While the others went home yesterday I decided to get to Seattle a few days little early. It rained when I arrived, it rained in the evening, but this morning the sun came out and I took a long walk.
Last week, while driving from Phoenix to Tucson, Jon and I talked about 80’s music. Another friend had mentioned to me that his children all love music from the 80’s. Indeed, there is something very creative about the music of that decade. Maybe it was because there were more dilettantes in pop music than at any other time. Drum machines became available in the early 80’s and step sequencers enabled not-musicians to make music. If you had something to say you could figure out a way to perform music. For Jon and me, the 70’s are the preferred music decade, but we both admire the freshness of the music from the 80’s.
I heard that Ai Weiwei lives in Lisbon now.
Finished reading “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa and started “1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows” by Ai Weiwei
A hundred years ago many people thought that smoking wasn’t only NOT unhealthy but it was in fact good for us… we may find that the volume of data we consume today is just as dangerous as cigarettes, and not just for our health and wellbeing but also in the sense that it keeps us occupied and detracts from really pressing issues like the climate and democracy. I have more thoughts about data/information and how it relates to sugar, salt, and fat…
Speed thrills and speed kills. Feeling connected to the world, and finding out about every new event that happens anywhere right away, is certainly thrilling. It also feels overwhelming, it’s too much, too much at once as well as too rapid. It’s the speed AND the volume. I imagine a street. It’s a two lane road lined with trees and houses. If one person drives very fast, and no other car is on the road, perhaps they can negotiate all of the turns, remain in control of the vehicle, and arrive safely. But when the road is chockfull of cars, each going as fast as it possibly can, crashes WILL happen with absolute certainty.
To me it feels like that is what’s happening with our lives. Speed by definition remains shallow, because depth requires time. Driving through a landscape at 75 miles an hour is a very different experience from walking through the same landscape. We are essentially rushing through our lives.
In one of his books Neal Stephenson describes agencies that filter information for their clients. A client profile is created and, with the use of AI and human selection, the information that is delivered to the client is filtered down from an avalanche to a manageable trickle.
Scientist have looked at how quickly topics change, I read in “Stolen Focus”, by Johann Hari. At first they looked at trends on Twitter and discovered that while topics stayed in the top fifty most discussed subjects for 17.5 hours in 2013, they only lasted for 11.9 hours in 2016. Well, that’s Twitter, perhaps it was an outlier. After studying Google Books, which has scanned millions of books, and analyzing the content, they discovered that the same curve that was found on Twitter, has in fact existed for more than 130 years. For all of that time, between the 1880s and today, topics have come and gone faster.
That’s the speed part, but what about the volume? Johann Hari uses the example of reading a 85-page newspaper. In 1986 all of the information coming from TV, radio, and reading, amounted to 40 newspapers a day. By 2007 that number had increased to 174 newspapers per day. I shudder to think what that number is in 2022.
Somewhere, perhaps also in Johann Hari’s book, I learned that our speech has been accelerating, too. We apparently talk much faster than our grandparents. That makes sense to me: if the data input flows heavier and faster, so will the output.
No wonder we feel like we are being hurled through life. Speed is addictive, too, like a sugar rush, so part of our brain wants to keep going. Let’s face it, our brain doesn’t often KNOW what’s good for us. For that answer we will have to turn to our heart and gut brain – let’s call those the body-brain as opposed to the head-brain.
That reminds me, time to meditate. There will be more on this subject, I am sure. Take it easy, take it slow… :-)
I finished reading “Americanah” by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Since I liked the book very much, I continued by reading her collection of short stories “The Thing Around Your Neck”, also very good.
Next was “Stolen Focus”, by Johann Hari, which I listened to before but couldn’t finish before the book became due. I highlighted so many passages! I think it is an important book for our time.
I was reading “Stolen Focus” when I came across the name Jason Hickel, who is an economic anthropologist. Hickel wrote a book called “Less Is More”, which I want to read next.
During my walk this morning, I listened to a couple of different versions of the “Concierto de Aranjuez” for an upcoming DMT post. Next came a podcast interview with Jason Hickel that I found. The podcast is by a German but is in English. Hickel also has a blog.
I have written before (for example in 2021 and in 2008) that I don’t believe in permanent economic growth. The idea is impossible in the first place, because a planet has finite resources, and now is the best time to slow that rat wheel and make the craziness stop.
Look at this loveliness! A recently aquired air plant decided to bloom today. I took this photo and then left for the airport to fly to Phoenix.
Photography seemed to me, as I stood there in the white gallery with its rows of pictures and its press of murmuring spectators, an uncanny art like no other. One moment, in all of history, was captured, but the moments before and after it disappeared into the onrush of time; only that selected moment itself was privileged, saved, for no other reason that its having been picked out by the camera’s eye.
from Open City by Teju Cole
That quote was preceded by the description of this photo (I found the image here) from 1930, by Martin Munkacsi, and the statement that Henri Cartier-Bresson had developed the ideal of the decisive moment from seeing that image.
That is a beautiful statement and certainly true for any photograph involving some kind of movement, especially by people or animals. Perhaps I prefer landscape photography for the very reason that it can have a more timeless quality. I do like to take photographs that don’t look like anything would happen before or after the image was taken. Such a landscape photograph has a different quality, absent of the onrush of time, absent of the obvious decisive moment.
I imagine everyone has had the experience of walking in the woods or across a vast field or beach, and thinking that, because of the absence of anything that could date what we saw, time might suddenly change and thus, when we returned from that scene, we would find ourselves in a different time period. In the past or perhaps in the future. I remember thinking that when I was a kid and, truth be told, the thought has also occurred to me many times as an adult.
(((Last night I watched the excellent film Faces Places, on Kanopy of course, and Agnes Varda and JR traveled to the small graveyard where Cartier-Bresson was buried. Always interesting when a name comes up more than once within a day.)))
PS: My preference of landscapes photography does not mean I don’t love Muncascsi or Cartier-Bresson. In fact I think their work is awesome. It’s just not something I can do or am drawn to.
Sometime in 1989 the Native American artist Frank Howell, who commissioned the album that later became Nouveau Flamenco, said this to me:
When you stop to learn you begin to die.
It was very good advice and I thought about it quite often in the past thirty years. I would add that to learn could be replaced with to change or to adapt and the value of the advice would be undiminished.
Last year I joined Coursera, which is an online education platform featuring courses from many great universities, and other institutions, worldwide. The first course I took was about Modern Art, a course created by MoMA. It was enjoyable and I learned a lot. This year I took another course, presented by Princeton University, called Buddhism and Modern Psychology. The instructor was Robert Wright, somebody I was not familiar with. The course description does not do the content justice. I am interested in neuroscience, because I find it interesting how the view of the meditator, which is the view from the inside, is analyzed by the scientist, which is the view from the outside. The course covers more than the basic science that involves brain scans, it introduced me to Evolutionary Psychology (link to Wikipedia… not sure how useful that is), which turned out to be quite the exciting rabbit hole to dive into. I learned that Robert Wright wrote a book entitled The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Every Day Life, published in 1994, which was one of three books the Wachowski siblings gave Keanu Reeves to read to prepare for his role as Neo in the movie The Matrix. By now I am thoroughly fascinated. How did an author of a book on Evolutionary Psychology (Science, view from the outside) come to lecture about meditation and Buddhism (Meditation, view from the inside)?
I bought Robert Wright’s newest book, Why Buddhism is True – The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment and read it slowly over the last two months, savoring some of the pages and letting passages rest in my mind, like dough that needs to rest before baking… For me this book ranks up there with Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, which I read in the Nineties and which connected a lot of dots for me.
Meditation is a revolutionary act, indeed the most revolutionary act we are capable of, because it is, perhaps, the only method we have to reject our programming. When the house is on fire (Climate Change) you don’t argue whether the house was created by a God or by evolution, you try to extinguish the fire. Similarly I would argue that it doesn’t matter whether our DNA was created by a God or by Natural Selection, the fact is that this programming is killing us as a species. Like Neo in the Matrix we are captives who do what our programming tells us to do and our programming does not want us to be happy and peaceful…
Buy the book… I have seen the paperback for as little as six dollars and change, and I myself have (so far) bought six copies that I have given to friends. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Creativity – Questlove
A Man Called Ove – Backman
Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants – Mathias Enard
While the Dreamers – Imbolo Mbue
The Janissery Tree/Yashim – Jason Goodwin
The Snakestone/Yashim – Jason Goodwin
The Tourist – Olen Steinhauer
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
The Nearest Exit – Olen Steinhauer (audio)
An American Spy – Olen Steinhauer (audio)
Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino (audio)
The Cairo Affair- Olen Steinhauer (audio)
The Bellini Card – Jason Goodwin
Havana Fever – Leonardo Padura
Havana Blue – Leonardo Padura
The Baklava Club – Jason Goodwin
An Evil Eye – Jason Goodwin
A Rising Man – Abir Mukherjee
A Necessary Evil – Abir Mukherjee
Smoke and Ashes – Abir Mukherjee
Grab a Snake by the Tail – Leonardo Padura
Fall – Neal Stephenson
Incident at Twenty-Mile – Trevanian
The Girl from Berlin – Ronald H. Balsen
The Eiger Sanction – Trevanian (audio)
The Loo Sanction – Trevanian (audio)
Why Buddhism is True – Robert Wright
Outsider in Amsterdam – Willem Van De Wetering
Rock and Hard Places – Andrew Mueller
Tumbleweed – Willem Van de Wetering
As you can see I prefer reading to movies or TV. I might make it to 35 or even 40 books this year… :-)