Tag: Big Think

A Letter to Mr. Cosmos, Page Two

The concluding part of my letter to Mr. Cosmos.

Your Universe, Mr. Cosmos, is an enormous place.

Just the view at night from one small planet, the one that I happen to live on, Planet Earth, reveals millions upon millions of stars. It is then beyond inconceivable that there are not, in turn, countless numbers of other planets.

Extending this line of thought and recognising that a ‘mere’ billion years after the formation of our solar system and Planet Earth, some 4.54 billion years ago, the earliest life appeared, we can’t surely be alone!

Granted it was only cyanobacteria, as in blue-green algae, but, but, but ……… that this evolution of life on Planet Earth, and that evolution eventually leading to intelligent life, including the gift to us humans of the genetic separation of the dog from the wolf some 100,000 years ago, has not occurred on other planets is also totally inconceivable.

So, dear Mr. Cosmos, why have we not detected any signs of that intelligent life. Where are they?

Mr. Cosmos, back in June this year there was an article on the Big Think site that asked just this question.

Are we alone in the universe? New Drake equation suggests yes

A fresh take on the decades-old Drake equation incorporates new factors and greater uncertainty, suggesting a high likelihood that humanity is alone in the universe.

By , 25th June, 2018

At the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi famously posed to his colleagues a simple question borne of complex math: ‘Where are they?’

He was asking about aliens—intelligent ones, specifically. The Italian-American scientist was puzzled as to why mankind hasn’t detected any signs of intelligent life beyond our planet. He reasoned that even if life is extremely rare, you’d still expect there to be many alien civilizations given the sheer size of the universe. After all, some estimates indicate that there is one septillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, stars in the universe, some of which are surrounded by planets that could probably support life.

So, where are they, and why aren’t they talking to us?

Now, as the article reveals, there is a lot to tackling this question, much of it involving statistics and mathematics, but it does prove one very important fact: Finding another planet as good for life and humanity as this one is just about impossible.

This is our only home!!

My wish, dear Mr. Cosmos, to you is this: That before I die it becomes clear beyond question that the peoples of this sweet Planet, from the lone individual living on some island out in the wilderness to the Governments of the most powerful nations on Earth, understand that nothing is more important than loving, caring for and looking after Planet Earth.

I remain, dear Mr. Cosmos, your respectful servant.

Paul H.

Who do you think you are?

Talk about extremes of topics!

Yesterday it was gliding, tomorrow it is going to be a celebration of Pharaoh’s 14th birthday and today it is about you!

Kadam Morten Clausen is a Buddhist teacher. Now I would be the first to stick up my arm and say that my understanding of Buddhism is pretty poor. But in the days many years back when I spent time exploring a number of Asian countries I found the culture surrounding Buddhism very appealing. (And I write as someone who is not a religious believer.)

Back to Morten Clausen.

The Kadampa Meditation Center in New York, where Kadam is a resident teacher, describe him as follows:

Kadam Morten Clausen is the Eastern US National Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition and Resident Teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Center New York City, and also Bodh Gaya Center in Bayside, Queens. For over 30 years he has been a close disciple of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who gave him the title “Kadam,” indicating that he is a senior lay teacher of the Kadampa Tradition.

Kadam Morten met his teacher, Geshe Kelsang, while attending university in England. He taught widely throughout the UK and helped develop many Kadampa Centers in England. Kadam Morten has been teaching in the US for more than 20 years and has established centers throughout the New York area, as well as Washington DC, Virginia, and Puerto Rico. In addition to his local teaching responsibilities, he teaches and guides retreats regularly throughout the United States and Europe.

Kadam Morten is greatly admired as a meditation teacher and is especially known for his clarity, humor and inspirational presentation of Dharma. His teachings are always practical and easy to apply to everyday life. Through his gentle and joyful approach and his peaceful example, he has helped many people find true happiness in their hearts.

So what’s this all about when I say that today’s post is about you?

Enjoy the following, recently published on the Big Think site:


Science and Buddhism Agree: There Is No “You” There

The power of words.

Junot Díaz reflects on the novel.

Communicating with written words may be older than we can possibly imagine. Yet, despite the very modern world of digital communications, the power of communicating with written words is probably more widespread than ever before. Let’s just dip into the world of blogging, or more accurately put, let’s dip into the world of WordPress blogging. The quickest of web searches revealed that:

74.6 Million Sites Depend on WordPress

Yep, you read that right. 74,652,825 sites out there are depending on good ol’ WordPress. That’s one site per person in Turkey.

Around 50% of this figure (close to 37 million) is hosted on the free WordPress.com.

Or try this amazing fact:

6 New WordPress.com Posts Every Second

That’s right. Every second, close to 6 (the actual figure is 5.7) new posts are published on WordPress.com blogs. That averages out to 342 posts per minute. Just above 20,000 per day. And a grand total of 7.49 million annually.

If you are wondering what brought on this rash of discovery, it was me wanting to find a way of introducing a talk that was recently given by Junot Díaz. Wikipedia explains that:

Junot Díaz (born December 31, 1968) is a Dominican American writer, creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and fiction editor at Boston Review. He also serves on the board of advisers for Freedom University, a volunteer organization in Georgia that provides post-secondary instruction to undocumented immigrants. Central to Díaz’s work is the immigrant experience. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in 2008. He is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow.

Junot Díaz
Junot Díaz

Recently, the Big Think blog had an article by Díaz that I wanted to share with you dear readers of Learning from Dogs. For it struck me as a wonderful reminder of the power of writing and, especially, the power of writing fiction.

For reasons that I don’t understand the video in that Big Think piece is longer than the version that is on YouTube. So, watch the YouTube version coming up now, and if you want more then click the link just below that YouTube insertion.

Literature, explains Pulitzer-winning writer Junot Díaz, is the closest that we’ve come to telepathy. It’s through literature that we educate our souls by transporting ourselves into some other character’s mind. It builds empathy. It allows for new perspectives. It triggers provocation in all the best ways. Novels aren’t as popular a medium today as something like Twitter, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still hugely important.

The summary posted above was taken from the Big Think site, and if you go there you can read more, and watch the full 4-minute version of the video.

Finally, this coming Sunday is the 1st November, and November is the month for National Novel Writing Month. Whether or not you wonder if you have a full novel inside you, even if you have the slightest curiousity, pop over to the NaNoWriMo website and get involved!

Cornwall in lights!

A highly fascinating glimpse of a lightning strike.

As seen on ‘big think‘.


Forking Amazing: Cornwall-shaped Lightning Hits Cornwall

by FRANK JACOBS AUGUST 2, 2014, 1:53 PM

“This is a once in a lifetime photo”, says Arron McNally. “There will never be one like it again”. A few evenings ago, the Cornish father of five was watching a spectacular electrical storm with his wife Krista Oflynn from their daughter Kelly’s bedroom window.

No doubt to allay the four-year-old’s fear of the storm, mum and dad started a competition to see who could snap the most spectacular fork of lightning on camera. “When I caught this one I knew I was the winner”, Arron (26) says. Scrolling back to see the picture he had taken of a particularly bright strike nearby, he immediately recognised the outline: “It was exactly the same shape as Cornwall – it was as if someone drew a map of the county in the sky”.

The incident is related in the Plymouth Herald, which covers parts of Cornwall and Devon, in the southwest of England. The paper quotes unnamed ‘experts’ who claim this is “the first time on record that a place has been struck by lightning which looks like the area itself”. While that sounds suspiciously like that old trick in the journalist’s book – faking an ‘anonymous source’ to use an unverifiable quote you came up with yourself – it is true that the resemblance is uncanny.

Cornwall map

Cornwall is England’s southwesternmost county, a wedge-shaped peninsula dividing the Celtic Sea to its west from the English Channel to its east. The peninsula’s tip is known as Land’s End. On the other side of the county, the River Tamar separates Cornwall from Devon, and the rest of England. Some would even say: from England proper – Cornwall, although officially English, has its own Celtic history, culture and language. Some locals promote the separate Cornish identity (reviving the virtually extinct Kernowek language – see also #13) and even strive for larger political autonomy. In April 2014, the Cornish were granted minority status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

The bolt of lightning photographed by Arron McNally mirrors the geography of Cornwall in a few crucial areas. The main streak at the bottom and the secondary one on top together suggest the wedge shape of the county. Two protrusions at bottom left of the fiery constellation resemble Land’s End, the neighbouring Lizard peninsula (Britain’s southernmost) and Mount’s Bay between them. In fact, the Lizard is suggested twice, by a second downward stab of lightning to the right; next, a hint of the gentler curve of Falmouth Bay. The fainter, northerly streak of lightning also shows a passing resemblance to the northern Cornish coastline, from St. Ives Bay to where the line fades.

Cornwall 2
The ‘meteorologists’ quoted by the Herald may or may not be right in claiming that the Cornwall-shaped lightning is a ‘world first’ – how could you be sure of either? – this certainly isn’t the first time this blog has reported on weird territorial echoes.

Some time ago, this blog reported on a mysterious Nebraska-shaped field in Nebraska (see #426). And recently, we demonstrated how Belgium possesses a body double in one of its own provinces (see #659). But, most strangely of all: this is not the first time that Cornwall’s shapely contour has been shown to possess a curious double (see #555). And they say lightning never strikes twice…


Many thanks to Stijn Meuris for sending in this picture. Main info from this page at the Plymouth Herald. Bigger image of the lightning bolt taken here from the Jedi Council Forums.


You all have a great weekend and don’t stand out in the open if there’s a thunderstorm about!

More on using our minds.

Interesting sequel to yesterday’s post.

Yesterday,  I published a post under the title of Just to focus our minds.  It featured a chart that demonstrated how long Planet Earth would take to ‘recover’ if the human race disappeared today.

Why today’s post seemed a perfect companion was because it explores how we could think better.  For if the human race doesn’t quickly find a way to think better, then that aforementioned chart may not be such an academic abstract after all.

The post is more or less a copy of what appeared on the Big Think blogsite, a site I have been following for some time now.


Want to Make a Difference in the World? Think Small

Stephen Dubner
Stephen Dubner

Ambition can work against you by leading you to set unrealistic and overwhelming goals. Want to make a difference in the world? Think small. It’s much less complicated, you’ll have easier access to the data that you’ll need. Most importantly, you will preserve one of your most precious resources: optimism.

Having the will to attack an issue at its root—from launching a socially conscious business to demanding more green spaces in your neighborhood—requires energy and enthusiasm to see the project through. By being less ambitious in your plans you’re more likely to stick with them and be successful.

Besides, when you first developed your problem-solving skills you were small—a child. Stephen Dubner, the co-author, with economist Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics and Think Like a Freak, wants you to go back to that way of thinking:

One of the most powerful pieces of thinking like a child that we argue is thinking small. So I realize that this runs exactly counter to the philosophy of the arena in which I’m appearing which is thinking big, Big Think, but our argument is this. Big problems are by their nature really hard to solve for a variety of reasons. One is they’re large and therefore they include a lot of people and therefore they include a lot of crossed and often mangled and perverse incentives. But also a big problem – when you think about a big problem like education reform. You’re dealing with an institution or set of institutions that have gotten to where they’ve gotten to this many, many years of calcification and also accidents of history. What I mean by that is things have gotten the way they’ve gotten because of a lot of things a few people did many, many years ago and traditions were carried on.

Want to break those traditions and build something new and forward-thinking? Then curb your ambition. Start to look at the world again with the eyes of a child.

 Stephen Dubner talks about [that YouTube link reveals the transcript of the talk. PH] the importance of thinking small in order to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems piece by piece. Dubner is the co-author of Think Like a Freak


Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt co-authored the book Freakonomics. If you are interested, the Freakonomics website is here.

Interesting approach.

Being tied to that mast!

What an expanse of learning is out there in this modern interconnected world!

I try to limit my following to those organisations and writers who offer me the opportunity of learning.  Whether something I was previously unaware of or a sight of the world from an unfamiliar perspective, it’s a rare day when something doesn’t ‘pass my screen’ that offers an ‘Ah, ha’ moment.

Such as the following essay by Dave Nussbaum that recently appeared on the Big Think website.  Cheekily, I asked permission to republish and promptly and generously both Dave and Daniel Honan, managing editor of Big Think, said yes.  Thank you, gentlemen.

A quick web search finds that Dave Nussbaum is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science, University of Chicago Booth School of Business.  (I couldn’t avoid wondering if the learned Professor requires extra-large business cards! Sorry for that!)  To fill in a little more about the Professor, one can easily read that:


I am currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I received my PhD in Social Psychology from Stanford in 2008, working primarily with Claude Steele and Carol Dweck. I recently completed a SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Waterloo with Steve Spencer. My research is primarily focused on how people manage and defend their self-image in the face of threats, and how this affects their beliefs and behavior. I also explore how social contexts and psychological processes can either exacerbate threats to self-image or attenuate them. I have found that defensively managing self-image threats can often lead to negative consequences, including academic disidentification, missed learning opportunities, the avoidance of important medical tests, and persistence in failing investments. I believe that by identifying contexts and processes that attenuate threat, individuals and organizations can employ strategies to prevent these maladaptive outcomes.

So moving on past my quip about the length of Professor Nussbaum’s title, the summary above shows that this is one smart cookie!  Just go back and reread “My research is primarily focused on how people manage and defend their self-image in the face of threats, and how this affects their beliefs and behavior.” Then reflect on the range and scale of ‘threats’ facing millions of us across the world.  So research into “how social contexts and psychological processes can either exacerbate threats to self-image or attenuate them“, seems particularly appropriate for these times.

OK, without further ramblings from yours truly, here is that essay.


Odysseus Nudged: How Limiting Our Choices Can Give Us More Freedom

by Dave Nussbaum – May 27, 2013


According to legend, the Sirens were beautiful women whose voices were so alluring that when sailors heard their song they could not resist approaching and were drowned on the rocky shores of the island where the Sirens sang. No sailor had heard their song and lived until Odysseus, who, on the counsel of the goddess Circe, had his crew tie him to the mast of his ship. When he heard the Sirens’ song he begged to be released, but his crew, their ears plugged with beeswax, would not unbind him and saved him from his own desires. Odysseus was lucky – he knew that he would be unable to resist the Sirens and had himself bound – but people often have difficulty foreseeing their weakness from a distance. Sometimes they need help.

I love watching my not-quite-two-year-old son learn about the world from his mistakes. I look on with sympathy at his falls and bumps and spills and I try to restrain myself from interceding. But when he’s about to tumble down a flight of stairs I step in. It is difficult to balance preserving his freedom to explore and make his own mistakes with the desire to keep him safe. There’s a lot to be said for giving kids autonomy and letting them learn from experience, but sometimes you have to behave paternalistically and tie them to the mast (or at least install safety gates).

When you start treating grown men and women like you’re their father, though, the charge of paternalism becomes a more serious one. There may be cases in which a heavy-handed approach is necessary (particularly when people’s actions harm others), but we should be careful about using it. A more circumspect approach is libertarian paternalism, described by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in Nudge (and re-articulated more recently by Sunstein in his Simpler) as a way of influencing people to make decisions that they themselves would consider beneficial, without restricting their freedom.

Here, we are not tying Odysseus to the mast – the more appropriate analogy would be to the beeswax that Odysseus had his sailors put in their ears. The wax prevented the sailors from hearing the Sirens’ song and saved them from being lured to their deaths, but it also left them free to remove the wax if that is what they wanted to do. This sort of intervention is an acknowledgment that the sailors’ freedom is important, but also that people are not always perfectly rational. As Carnegie Mellon economist (and psychologist) George Loewenstein recently explained to me, “When people have problems exercising self-control, restricting their choices can, in some cases, leave them more freedom to choose.”

On its face, Loewenstein’s claim may seem paradoxical – isn’t a person most free when presented with all her options and allowed to choose among them? But as the mythical Sirens make clear, there are some options that we are not truly free to resist. Without beeswax in their ears Odysseus’ crew would have been doomed; the wax gave them the freedom to choose.

Take the recent attempt by New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to forbid stores from displaying cigarettes to their customers. Just like the beeswax did not prevent the sailors’ from choosing to hear the Sirens’ song, hiding cigarettes from view doesn’t prevent people from buying them. But, as Loewenstein explains, it makes it easier for those who may be trying to quit to avoid being lured back in.

When we pass laws that forbid the sale of cigarettes to minors we are being paternalistic. We are tying Odysseus to the mast, whether he likes it or not. But when we ban cigarette advertising that targets children – as the FTC did when it banned Joe Camel ads – we’re not tying anyone down. We are merely acknowledging that children are vulnerable to influences that may lead them to act contrary to their own interests and that they may not be in a position to resist these influences. Banning the display of cigarettes in stores is merely acknowledging that children aren’t the only ones who are vulnerable. The cigarettes, like the sirens, draw us in against our will. Putting them out of sight is like putting wax in our ears – we can easily still give in to temptation if we choose to, but we’re less at its mercy.

You can visit Dave Nussbaum’s blog at www.davenussbaum.com and follow Dave on Twitter at @davenuss79

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock.


The end of the world?

Maybe not from a Mayan perspective but, nevertheless, who knows!

For some time now I have subscribed to the online magazine Big Think.  Daniel Honan, Managing Editor, has contrived to bring together a group of very interesting authors from a wide range of disciplines, presenting a weekly collection of thought-provoking articles.  Despite the volume of emails that seems to assault my in-box each day, it’s very rare for me not to browse the weekly digest from Big Think.

Thus it was that early on the 13th (last Thursday) I read a wonderful item written by Steven V. Mazie, Associate Professor of Political Studies at Bard High School Early College-Manhattan.

A quick telephone call to Dan Honan produced an immediate ‘yes’ to my request for permission to republish the Steven Mazie piece here on Learning from Dogs so settle back and enjoy.


Googling the Apocalypse: the Web as Epistemological Vortex

Steven Mazie on December 11, 2012, 2:12 PM

Let’s say you’re just now tuning in to reports that the world will end on December 21 when the Mayan calendar resets to zero. Maybe you’re one of the 35 million Americans who fear it will really happen. Maybe the prospect of solar storms, rogue planets and devastating floods is a welcome distraction from more pedestrian anxieties of everyday life. Or maybe you’re just curious how such a ridiculous idea could persuade “panicked” Russians to buy up all the “matches, kerosene, sugar and candles” in town or spur a Chinese man to spend his life savings building an ark to keep him afloat after the catastrophe.

Where do you turn to learn more? To the epistemic umbrella of the 21st century, of course, and here is what Google will show you.


Do you consult the first hit, billed as the “official website for 122112 information”? Do you settle for the detailed account in the Wikipedia entry, listed second? Or do you flick down to the third, an earnest attempt by NASA to explain “Why the World Won’t End”?

If you go with the first site, you will find a bizarre, colorful bazaar of information, perspectives and advice on the approaching doomsday. There is enough to keep you occupied here for a while: a list of celebrities who believe the hype (finding Mel Gibson on the list isn’t much of a surprise, but Janeane Garofolo? really?), an article listing “37 Things You Should Start Hoarding Now” and one remarkable video summarizing the various ways the world might end and calling on world leaders to tell the “TRUTH” about the devastation awaiting us:

The video is a study in epistemic manipulation. Narrated by a man with a severe British accent, the presentation claims — three times — “we just don’t know what to believe anymore” about “the most anticipated date of our time.” Implying that the media, corporate advertisers, the “government-sponsored scientists” at NASA and “even highly respected major religious organizations” are all either mistaken or willfully fooling us, the video appeals to our “gut instincts that something is wrong — something just doesn’t feel right.” It’s a miracle Stephen Colbert hasn’t picked this up yet. “In the eyes of many,” the video announces with no substantiation, “the prophecies of doom have been written.”

The sad hilarity of NASA’s attempt to calm everyone down takes the form of a staid FAQ. There are no bells and whistles, videos, garish colors or flashing links. Just sober, somewhat condescending, straightforward claims: “Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.”

The problem is that credible science often fails to convince the masses. It cannot budge the majority of Americans who continue to deny the reality of evolution. It cannot convince more than 41 percent of Americans that the activities of human beings play a role in global warming. It’s no wonder, then, that so many people worldwide are keeping doomsday supply companies in business, buying up freeze-dried food rations and personal bunkers rather than Christmas presents, or that sites like December212012.com are profiting from these advertisers.

It’s dispiriting to witness the mass delusion of a tenth of humanity. You have to feel sorry for the Chinese ark-builder who will be left penniless on December 22, and you have to empathize with the people who are contemplating killing their pets or committing suicide to avoid the doomsday devastation.

But this unsettling phenomenon is a symptom of a universal human quandary: how to know whom to trust about things we can’t see or don’t understand. In a section on the rationality of belief in his delicious book Cunning (2006), political and legal theorist Don Herzog offers this:

What you believe depends on who you believe. And who you believe depends on what you believe. Your beliefs, your knowledge, your experience, your assignments of what I’ll call epistemic authority, that is, who or what sources are trustworthy on what issues: all are caught up in each other…Whether it’s rational for you to believe something depends on how it fits in with what you already believe, not least about the credibility of those reporting it.

The best argument against the doomsday believers may come on December 22, when, with any luck, most of us will still be around. But as my fellow blogger David Ropeik explained recently, and as Herzog’s analysis indicates, the next epistemological doomsday is just around the corner.

Follow Steven Mazie on Twitter: @stevenmazie


My judgment is that I should leave this post as it is.  As a slightly tongue-in-cheek review of this much heralded prediction.

But I can’t.

I’m going to follow Steve’s article with this (thanks Christine):

More footage from Chasing Ice,  an astonishing clip of the largest iceberg calving ever recorded. Arctic sea ice levels this summer hit a record low; according to the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Centre in September, more than 600,000 square kilometres more ice had melted in 2012 than was ever recorded by satellites before. We are indeed melting our children’s future, and apparently many of us are too busy to hold our governments to account for their lack of action.

If we don’t change our ways on this beautiful planet pretty damn soon, then my guess is that we are headed for a massive depopulation and a return to a much more primitive lifestyle, a future that will be brutally obvious by 2020.

What is relevant, to a degree unprecedented in the history of humanity, is how the peoples of this planet respond NOW!

Historic times indeed.


Reflections on an election

A personal perspective on today’s American presidential election

Voting for truth!

In many ways, it’s helpful that despite being a resident of the USA I am not eligible to vote.  That’s because my residency status as a ‘Green card’ holder does not give me such entitlement.  That’s the domain of citizens, and rightly so.

The reason I find it helpful is that as a non-voter and still very much the ‘newcomer’ to this county, I view the proceedings from a different perspective; well that’s my take on things!

So here are two thoughts.


The motivation behind Learning from Dogs came from the realisation that dogs offer mankind many lessons, especially the one of behaving with integrity.  You can read more about this aspect of dogs here.

Maybe it’s a naive hope but politicians around the world must rapidly embrace the fact that without integrity in the political processes we are all lost.  To underline this plea, go and read a recent essay that was introduced by Daniel Honan on The Big Think. Here’s a dip into that:

Larry Lessig: End Raging Cronyism, Save Our Republic

What’s the Big Idea?

If you are not planning to vote in the upcoming election, Larry Lessig has a good explanation why.

You, like most Americans, believe that money buys results in Congress. No matter who wins, you believe that corporate interests will still have too much power and prevent real change. You are correct in your belief that money buys results in Congress, Lessig says. However, he has a different prescription than non-participation.

What’s the Significance?

Lessig points out that .000015 percent, or 47 individuals, have given 42 percent of the Super PAC donations this election cycle. As a result of this “money election,” Lessig says a few powerful interests exert an influence that conflicts with the public good.

… 47 individuals, have given 42 percent of the Super PAC donations this election cycle.”  Just reflect on the power and influence that flows from such a distortion of fairness.


My second thought is about being truthful.

The time for all our leaders, right across the world, to come together and face the reality of climate change is upon us.  There is no time left to duck and weave.

Peter Sinclair of ClimateCrocks blogsite recently posted this video.  Watch it and ask yourself how much longer the leader of the most powerful nation in the world can sit on the sidelines of the greatest threat to our civilisation ever seen.

A coating of thought!

Evidence that supports the notion that deliberation is really rather a good idea!

In the issue of The Economist, the July 7th edition, there was a rather intriguing article from the pen of Schumpeter entitled,

In praise of procrastination

that proposes that the world of speed and instant decisions is much less efficient than giving things a decent ‘coating of thought’.

Here’s an extract from the article that makes this point,

These thoughts have been inspired by two (slowly savoured) works of management theory: an obscure article in the Academy of Management Journal by Brian Gunia of Johns Hopkins University; and a popular new book, “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay”, by Frank Partnoy of University of San Diego. Mr Gunia and his three co-authors demonstrated, in a series of experiments, that slowing down makes us more ethical. When confronted with a clear choice between right and wrong, people are five times more likely to do the right thing if they have time to think about it than if they are forced to make a snap decision. Organisations with a “fast pulse” (such as banks) are more likely to suffer from ethical problems than those that move more slowly. (The current LIBOR scandal engulfing Barclays in Britain supports this idea.) The authors suggest that companies should make greater use of “cooling-off periods” or introduce several levels of approval for important decisions.

Readers who want to read Brian Gunia’s research article may find it in full here.  Details of Frank Partnoy’s book are here.

Then the day after reading that copy of The Economist, this came into my ‘inbox’ from the Big Think website,

The Lost Art of Thinking Before You Act

Megan Erickson on July 8, 2012, 12:00 AM

What’s the Big Idea?

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek is fundamentally anti-capitalist, and yet, the man who describes himself as a “complicated Marxist” also expresses palpable irritation at the idea that capitalists are nothing more than egomaniacal psychopaths. In a recent interview with Big Think, he told us that although he’s highly critical of capitalism in his work, when asked about it in public, he’s tempted to detail all the things that are great about it.

Political critiques that don’t account for the passion of the individual capitalist are flawed, he says, because capitalism is as much an ethical as it is an economic system. “It’s not true when people attack capitalists as egotists. ‘They don’t care.’ No! An ideal capitalist is someone who is ready, again, to stake his life, to risk everything just so that production grows, profit grows, capital circulates. His personal or her personal happiness is totally subordinate to this. This is what I think Walter Benjamin, the great Frankfurt School thinker, had in mind when he said capitalism is a form of religion.”

There’s a video interview with Slavoj Zizek in that Big Think article that isn’t available on YouTube, so to watch that video and read the full article, do go here and enjoy!

But there are other videos of Slavoj Zizek (anyone know how to pronounce his name??) on YouTube and I selected this one as possibly being of wider interest.

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues environmentally conscious consumers are desperate for simple tasks they can perform to alleviate their guilt, so they do things like purchase overpriced organic produce. Zizek also highlights Starbucks, which he suggests attracts customers by appealing to their sense of altruism.

Complete video is here – Slavoj Zizek: Catastrophic But Not Serious.  It’s over two hours long but strikes me as two hours of very educational viewing from The Graduate Center, City University of New York.


Having completed this Post, I looked for a relevant photograph to head up the article.  The one I chose came just by chance from the website of Ideas Champions, innovation consultants.  Indeed the photo came from this article Creating Time to Innovate which included this paragraph,

Aspiring innovators don’t need pep talks. They need TIME. Time to think. And time to dream. Time to collaborate. And time to plan. Time to pilot. And time to test. Time to tinker. And time to tinker again.

Fancy that!  Think I’ll go and lie down and have a good think!

Happiness = Ten minus five or thereabouts!

Brilliant mathematics without the need for a calculator!

Thanks to the bottomless resources of the Internet, I could quickly find a relevant quote or two to open up today’s Post.  Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was reputed to have said, “Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare.

Sorry, couldn’t resist that!  It wasn’t the quote relevant to this essay but it was too good to miss.  (Descartes was also the person who coined the phrase: I think therefore I am!)

 The quote that I thought was relevant was this one from Descartes, “With me everything turns into mathematics.”  Well until I read something recently on the Big Think website I would have been certain that the emotions, such as happiness, were well beyond reach of the logical power of mathematics.  I was wrong!

Big Think recently reported on a new book from Mr. Chip Conley called Emotional Equations where he …….,

….. argues (against Einstein, as it happens), that everything that counts can and ought to be counted. A hotelier by trade, he says that GDP and the bottom line are blunt instruments for measuring the health of a society or a business. After the dot.com crash of 2001, and a visit to the Buddhist nation of Bhutan, which has a “Gross National Happiness” index, Conley and his team decided to create indices for measuring the well-being of their employees and customers.

And a paragraph later continues,

In Emotional Equations, Conley takes the mathematics of human happiness a step further, creating simple formulas like anxiety = uncertainty x powerlessness, which, when used systematically, he says, can give individuals and organizations a concrete method for addressing the human needs that drive them.

The description of the book on the Amazon website is thus,

Mr Chip Conley

Using brilliantly simple math that illuminates universal emotional truths, Emotional Equations crystallizes some of life’s toughest challenges into manageable facets that readers can see clearly—and bits they can control. Popular motivational speaker and bestselling author Chip Conley has created an exciting, new, immediately accessible visual lexicon for mastering the age of uncertainty. Making mathematics out of emotions may seem a counterintuitive idea, but it’s an inspiring and incredibly effective one in Chip Conley’s hands. When Conley, dynamic author of the bestselling Peak, suffered a series of tragedies, he began using what he came to call “Emotional Equations” (like Joy = Love – Fear) to help him focus on the variables in life that he could deal with, rather than ruminating on the unchangeable constants he couldn’t, like the bad economy, death, and taxes. Now this award-winning entrepreneur shares his amazing new self-help paradigm with the rest of us. Emotional Equations offers an immediately understandable means of identifying the elements in our lives that we can change, those we can’t, and how they interact to create the emotions that define us and can help or hurt our progress through life. Equations like “Despair = Suffering – Meaning” and “Happiness = Wanting What You Have/Having What You Want” (Which Chip presented at the prestigious TED conference) have been reviewed for mathematical and psychological accuracy by experts. Conley shows how to solve them through life examples and stories of inspiring people and role models who have worked them through in their own lives. In these turbulent times, when so many are trying to become “superhuman” to deal with our own and the world’s problems, Emotional Equations arms readers with effective formulas for becoming super human beings.

So it all seems not quite so daft as one might initially guess.  Indeed, settle down for twenty minutes and watch Chip eloquently explain his ideas captured at that TED Conference referred to above.

There’s also an audio conversation with Mr. Conley that you can download free from here.

Finally, let me close with yet another quote from Rene Descartes, “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.” Amen to that!