Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Rise of Nostalgia

quilt IThings in general are picking up speed. Here’s what’s happening and what things are trending towards now:

Computer chips’ abilities double and their costs half every couple of years. Robots keep getting cheaper and easier to work with. Search engines constantly provide information more quickly and easily. Advances in genetics and cosmetic medicine allow people to more closely look like they imagine they should. Daily labor is being chipped away at constantly, from electric car windows to Amazon grocery deliveries.


Here’s what I think could happen around 2025, nothing special about 2025, but around then computing will be so powerful and cheap that machine thinking and doing will radically change our condition. Human health, longevity, work, will probably be very different and improved by then.

That’s when I think our sense of nostalgia will increase:

Items made by hand, new and old, will be sought after. People will start doing more housework and gardening, without robotic help. Figuring stuff out will take on a greater role as we feel the loss of often not knowing the answer(s). This seems weird, but I think people will become more attracted to deformity and the grotesque as everyone gets more perfect. And as old or worn body parts are replaced and improved upon – pushing out our lifespans, will we embrace it or start to eventually get tired of living and even nostalgic about death?

Nobody knows what’s to come and how soon whatever that is will arrive, but big changes are only a decade or so away, and it’ll be interesting.




What is Good Parenting?

whatWhat’s good parenting?

Lots of things, but from looking around at kids now and having been a kid once, it seems that when you present kids with an appealing version of grown-up life that’s worth trying to copy, then kids have received a big part of good parenting.

When kids see their parents as unhappy most of the time, not really enjoying adulthood, the kids pick up on that. Kids hear what they see. And when parents are unhappy they’re prone to overparenting, like spending money on their kids to compensate.

I saw an art show lately that I liked. It was with paintings by two artists I didn’t know. About a week later when I saw it again there were two artist bios on the wall. The photos were distorted and strange, so when I saw the artists’ ages I thought it was part of a joke, they were listed as nine and eleven years old.

I asked someone working where the show was being presented who the artists were. I was told they were the kids in the bios! And their dad happened to be there, so I had a chat with him. I told him how impressed I was with his kids’ show and asked if he’d helped them do it. He said he only helped with the framing, and that both kids were home schooled and liked drawing.

The dad is a graphic artist and seems to be happy and content with his work. So I imagine he’s presenting a version of adult life that his kids find appealing. And they’re doing a good job of emulating him.



What’ll Happen Next?

kids with tapeWhen will the tape holding a kid on a wall start to give way? How’d a little girl get her sister that high on the wall? What’ll happen if some of the tape starts peeling off first, before some of the other pieces?

When people ask themselves “What’ll happen next?” they’re captivated by the story you’re telling. It’s probably the best indicator of good storytelling.

The same is true for a good title or your introduction to telling a story. If it makes  people curious about what’s going to happen next they’ll keep reading or listening.

While we’re actually made of atoms, in our heads we’re made of stories. So we’re always ready for and curious about a good story that’ll add to our lives and let us know what’ll happen next.

Tales of two Daniels – part 2

new atmosphereThis is the second post about Daniel Ingram and Daniel Pinchbecks’  books about their different approaches into a similar territory. Each book details the author’s personal stories and adventures in pursuing higher realms which most people don’t normally access.

Just like we awaken from sleeping and dreaming to our daily reality, the authors seek access to yet another reality which can be awakened to from our daily reality.

Both books present unvarnished looks at their approaches to awakening to higher realities. Both authors feel big, modern governments and religions have repressed knowledge that was previously more known about and sought after. Pinchbeck investigates ancient shamanic medicines that have been used for generations, while Ingram talks about meditation technologies developed over the last 2,500 years.

I think Ingram’s book is a breath of fresh air. Daniel Ingram is a practicing board-certified MD in emergency medicine and founder of the Dharma Underground. The Dharma underground was a loose knit group of hardcore meditators sharing insights and techniques along with talking their attainments, all with the goal of providing clear information to counter the often wooly meditation instructions and the noticeable lack of discussion about levels of attainment.

Ingram wrote “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha” to provide instructions and  maps for the meditators looking for advice from someone who’s reached an advanced level.

It’s sort of like a chess grand master or martial artist with a black belt explaining what is needed to progress and what to expect in their pursuit as well as some personal anecdotes and opinions.

The information Ingram provides isn’t new but it’s clear and pretty much every aspect of his chosen style (Buddha’s too) seems to be covered providing a less dangerous and more lasting path to the states that Pinchbeck got glimpses of. This book is refreshing because it ignores or pokes fun at the usual dogma and hierarchies, there’s no mention of fancy hats, robes or rituals . Instead, Ingram  presents an empowering view about how it can be done by you.

Pinchbeck sees an elephant, tries to eat it in a few bites and gets sick. Ingram sees the elephant too but lays out a meal plan and a chart of where you are while going from the trunk and the tail.


Tales of two Daniels – part 1

new atmosphereDaniel Ingram and Daniel Pinchbeck wrote books about their different approaches into  similar territories. Each book details the author’s personal stories and adventures in pursuing higher realms most people don’t normally access.

Just as we awaken from sleeping and dreaming to our daily reality, the authors seek yet another reality that people can awaken to from our daily reality.

Both books present unvarnished looks at their approaches to awakening to different realities. Both authors seem to feel that big, modern governments and religions have repressed knowledge that was previously more commonly known and sought after. Ingram goes deep into the meditation technologies developed over the last 2,500 years, while Pinchbeck investigates ancient shamanic medicines that have been used for generations.

Pinchbeck’s “Breaking Open The Head” is a fascinating and often scary tale about trying to access higher states and insights by taking different psychedelic substances. His book chronicles varying degrees of attainment and failure. After a while, I was left thinking about what Allen Watts said, “Once you get the message, hang up the phone!”

Pinchbeck is an enthusiastic investigator of both archaic and newer medicines, he’s a high-level technician test-driving little known and well-known shamanic inebriants, to paraphrase him. I was impressed Pinchbeck could go through the experiences he chronicles and could record or remember them in the detail he provides.

Indigenous peoples mainly use their sacred medicines for guidance, initiations or healing. Something has to be lost when  you’re not a member of the culture you’re dealing with. No one can avoid that.

By hoping between cultures around the world, Pinchbeck’s use of different medicines sometimes took on the feel of indiscriminate drug use, undermining, for Pinchbeck, some of the benefits tribe members get due to their cultural context and proper preparations.

Although he seems to go from one altered state to another, in the end Pinchbeck seems to feel that he has come away a better person.

While Pinchbeck accesses some higher planes and insights, most of them sound fleeting and incomplete. He’s ultimately pursuing a pleasure that comes and goes.

A friend of Pinchbeck tells him, “People are entering the lower realms of the spiritual world unbidden and unprepared, exposing themselves to delusions and deceptions… the soul-wrenching chaos of the psychedelic experience seems to lend itself to a sense of panic and dissipation. If one wants to have a positive effect on the world , inner calm and discrimination  are absolutely necessary.”

There’re slower, less dangerous, and more lasting paths than the chemical shortcuts Pinchbeck takes. One of those paths was taken by the other Daniel, who’ll be covered in the next post.





Leaving a Mark

eggs in a rowI write to record my thoughts and interests. Writing leaves a mark in the world and if someone reads it, and likes it, that gives me pleasure. But if no one reads what I’ve written that’s ok too, because it’s also a mark I can revisit, knowing that mark is there.

When I come across interesting things people write or say I try to write them down. Basically, other people’s marks that they’ve left. They’re often pointers or good advice that can stand alone.

Sometimes I update them, abridge them, or use contractions if I think it’ll make them resonate more with a reader. There’re no attributions because I feel these pointers are impactful and useful on their own and so don’t need a known (or unknown) name for validation. Here’re are a few I like, in no particular order.

Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.

Create your own system, or be enslaved by another man’s.

Are you after comfort and luxury, when all you need to make yourself happy is something to be enthusiastic about?

A good question is better than a bad answer.

There’s probably no god; so stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Be kind, ethical, and live in an evidence based world.


Slipping Away

SkullI like this Seth Roberts blog about a RadioLab broadcast called “The Bitter End.” It’s about the information advantage doctors and nurses have about end-of- life decisions that most patients don’t have, or probably want. Most doctors and nurses want to slip away if they’re in a difficult end-of-life situation. No heroics, just some pain management.

Below, I’ve abridged some of Seth’s blog for brevity and clarity (for me at least).

… there’s a dramatic difference between how doctors want to be treated when they are near death (no CPR, no ventilator, no dialysis, no surgery, no chemotherapy, no feeding tube, no antibiotics, nothing except pain medicine) and how the general public wants to be treated (CPR, ventilator, dialysis, surgery, chemotherapy, feeding tube, antibiotics, and so on).

The RadioLab guys learned that the big differences exist because all those medical procedures (except pain medicine) have much worse outcomes than the public is told. The doctors know about the bad outcomes. It’s better to die, the doctors decide… it’s clear most people agree to these procedures because of ignorance. 

… If end-of-life doctors told the truth, they’d have a lot less work.

The RadioLab podcast hints at the moral retardedness implied by this practice in an interview with a medical student, whom I assume was randomly chosen. Why aren’t people told the truth? the interviewer asks. “I don’t know how to communicate that effectively,” says the student. Then he communicates the truth quite effectively. Why don’t you say that? asks the interviewer. People don’t want to hear that, says the student (changing his answer). They don’t want to, but they need to, says the interviewer. The student says it would be “presumptuous” to tell them the truth…

The comments on the RadioLab website suggest that doctors fail to grasp there is a big problem. Many commenters to the radio show are doctors. Some agree with the facts in the program. None expresses even discomfort with the situation. One commenter is Joseph Gallo, the Johns Hopkins medical school professor who runs the study that revealed the enormous difference between what doctors want and what the general public wants. Gallo said “I would add that studies that have asked nurses about their end-of-life preferences have found similar desire to limit care.” 

I’d guess most doctors and nurses don’t feel comfortable telling patients what they would personally do in the same situation because of the perception that patients want all the possible life extending options based on the “quantity” of life that can be eked out, rather than the “quality” of life patients can have by just slipping away.

Your Reputation Is Your Brand

RootIf you had a choice of doing business with Donald Trump or Richard Branson, who would you choose?

With all things being equal, I think people want to deal with someone they know and like. And that’s probably true even if all the other factors aren’t equal.

There are lots of reasons to be nice and to maintain a good reputation.  If you happen to lose your achievements or position, you’ll meet a lot of the same people on your way down, who you met on the way up. And people are more likely to share information and opportunities with you and your “brand” if they like it.

It’s even true in a peculiar environment like Hollywood that, as a place, has a reputation for insincerity and shallowness. Here’s what got me thinking about how important your reputation is: I saw this link on to advice that director Steve Soderbergh gives to film students… one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you.