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Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work Social Media

The student never graduates

Learning stops in adulthood because people think all they’ll be doing the rest of their lives is working. But the cubicle, formerly called the ‘action of office,’ is where ideas and learning go to die.

You can put your head down and work for the same company for 20 years if you want. You’ll gain title and support the family. Everything will be safe and stable.

But you’ll never use up all your vacation days. You’ll get stuck in the maelstrom of email and meetings and come out feeling no smarter than where you started. Even worse, no company offers pensions these days.

Learning is a life-long endeavor

You can attach all the meaning you want to your job, but it’ll never replace the significance of continued learning that the Internet makes so accessible.

Tools for continued learning in adulthood include podcasts, tweets, blogs, newsletters, and a place to synthesize it all — whether that be your notebook or a blog.

The best part about the web is that most of the information is free, like air, minus a few paywalls. And yes, being a paid subscriber to a few respectable publications will make you appreciate shared intelligence even more.

Reading the right stuff can give you the knowledge and motivation to do your job better.

Sustenance, or in some cases chasing the Benjamins, is no substitute for education. Throwing in the towel helps nothing but time fly, a distraction from the things that matter.

Business isn’t necessarily learning. It’s just business.

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Books Travel

‘Time is to clock as mind is to brain’ 🕰️

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on. The most we can hope a watch to do is mark that progress. And since time sets its own tempo, like a heartbeat or an ebb tide, timepieces don’t really keep time. They just keep up with it, if they’re able.

— Dava Sobel, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

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Books Quotes

Down to Earth 🌎

Once it passed, they fell back to earth, and were crushed by the “triviality of everydayness.”

Gary Lachman, Beyond the Robot

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Culture Science

‘I wish I was a little bit smaller’

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Nicholas Kulish is 6 foot 8 inches. Towering about the average American height of 5 foot 8, society is simply not built for him. As if a tight plane seat isn’t burdensome enough, “Why do we bob and weave around the New York City subway in a strange dance?,” Kulish writes, “Are we performing for money from our fellow passengers? No, we’re just trying not to hit our heads on the metal bars that others reach up to grab.”

It’s not easy being a giant, or a little person, or any anomaly for that matter. What we know today as ‘average’ goes back to Belgian astronomer/mathematician Adolphe Quetelet, who in 1817 aggregated the mean chest size of five thousand Scottish soldiers, setting a precedent for human statistics. Abraham Lincoln mass-produced uniforms for the Union army during the Civil War. The US military also went on to standardize both uniforms and airplanes in 1926, “the distance to the pedals and the stick, and even the shape of the flight helmets.” Thus was born the bell curve.

While homogenizing average body types help simplify manufacturing and designing infrastructure, the industrial mindset makes it a challenge for outliers to thrive.

“Tall people are always trying to blend in, to keep our giant feet from tripping you at the movie theater, our elbows from cracking your heads on the dance floor. Much of our time is spent trying to shrink, to alleviate the extreme conspicuousness that is our condition.”

Normal is boring

Height compels Kulish’s identity, whether he likes or not. It is a part of him he’s come to accept and appreciate, acknowledging his bigness. Brooklynites call him Nowitzki or Porzingis out in public for being the only white guy with arms like tree branches reaching out into a sea of ants. You’d have to be ground level and face to face to pinpoint Lionel Messi in a crowd. But there are some advantages to tallness too; he can see what most people can’t.

If you invite us into your homes we will know what the top of your refrigerator looks like. (You should clean it. It’s been a while. Trust me.) We do have our uses. It probably goes without saying that we should be taking pictures for you at concerts, not to mention portraits of you, since the downward angle is the most flattering.

There is no shame in being tall, nor short, for the matter. No one wants to be called a Frankenstein nor a carnie with small hands. Being different makes one forcibly pay attention, develop sympathy for others who have similar disadvantages, and find new ways of surviving that makes them more nimble than others. The weird and different underdogs may have to work a little harder, but in doing so, they are developing advantages that normal folks can’t replicate.

Read Notes on Being Very Tall

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Books Quotes

Einstein: The World As I See It

c8nIHtU00MvV35U2Q“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”

— Albert Einstein, [easyazon_link identifier=”1494877066″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]The World As I See It[/easyazon_link] (1934)

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Creativity Culture Psychology

The self promotion dilemma

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via kingpalewave

By all means, show your work. The internet is a great place to get feedback and build up your confidence. Just keep in mind, it’s all about you until it isn’t.

“It’s a total catch-22: if you don’t self-promote, you won’t be known to those who hold the keys to whatever kingdom you’re interested in unlocking. If you do self-promote, you might catch the gatekeepers’ attention, but pray they don’t read your self-promotion as needy or navel-gazing. Pray you don’t violate some unwritten code of class conduct or seem too eager. You have to appear to have a lot to offer without appearing to need anyone to take it. What a strange psychic and social predicament we’ve put ourselves in.”

Read The Case for Self-Promotion

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Books Culture Science

Why we prefer Friday to Sunday

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It‘s a curious fact, because Friday is a day of work and Sunday is a day for pleasure, so you would expect people to enjoy Sunday more, right? But we don’t. It’s not because we really like being in the office and can’t stand strolling in the park and having a lazy brunch. We prefer Friday to Sunday because Friday brings with it the thrill of anticipating the weekend ahead. In contrast, on Sunday the only thing to look forward to is work on Monday.”

The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot

Ironically, the day of rest also comes with the “Sunday Blues” while Friday, a day we should feel work-averse, fires up the brain in anticipation of the school bell.

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Books Quotes

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.

[easyazon_link identifier=”0871403854″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]Letters to a Young Scientist[/easyazon_link] by Edward O. Wilson; 2013

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Photo Challenge Photography Science

Structures of the biological world 🔬

All photos by Wells Baum

It is a lesson we could certainly learn from the history of science. Whenever we have ventured into new experimental territory, we’ve discovered that our previous “knowledge” was woefully incomplete. With the invention of the telescope, for instance, we found new structures in space; Jupiter’s moons and sunspots were just the beginning. The microscope took us the other way and showed us the fine structure of the biological world – creatures that looked uninteresting to the naked eye turned out to be intricate and delicate, with scales and hooks and other minute features. We also once thought that the atom lacked structure; today’s technology, such as the particle colliders at the Cern research centre in Geneva and Fermilab in the United States, have allowed us to prove just how wrong that idea was. At every technological turn, we have redefined the nature of reality.

Read Has this physicist found the key to reality?

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Culture Productivity & Work Science

Collaborate, have tea more often

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via giphy

A corollary of learning from other fields is collaboration; what you don’t have you can at least partially borrow. As Oppenheimer used to say about afternoon tea when he was director of the Institute for Advanced Study, “Tea is where we explain to each other what we don’t understand.” Chemists and scientists in general need to have tea more often.

Read What is chemical intuition?