What I’m Learning: Day 10/365

To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I completed yesterday, click here.

Activity VII: Read one brainpickings article

Famous Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

Popova begins this article by observing,

Journaling, I believe, is a practice that teaches us better than any other the elusive art of solitude — how to be present with our own selves, bear witness to our experience, and fully inhabit our inner lives.

She shares a plethora of musings and insights from various writers who’ve devoted themselves to the practice of journaling. One common theme among the various excerpts she shares is the freedom that private diaries give writers to explore modes of expression without concern for the rules and formalities involved in writing for an audience. Here are two of my favorite excerpts:

Popova begins with an excerpt from a lecture by Anaïs Nin where she expresses what she finds to be most satisfying about maintaining a diary:

Of these the most important is naturalness and spontaneity. These elements sprung, I observed, from my freedom of selection: in the Diary I only wrote of what interested me genuinely, what I felt most strongly at the moment, and I found this fervor, this enthusiasm produced a vividness which often withered in the formal work. Improvisation, free association, obedience to mood, impulse, bought forth countless images, portraits, descriptions, impressionistic sketches, symphonic experiments, from which I could dip at any time for material.

Similar experiences were reported by Virginia Woolfe:

The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles.


I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just re-read my year’s diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.

Activity IX: Listen to Philosophy Bites podcast

Galen Strawson on Panpsychism

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

I’ve had many late-night discussions with friends about Panpsychism before, so I was very excited to listen to this episode today. The introduction to this episode had me at the edge of my seat:

Tables or telephones are made out of physical matter, of course. And they don’t experience pain or see colors. We humans, too, are made out of physical matter. And we know that the stuff out of which we’re created somehow gives rise to, or constitutes, consciousness and subjective experience. There’s something  it is like to be me: I feel pain, see blue, smell roses. So what about the table or telephone since they’re made out of exactly the same stuff? Might it be possible that something similar could be said about at least some of the particles that make up a table or telephone? Might there be something it is like to be a particle in a table? Crazy? Absurd? The philosopher Galen Strawson argues that this conclusion may in the end be hard to resist?

When asked to define his exotic view, Strawson offers this explanation:

Well, there are many versions [of pansychism]. You could also call it pan-experientialism. It’s the idea that everything that exists is somehow experience-involving. That’s what I think.

[Warburton] Now, that means that the couch that you’re sitting on is experiencing you on the couch doesn’t it?

Well, I think that’s a common misconception. I don’t actually think that the couch is a subjective experience. What I do think is that all the particles that make it up, may have to be.

[Warburton] Although you’ve said that the couch isn’t experiencing you sitting on the couch, it seems to suggest there is something that it’s like to be for the particles that make up the couch, there’s some kind of mind in the particles. That seems like a weird kind of animism.

That’s exactly what I think. I think that there must be something that it’s like to be an electron.

While Strawson’s view might seem to be just another brand of spiritualism or mystical philosophy, he actually rejects mind-body dualism. Citing physicalism as his core philosophy on the ontological substance of things, he explains how the problem of consciousness led him to the pansychic view:

People who are physicalists usually think that to be a physicalist means that you think that everything is in its ultimate fundamental nature is completely non-experiential. But we then have the fact of consciousness or experience, the fact that experience exists. And that means that if everything is in its fundamental nature entirely non-experiential, somehow putting together entirely non-experiential things together in certain ways has to somehow give rise to experience. And that seems to me to be impossible. It requires a kind of radical emergence. How could experience arise just from putting wholly non-experiential things together in a certain pattern? For many things, A and Not-A, you can get A from Not-A. The classic example would be liquidity. Individual water molecules are not liquid. If you put them together in a body, you get liquid. So here you can get A from Not-A. Here we have a different case. We have the experiential and non-experiential. That seems to me a much more difficult case. I don’t see how it could be that you could put the wholly and utterly non-experiential together in any way and then suddenly give rise to the light of consciousness?

Strawson then turns the fundamental assumption of physicalism on its head by challenging the idea that matter is fundamentally non-experiential:

Why have we simply assumed that the physical, in its fundamental nature, non-experiential? What’s the evidence for that idea? And I’ll give you the answer because it’s mathematically precise. There is zero evidence for the existence of non-experiential reality anywhere in the universe. So why simply assume that the fundamental things are non-experiential and cause this huge problem for yourself, which is the problem of ‘how do I get the experiential from the non-experiential?’ It’s much simpler to suppose that there is experientiality already there in some way right at the bottom of things.

Strawson readily concedes that his idea is strange, but he also argues that it solves a major problem that has haunted physicalism for years. People reject pansychism, according to Strawson, mostly because they find it strange. But he see’s mere strangeness as no reason to reject a philosophical point of view. He even refers to the idea of experiential matter arising out of non-experiential matter as “spooky” and “magical.”

Strawson expresses why he doesn’t think Science will ever solve the problem of consciousness without adopting pansychism:

Science has to produce publicly checkable results. It’s essentially a third-person enterprise. I could never know for certain that an electron has experiential being. Science cannot evolve a vocabulary which includes experiential predicates. What I mean is that it cannot have terms for experiential features because they are essential private and they’re not possibly publicly observable. I can never know what kind of color you’re observing  right now. In fact, strictly speaking, I can’t even know that you have a mind at all. It’s simply not a possible object of knowledge for the natural sciences.

Activity X: Educational lecture/talk

Economics in One Lesson: Part 9 | Jörg Guido Hülsmann

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

On what a price is:

A price is an exchange ration in which two quantities of goods are being exchanged and one of them is money

On the possibility of imagining a world without prices:

Sure, we can imagine a world without prices. We can imagine a world of individuals living in isolation from one another and just caring for their own business and not cooperating with other people and never exchanging a single bit. But of course, such a world could not be very popular. Most people would live in great misery, if they live at all. The only other logical alternative [to have human cooperation without prices] would be to imagine that we organize a division of labor by a central plan…and historical experience has shown this doesn’t work.

On who makes prices:

People exchanging on the market [make prices]. Every time you go to the bakery shop and pay for bread, you create a price. It’s the consumer and the seller [who creates the price]. The price is never fixed by just one person. Sometimes we say there’s price fixing going on by the companies which means in practice that the companies say ‘we will not sell our commodity at any other price but this one. But then, of course, that by itself does not yet give them the opportunity to exchange it. Only if they find customers who are willing to pay this, who agree with this price, that the price comes into being. I could set up a shoe factory and say “My shoes are so great. They cost one million dollars.” But that’s not a price. That’s a sheet of paper I’ve attached to my shoes. The price doesn’t come into being unless a customer is willing to pay.

Hülsmann also discusses the distinction between fiat prices and market prices. He demonstrates that fiat prices cannot work because the knowledge necessary to determine the value of good and services to the consumer cannot be gathered apart from the dynamic interplay of producer/consumer interaction in the market place. Setting prices based on generalized notions of fairness always leads to drastic consequences either in the overproduction or underproduction of goods.

Activity XI: One episode from my favorite podcasts list

Robert Greene: Discover Yourself and Master Anything to Get the Life You Want

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

Greene on why he’s so interested in the topic of power:

It’s like the dirty little secret in society. People will talk about sex, they’ll reveal who they are, but nobody wants to talk about power. I was in Hollywood working for film directors. I was a writer, myself. And I saw people were extremely power hungry. That’s what they measure themselves by. Am I rising up in Hollywood? Are people seeing me as an up and coming director or producer? What’s my reputation, my power? Not about the art or what they were producing, they were obsessed with power. But nobody writes about what people do. What happens when the door is closed? We read what’s in the newspaper, but it’s not reality. It’s not what’s really going on. The game is different. And I’ve seen the game in all these different jobs. I wanted to expose it because I don’t like this kind of hypocrisy that exists where people will use these laws, but no one is talking about them. When I was a kid and I watched sports, I’m interested in strategy, the mind game…I’m fascinated with that in business, in science, sports, in any venture.

On the claims of his critics that many of his works, like The Art of Seduction and the 48 Laws of Power, are manipulative:

Well, it’s very manipulative of people to say that because, first of all, there’s a lot of the 48 laws that really aren’t manipulation. There’s a law that says always say less than necessary…people tend to talk too much. And when you talk a lot, you probably will say something stupid. Now if you want to call that a manipulation, that’s kind of stretching it. It’s just basic common sense, it’s wisdom that the less you speak, the more likely you are to not say something stupid and you also appear kind of powerful. That’s not a manipulative law. Half the laws are like that. They have to do with persuading people and understanding other people’s psychology. Then there are manipulative laws. I’m simply saying that’s part of the game. It’s part of the real world…For instance, there’s a law in there that is quite manipulative which is ‘get others to do the work, but always take the credit.” And people go ‘How could you talk about that. That’s so evil! That’s so awful!’ I’m sorry, but that’s how business works. In Hollywood, people were constantly using what I wrote when I was starting out. My name never appeared. You watch a newscaster on television, you watch a politician give a talk, they don’t write their own talk, their own speech. They put their name on it. We go ‘What a brilliant speech by Barack Obama,’ but somebody else wrote it. Or some newscaster, Bill O’Reilly. He’s not doing his own research or writing what he says. Somebody else is doing it. He puts his name on it. That’s how life is. And I’m pointing out that’s how the game is played. and if you’re not aware of it, you’re gonna get defensive and upset, you’re gonna go ‘Dammit, why did that guy steal my idea?’ And I’m saying ‘No! Be smart. Be strategic. So I’m revealing to you how the game is played. If you want to call that evil, then what you’re saying is that business is evil, people are evil. That’s your conclusion, but I want to give it to you straight.

For Greene, the purpose of knowing this laws isn’t for the purpose of manipulating others. It’s for the purpose of helping people understand how the reality of manipulation works, so they can defend themselves against or at least be aware of what’s going on. He refers to himself as a hardcore realist.

In discussing the importance of mastery and character development, Greene expresses the following contentious opinion:

Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to you is success early on…What happens when you’re very successful early on, you begin to think that you have the golden touch and you’re not really learning from life. It’s better in my book to have some failure when you’re in your twenties than to just have a string of success. It’s probably going to go to your head and you’re not going to be able to sustain it.

Greene also points out that success and mastery are two different things. Many rappers in the hip hop industry, for instance, have one-hit wonders, but a much smaller number have been able to put together long-term careers. Mastery, according to Greene, is about really honing your craft and constantly pushing yourself to make advancements in your field, not just about making money.

Money isn’t the only barometer of mastery. You choose a field that has a deep connection to you and love your work. And that’s sort of the ultimate satisfaction. And usually what happens, in those cases, is that the money will come to you at some point because you’re so good at what you do.

On finding your passion:

It’s sort of like a cliche “find your passion,” but it’s a little more complicated than that…the problem that a lot of people have is they’re not connected to who they are. That’s sort of the gist of mastery. You’re listening so much to people on Facebook, to your parents, to your friends, and you’re not listening to yourself. And you know longer know what you like, what foods you like, what music you really like, because you’re just a patchwork of other people’s opinions. So then you’re in your 20’s or 30’s and you go ‘Man, I don’t even know what I like anymore.’ People come to me and they go ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about…my life’s task, my calling.’ Well, it’s because you’ve gotten really far away from yourself and you gotta reconnect. Deep down inside, you know it. You know it by the things you hate.

Greene advises people to experiment with different kinds of jobs and projects as part of the process of discovering things they love. He stresses the importance of being patient by recognizing that self-discovery is an incremental process. If you’re interested in starting a blog for instance, go try it. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll learn valuable things about yourself and the world that will be useful to your journey.

This complements advice offered by Kelly Cutrone in If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You:

Dreams won’t always take you on a straight path to destiny but they’re usually related to what your soul wants for you. They’ll force you to ask yourself the hard questions, they’ll kick your ass and more importantly, they’ll turn you on.

Greene also cautions against making money ultimate measure of being on the right path by advising, “If all you’re thinking about is money, you won’t make the right choices.”

On the value of mastery:

It’s the ultimate form of power. It ‘s the greatest thing you can every have in life. If you’re creative and you’re unique and you’ve mastered your field, you have a ticket to whatever you want in life…If you master your field, people come to you. You’re able to always ride through the tough times. You’re always in demand. There’s nobody else who can replace you. You’re one of a kind. That’s the power you have and everyone has the potential for it.

On how he found his life’s true work:

I didn’t listen to parents and other people who were getting worried about me. I listened to myself and said ‘I’m going to find it eventually.’ Time was the only barrier and eventually it came together.

When asked what he would do differently if he were twenty again, he said he would take time more seriously, warning the listener, “You never have as much time as you think you do. It goes by quickly.”

Greene offers the following advice about being true to oneself:

A lot of people are afraid to be themselves. So if you notice anybody who’s successful in any field, in business, in sports, or the arts, there’s usually you could say there’s nobody else out there like them. They’re one of a kind. And you have that potential. So I guess the other thing is not be so afraid of going in your own direction, of doing something nobody else is doing, or starting a business that’s not out there…that’s what’s actually going to make you stand out from the crowd.

Activity XII: Read one Blog Post from Favorites List

What I Learned from my First Podcast Guest in 1980 and What I Learned from My Last Podcast Guest (Yesterday)

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

On the work-ethic and commitment to routines that led Bill Bradley’s success in sports:

Bill Bradley didn’t start off as a very good basketball player. In fact, he was big and clumsy and horrible at it but he loved it. He said, “I stayed behind to practice after my teammates left. I would make 15 baskets in a row from each of five spots on the floor.” If he missed a shot, he would start over from the beginning. He did this through college and all through his pro career. He didn’t miss a day. He was inspired by a quote he heard from his coach when he was in a summer basketball camp as a kid. “When you’re not practicing, someone somewhere is. And when the two of you meet, assuming roughly equal ability, the other person will win.” This is true for everything you do: writing, business, games, fitness, coming up with ideas, any art, sport where there are millions every day around the world trying to achieve what you want to achieve.

On how Jack Canfield survived his lowest moment:

Just like I spoke to Bill in 1980, I spoke to Jack Canfield yesterday. I asked Jack when he was at his lowest and how he survived it. He told me after his divorce he was basically broke despite having sold hundreds of millions of copies of “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. “I was in a depression,” he said. He then went and gathered as many quotes as he could from inspirational stories and he made a book about them (“The Success Principles”). He gave talks about them, he trained others to teach these stories, he taught these principles at corporations, he worked every day at inspiring himself to inspire others. This is what he loved. This, for him, was what basketball was for Bradley. He was over 50 years old then and he came back from nothing and made millions by finding what he loved to do and doing it over and over. He made millions by helping others find what they love. “That’s why I’m on your podcast,” he said, “and this is the third one I’m doing today and it’s only 9am in the morning.” He’s 70 years old now.

On three lessons we can learn from the likes of Bill Bradley and Jack Canfield:

– If you aren’t practicing what you love, someone else is.
– It’s never too late. You stay truly alive as long as you love your life.
– The best way to make your dream come true is to make other people’s dreams come true.

I wholeheartedly agree with Altucher’s views on the aliveness that comes from doing work you love. Much of the criticism, some of which is quite valid, of the “follow your passion” meme is based on an understanding of passion as the end-all ad be-all of fulfilling work. Because nothing could be more obvious than the fact that it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get paid for doing something just because it makes you feel good, the advice to “follow your passion” has been subject to a great deal of needed scrutiny. As I see it, the main problem with popular understandings of “follow your passion” is the emphasis on passion as the engine that gets things done. Passion, however, is not the engine, it’s the fuel. Personal mastery and success isn’t the by-product of passion, it’s an effect of the pragmatic application of passion towards the end of value creation. When you love what you do, you’re willing to work very hard at finding ways to solve problems, developing the skills necessary to do so, and inventing new ways of using your passion as a tool to serve others. Passion provides the motivation and meaning for fulfilling work, but it shouldn’t be taken as a substitute for the actual work or the tangible value created by the work.