30 October 2012

Philip Zimbardo: The Secret Powers of Time

An interesting lecture that delves into the depths of how we as human associate with time. There are six basic temporal orientations: two on the past (past positive and past negative), two on the present (hedonistic--avoiding pain, seeking pleasure, acquiring knowledge--and riders--believing that their life is fated and there is nothing they can do about it) and two on the future (those who have learned that it is better to work than to play and those who believe in a life after death).

Interestingly, the closer to the equator one lives, the more present oriented one is (this makes perfect sense, if you think about it: the more extreme your climate shifts through the seasons each year, the more you will have to plan ahead to survive during the winter). Additionally, religion (or, I suppose, belief in a given religion) can have a strong impact

Philip Zimbardo - The Secret Powers of Time (RSA)
RSA Animate - The Secret Powers of Time

23 October 2012

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice

As we are faced with increasingly more choice, studies are increasingly finding people to be dissatisfied. The dissatisfaction comes, in part, because the increased number of choices overwhelm our ability to analyse the data and thus we make poorer decisions. Additionally, because there are so many choice, it is easy to wonder if you could have made a better choice. Finally, if you make a choice you regret, it is your fault for making the wrong choice because it is likely (or so we think) that the "correct" options were available but you chose the wrong.

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice (TED)

18 October 2012

16 October 2012

Jeremy Rifkin: The Empathic Civilisation

It turns out, that empathy is a natural inborn part of the human condition when it is not otherwise trained out of us. Indeed, such things as national, occupational and neighborhood pride are all outcroppings of this natural empathy. Rifkin suggests that we can tap into the natural ability to empathize to build a more peaceful and respondent global community.

Jeremy Rifkin - The Empathic Civilisation (RSA)
RSA Animate - The Empathic Civilisation

11 October 2012

"And Then There's This" by Bill Wasik

Wasik presents a wandering collection of stories that track the origin (often created by himself) through their short lived lives to their ultimate demise. During this process, he does some analysis on what made the various stories thrive for the short time before ultimately dying.

04 October 2012

Slavoj Zizek: First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

Zizek discusses how our current system of capitalism, which injects a strong element of charity into the system, is actually worse than leaving the charitable elements out. Pulling an example from our distant past, he suggests that the worst slave owners were the ones who were nice to their slaves as such nicety eliminated reasons for the slaves to reflect on the horribleness of their situation or to have a workable desire for freedom. Zizek suggests that we should rebuild society in such a way that instead of giving relief to the immediate problems, that we find ways to minimize the causes of those problems (prevention instead of charity).

Slavoj Zizek - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (RSA)
RSA Animate - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

03 October 2012

Why I Love Reading the I Ching

After the huge Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life by Todd Oldham (the book is 17.7 inches by 12.6 inches and 2 inches thick)--which I finally broke down and bought*--and Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte, the book I check out most from the library is The Original I Ching Oracle by Rudolf Ritsema and Shantena Augusto Sabbadini:
The "I Ching" sitting in all its glory on a table.

I do not like the actual book much, so I was pondering why I keep checking it out. Here are the reasons I came up with.
  1. The actual title just begs respect for its simultaneous antiquity and epical nature: "The Original I Ching Oracle: The Pure and Complete Texts with Concordance, Translated under the auspices of the Eranos Foundation". How can I resist a title with "oracle," "concordances" AND "auspices" in it?
  2. The sheer thickness of the book. While Amazon.com reports an original copy to be 2.5 inches thick, I think the library copy has matured to a full 3 inches. A book that thick demands the respect of everyone in the vicinity.
  3. The giant Chinese character on the front. I generally get two reactions from people after they have comprehended the thickness of the book and the prominent Chinese characters on the front: "I am so sorry that you have to read that. What class are you reading it for so I can make sure to never take it?" or "Are you learning Chinese?" Sometimes when I get the first response, if I am feeling particularly mischievous, I tell them it is for the Capstone class (a class that, in theory, each graduate has to take after the first two years of schooling).
  4. The inside is filled with even more Chinese characters.
  5. Running through an I Ching with someone is fun, if not informative. (For those who do not know, as I did not know when I first checked the book out: you roll three coins, or other two sided objects, three times and based on the combination of heads and tails the I Ching gives a fortune. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.)
  6. I Ching fortunes can be fun to read and piece together. Fortune may be too strong of a word, they are more of guiding phrases and less of "fortunes" in the Fortune Cookie sense.
  7. Reading a lot of wise I Ching phrases allows one to then spout those exact or similar phrases back like, "white noise can bring both clarity and confusion" or "feed to hungry tiger before it finds a new master", thus sounding both profound and wise while not actually having said anything of substance.
  8. The I Ching brings me a bit of culture that I rather enjoy.
While I would not recommend this book for reading, I would suggest it for browsing. It is fun to flip through its pages and read the bits of wisdom scatter throughout it.

* On having bought Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life by Todd Oldham: I was going to include this in the body, but it got way too long. I guess it shows, in part, how much I love this book: I actually bought a slightly smaller copy, 12 inches by 8.5 inches by 1.5 inches, which i deemed more reasonable for the portability my nearby transient lifestyle currently requires. I bought it shortly before graduation, before I knew where I would be living after I graduated and after realizing that I did not know if my next library would have a copy of this amazing book and noting that I had nearly, single handedly, filled up the return date card.