Leaving home “seems part of your duty in life”

“I was never a big fan of people who don’t leave home. It just seems part of your duty in life.”

Joan Didion

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Mishearing things

ilya-ilyukhin-281346Listening seeds ideas. Overheard dialogue, especially misheard words, are auditory stimulants for the imagination. Said Joan Didion in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook:”

“See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do… on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there…”

From the dull to the senseless, an ambient awareness latches on to snippets of interestingness in any conversation. The journal archives and then whispers for a second look. Simply rereading our notes gives them a new form, turning the slightest quip into a saintly significance.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

VuopobCt0BTmgHB57“We control the world basically because we are the only animals that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers. And if you examine any large-scale human cooperation, you will always find that it is based on some fiction like the nation, like money, like human rights. These are all things that do not exist objectively, but they exist only in the stories that we tell and that we spread around. This is something very unique to us, perhaps the most unique feature of our species.

You can never, for example, convince a chimpanzee to do something for you by promising that, “Look, after you die, you will go to chimpanzee heaven and there you will receive lots and lots of bananas for your good deeds here on earth, so now do what I tell you to do.”

But humans do believe such stories and this is the basic reason why we control the world whereas chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Storytelling, language, memes, all released humans from the prison of biology.

What’s your Everest?

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Photo by Theodor Lundqvist

What’s your Everest? What is the one event you’ve been training for that would justify all your hard work?

Everyone’s got their Everest — that one far-reaching goal that takes everything out of them to get it.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of success but you have to be willing to go forward anyway.

Both failure and success share the same result: they take you places you wouldn’t have achieved through idleness. Even false starts produce traces of data and contain lessons in disguise.

Remember to be kind to yourself and others along the way. As Neale Donald Walsch observes, “The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.”

Anything worth fighting for disrupts your life. With the right attitude, it also improves it.

 

My Inventions: Nikola Tesla

“My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.”

My Inventions by Nikola Tesla

Hidden by what we see

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Photo by Wells Baum

The combination of perception and imagination can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. But we strive to go deeper into the details, beyond what is manifest. Said René Magritte:

“Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”

The more we look, the more realize what we can’t see. Such ignorance drives our curiosity to identify new blind spots.

What’s unknown remains a haunting beauty.

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Photo by Wells Baum

The Illusion of Christmas

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The Illusion of Christmas by Signe Emma and Theodoulos Polyviou

Hypnotic, dizzying, and trippy. ‘Tis the season:

We have developed our design through the use of 3d modelling software. In doing this, we were given the advantage to view our compositions through mobility and constant change of viewing points aiming to achieve the most effective result possible. This process extends our understanding regarding these mediums available at the moment as “setting the stage” for creativity to be enacted. The final result is an interplay between the “physical” and the virtual.”

The Illusion of Christmas by Signe Emma and Theodoulos Polyviou

 

A place called home

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Photo by Wells Baum

My dad couldn’t wait to leave Youngstown, Ohio growing up. There was a vast world out there he wanted to explore. He preferred to exit a place he couldn’t change in exchange for one where he could find more creative stimulation and meet different folks.

It didn’t take long for his away to feel like home, as was the case with my own upbringing. After my family moved from Dallas to New York, ‘Big D’ felt small and insular in retrospect. However, it was only upon visiting Youngstown to see my grandmother years ago that I witnessed a more parochial side of America.


In big cities, you’re just another unknown. In small towns, you can’t even hide; your family reputation precedes you from the coffee shop to the church. Being a somebody instills the false notion that everything is going to be ok because your relatives and neighbors share similar interests. But like-mindedness traps people into fitting in without questioning the status quo.

I understood why my Dad felt the urge to leave his hometown to seek new challenges. As Tocqueville observed, “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too unpleasant?”

But small towns like Orange City, Iowa are proving to be more elastic. Locals who left town in search of big city dreams are returning and bringing their changed perspectives with them. That doesn’t mean traditional values are withering, but it does mean that the provincial can come to tolerate ethnic and religious disparities without isolating the other. It’s worth noting that cities carry their own biases; in gentrified cities like San Francisco, the homeless sleep in newspapers just outside the homes or billionaires.

Democracies are supposed to be noisy, pluralistic places that progress through open dialogue. While the internet accelerated communication and appeared to knock down borders, it also led people back into tribes. The only way to salvage openness is to experience the world beyond your original birth place (urban or rural) and then come back with an appreciation for discussing differences face to face.

A tolerance for dialogue and discomfort makes territories on a map more arbitrary than they already appear.

Newsletter: Wandering mind not a happy mind

Below are five links I think you’ll find interesting. As always, listen to a new tune and old gem after the jump.

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Lafayette Maynard Dixon (1895), via The MET

Philippe Starck on the infinity symbol. Some people are better thinking in symbols rather than words. For French inventor Philipe Starck, that symbol was “∞” for infinity, designed by English mathematician John Wallis in 1655. Says Starck: “For me, it is the most intelligent piece of graphic design in the world. To say something in a complicated way is very easy. But to find a way to say it simply – that takes a lot of work.”

Podcast: Picasso’s Guernica. ‘All finished paintings are dead paintings.’ Picasso’s Guernica took 7 weeks to paint, but it could have taken a lifetime. But done is better than perfect, especially in times of strife. The work appeared in a Paris exhibition in 1937 and became an essential piece of political art, warning against the destruction of war.

Modern Media Is a DoS Attack on Your Free Will. Tech is the ‘cigarette of this century’ said game designer and author Ian Bogost. Just like the surfeit of digital photos, there’s too much information and not enough time to go through it all. Observes James Williams of Oxford’s Internet Institute Ethics Lab: “The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it doesn’t necessarily protect freedom of attention. There wasn’t really anything obstructing people’s attention at the time it was written. Back in an information-scarce environment, the role of a newspaper was to bring you information—your problem was lacking it. Now it’s the opposite. We have too much.”

Is the economy suffering from the crisis of attention? Statistics already show that we’re scatterbrained 47% of the time. We’re there, but not there noticing the present; we’re just scrolling. This is on top of smartphone addiction which kills productivity. Beware that rectangular magnetic glow!

How to unthink. One of the ways you can stem the tide of over-thinking is to act “calculatedly stupid” and instead try to enjoy what we’re doing.

Thought of the week

“All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

Ernest Hemingway

New track on loop

Smerz – No Harm (2017)

Digging in the crates

Ultramagnetic MC’s – Poppa Large (1992)

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!
Wells Baum (@bombtune)

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Letters to a Young Scientist

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“Make it a practice to indulge in fantasy about science. Make it more than just an occasional exercise. Daydream a lot. Make talking to yourself silently a relaxing pastime. Give lectures to yourself about important topics you need to understand. Talk with others of like mind. By their dreams you shall know them…The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and only later works as a bookkeeper. Keep in mind that innovators in both literature and science are basically dreamers and storytellers.

Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson; 2013

Tech is ‘the cigarette of this century’

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Photo by Ludovic Toinel

Technology undermines human willpower by stealing our attention and supercharging information distribution. We are stuck in a gif loop of variable rewards while bombarded with trivial “breaking” news.

We can’t escape the ‘hypnotic effect’ of digital stimuli because it’s got us hooked. We are stuck in destabilizing habits that resist self-regulation. Like lemmings, we keep coming back for more. Writes Nir Eyal:

“Ubiquitous access to the web, transferring greater amounts of personal data at faster speeds than ever before, has created a more potentially addictive world. According to famed Silicon Valley investor Paul Graham, we haven’t had time to develop societal “antibodies to addictive new things.” Graham places responsibility on the user: “Unless we want to be canaries in the coal mine of each new addiction— the people whose sad example becomes a lesson to future generations— we’ll have to figure out for ourselves what to avoid and how.”


Profiting from all distraction are companies that offer free services in exchange for advertising. Facebook, Google, et al. have turned their users’ eyeballs into lab experiments for clicks where humans get lost in a zoo of status updates and amplification. We show zero restraint to our technology vices, what professor Ian Bogost calls the ‘cigarette of this century.’

How do humans push back against addictive technology?

Computers intend to make our lives better, what Steve Jobs called, “bicycles for the mind.” What he didn’t foresee is the rapidity of change. Even radio and tv took time to evolve. What we’re experiencing now in the internet-era is hyper-speed beyond human comprehension.

The infinity symbol “∞”

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Some people are better thinking in symbols rather than words. For French inventor Philipe Starck, that symbol was “∞” for infinity, designed by English mathematician John Wallis in 1655:

For me, it is the most intelligent piece of graphic design in the world. To say something in a complicated way is very easy. But to find a way to say it simply – that takes a lot of work.

The infinity symbol is a paradox: it solidifies a number in absolute terms to illustrate something that never ends. As Starch puts it, infinity “is about the fight we have with ourselves to try to understand more and more.”

Infinity is too impossible to count. The simple representation provides both a temporary relief and impetus for a more in-depth understanding of something that goes beyond comprehension.

Making precedes meaning

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gif by Wells Baum

We can only construct with the tools at our disposal. Before cameras, artists painted pictures of the world. However, it wasn’t necessary to paint with exactitude; like writing, images were fabricated in the mind’s eye before putting color to the canvas, ink to the paper.

We never know what we’ll get until we put it down first: making precedes meaning. First, we do something and then we interpret its significance.

Conversely, the digital world is all about identifying objects for us. SnapChat, Google, and Apple use artificial intelligence to tell you what’s in our pictures, providing a shortcut to meaning. They are our third and fourth eye. Vision exceeds a one-way street.

But there are no absolutes. Consciousness manufactures data. It is our responsibility to convert the external world through our various lenses, reality and irreality. We make what you see. To quote Hemingway, “All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”