Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Crass lessons from 2013

1. Lessons should never be compartmentalized, because decompartmentalizing them always seems disruptive. Yet, progress cannot be achieved without continuous criticism and learning.

2. Everywhere in life, contradictions are inevitable, especially amidst human activity.

3. It's a meritocratic world. Contribute something valuable or perish. 

4. You live a finite life. Therefore, self-interest is necessary at some, if not all points in life.

5. Sure, the world changes and so should practices. But the experience of elders counts. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Settlement of Thought

There was once a group of Thoughts that called themselves the Envies. They distinguished themselves apart from another group of Thoughts who were known as the Tomorrows.

At some point in time, all Thoughts were one huge body of thought. There was no real distinction, and so there was much diversity. Each Thought saw themselves as unique yet living in unity. When they bumped into each other, they explained their perspective. When two Thoughts were in disagreement, they spent all the time it took to understand one another, whether it was to conclude that they were almost the same, or nothing alike.

One day, one Thought decided that it was time to make a decision and settle down. It did not want to learn about new Thoughts. It did not have the patience to walk around and learn where other thoughts originated, or why. It felt completely sure of itself. So it named itself an Envy Thought.

Eventually, other Thoughts grew attracted to Envy's settlement. It saved them the effort of going about and learning about other Thoughts. They grew complacent. They grew shorter tempers. And they moved less.

As the Envies gathered a critical mass, everyThought else wanted to do something about it. They couldn't keep losing themselves to settlement because it endangered Thought itself. So all the other Thoughts decided to focus on tomorrow, and how to best think about the future of the existence of Thought.

And that's how the Envies got distinguished from the Tomorrows.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

People vs. process

Processes were never defined without people. Many processes are made completely by humans (procurement processes, roadworks, negotiations, etc). Natural processes that do not seem to originate from human actions, such as tidal waves or earthquakes, are attributed to bigger powers that humans disassociate from themselves. But even in the case of these natural processes, the language in which you understand the process is was a human creation and, subsequently, the form of that thought is as well.

When do processes take over people's lives?

Are these processes really "taking over" people's lives or only their decision-making power?

To what end will processes be more important than people?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The 24th hour paradox

On our 24-hour clocks, we say there are 24 hours, with 12-midnight being 00:00. But why does this clock never actually hit 24:00? And since it is impossible for it to ever get to 24:00, does it make sense that we call it a 24-hour clock?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Boundaries and thinking

When do we think most efficiently? A joke with one of my managers at work today got me started on this (thanks, VL). My guess is that boundaries, such as an office with all the objects and activities it involves, focus thinking. That is why we institutionalize great ideas. And when one needs an "open" mind, they tend to leave the confined set of objects and activities in order to "think outside the box". In short, leaving boundaries helps thinking.

But what about other, bigger boundaries. Such as our households, education systems and nation states? Surely, we come to point where we can't actually leave because we've been brought up in those boundaries. To step outside those would be to go insane, to lose touch of what we know and hold as truth.

So, can we ever think outside boundaries?

I believe we can, and this is what makes religion and/or metaphysics interesting. There are concepts in religious values, ethics and morals that cannot be described in words (see a previous post on Wittgenstein here), but they exist in thought. The struggle we face is to bring these thoughts into the world through communication with one another in a way that is as close to the truth of the thought as possible.

Perhaps this means we while we can think efficiently in different spaces, will never speak our thoughts with 100% efficiency. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Buying as saving?

Do you ever get the feeling that disposable cash in your hand is more risky than buying something that will last long? Some economists are suggesting that reasoning may be sound (original paper here).

Since cows will earn the cow herder money through milk, dung and eventually meat, it's no surprise they are seen as assets. But what makes the above articles special is that this is continued even though cows have negative returns for the herders after accounting for the cost of labor in herding, caring and maintaining the space of the cow.

So why do they continue buying cows?

Well, as the Economist article also suggests, it's because immediate desires outweigh the prospect of future benefits. It seems as though the cow will earn the herder good money later, so they put in the labor to buy, herd, care and maintain the cow.

Cow-caring can become easier, or the cost of cow-caring can be reduced, but the human/emotional pull of immediete desires will remain.

So perhaps it is sometimes "more human" to buy rather than save, and in some ways it is also economical. But do we always have the foresight to know how much it takes to maintain/use what we buy?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More on MOOCs

I just came by this NYTimes article which is a somber reflection on the progress of MOOCs.

One example (from a few):

"Much of the hope - and hype - surrounding MOOCs has focused on the promise of courses for students in poor countries with little access to higher education. But a separate survey from the University of Pennsylvania released last month found that about 80 percent of those taking the university’s MOOCs had already earned a degree of some kind." 

The first opinion on the article posted here agrees with this reflection.

For me, the power of MOOCs lies in the ability to (1) disseminate content in a smartly moderated way, and (2) to collect feedback directly from any number of students. Perhaps I am blurring the lines too much between MOOCs and VLEs, but the ways in which a "stranger"-student would be able to contribute to the content that will be taught next time around seems powerful to me.

Why, then, do we busy ourselves in worrying about how students will learn what we already teach in classrooms? Isn't it time we reviewed what truths we prescribe for the future's people? If they don't shape it, do we expect that we will shape the rest of history?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Risky truth

About 300 years ago, the scientific method was developed as a way to find new knowledge while making room to discredit faulty knowledge.

This Economist article brings this method into question today. It discusses how the new knowledge we read in journals today could be unverified. It could be unverified because experiments are seldom repeated, when they once were to test the authenticity of findings across different contexts.

What's the implication of this? It means that "new" knowledge is spreading uncontested, meaning it could be totally baseless. And if this is what ends up shaping how we educate the young, from primary to secondary to higher education systems, then what will they really know in 50 years? 100 years? 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Risk mitigation

Niel to Vincent (Heat, 1995):

A guy told me one time, "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."

Monday, December 2, 2013

When rhythm meets rhyme

It's not everyday I come across a track that just fits. The rhythm meets the rhyme. Something about the chords enveloping the emotion makes a lotta sense.

I get the impression this happens best when the artist tells it like it is. In this Bruno Mars / Damian track, I find the message to be depressing, but it's still a track that clicks on point for me.

Damian has the only line in the track that actually tells us the whole story is a depressing one: "Nuff ghetto youth cannot escape the trap".

The rest of the track seems quite sarcastic, telling it like it is, getting messed up today thinking tomorrow's going to be just fine. Yet, if the track had rhymes like most others do, discussing the problem and really getting down with the message, I don't think it would ring the same tone with me.

There's also the music, and it could be that the construction of this track is really what's special about it. But I like to believe that when rhythm and rhyme meet, when you tell it like it is, that's when truth becomes most apparent. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Moto thoughts / Motots: The big picture

It's been an absolute pleasure going to the Moto meetings once a month. Our discussions span a variety of topics in the art and culture of writing, including formulating good storylines, character development, dedication to drafts, copyright, etc.

This past Wednesday, as we were discussing someone's piece, it became apparent that we were divided in how we think an author should visualize their story. One half of us contended that in order to write a terrific story, even if it ends abruptly, the author needs to have the whole story clearly laid out in their mind. The other half of us contended that the author doesn't necessarily have to have the whole story mapped out, since they may want to involve the readers' perspective in shaping the "rest" of the story.

So what is this bigger picture in the mind of an author: Is it the entire story, including words not included on the page? Or is it many different stories, some finished, some unfinished?

Perhaps this has to do with how we treat/understand time. If time and the events that happen in it are predictable, then we can see the bigger story. If time and events in it are unpredictable, then the bigger story is difficult to see in one go; it unfolds more and more as each event transpires.

I found this discussion very relevant to The Global Eye series. I did not initiate that story with the whole story in mind. Rather, I wanted to see what kind of spin others could put on it. And the more we wrote for it, the more I began to see the story unfold. Strangely however, since I have been developing the entire story in mind, I cannot seem to write another short episode... trying to though.