer and narrator Alain de Botton. Throughout the film, Alan navigates a series of potentially awkward social scenarios as Alain professes the importance of having time alone to process these interactions.

Pages from the Book of Life

Have you read anything of the Book of Life yet? You should, it’s the nearest we humans get to a user guide. Here’s a little of what was in the newsletter this week.

How to be comfortable on your own in public
Eating alone in public can be one of the great hurdles of psychological life. It can be an exceptional trial because it forces us to wrestle with a set of thoughts that, for most of our lives, we successfully push to the back of consciousness: that we are in essence an unacceptable being, tainted from birth, an object of quiet ridicule or open mockery.

How to stop worrying whether or not they like you
One of the most acute questions we ask ourselves in relation to new friends and acquaintances is whether or not they like us. The question feels so significant because, depending on how we answer it in our minds, we will either take steps to deepen the friendship or, as is often the case, immediately make moves to withdraw from it so as to spare ourselves humiliation and embarrassment.

What to do at parties if you hate small talk
A lot of discomfort about going to social engagements is rooted in what can sound like a rather high-minded concern: a hatred of small talk. We can develop a dread of parties because we know how likely we are to end up wedged into conversations about the weather, parking, traffic or the way we plan to spend the forthcoming holidays – when there would be so many deeper and more dignified topics to address.

It’s from the School of Life, an organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence by applying psychology, philosophy, and culture to everyday life.

It was founded by the philosopher Alain de Botton. I’ve been a fan of his for a while now, after having read books like The Consolations of Philosophy (which became Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness), How Proust Can Change Your Life (which he discusses here), and Status Anxiety (which was made into a documentary).

I’ve finally got round to reading his Art as Therapy book, after having linked to that before on here, some years back.

Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy

Not to be confused with art therapy, of course. Here’s a piece about that, if you’re interested.

Art therapy gives patients a voice when there are no words
Always in any kind of therapy I think we are looking for a an act of communication, the smallest act of connection. There is a wonderful book by Martina Thomson, an art therapist, called On Art and Therapy: An Exploration and she talks about art therapy being like ‘feeding birds’ you want to be very quiet and allow the client to feel able to come towards you in some way. It is a delicate thing. You are not firing questions and needing answers. You are being together. Therapy is often seen as something for psychologically-minded people, or those of a certain class. For those with complex trauma for example, there might not be words to express the depth of what they have been through. Art can give them a voice.

Happy Stoic Week!

I’m glad I happened across this article in time.

The secret to happiness is simple: live like a Stoic for a week
We don’t control what happens to us, we can’t control what the people around us say or do, and we can’t even fully control our own bodies, which get damaged and sick and ultimately die without regard for our preferences. The only thing that we really control is how we think about things.

It’s an invitation to learn a little about this ancient philosophy.

Modern Stoicism: Stoic Week 2018
On October 1, 2018, the seventh annual Stoic Week takes place and Modern Stoicism are inviting people in the UK and from around the rest of the world to participate and learn how to live like a Stoic for a week. The idea behind the week is to give people an opportunity to see whether Stoic philosophy can help them live a more fulfilling life today.

I’ve mentioned Stoicism here before: I was getting wound up by my damned phone and displaying some decidedly un-Stoic attitudes towards it, before remembering a book I had just finished and had obviously not taken on board. A re-read is due, I guess.

Some other introductions.

The philosophy of Stoicism – Massimo Pigliucci

And then there’s this one, from the School of Life. A little harder to get, I think.

Why Stoicism Matters

Another great introduction to Stoicism comes from Maria Popova‘s philosophy and literature blog Brain Pickings.

A Stoic’s key to peace of mind: Seneca on the antidote to anxiety
With an eye to the self-defeating and wearying human habit of bracing ourselves for imaginary disaster, Seneca counsels his young friend: “What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come. Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.”

That blog is such a rabbit warren, I could get lost down there all day.

An antidote to the Age of Anxiety: Alan Watts on happiness and how to live with presence
Wisdom on overcoming the greatest human frustration from the pioneer of Eastern philosophy in the West.

How Not To Worry: Timeless 1934 Advice on Controlling Anxiety and Mastering Life
“We must gain victory, not by assaulting the walls, but by accepting them.”

100 Days of Overthinking: An Illustrated Diary of Mental Meanderings
A visual serenade to presence and a lamentation of how we continually eject ourselves from it.

Peanuts and the quiet pain of childhood: how Charles Schulz made an art of difficult emotions
“Readers recognized themselves in “poor moon-faced, unloved, misunderstood” Charlie Brown — in his dignity in the face of whole seasons of doomed baseball games, his endurance and stoicism in the face of insults. He … reminded people, as no other cartoon character had, of what it was to be vulnerable, to be small and alone in the universe, to be human — both little and big at the same time.”

happy-stoic-week-2

Contented

Maria Popova, the driving force behind Brain Pickings, shares her thoughts on how we relate to ideas, culture and philosophy.

Maria Popova on evergreen ideas and rethinking the meaning of content
I loathe the term “content” as applied to cultural material — it was foisted upon us by a commercially driven media industry that treats human beings as mindless eyeballs counted in statistics like views and likes, as currency to be traded against advertising revenue. Somehow people have been sold on the idea that the relationship between ads and “content” is a symbiotic one, but it is a parasitic one.

We are flooded with mediocre “content” produced for the sole purpose of transmits the ads — this type of “content,” which is now predominant online, is the reason for the epidemic of clickbait, the carrier for the highly contagious impoverishment of thought and feeling we are undergoing as a civilization.

[…]

Brain Pickings is the record of my looking, my trying to see. What I write about is simply what I think about as I read what I read, what I feel as one human being moving through this world — a kind of elaborate marginalia, my private discourse with the literature and art and ideas with which I engage. It may be the contents of my heart and mind, but it is not “content” in the sense this term has come to take on.

I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time now, she finds such great ideas.

Everything is out to get us

Following on from that post about how technology is deliberately addictive and seemingly out to get us, here’s a wider view of the problems we face and “the price we have to pay for being born in modern times”.

How the modern world makes us mentally ill
The modern world is wonderful in many ways (dentistry is good, cars are reliable, we can so easily keep in touch from Mexico with our grandmother in Scotland) – but it’s also powerfully and tragically geared to causing a high background level of anxiety and widespread low-level depression.

Thankfully, for each area of concern there’s a solution of sorts. For instance:

The media has immense prestige and a huge place in our lives – but routinely directs our attention to things that scare, worry, panic and enrage us, while denying us agency or any chance for effective personal action. It typically attends to the least admirable sides of human nature, without a balancing exposure to normal good intentions, responsibility and decency. At its worst, it edges us towards mob justice.

The cure would be news that concentrated on presenting solutions rather than generating outrage, that was alive to systemic problems rather than gleefully emphasizing scapegoats and emblematic monsters – and that would regularly remind us that the news we most need to focus on comes from our own lives and direct experiences.

It can all seem quite overwhelming, but we need to stay positive.

The forces of psychological distress in our world are – currently – much wealthier and more active than the needed cures. We deserve tender pity for the price we have to pay for being born in modern times. But more hopefully, cures are now open to us individually and collectively if only we recognise, with sufficient clarity, the sources of our true anxieties and sorrows.

The trick is remembering all this when we’re caught up in the moment and wrapped up in our day-to-day troubles. They ought to produce and sell a little cheatsheet we can carry around in our wallets or something.

Our phones and (are?) us

If I’m reading this right, a mobile phone manufacturer is saying less than positive things about their mobile phones. (Not for the first time?)

Phones should be ‘slaves, not masters’, says Samsung UK mobile chief
… Following increasing unease from technology insiders and development experts that young and old alike are becoming increasingly addicted to smartphones, social media and the constant need for messaging, Samsung’s head of mobile in the UK says that something needs to change to stop the constant heads-down relationship we have with our devices.

“Ultimately what we want to try and do is create more of a heads-up lifestyle,” Conor Pierce, Samsung’s vice president of mobile and IT in the UK and Ireland, told the Guardian at the launch of the company’s new Galaxy S9 smartphone.

“Let’s not spend our life looking at these devices. You look around and everyone is doing it, leaning over [their] phones. Let’s make the device be the slave and we’ll be the master – let’s turn the roles completely on their head.”

And the problem of all this distracting technology can be resolved through more technology?

“What I’m really looking forward to is making sure that not only customers have the best mobile experience, but also the best connectivity experience,” said Pierce. “Through our SmartThings open alliance, we’re bringing a ubiquitous, convenient experience in which users can control their privacy, as they need to be able to do, regardless of brand, to make it all a really joyful, easy, trusted experience for real people.”

Combine that with this discussion on the ‘extended mind’ thesis:

Are ‘you’ just inside your skin or is your smartphone part of you?
After all, your smartphone is much more than just a phone. It can tell a more intimate story about you than your best friend. No other piece of hardware in history, not even your brain, contains the quality or quantity of information held on your phone: it ‘knows’ whom you speak to, when you speak to them, what you said, where you have been, your purchases, photos, biometric data, even your notes to yourself – and all this dating back years.

Any second now

I’m so pleased to see this is making great progress. I’ve been a fan of it since first reading about it in Wired all those years ago, and have been spurred on to re-read the book again.

The Long Now Foundation begins the installation of the monumental 10,000 year clock in West Texas
The clock is designed to run for ten millennia without any required human intervention to keep it going. Inventor Danny Hillis, who came up with the idea of the clock, proposed for it to be “an icon to long-term thinking”. A number of parts are still being fabricated as of this date, but now the 10,000 year clock is getting closer and closer to keeping time for a long time. We’re all excited.

Clock of the Long Now – Installation Begins (Vimeo)
After over a decade of design and fabrication, we have begun installing the first parts of the Clock of the Long Now on site in West Texas. In this video you can see the first elements to be assembled underground, the drive weight, winder and main gearing. This is the first of many stages to be installed, and we continue to fabricate parts for the rest of the Clock in several shops along the west coast.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point though, appropriately enough. This, from 2011.

How to make a clock run for 10,000 years
At first, Hillis and Rose and other members of the foundation figured the organization’s primary job would be building the clock. They even purchased a remote site, in Nevada, which met their geographic, geological and meteorological needs.

But then progress seemed to stop — at least from the outside. Although the Long Now Foundation continued working on prototypes, materials testing, design and other projects, media attention faded after the turn of the millennium. To anyone not part of the project, the clock seemed to have become one of those ideas that are good to think about, but impractical in reality.

Then Bezos and Hillis, already good friends, got to talking.

I wasn’t very keen on this take on it, however, from The Verge.

Construction begins on Jeff Bezos’ $42 million 10,000-year clock
Installation has finally begun on Jeff Bezos’ 10,000-year clock, a project that the Amazon CEO has invested $42 million in (along with a hollowed-out mountain in Texas that Bezos intends for a Blue Origin spaceport), with the goal of building a mechanical clock that will run for 10 millennia.

They keep calling it Bezos’s clock, which makes it sound like a billionaire CEO’s crazy vanity project. Yes he’s heavily invested in it, I get that, but it’s more than that, right?

The Clock of the Long Now (Vimeo)
The Clock of the Long Now is a portrait of Danny Hillis and his brilliant team of inventors, futurists, and engineers as they build The 10,000 Year Clock—a grand, Stone Henge-like monolith, being constructed in a mountain in West Texas. The film, like the clock itself, celebrates the power of long-term thinking and mankind’s insatiable thirst to solve life’s biggest problems.

Happy to put my money where my mouth it. (As I write this, they have 9,142 members currently. I thought about waiting to join till they get to 9,999, but I’m just not that patient.)

Become a Long Now member
Join Long Now to help us foster long-term thinking and support our projects: the 10,000 Year Clock, Seminars About Long-term Thinking, The Rosetta Project, Revive & Restore, The Interval and more.

Taking your mind for a stroll

I’ve been lucky enough to have jobs that have allowed me to take a stroll most lunchtimes, to get my eyes away from my monitor for a while. Here’s a great article on the rejuvenating powers of walking.

Walking as creative fuel: a splendid 1913 celebration of how solitary walks enliven “the country of the mind”
In a sentiment which, today, radiates a gentle admonition against the self-defeating impulse to evacuate the moment in order to capture it — in a status update, in an Instagram photo — Grahame observes: “Not a fiftieth part of all your happy imaginings will you ever, later, recapture, note down, reduce to dull inadequate words; but meantime the mind has stretched itself and had its holiday.”

Amazing Amazon Mr Men reviews

mrhappyreview

The Amazon Mr Men reviews
Hamilton Richardson (London) likes reviewing Mr Men books on Amazon – these are the highlights so far.

I remember as a kid reading these books and through them learning the phrase ‘for instance’. That was about my level. I certainly didn’t pick up any of these issues. For instance,

“For indeed, what does he come face-to-face with at the foot of these stairs but his own repressed sadness? This comes in the form of his miserable alter ego – physically identical, polar opposite in mood. It is only through this confrontation with the shadow that his unsuitable persona can find authentic resolution and true integration of the self can be achieved. These archetypes are quite literally brought to light as Mr Happy coaxes Mr Miserable up to the surface and into view of the conscious mind in a climax of now genuine peace and bliss.”

Interview with Umberto Eco: 'We like lists because we don't want to die'

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577.html

"Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco, who is curating a new exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, talks to SPIEGEL about the place lists hold in the history of culture, the ways we try to avoid thinking about death and why Google is dangerous for young people."

No such thing as a Stoic phone

stoicphoneI’ve had this iPhone for years, got fed up with it, got fed up with always having to chase the updates, always trying to catch up with the latest OS, always fighting off the built-in obsolescence, didn’t bother renewing the contract with O2 (when it finally ended) but instead went off in a huff and bought a cheap, pay-as-you-go, crappy dumb-phone, something deliberately not fashionable, with hardly any “features”, that was out-of-date before it started. ‘If I can’t always have the newest and fastest, I’ll have the oldest and slowest; that’ll show them,’ I thought, not really knowing who ‘they’ were or why I felt the need to show them anything.

But, as so often happens, I got bored with what I had and wanted something new. Again.

guidetothegoodlifeBut of course what I should have done was – not do that. What I should have done was – remember the book I’ve just finished reading, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. (Here are three summaries he wrote for Boingboing.net.) That would have saved me a lot of trouble.

Stoicism was a big deal back in the day, up there was Cynicism and Epicureanism and the other Greek and Roman schools of philosophy. Seneca, Epictetus and the emporer Marcus Aurelius were big exponents, but it’s pretty unheard of today, in any kind of structured way. Sure, we know what being stoical means, what being philosophical in the face of some adversity means, but that’s about it.

What the Roman stoics wanted, above all else, was tranquility. No negative emotions, such as grief, anger and anxiety, only positive ones. They felt the majority of our negative emotions were caused by our insatiability. We’re just never satisfied. We work hard to get what we want but then, when we get it, we eventually lose interest in it and go on to want the next new thing. And so on. This even has a name: hedonic adaptation. Sounds very grand.

“One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get.”

Lots of similarities with Buddhism, especially around the notion of impermanence:

“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”

There are many techniques in that book that can help the reader contemplate such things as impermanence, as well as how to ‘stoically’ deal with all the crap life may throw at us. It all makes for fascinating reading, and I’ve been trying to out some of it into practice in various settings – with good results. Some of it reminded me of CBT; stepping out of your comfort zone to “immunise yourself against a fair amount of future anxiety.”

But I kept coming back to their views on desire, though that seems to be harder for me to internalise. Rather than working to satisfy whatever desires we find ourselves with, we should be learning to be satisfied with our life as it is, we should learn to be happy with what we’ve got.

I wish I had remembered that before I wasted all that time on that stupid phone.

stopwantingstupidshitI know you’re not interested, but I did finally jailbreak it, by downgrading to iOS 4.o and running redsn0w, but Cydia and ultrasn0w couldn’t get the damned thing to work with my other SIM card. Not bothered, didn’t want it anyway.

Like the Buddha says, Stop wanting stupid shit.

A not entirely positive reception for the second Swan

Can’t really resist a book review from The New York Times that begins like this.

You Are All Soft! Embrace Chaos!
A reader could easily run out of adjectives to describe Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.” The first ones that come to mind are: maddening, bold, repetitious, judgmental, intemperate, erudite, reductive, shrewd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, provocative, pompous, penetrating, perspicacious and pretentious.

And then there’s the from The Guardian.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – digested read
Wind extinguishes a candle and energises fire. How deep is that? The answer, counter-intuitively, is not quite as deep as me. For I, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, alone have discovered the secret of the universe. It is the antifragile.

Overview Effect. Spaceship Earth. Home

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

There’s more about this at www.overviewthemovie.com.

The 10 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2012

QuietYes, I’m highlighting yet another brainpickings blog post, but this one is very interesting, a very detailed and considered look at the ten best psychology and philosophy books of the year: “From Buddhism to the relationship between creativity and dishonesty, by way of storytelling and habit”. Off I go to add all these to my wishlist. (I’m assuming I can get all these on my kindle?)

Many fine quotes here, but my favourite one:

To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? — Christopher Hitchens (who else?)

Link: The 10 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2012

Project management, psychoanalysis, and hell

A very timely little piece from contentedmanagement.net (great name) on the dangers that lurk within our projects

Project hell is others
L’enfer, Jean-Paul Sartre tells us, c’est les autres. This is so commonly and simplistically mistranslated as “hell is other people” that it’s become something of a fallacy. Hell for Sartre is not other people; it’s others. It’s about our faulty relationship with others and most particularly our psychological other, our id: the basic, instinctual drives that motivate us to seek out pleasure or avoid pain. Those instinctual drives are very much at the heart of every project.

Read the rest of this post to understand how a more psychoanalytical approach to our projects, combined with project management frameworks, can stop us making an infernal mess of things.