Lifelet: Existential questions in the Age of V

In our long ago Duke University dorm discussions, another philosophy exam question was thrown out.  A professor in the final exam asked just one question “Why?”  There were only two acceptable answers to get an “A”:

    • Why not?
    • Because

Fueled by beer, we enjoyed an evening of sophomoric debate.

Later in life I enjoyed the mentoring of Russ Ackoff.  His graduate students introduced me to their “Ackoffian existential crisis.”  Russ’s goal in life was to answer each question with a better question.

For some reason I love the word existential – “concerned with existence, especially human existence as viewed in the theories of existentialism.”  Wikipedia sheds light on existentialism:

“While the predominant value of existentialist thought is commonly acknowledged to be freedom, its primary virtue is authenticity.[6] In the view of the existentialist, the individual’s starting point is characterized by what has been called “the existential angst” (or variably, existential attitude, dread, etc.), or a sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.[7] Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.”

For the last two years, our immediate family has kept a Google Hangout going.  Sometimes the conversation is serious and sometimes it is a place for sharing the joys of daily life. Triggered by a meme on Facebook, I started this sequence of existential questions:

Answer to life?

Of course, this question immediately creates a follow on alternative answer: “42”.

WHAT DOES 42 MEAN?

42 is the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything,” a joke in Douglas Adams’s 1979 novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Gregory Bateson describes another answer to all of life in Mind and Nature:

“There is a story which I have used before and shall use again: A man wanted to know about mind, not in nature, but in his private large computer. He asked it (no doubt in his best Fortran), “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” The machine then set to work to analyze its own computational habits. Finally, the machine printed its answer on a piece of paper, as such machines do. The man ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words:

“THAT REMINDS ME OF A STORY”

“A story is a little knot or complex of that species of connectedness which we call relevance. In the 1960s, students were fighting for “relevance,” and I would assume that any A is relevant to any B if both A and B are parts or components of the same “story”. Again we face connectedness at more than one level: First, connection between A and B by virtue of their being components in the same story. And then, connectedness between people in that all think in terms of stories. (For surely the computer was right. This is indeed how people think.)”

With these inspirations, I started sharing a list of existential questions in the Age of V:

  1. What does ESPN do on Sports Center if there are no live sports?
  2. What do Fox News commentators do when our narcissistic President finally admits there is a corona virus crisis?
  3. Can a Trump Administration report be official without Sharpie markup?
  4. Can software adhere to the philosophy and values of the Bauhaus or do only physical objects count?   [Note reading iBauhaus: The iPhone as the Embodiment of Bauhaus Ideals and Design.]
  5. How clean and dressed up do you need to be to watch a live stream of a Catholic Mass?

President Trump Markups

As Day 14 of our shelter-in-place marches on in the Age of V, my thoughts turn to the implications of this crisis.  As I do, Amazon recommendations point me to the recently published The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord.

“This is a book about existential risks—risks that threaten the destruction of humanity’s longterm potential. Extinction is the most obvious way humanity’s entire potential could be destroyed, but there are others. If civilization across the globe were to suffer a truly unrecoverable collapse, that too would destroy our longterm potential. And we shall see that there are dystopian possibilities as well: ways we might get locked into a failed world with no way back.

“The book aspires to start closing the gap between our wisdom and power, allowing humanity a clear view of what is at stake, so that we will make the choices necessary to safeguard our future.

“In ecological terms, it is not a human that is remarkable, but humanity. Each human’s ability to cooperate with the dozens of other people in their band was unique among large animals. It allowed us to form something greater than ourselves. As our language grew in expressiveness and abstraction, we were able to make the most of such groupings: pooling together our knowledge, our ideas and our plans.

“Crucially, we were able to cooperate across time as well as space. If each generation had to learn everything anew, then even a crude iron shovel would have been forever beyond our technological reach. But we learned from our ancestors, added minor innovations of our own, and passed this all down to our children. Instead of dozens of humans in cooperation, we had tens of thousands, cooperating across the generations, preserving and improving ideas through deep time. Little by little, our knowledge and our culture grew.

Ord, Toby. The Precipice (pp. 12-13). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

I love the introduction – “this book aspires to start closing the gap between our wisdom and our power.”

This book is going to take a while to read, to ponder, and to let ferment in my being.

In the meantime, I am ready for some existential interactions with my grand children.

The Cousins

 

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From my chair: Tending the vines of life

I am immersing myself in all things Camino.  During the V crisis, I have dreams of walking the Camino de Santiago a year from now.  This morning I am reading Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino by Joyce Rupp.

As she walked through the vineyards in Rioja, Spain, she shared this Vintner’s Ode poem:

“Back of the vines is the vintner,
and back through the years his skill,
and back of it all are the vines in the sun,
and the rain and the Master’s will.”

I put my kindle down and paged through my memories of the many vineyards I’ve walked, the vineyard managers I’ve learned from, and the vintners who turn this gift of nature into wine.

Tending the vines of Life

As I flip through my google photos, a message pops up with a collage of photos from six years ago from the memorial to Alan York, my favorite biodynamic guru.

Alan York Memorial

I remember how much Alan taught me about the biodynamics of nature and fine wine growing.  He taught me how to “Wake UP!” and be in the active presence of nature:

As Alan and I were walking through the Cowhorn vineyards, I stopped dead in my tracks and almost shouted at Alan “One of the vines near me is diseased.  There is something wrong.  I CAN FEEL IT!”  He got this great big smile and said “I’ll be damned.  You, the knowledge book learning dude, have been paying attention to the experiential learning, not just the book learning.  Yes, the vine to your right is indeed diseased.  Let’s dig through the dirt to expose some of the roots and I will show you the disease pressure that this vine is under.  I am amazed that you could feel what was going on below the ground.”  Sure enough we could see the disease and it was the only vine in 40 acres that had this problem.  This experience was the outcome of monthly biodynamic day long seminars with some of the best grape growers and wine makers in Sonoma and Napa that I attended for most of two years.

May you rest in peace, Alan York, while the rest of us tend to the roots of the living.

 

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Ground Hog Days in the Age of V

I laughed at my liberal arts colleagues coming back from their Freshman philosophy class with this quote:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

I retorted “Can you ever step into the same river once?”

Like all good dorm conversations, arguments ensued.  Beer helped.

As we enter Day 10 of self-quarantine and the flow of sameness, I reflect on are we encountering the same day again?

My head hurt so I finished up a painting experiment in my flow series.

Flow series of painting experiments

While it is a part of a series, I could not create the “same” painting if I tried.

Similarly as I continue with my octopus decaying stump and sunrise series, the photographs are never the same.  They might be related, but they are not the same.

Decaying octopus stump series

Sunrise series

The days pass.  We pray for those less fortunate.  We honor and affirm all of the health care workers and first responders who choose to be at the forefront of the V.

We help by staying socially isolated, yet awake to the wonders of the world surrounding us.

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From my chair: Going to the birds

We are now living Day 8 of our self-imposed quarantine and social distancing in the Age of the V (urban slang for the corona virus).  Today is one for the birds:

Birds alive

Our birds were everywhere this fine day.  Photobombing my sunrise image.  Canada geese honking their way north.  And a stellar jay alighting on our deck to eyeball me in my chair.

As we walk to the log pond, the sea gulls cavort on the sea shore.

Seagulls on the sea shore

Then, with great joy we spot a blue heron eyeballing us from across the log pond.

Blue heron quietly feeling for food

Blue heron quietly feeling for food

The freedom and grace of the birds leads me on this day.

Reading It’s About Time: A Call to the Camino de Santiago, I am reminded of the old hymn Lead, Kindly Light or maybe for today it should be Lead, Kindly Birds.

                          —————————————

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life

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Wake Up!

During November 2014, I took a “Communicating with Power and Presence Workshop” put on by the TAI Group in New York City with several colleagues.  On the second day, we gave a five minute business presentation and then received extensive coaching and focused practice.  After each of us gave our talks, we then gave our talk using the TAI “What’s the Point” elegantly simple Powerpoint outline.

TAI Power and Presence Workshop

The following is the talk I gave with the “what’s the point” slides:

“Wake up!  Come on Skippy get out of bed!” my father cajoled.  “We’re going to see the Detroit Lions today.”  It’s Thanksgiving 1957.  We’re going to go with our next door neighbor, Joe Falls. to the stadium to watch the Lions play on Thanksgiving Day.

 “Oh right.  It’s morning.  OK, Dad let’s go.”

I was so excited to go see the game and my boyhood hero, Bobby Lane, throw the ball all over Briggs Stadium.  But we were in the Press Box.  I discovered something so powerful that day which was finding a new world.  I thought I was going there to see a football game.  What I found instead was this whole profession called sports writers.  I heard how they worked together to describe the game that was on the field for those who couldn’t be there.  I thought I was going to see one thing, but I saw another.  I woke up twice that day.

Two months ago, my colleague, Scott Parris, said “you know I think it is time we go back and find out about Gary Kasparov and what has happened to him since he lost to that computer thing, Deep Blue.”  It turns out Kasparov has been running competitions of the old way with grand masters against grand masters, and new ways with grand masters against computers, and humans and computers working together against technology or other humans.  They found out it was the combination of humans and technology and great process that were the winning teams.

 

Who knew?

It wasn’t one or the other.  It was putting both together.  And Kasparov said a really interesting thing.  The computer is now my partner that keeps me from doing the stupid stuff.  Now I can spend my time thinking strategically.

Wow, what if I had that kind of tool. What if I had that kind of capability.  Something that was watching what I was doing and helping me get better at getting better to serve my clients.

Some 50 years after my first NFL game, I watched a Seattle Seahawks game on TV.  I started noticing something that had been there quite a while.  It was how technology has started permeating this very physical, collision heavy game.  And it occurred to me that football has now become mostly mental.

Yes, it is physical.  That’s the game I watched for 50 years.  But now it is mental.  Not just for the players.  But now there is one coach for every 2-3 players.  A strength coach and a nutrition coach.  And position coaches that are working with all of this video technology to analyze all the moves on the field.  And to understand specific situations so the players can go look at them.  The coaches point out what is it that a given team does or that the player should be doing in a particular situation.

Every day the sports teams across all professional sports have this focus on getting better at getting better.

I woke up.  I haven’t had that capability except for those few times when I have the time to spend a couple of days like here with very expensive coaches, who at the end of the day really don’t know me and don’t know my business.

What if we could combine the best of human beings, of technology and of processes so that every day I could get better at getting better AND I could help my clients get better at getting better.

Thank you.

The TAI “What’s the point” simple outline is to give your talk with just these five slides (in any order):

    • One word summary
    • An image
    • A quote
    • A date
    • A number

As I sit in my rocking chair looking out at the Seattle sunrise, I am reading Russ Eanes The Walk of a Lifetime.

Seattle Sunrise

I am stopped in my reading tracks with this quote he shared from Carrie Necomer:

“I know when the world feels anything less than miraculous to me, I’m probably not paying attention.”

That’s it.  That’s the same feeling I have when I stop and remind myself to “Wake Up!”

Who is this Carrie Necomer?  Turns out she is a singer and a poet.  I check the footnote and see that the quote is from her book, the beautiful not yet.  I then see that she has a Youtube version of her song, “the beautiful not yet.”   The imagery in the video is mesmerizing:

beautiful not yet

I remember the moments of nature yesterday that I was awake enough to capture:

Waking up to nature in spring

From my chair, I delight in the dance of the internet and my kindle ebooks where I can wake up to a phrase or an idea or an author and immediately track down the links and be surprised by joy.

From my chair

I may be in self-quarantine, but I am awake.

 

Posted in Content with Context, Flipped Perspective, Learning, Reflecting, Wake Up! | 3 Comments

Flow in the age of the “V”

I texted my brother about the corona virus.  He replied “You are so old school bro.  To have street cred you need to start calling it the ‘V.'”  As we self-quarantine due to our age and health, V takes on another meaning.  We are part of the “Vulnerables.”

We are in Day 6 of being home alone together.  It feels a bit like the Groundhog Day movie.  The first several days felt like the opening part of the film realizing that we are likely to be trapped in this same day over and over again.  The lack of any live sports makes it clear that TV is not going to be a device to help us get through social distancing behavioral change.  It is time to change the flow of daily time.  It is time to get the creative juices flowing.

So we choose to be more like the second half of the groundhog day movie and celebrate a daily routine of creative flow.  Each day now looks something like:

    • Wake up in the middle of the night after 4-5 hours of sleep
    • Watch a Colbert episode (or other late night streaming comedy)
    • Read the online Washington Post, NY Times and Seattle Times
    • Text with my East Coast siblings who are starting their day
    • Try to go back to sleep for a couple of hours
    • Awaken and hope that the sun will show up today (get thee away gray and rain)
    • Get up, get coffee, get Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Muesli and Oat Milk
    • Go to our deck and take a sunrise panoramic photo or two for my year of sunrises photo collection
    • Go to my easy chair to watch the morning sunrise and continue my Kindle reading streak
    • Give Jamie a good morning kiss as she awakens to search for her coffee
    • Write a blog post
    • Do an acrylics on canvas painting experiment
    • Connect electronically with a former colleague
    • Get a vegan lunch
    • Update my Journey of the Foot free writing
    • Change into hiking clothes
    • Go for a slow hike on one of the many island trails
      • If at Blakely Harbor, take a photo of the decaying octopus stump
      • Otherwise, capture the sun light on the emerging spring flowering
    • Come back to the house and watch MSNBC/CNN
      • Sort out how much my 401K has lost today
      • Understand the implications of today’s rounds of restrictions due to the “V”
    • Delight in several Facetime calls with grand children as they read us a book and share what they learned in their home schooling today
    • Craft a salad and prepare the evening meal
    • Have a wee dram or two of whiskey
    • Watch some TV if a recorded program is available
    • Take my magnesium pill to calm the leg muscles from our daily exercise
    • Read for a bit
    • Turn the light off – good night dearest Jamie!

Current Kindle Reading Streak

Seattle Sunrise 2020

Octopus Stump at Blakely Harbor

FaceTiming with the grands

Flow is something I am fascinated with.

Even in the midst of the V, we establish a flow of a day that is enriching and inspiring and healthy.

Yet, I never had the words to describe FLOW until I came across Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience in 1990.  I live for the flow times that I can collaborate with colleagues at a whiteboard to design new software innovations.  One of the little things in life I enjoyed about teaching at the Institute of Design at Illinois Tech is learning how to pronounce Mihaly’s last name.

My formal introduction to flow was through flow charts  in my first computer programming class at Duke University in 1968.

Software Flow Chart

We were required to have a flow chart for every program that we wrote.  In theory, we were supposed to do the flow chart first and then write the program.  But I have always been a bottom up thinker, so I dived into writing the program and then after having written the program, tested and revised it, I did the flow chart.  As programmers the notion of flow and flow of control is embedded and embodied in all of our thinking.

I realized how embedded when I finally came across a description of business financials that I could readily understand.  The author of Understanding a Company’s Finances described all of the balance sheet, income statements, cash flow statements etc as a series of flow charts.  I had no problem understanding the stuff I had to deal with daily as an executive after finding the flow chart metaphor to describe what was happening financially.  It was the first time I really grokked how depreciation worked.

Understanding a Company’s Finances

While learning with the biodynamic crowd at Benziger Family Winery, I came across the notion of Flow Forms.

Flow Forms

“Developed by John Wilkes in the 1970’s, Flowforms were inspired by mountain streams and the powerfully revitalizing properties of naturally purified water. The vortex principle, introduced into biodynamic agriculture by Rudolf Steiner, helped Wilkes to create a series of water features that used water itself as a force for change.”

I loved these sculptures and the notion of adding energy to a place through the “engineered” flow of water.

More recently, I love walking across the bridge at Blakely Harbor and looking to see which way the tide is flowing.  Is it coming into the pond area or flowing out? It is a delightful question to interact with Jamie to see if we can figure out from the flow the direction of the tide (not so easy during slack tides).

As I continue with my daily painting experiments, I play with synthesizing abstract forms of flow.  Can I capture my professional world of flow charts?  Can I find ways to flow colors into and through each other?  Can I capture the aliveness of flow?

Painting Experiments

While the flow of each day is the same, the details are wonderfully different.  My challenge in the Age of V is to “WAKE UP!” and be aware of the many gifts of nature and family and friends and colleagues that surround me.

I periodically repeat my personal mantra:

Moving – Flowing – Flowering

My reading this morning about pilgrimages on the Camino de Santiago in Spain reminds me to find the extraordinary in the ordinary of the flow of life.

The Camino is a River

Posted in Amazon Kindle, Biodynamic, Exercise, Grand parenting, Nature, PhotoSynthesis, Reflecting, Wake Up! | 2 Comments

Homage to a decaying stump

Decaying stump in the bright sun

For twenty years I’ve walked around Blakely Pond at the end of Blakely Harbor.  Yet, I never noticed this rotting stump until the right combination of ebbing tide, bright sun, just enough evaporation from the stump, and “waking up!” to what is around me.

On this day, the stump jumped out at me.  What caught my eye was the gold of the wood.  Then I noticed the octopus shape of the stumps roots.  How had I missed this gorgeous sculpture?  As I walked off the trail to get a closeup, the grass under my boots started crinkling.  I realized I had gone below the tidal line and was stepping on some form of sea grass.

How had I missed the stump in the tidal grass in my twenty years of staying on the trail?

On my next outing, I was drawn to the stump.

Decaying stump at lower tide

It was later in the day and the tide was lower.  Now the top of the stump had time to dry out and the sun’s golden rays didn’t reflect as much.  Little wonder that I had missed this stump during my walks.  It was just another dried out gray stump among many.

A decaying stump among many

By now my eyes were hooked.  How many ways could I capture the decaying stump?  At how many times of day could I walk by to check on it?  I thought maybe it might be a piece of driftwood.  I walked down to see if I could move it.  This octopus was deeply rooted in the tidal earth.  How many levels of tide could I capture?  How many types of weather can I capture?  I guess I will have to actually come here in the rain, not just on the sunny days or the more probable sun break days.

As I keep my focus on the stump, I widen my point of view.  How does the stump relate to the rest of its natural and unnatural world?

New bridge along the pond

One of the reasons that I am paying attention to the stump more often is that a new walking bridge was placed across the Blakely Harbor jetties in early December 2019.  The bridge completed a circle of trails around the harbor.  Now this bridge and the octopus stump are a must stop on my weekly exercise jaunts.

From across the pond view of the octopus stump

The gold reflection of a long dead tree jumped out and grabbed me.  Today, I thank the many variables of tide, light, and decay that caused me to “Wake Up!”

Homage to a decaying stump

Posted in Exercise, Nature, PhotoSynthesis, Reflecting | Leave a comment