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Features of Transcendent Experience, Intellectual Hedonism, & Getting More Specific than “Perfect” (Reading/Study Notes 6.4.18)

Resource: William James on Consciousness and the Four Features of Transcendent Experiences


How abstract concepts shape our world of experience:

“The whole universe of concrete objects, as we know them, swims… in a wider and higher universe of abstract ideas, that lend it its significance. As time, space, and the ether soak through all things so (we feel) do abstract and essential goodness, beauty, strength, significance, justice, soak through all things good, strong, significant, and just. Such ideas, and others equally abstract, form the background for all our facts, the fountain-head of all the possibilities we conceive of. They give its “nature,” as we call it, to every special thing. Everything we know is “what” it is by sharing in the nature of one of these abstractions. We can never look directly at them, for they are bodiless and featureless and footless, but we grasp all other things by their means, and in handling the real world we should be stricken with helplessness in just so far forth as we might lose these mental objects, these adjectives and adverbs and predicates and heads of classification and conception.”

How abstract objects are as real as physical objects:

“This absolute determinability of our mind by abstractions is one of the cardinal facts in our human constitution. Polarizing and magnetizing us as they do, we turn towards them and from them, we seek them, hold them, hate them, bless them, just as if they were so many concrete beings. And beings they are, beings as real in the realm which they inhabit as the changing things of sense are in the realm of space.”

On the existing of other levels of awareness:

“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question — for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.”

the words of the Nobel-winning physicist Frank Wilczek,

“you can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth,”

On the ineffable nature of mystical experience:

“The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists. One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider him weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most of us accord to his experiences an equally incompetent treatment.”

“Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.”


Abstract entities (ie. ideas, assumptions, mental frameworks, conceptual schemas, etc) are just as real as physical objects.

Experience is not objective. It is a mixture of the world out there and the manner in which an individual’s consciousness processes the world.

The kind of everyday observing, thinking, and decision-making we do is incapable of existing about from the concepts we rely on to form judgments and make distinctions.

Our ordinary waking-state consciousness is only one of many other states of consciousness. The difficulty with which we try to understand these other states prevents us from making absolute claims about reality.

Two almost universal features of transcendent states are ineffable and noetic. Ineffable in that they must be experience directly. Noetic in that they transmit a sense of knowing something deeper about reality even if it’s impossible to articulate.

Resource: The Tao or Richard Saul Wurman: Understanding leads to Meaningful Action

How Saul Wurman inspired the author to a life of curiosity:

“It was a resounding success for the sponsor. Before we left Venice, I spent some time with Wurman and realized that I too wanted to live as an “intellectual hedonist,” bent on satisfying my curiosity and finding out how seemingly unrelated things can work together to produce exponential results. It was then that I started formulating what today is TheSircle Executive Club – a round table for executives to exchange ideas, connect and collaborate.”

Who is Saul Wurman:

“He is, or has been, an architect of buildings, an entrepreneur, an author, a publisher, a mapmaker, a conference producer, a philosopher of communication, and a redesigner of everything (from desks to phone books). Also a pedant, a missionary, a party host, and a willful naif. Always, an innovator. And not least, an “information architect,” the label that will make him famous, although most people don’t understand – until they encounter it in practice, at which mind-swelling moment they wonder where it has been all their lives. (Inc. Magazine, 1997)”

First concept of Tao: Design your life to express your most essential desire.
Second concept of Tao: Provocative conversations promote the convergence of great ideas.
Third concept of Tao: Change starts from the individual rather than the collective.

Wurman’s chief aim:

“Wurman’s peak experience uncovered his essential desire: to satisfy his curiosity. He didn’t seek power, money, or fame. He didn’t aspire to save the world either but rather to make his life interesting.”

On prioritizing desire:

“Your needs must be addressed to survive; they demand short-term solutions. Your desire is where creation starts; it’s focused on “what can be” and on the possibility of a better future. What do you desire?”

On how to discover fresh ideas:

““What’s next” lurks at the margins of “what’s normal” – you’ll notice it if you imagine “what can be.” Consider far-out ideas by looking at their advantages, disadvantages, and interesting aspects. Get comfortable with what’s marginal and find its critical mass potential: one day it will become a market, so capture it before anyone else does. What will that be?”

How curiosity made Wurman rich:

“At 45, Wurman was destitute. He had failed as an architect, college dean, businessman, and husband. To sort out his utter disorientation, he figured out how to make things make sense and wrote books about what he was seeking to understand. He created the Access Guides and the TED Conferences to indulge himself, becoming a multi-millionaire in the process. He did not set out to change the world. Yet his innovative approaches have become an antidote for apathy and closed-mindedness. By splattering his myriad personal interests on a stage, he changed the format and tone of intellectual discourse on a global scale.”

How curiosity can help you create wealth:

Indulge your curiosity: learning is remembering what interests you.
Sell your ignorance rather than your expertise: research, design, publish or teach something you don’t understand. Empty your preconceptions and wallow in your ignorance so you’re free to ask questions and learn. What do you want to understand?

Information versus data:

Information must be understandable or it’s just data. Information architecture is about how to choose the right way to present information and how to help people navigate through it. To explain something clearly, remember what it is like not to know.

What is leadership:

Leadership is having an idea and being able to explain it clearly. Clarity leads to real change: people embrace what they understand and act on it. It’s the overwhelming desire of a determined individual that mobilizes others to gets things done. People follow a leader who can clearly articulate the future vision from the mountaintop and walks them through the steps necessary for their arrival. What’s your power idea?

“May you be your purpose, however it manifests.”

How knowledge is obtained:

“Richard believes that understanding leads to meaningful action. It’s easier to learn and act with purpose once we achieve deep understanding. His talks are essentially an experience, not a seminar, a course or workshop. He’s not imparting “knowledge” but rather focusing on the key to learning, which he defines as “remembering what interests you.”

On the sovereignty of curiosity:

“My work has to do with overcoming the thoughts with which I have discomfort. My own understanding or lack of it is enough to begin with. Committee meetings and market research are not part of this process. I don’t believe in using such methods to determine what subjects or cities to tackle. Confidence in your own understanding, acceptance of your ignorance, and determination to pursue your interests are the weapons against anxiety.”

Why your ignorance is valuable and why you should market it:

“Most people don’t understand anything–just like me. The difference is, I admit it. Hell, I wallow in it. Every bit of work I do starts from not knowing. Is that how you see most people act? Most people ‘uh-huh’ each other to death. They ‘uh-huh’ everybody because they were taught when they were young that it’s not good to look stupid, that it’s not good to say, ‘I don’t know,’ it’s not good to ask questions…Instead, the rewards come from acknowledging or answering everything with ‘I know.’ You’re supposed to look smart in our society. You’re supposed to gain expertise and sell it as the means of moving ahead in your career. You’re supposed to focus on what you know how to do and then do it better and better. That’s where the rewards are supposed to come from.”

The three lies of school:

“The schools in this country are one of the biggest reasons we’re all so screwed up. Our educational experience consists of three great lies. Lie number one is, It’s better to say, ‘I know’ than to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Lie number two: It’s better to answer a question than ask a question. Lie three: It’s better to worship at the foot of success than understand the nature of failure. Those three lies have screwed our society, and it’s by overcoming one at a time–or two at a time or all three –that you can make some breakthroughs in your creative activities.”

On why you should devote yourself to your own idea of good work:

“It didn’t matter to me at TED whether the audience liked the speaker or not. It didn’t matter to me what they thought of me. What mattered to me is doing good work. Doing the best I knew how. That’s all.”

Information architecture and how information is organized:

“”Information architecture has as one of its fundamentals that there are only five ways to organize information. They can be remembered by the acronym LATCH: L for organizing things by location; A, by alphabet; T, by time; C, by category; and H, by hierarchy. Information architecture isn’t just graphics; it’s about how to choose the right way to present information and how to help people navigate through it. It’s a way of thinking. It’s how you go about something. It’s a whole way of life in which the aim is not to make something look good but to make it be good, and that is a very important fork in the road for most attempts at communication.”

On information overload as anxiety over non-information:

“I don’t think there’s an overload of information. I think there’s an overload of non-information. I think one can’t get overloaded with things we understand. What we are overloaded with, is that we think we should be understanding this stuff, and it’s not understandable, and then we have anxiety about it.”

How learning and remembering are related:

“My struggle has been to discover the connection that leads from information to memory. The junctures of road-to-road and path-to-path celebrate that connection. That connection is learning, and learning is remembering what you’re interested in.”

On faith in curiosity & the courage to indulge:

“I absolutely trust indulging myself. I trust the fact that I’m a dumb-ass and that if I like something and understand something, probably other people will, too. Maybe they won’t, but I still do it for me. Most people don’t let themselves do that, because in our society, it’s not appropriate to say you’re indulgent. That’s one of the personality characteristics that are politically incorrect. So you’re not allowed to say, ‘I indulge myself.’ You’re not allowed to say, ‘I’m terrified because I don’t understand.’ And at the other extreme, you’re not allowed to say, ‘I’m confident’–because then people say you’re arrogant. So the operative terms that actually allow for the production of creative work–terror, confidence, and indulgence–are no-no’s, and they’re no-no’s from grade one in school.”

Wurman on his love for pattern investigation:

“I love thinking up a new pattern. I love seeing a pattern that doesn’t exist; that doesn’t mean anything. I love thinking up something that’s dumber than I thought before. Nobody, nobody is encouraged to attach interest to interest. I look at everything. That’s my joy. I look at it and take it apart and turn it upside down.”

On selling your ignorance and marketing your curiosity:

“When you sell your expertise–whether to a boss, a client, or even a friend–you have a limited repertoire. On the other hand, when you sell your ignorance, when you sell your desire to learn about something, to create and explore and navigate paths to knowledge–when you sell your curiosity –you sell from a bucket that’s infinitely deep, that represents an unlimited repertoire. My expertise has always been my ignorance–my admission and my acceptance of not knowing. My work comes from questions, not from answers.”

How all knowledge is interconnected:

“Our educational system is based on the memorization of things we’re not interested in, bulimically spewed out on a paper called a test and then forgotten. We learn to use our short-term memory rather than our long-term memory. Many of our interests are shunted aside. The typical teenager’s interests, in music and cars and sports, are looked on as second-rate themes for their lives instead of embraced as connections to all knowledge and wisdom. I mean, the car connects to the history of transportation, to our road systems, to our cities and our highways. It connects to the balance of payments and economics around the world. To steel and iron, and steel construction, and plastics and design. It connects to physics and mathematics and chemistry. It connects to foreign languages and culture. To medicine and governmental policy. And all the things the car connects to connect to everything else. So do sports. And so does entertainment, which connects to technologies of all sorts, to design and hardware and software and information.”

How the need to look good hinders communication:

“Communication gets screwed because most people try to look good and sound good, above all else. I’ve tried to abandon all that. I embrace my normality. I think I go directly to the essence of things because there’s nothing else in the way. I’ve worked at clearing out the crap–the preconceptions, the desire to impress other people. Trying to look smarter than you are.”

Why creating an interesting life is the most important aspect of lifestyle design:

“The big design problem we all have is designing our own lives. If we do it right, wouldn’t the best result–the best measure of success, ultimately–be that every day is interesting? Most people don’t have enough interesting things in their lives, so in place of interest they try to accumulate funds and power. But I think you’re going to be a better businessperson if you look at your life as a collection of hobbies, a collection of interests, not a matter of things you do during the day and things you do in the evening–or what you do during the day and what you do during the weekend. Think of everything you do as driven by and connected to your real interests, and it’s going to affect how you look at the products you’re making.”


Have faith in your sense of wonder. Don’t let the politically incorrect connotations surrounding the word “indulgence” shame you away from indulging in the ideas you’re curious about. Your curiosities are where the real wealth lies.

“Intellectual hedonist.” I love this word. For the first time I have captured the perfect description of what I should like to be.

An information architect is someone who explores the relationship between how information is presented and how it’s processed.

If information is not understood, then it’s merely data. Information = Data + Apprehension of Context

Conversations are a great way to help us contextualize data. By discussing ideas with others, we’re able to think about our understandings in terms of our personal narratives. This allows us to not only glean more insight, but it helps us remember more as well.

You remember what you’re interested in. People struggle with memory because they spend too much time forcing themselves to study things that bore them.

Surveys and suggestions are not the best starting point for deciding what you’ll explore. You already know what questions and uncertainties you’re wrestling with. Start there.

The three biggest lies of school: 1) It’s better to say “I know” than “I don’t know.” 2) It’s better to answer a question than to ask one. 3) Worshiping at the alter of success is better than sitting at the feet of failure.

Sell your ignorance. Embrace what you don’t know with celebratory enthusiasm. Be excited to say “I don’t know the answers to all these questions over here, but I’m really excited to find out.’ People focus too much on trying to look and sound like they’re in the know. You learn more and you communicate more effectively when you rid yourself of needing to look good and sound smart.

All knowledge is connected. Everything “unimportant” that you study is connected to something “important.” The stuff you’re interested in the gateway drug for other forms of knowledge.

Resource: What do you aspire to be?


“When we go looking for a co-worker, a freelancer, a vendor or even a boss, we’re hoping for something. It might be: Perfect, Interesting, Accommodating, Productive, Challenging, and a host of other attributes that any of us are able to aspire to. Of course, we never look for someone who is invisible, or brittle, or a bully. The temptation is to take the lesson of a dozen years of compulsory education and choose to be the perfect one. The problem with perfect, though, is that it’s really difficult to pull off in the long run. The problem with perfect is that when you fail, you have none of the other more flexible human traits to fall back on. And the problem with perfect is that merely meeting spec means that the organization is soon going to be looking for someone cheaper and faster than you are.”


There are many virtuous qualities you can try to embody. “Perfection” shouldn’t be one of them. It’s a great quality, but it’s really more of an unattainable meta-quality. And when you chase after it, you just tend to stress yourself out. Moreover, you have very little flexibility when you fail. Even further, it’s too abstract. Instead of chasing perfection, find a more flexible virtue you’d like to embody and then go make it your expertise.


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