Archive for June, 2006


RAW States

In an interview from 1995 Robert Anton Wilson talks about the way he thinks:

“More scientific than religious. More open than dogmatic. More optimistic than pessimistic. More future oriented than past oriented. And more humorous than serious. I really dread serious people. Especially serious, dogmatic people. I regard them as sort of what [Wilhelm] Reich called the emotional plague. I regard them as very dangerous.”

I find this scientific, open, optimistic, future oriented, humorous state a wonderful state for learning — in fact a wonderful state for living. I understand more and more why Richard and RAW get along so well.

This was all spawned by me trying to find more info on the SMIILE concept (from Timothy Leary via RAW) which was triggered by the awarding of the first Heinlein prize. (SMIILE stands for Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, and Life Extension. There is some connection. I promise.)

If you’re ready for a mind expanding experience (sans LSD) check out some of the RAW library.

It’s amazing where a little curiosity can lead.

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Living Is Simple

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity!” –Albert Einstein

Is Uncle Albert really suggesting that time is that fickle? Can I really have more time in my day? Or is it just our perception of time that is malleable? What about the “over night success” stories where the person has been in the business for 5, 10, even 20 years? Is that success fast or slow? Or the young pianist who spends an hour a day drilling their basics. Are they going slowly since they are not yet playing sonatas or songs off the radio? Or the linguist who learns a new language in a week. Are they a fast learner or does one count the years of learning syntax and semantics that allow this newest language to be readily absorbed?

You already have some of my views on “easy” from previous posts, so you know that I’m not a fan of easy. In fact I often say “we can’t do it that way, that would be too easy!” While the comment is typically facetious there is some part of me that really believes that easy is less than useful. Visiting the dictionary again I hit upon the crux of the matter: “requiring little labor or effort.” There is a distinct difference between making a task look effortless and it truly being effortless. Masters of their art have the appearance of effortlessness built upon their mastery of the basics. “Easy” makes me uneasy with the implication that we can bypass the basics and get results that are still valuable. This is like building your house with no foundation because the ground looks solid enough. It may pay off in the short run but it won’t be long before you find everything collapsing around your ears.

“To be simple is to be great.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Simple, on the other hand, can be very useful. Wouldn’t you like a six step process that you can apply every time you are experiencing an unwanted emotion? Better yet, a 3 step process for changing your feelings about a situation without changing the situation. Sound simple enough yet?

Best of all would be a simple system. W. Edwards Deming determined statistically that 85 percent (or more) of a worker’s effectiveness is determined by the systems they work within while only 15 percent is the individual worker’s skills. So let’s find someone who is really good at what we want to learn and borrow their system by eliciting their strategies. Or design a system for ourselves that we can test and improve over time.

This is where the legendary 80/20 rule comes into play. Whether you change the numbers (I’ve seen 85/15, 90/10, 94/6) or attribute it to Paredo, Jurin, or Deming the core of the idea stands. A small portion of your efforts determine the bulk of your results. Part of that “first 15%” includes establishing your systems and developing basic skills so that you can have mastery over the other 85% and have your “overnight success” after your unseen hard work.

Just because it is simple does not mean there isn’t effort involved, in fact it typically seems to be the opposite. Often the simpler the idea, the more labor it may take (otherwise everyone would already be doing it). Labor is a great word in this case because most of these simple systems are not only a labor of love but are like delivering a baby. That spark of inspiration, the long wait as it develops, the overnight success of birthing, and now all you have to do is nurture, encourage, and guide your baby’s development.

What could you love enough to develop into maturity?

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The Wailing Siren of "Easy"

I was going to talk about birds hatching from eggs and butterflies struggling out of cocoons and how “helping” them actually kills them. Then I decided on less cliche and more thought.

After generating the title (and enjoying the ambiguity) I pulled up a definition for siren, mostly to make sure I had the correct spelling for the mythological mademoiselles. I was surprised by more than the usual Webster’s definitions.


SIREN, n. One of several musical prodigies famous for a vain attempt to dissuade Odysseus from a life on the ocean wave. Figuratively, any lady of splendid promise, dissembled purpose and disappointing performance.

I initially blew off Ambrose Bierce’s rendition as not nearly as pithy as his usual and too similar to the “real” definition. Then I reread the entry and set aside my prejudices (as much as possible). I still threw away the first sentence as being too mundane, however the second sentence became another gem in the rough.

A common form of “easy” is winning the lottery. At least one study shows that a majority of lottery “millionaires” end up overextended with a high rate of divorce. So many buy into the hype of what it means to have money and have no way of dealing with the reality. Most had not learned the skills necessary to manage their money even before their windfall. I have occasionally said that the lottery is a “math tax” levied against those who don’t understand statistics. Now I can add economics, finance, and/or psychology.

Another example that comes to mind is “unauthorized collaboration” in school (plagiarism of some form). There seems to be an increasing trend of students turning in assignments that are not their own. We will ignore for the moment the typically voiced theory that plagiarism “doesn’t hurt anyone.” Most students seem to think this is the “easy” way, and assuming they don’t get caught it may even appear that way. The trouble comes later when they find themselves in the “real world” and discover that they can’t turn in the next machinist’s work as their own. Even within their academic career they may find an exceptional teacher who expects them to know something about the topic on which they wrote a paper.

But it was easy!

“Easy” can quickly become Bierce’s “lady of splendid promise, dissembled purpose and disappointing performance.”

Some food for thought:

  • What keeps us so focused on the “easy” as opposed to doing “work”?
  • What was the last worthwhile thing you did that was easy?
  • How quickly will you separate the frustration or boredom you may feel from the actual tasks involved in achieving your goals?

Let “easy” be a warning siren rather than beckoning your ship onto the rocks.

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