May 30th, 2014

Alan Watts on business, ‘rascality’ and trust

May 8th, 2014

Psychogeography and the dérive


…The situationists’ desire to become psychogeographers, with an understanding of the ‘precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’, was intended to cultivate an awareness of the ways in which everyday life is presently conditioned and controlled, the ways in which this manipulation can be exposed and subverted, and the possibilities for chosen forms of constructed situations in the post-spectacular world. Only an awareness of the influences of the existing environment can encourage the critique of the present conditions of daily life, and yet it is precisely this concern with the environment which we live which is ignored.


Psychogeography on wikipedia

November 17th, 2013

beating the ghosts out

A young Alan Watts.

November 7th, 2013

I know I don’t need to believe, I know

October 27th, 2013

the temperament to which art appeals

The temperament to which Art appeals … is the temperament of receptivity. That is all.

If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question.

Oscar Wilde, via BrainPickings.

September 21st, 2013

is it real?

It’s an old tradition in the West among great poets that poetry is rarely thought of as ‘just poetry.’ Real poetry practitioners are practitioners of mind awareness, or practitioners of reality, expressing their fascination with a phenomenal universe and trying to penetrate to the heart of it. Poetics isn’t mere picturesque dilettantism or egotistical expressionism for craven motives grasping for sensation and flattery. Classical poetry is a ‘process,’ or experiment—a probe into the nature of reality and the nature of the mind …

Real poetry isn’t consciously composed as ‘poetry,’ as if one sat down to compose a poem or a novel for publication. Some people do work that way: artists whose motivations are less interesting than those of Shakespeare, Dante, Rimbaud, and Gertrude Stein, or of certain surrealist verbal alchemists—or of the elders Pound and William Carlos Williams, or, specifically in our own time, of William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. For most of ‘The Moderns,’ as with the Imagists of the twenties and thirties in our [last] century, the motive has been purification of mind and speech.

—Allen Ginsberg, from ‘Meditation and Poetics’, in Going on Faith: Writing as a Spiritual Quest, edited by William Zinser (Marlowe & Co., 1999).

March 22nd, 2013

emotion produced by machines

This machine makes paper planes, but it also produces delight in certain people. Or is it the human innovation it represents that makes me smile? Hard to look at a machine like this and not see the person who made it.

February 24th, 2013

event partitioning

Don’t analyse me too much based on this comment, but I find it rather satisfying in a way to see a real-life system be broken down into its constituent functions, as in this system context diagram of a fictitious hotel. You could blow this diagram up to the size of a building and make ever smaller diagrams within the diagram to represent the functions within the functions within the functions within the functions…

In fact, I will do that one day. Ok, back to work.

(wikipedia link)

February 14th, 2013

it schedules me, I don’t schedule it

My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.

Ray Bradbury.

You do something all day long, don’t you? Everyone does. If you get up at seven o’clock and go to bed at eleven, you have put sixteen good hours, and it is certain that you have been doing something all that time. The only difference is that you do a great many things and I do one. If you took the time in question and applied it in one direction, you would succeed. Success is sure to follows such application. The trouble lies in the fact that people do not have one thing to stick to, letting all else go.

Thomas Edison on productivity.

January 23rd, 2013

I am full of life, I will go to sea and find an Antarctic continent

Emerson on Shakespeare and genius.

The Genius of our life is jealous of individuals, and will not have any individual great, except through the general. There is no choice to genius. A great man does not wake up on some fine morning, and say, ‘I am full of life, I will go to sea, and find an Antarctic continent: to-day I will square the circle: I will ransack botany, and find a new food for man: I have a new architecture in my mind: I foresee a new mechanic power:’ no, but he finds himself in the river of the thoughts and events, forced onward by the ideas and necessities of his contemporaries. He stands where all the eyes of men look one way, and their hands all point in the direction in which he should go. The church has reared him amidst rites and pomps, and he carries out the advice which her music gave him, and builds a cathedral needed by her chants and processions. He finds a war raging: it educates him, by trumpet, in barracks, and he betters the instruction. He finds two counties groping to bring coal, or flour, or fish, from the place of production to the place of consumption, and he hits on a railroad. Every master has found his material collected, and his power lay in his sympathy with his people, and in his love of the materials he wrought in.

A gorgeous and insightful text unearthed by 3qd. Do read more here.

October 31st, 2012

forgetting in order to remember

This post from Psyblog is a list of psychological observations to do with memory. Some observations reveal unintuitive patterns in memory, like this one:

If you want to learn to play tennis, is it better to spend one week learning to serve, the next week the forehand, the week after the backhand, and so on? Or should you mix it all up with serves, forehands and backhands every day?

It turns out that for long-term retention, memories are more easily recalled if learning is mixed up. This is just as true for both motor learning, like tennis, as it is for declarative memory, like what’s the capital of Venezuela (to save you googling: it’s Caracas).

The trouble is that learning like this is worse to start off with. If you practice your serve then quickly switch to the forehand, you ‘forget’ how to serve. So you feel things are going worse than if you just practice your serve over-and-over again. But, in the long-run this kind of mix-and-match learning works best.

One explanation for why this works is called the ‘reloading hypothesis’. Each time we switch tasks we have to ‘reload’ the memory. This process of reloading strengthens the learning.

That does make sense, actually. I recall noticing on one occasion that it was quite effective to learn a language whilst doing another task (i.e. returning to the language exercise regularly).

More here.

October 9th, 2012

making time

A psychological tip for plucking extra time out of thin air (or at least, giving value to the time we have): give it away.

One new study claims that when we spend our time on other people we feel like we have done something valuable and our perspective on time changes. People think they are capable of more in the time they have.

The impact of giving time on feelings of time affluence is driven by a boosted sense of self-efficacy. Consequently, giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.

Of course, people whose jobs it is to help others all day are not good examples of people who will benefit from this observation.

(via psyblog)

September 17th, 2012

in aristotelian wars the combatants simply fight forever

He understands, as Darwin would, that there is a war of nature. But, where in Darwinian wars some species flourish while others go extinct, in Aristotelian wars the combatants simply fight forever.

A documentary exploring Aristotle’s biological investigations and comparing his understanding to our current knowledge.

August 24th, 2012

the sky-as-limit exam

[Economy professor Tyler Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and said, “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out. The funniest thing was when a student came in late and I had to explain to him what the exam was and he didn’t believe me!

This sounds like an excellent way to challenge individuals and let them express their interests and potential, guiding education in a more healthy direction… Probably a little too challenging/individualistic to be used below university level.

Seth Roberts via

August 3rd, 2012

doubting your doubt

Some interesting psychological observations around doubt and hestitation.

For their research Wichman et al. (2010) recruited people who were chronically uncertain. They were then given a test which unconsciously encouraged them to be uncertain about their uncertainty. This was done by getting them to unscramble sentences which were related to uncertainty, like: “her speaker doubt I explanations” (you’re allowed to drop one word, in this case ‘speaker’).

Ironically it didn’t increase their uncertainty further but reduced it. This suggests that doubting your doubt can be useful. Of course this wasn’t a permanent solution, but it did momentarily reduce their levels of uncertainty.

Just the same effect could be seen when participants in a second study shook, rather than nodded their heads. The physical action of shaking their head while thinking about their uncertainty caused one to cancel out the other. Through this they temporarily reduced their doubts.

The second study suggests to me that being made aware of your hesitation encourages you to consciously shake it off.

More at psyblog

July 16th, 2012

universal incompetence in measuring competence

Another insightful post from Psyblog explains the ‘worse-than-average effect’:

This means that when you’re good at something, you tend to assume that other people are good at it as well. So, when you’re faced with a difficult task that you are good at, you underestimate your own ability.

It doesn’t just kick in when we have special skills, but also when we think that the odds are long, say because the task is particularly difficult. For example Kruger (1999) found that people underestimate their ability at stereotypically difficult tasks like playing chess, telling jokes, juggling or computer programming.

On the other hand they overestimate their ability at stereotypically easy tasks like using a mouse, driving a car or riding a bicycle.

Read further here.

June 30th, 2012

the last of the curiosi

Image: Leif Parsons.

Justin Smith speaks of the loss of a bygone approach to science — a philosophical, curiosity-bound sort — leaving philosophy out in the cold as a separate and constrained entity in contemporary society.

Now surely it is a good thing that today there are, say, helminthologists, who can devote all their time to the study of worms without having to worry about how these creatures fit into the cosmic order, or into God’s design, as you wish. But if helminthology has cleared away the cosmological dross that weighed it down back when it was part of natural philosophy, philosophy meanwhile may have lost something that once helped to fuel it: a curiosity about the world in all its detail, a desire to know everything encyclopedically, rather than to bound its pure activity off from the impure world of worms and so on, a world philosophy might approach through that succinct preposition, of — as in “philosophy of physics,” “philosophy of law” — which permits philosophy to stand apart, and implicitly above, the mundane objects of its attention.

Read The Flight of Curiosity (2011) at NYTimes Opinionator.

June 30th, 2012

the ritual of restaurant wine tasting

Having worked as a waiter in a restaurant, I sometimes wondered what was the point of allowing the host to taste the wine before drinking even when the wine came from a bottle with a rubber cork or a screwtop (therefore making it impossible for the wine to be ‘corked’).

Alex at Museum of Hoaxes points out that there is of course more to the tasting than the tasting itself. It is a ritual by which the experience of drinking wine is given more importance and meaning, and the host is honoured by being given the first taste. Alex refers the Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man:

‘Tasting’ used to be the common preliminary rite in ancient times. Generally the first drink was taken by the chief of a tribe because he had to be served first as the representative of the god. It also symbolically lifted the taboo that prohibited drinking on ordinary occasions, and neutralized the mana that inheres in sacramental drinks. It was also an assurance to guests that the drink was not poisoned.

Even today in western society the man ordering a bottle of wine for his companions, or offering wine to guests, often has the first sip from his glass and then has the other glasses filled. This is a survival of the old ‘tasting’ custom, by which the host ‘approved’ the drink, and ensured that it was free from poison. In Moslem countries the ruler had an official taster, and only after he had tried the sultan’s food and drink in his presence without ill effects, did the latter partake of them himself.

Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man

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