Heidegger and Modern Existentialism

I took a couple of philosophy courses in college (50 years ago) and enjoyed them far beyond my understanding of what I read. My (layman’s) interest in things philosophical has stuck with me but I never got around to reading any of the better known western philosophers. YouTube to the rescue.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been watching a series of discussions about these brilliant and influential men (list below) while on the treadmill. Admittedly no substitute for reading their books but an easy way to get some understanding of their philosophies and why they’re important.

Additional programs: Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Spinoza and Leibniz, Hegel & Marx, Hume, Heidegger, Aristotle, Wittgenstein

“Meditation is not about doing anything”

“Meditation is not about doing anything. It is simply paying attention.”

Not counting basic hygiene (brushing my teeth, etc), the only thing I do every day is meditate. I sit for 30 minutes, sometimes longer. Every day for the last 500 days. I keep track but I’m not sure that’s good idea. Too easy to get fixated on the streak, keeping the string going.

I’ve missed twice in the last 1,000+ days. Once when I was sick and again when out of town attending a high school reunion (#50). I’m not sure why I keep track of my practice. Maybe it’s for the same reason prisoners make marks on their cell walls (do they still do that?). They’re afraid they’ll forget how long the’ve been in prison? I’d rather think I keep track because it gives me a little added encouragement to sit, although I really don’t think I need that anymore. My daily meditation is the best half hour of my day. But why?

Steve Hagen says meditation is useless. The only reason to meditate is to mediate. Which sounds like something only those who meditate would say or understand. I’m sure when I started (10 years ago?) it was for stress management or relaxation or something but somewhere along the way it became an end in itself.

I find it simultaneously the simplest thing in the world and the most difficult. I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor, focused on my breath. What could be easier? And within seconds my mind has jumped to some random thought… I gently bring my awareness back to my breathing… and the cycle repeats, endlessly. Why would anyone invest half an hour every day doing this? Again, Steve Hagen: “At the heart of meditation is the intention to be awake.”

More excerpts from Meditation Now or Never by Steve Hagen.

James Gleick interviews William Gibson

This interview was recorded in 2014 and runs one hour and twenty minutes. If you are not a fan of Gibson’s novels you can skip this. If you are a fan but haven’t read The Peripheral, you should not watch this interview. The interview is notable in that Mr. Gleick doesn’t interrupt Mr. Gibson once. He lets him fully answer each question before asking the next one.

Non-fiction in 2017

  • Chaos: Making A New Science (James Gleick)
  • Technocracy In America: Rise of the Info-State (Parag Khanna)
  • Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (James Gleick)
  • The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (Fritjof Capra)
  • From Bacteria to Bach: The Evolutions of Minds (Daniel Dennett)
  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Yuval Noah Harari)
  • Isaac Newton (James Gleick)
  • Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment (Robin Wright)
  • WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us (Tim O’Reilly)
  • Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream (Paul Ingrassia)
  • Breaking the Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon (Daniel Dennett)

Annihilation

Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy. I read the first book in the trilogy and found it… disturbing. Didn’t feel a pull to read the other two. The film is directed by Alex Garland who did Ex Machina, 28 Days Later, two films I enjoyed very much (if one can claim to enjoy 28 Days Later).

The Book of Dust

I simply could not put this book down. I tried. But then I’d read just a few lines of the next chapter… and the next… and it’s the middle of the night. This was gripping adventure story. Overlaid with a sense of impending doom (see above). Deeply religious people frighten me. That’s okay, Barb says, because most religious people are not that serious about it. Hmm.

The philosophical underpinning of this book is deeply concerned with how authoritarian regimes take power. […] The Magisterium’s most chilling weapon in its quest for domination is its League of St. Alexander. The League is a secret society for children whose members wear badges and attend extra church services, and they’re encouraged to inform on any adults they catch doing anything sinful or heretical. At Malcolm’s school, the headmaster tries to forbid his pupils from wearing the badges on school property. The students, drunk with power, promptly inform on him; he’s taken into the Magisterium’s custody and never heard from again. Continued…

Can’t wait for part two.

WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us

Author Tim O’Reilly says the central theme of this book is understanding how algorithmic systems shape our society. If that’s what you’re after, I recommend two books by Kevin Kelly: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future and What Technology Wants. Then I’d read Homo Deus and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I’m sorry, but Mr. O’Reilly’s ideas just didn’t flow. The book felt… patchy. And he seemed overly proud of his personal contribution to the Internet, to Web 2.0, and a bunch of other “innovations.” I don’t question his contributions but isn’t it better if other folks acknowledge them? Anyhoo, here are some passages I underlined:

Our experience is shaped by the words we use.

Abstractions – the process by which reality is transformed into a series of statements about reality.

“For all practical purposes, there is now only one computer.” — Clay Shirky

The first principle of Web 2.0 was that the Internet was replacing Windows as the dominant platform on which the next generation of applications was being built.

Another key to what distinguished the web applications that survived the dot-com bust from those that died was that the survivors all, in one way or another, worked to harness the collective intelligence of their users.

“Global consciousness is that thing that decided that decaffeinated coffee pots should be orange.” — Computer scientist Danny Hill

Once an event occurs, all possibilities collapse into the one reality that we call the present, and then, in an instant, the past. But even the past, seemingly fixed as it appears, is an illusion constantly updated by new knowledge from the present.

A key lesson for every entrepreneur – Ask yourself: What is unthinkable?

“Apps can do now what managers used to do.” — Finnish management consultant Esko Kilpi

More than 63 million Americans (roughly half of all households) are now enrolled in Amazon Prime. Amazon has more than 200 million active credit card accounts; 55% of online shoppers now begin their search at Amazon, and 46% of all nine shopping happens on the platform.

A company is now a hybrid organism, made up of people and machines.

There are more than 2 million apps for the iPhone and they have been downloaded 130 billion times. App developers have earned nearly $50 billion in revenue.

With the rise of GPS, we are heading for a future where speeding motorists are no longer pulled over by police officers who happen to spot them, but instead automatically ticketed whenever they exceed the speed limit. We can also imagine a future in which that speed limit is automatically adjusted based on the amount of traffic, weather conditions, and other variable conditions that make a higher or lower speed more appropriate than the static limit that is posted today.
One of the simplest algorithmic interventions Facebook and Twitter could make would be to ask people, “Are you sure you want to share that link? You don’t appear to have read the story.

Subscription-based publication have an incentive to serve their readers; advertising-based publications have an incentive to server their advertisers.

We are increasingly creating an economy that is producing too much of what only some people can afford to buy.

“The job” is an artificial construct, in which work is managed and parceled out by corporations and other institutions, to which individuals must apply to participate in doing the work.

“There may need to be two kinds of money: machine money, and human money. Machine money is what you use to to buy things that are produced by machines. These things are always getting cheaper. Human money is what you use to buy things that only humans can produce.” — Paul Buchheit (creator of Gmail)

The rich still live in a world where doctors make house calls and personal tutoring is the norm.

“If you want to understand the future, just look at what rich people do today.” — Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist

In a connected world where knowledge is available on demand, we need to rethink what people need to know and how they come to know it.

More than 100 million hours of how-to video were watched on YouTube in North America during the first four months of 2015.

Who will buy the products of companies that no longer pay workers to create them?

Distraction

I’m re-reading Distraction by Bruce Sterling. Published in 1998, it is/was frighteningly prescient.  Here are a few of my favorite excerpts (does that first one remind you of anyone?).

“He’s like a not very bright child who can be deceived and managed, but not reasoned with.”

“The American national character realty wasn’t suited for global police duties. It never had been. Tidy and meticulous people such as the Swiss and Swedes were the types who made good cops. America was far better suited to be the World’s Movie Star. The world’s tequila-addled pro-league bowler. The world’s acerbic, bipolar stand-up comedian. Anything but a somber and tedious nation of socially responsible centurions.”

“It always offended him to hear his fellow Americans discussing the vagaries of “white people.” There was simply no such thing as “white people. That stereotype was an artificial construct, like the ridiculous term “Hispanic.” In all the rest of the world, a Peruvian was a Peruvian and a Brazilian was a Brazilian— it was only in America that people somehow became this multilingual, multinational entity called a “Hispanic.”

“Political reality in modern America was the stark fact that electronic networks had eaten the guts out of the old order, while never finding any native order of their own. The horrific speed of digital communication, the consonant flattening of hierarchies, the rise of net-based civil society, and the decline of the industrial base had simply been too much for the American government to cope with and successfully legitimize.”

“Knowledge is inherently precious even if you can’t sell it. Even if you can’t use it. Knowledge is an absolute good. The search for truth is vital. It’s central to civilization. You need knowledge even when your economy and government are absolutely shot to hell.”

Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash coming to Amazon Prime

“Snow Crash will be a one-hour drama. A product of the early 1990s, it’s set in a failed state that used to be America, where the corporations run everything. It too has a vast artificial location, but this time it’s the Metaverse, Stephenson’s extrapolation of a VR-enabled Internet. Hiro Protagonist—an on-the-nose name if ever there was—is a hacker and pizza delivery driver for the Mafia who comes into possession of dangerous file, Snow Crash, which sends him on a rabbit chase.”

Amazon commissions three new sci-fi shows: Lazarus, Snow Crash, and Ringworld

Why Buddhism Is True

The full title of this book is: Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. And it’s the science and philosophy parts of the book that I found most insightful. There is so much within and about Buddhism that are really hard for me to grasp. Emptiness, non-self, just to mention two. This book gave me — for the first time — a tiny, brief glimpse of what these might be. The author explains how natural selection plays such an important role in determining who and what we are. And his explanation of consciousness is the best I’ve come across. This was a breakthrough book for me. I’ll be reading it again. Here are a few excerpts, stripped of all context. Continue reading