Thinking is Exercise

David Foster Wallace once said that “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” As he saw it, “if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Wallace was known for his wit and writing, and I find that he has many times expressed opinions I share, only I didn’t realize I shared them until I read his writing. In a way I would say that Wallace’s definition of how to think is really one part of my definition of how we find truth.

On Beauty

Recently I’ve been thinking about beauty again. In school I hear philosophers attempt to define it, often relegating it to a certain realm of aesthetics. So… it seems that there is a fairly definable debate occurring that is seeking to pin beauty down. One might even describe it as the struggle between Gaston and the Beast.

Per my usual … I find myself opting for a more stirred opinion, perhaps a third party of sorts. While reading the thesis of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I kept finding myself drifting from the vantage of the rhetoric toward that of casuality.

Well … wow, I just realized how off putting the above must read. So here goes …

I read and watched a bunch of books, articles, and films lately that all seemed, to me, to get back to a central theme of beauty and of our vantage points in looking at the world around us. Some of these works explicitly referenced the term beauty, most did not. Still, the more I delved into these few works, the more I came to find a validation of sorts for the way in which I already viewed the world.

Often, and even as recent as this past Friday out bowling with friends, I have had people point blank tell me that I am a cynic. Now, I find this whole topic utterly fascinating and altogether comical because I believe myself to be an optimist. Which is why when I happened upon a brief commentary in this weekend’s FT I just had to smile. In this commentary, a lady who is cast as an optimist delivers a titilating account of her radio run in with a cynic. He was so unlike the classic cynic, in her opinion, that she finally couldn’t find any other way to express herself than to ask “what kind of strange cynic are you?!?” … and what prompted her question was his sheer optimism and happy nature.

I’m sure I’ve lost most out there, but the point to the bit there is that more often than ever seen before today’s cynics are actually rather optimistic … one might even go so far as to call them optimists. How odd.

As for beauty … I’m sure most skipped over the inherent nature a love of beauty plays in the formation of an optimist. I’ll step around that aspect to approach beauty from another side. That being my personal experience. I have always been known for a perplexing outlook on beauty, on that I find attractive and appealing … and I am not speaking strictly of women. I am speaking of what objects, relationships, etc. I find beautiful … many that my friends simply can’t comprehend. To me, there is a beauty in every one of us who is true to our nature … and of course these natures change.

I’ll have to add to this later as I know I only scratched the surface.

When People Have Extra Money

I find now to be an odd point in my life … then again, perhaps I am simply beginning to live.

Almost a year ago now I first began to question my path moving toward being an architect as defined by the current profession and its fascination with star architects and a continual disdain for providing design services that might help remedy some of mankind’s worst social problems. In the last few months, thanks in no small part to the economic muted maelstrom, I have been provided with the relative freedom that comes with unemployment. I have 6 months to find new work. I am almost positive that there will be no firms hiring people at my level in the architect food chain come February 28th. This month alone, I heard from over 30 friends that they would be joining me and others in the growing roll of the unemployed. To date (yet to be confirmed) the numbers in the Philadelphia region (for design firms) are approaching 25% plus of the industry personnel being without work.

I am lucky to be “young” and “single” … I have the relative freedom to subsist on other work come February (the soonest they might hire) with a catering service. In a way, I am looking forward to the opportunity. I almost miss my days working in the restaurants. I can think of no better place than a restaurant to observe the minutae of society. Of course, it just barely trumps a park bench.

I am looking forward to the New Year.

Update:  I now see much validity in a statement a friend of mine made a bit ago. As a software engineer he is always in high demand … and he explains it as “Well, we save people time and we save them money. Architects only seem to be able to work when people have extra money to spend to build new stuff.”

I find the core of his thought to be strong … and I think the words only need a bit of massaging to best convey the idea.

Momentum is One Tough Cookie to Break

Today was rather interesting. I learned more of the fine-tuned workings of an institution of higher education. This time, the lesson seems to be that momentum is one tough cookie to break … particularly when the economy is not “on your side” as it currently is not.

I keep hearing people lamenting the slow down in the building industry and citing numerous institutions that have always been at the fore of innovative building development and big projects … and saying these institutions are essentially frozen in terms of building anything new at the moment. Access to funds just doesn’t seem to be what it once was.

The biggest questions raised …

  1. Why would anyone want to support your project?
  2. What exactly is so good about anything green and innovative?

Well, do you know how to answer that question? I sat in a room beside two people, one a professional, one the head of an organization committed to innovation and eco-design. Neither of them could deliver a convincing answer on the spot. I’ll admit, I was dissapointed. Perhaps I just dive into the topic more … but I thought it was a rather simple question to answer.

Think of it, what would a corporation like Lowes or Home Depot gain from partially or entirely funding a project focused on holistic design that rabidly pursues sustainability through innovation? What would a corporation like Exelon gain?

A quick answer, and perhaps a rather shallow answer would be one that referenced the copiuos good PR. Sadly, PR does not always benefit the bottom line in a measurable way. Who is to say how much new business comes to these large corporations as a reuslt of the PR generated by their support of such prototypes? It is a difficult item to quantify.

Now, if you can demonstrate to these large corporations that their support will help bulster their bottom line in a new and innovative manner … might that grab their attention? I would wholeheartedly answer “Yes!” so how to do it?

Shenandoah Dreams

There is this view of the mountains in the Shenandoah Valley that I always return to during periods of stress. Well, I don’t know about you, but 5 days in bed with fever and hallucinations sure counts as a stressful period for me. I must have visited this mountain a dozen times during those five days … and at times it was so real I could swear I was there and that I was not dreaming. I still don’t know what it is about this place that attracts me. All I can really recall is stopping along the drive while a kid and getting to see this mountain with hawks flying high above it.

We Are Not Doomed…

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle the respected venture capitalist Vinod Khosla asserts that:

Anything that requires people to change their habits has a low probability of success.

He goes on to say that his assertion has “been proven over and over again” and that it is now an accepted truth in the modern industrial society “that people don’t inconvenience themselves.”

Sadly, I must agree with part of Mr. Khosla’s argument. Each day I observe those around me doing everything they can to avoid inconvenience … so much that I will often see someone actually doing some truly harmful things to the environment simply to avoid “inconveniencing” themselves.

The part of Khosla’s argument that I cannot conscionably agree with is that the members of our society are so self-centered that they are incapable of adopting “change” in behavior that might require a reassessmet of “convenience” and require adaptation to a changing environment.

I must disagree with Khosla because the societies of the world are full of examples where our people have willingly and often agressively altered course in the process of adapting to better seurvive and to better live in a changing world. Such adaptations were seen with the move from agricultural society to industrial society and from an industrial economy to a service economy.

Throughout our history, mankind has demonstrated a knack for adaptation. We have moved from typewriters to keyboards and are now beginning a transition to microcomputing. Of course, there will always be those niches where technology does not assert itself. We should not look down upon such people. We should celebrate the diversity that results in the innovative and creative productions seen in all cultures.

I think that if something is truly a matter of human will and human interest it can be done. Japan has a number of examples in their history. In addition to their purposeful transition from an auto based transport economy to one of rail, they were also the only nation state to ever purposefully remove the technology of the gun from their military society.

During the 19th century, the Japanese reverted from the gun to the sword. They made this painful transition because they reasoned that the introduction of the gun had ultimately begun the destruction of their heirarchical culture of the samurai. The distance and separateness of killing with a gun allowed combatants to kill each other without ever coming face to face and exchanging formalities … it also drastically altered the skill required to kill an enemy combatant in such a way that the prowess of the samurai was sacrificed.

Japanese society reached their conclusion during their war with the Koreans. They had a passion for maintaining their traditions and their social norms … they gave up the “high” technology of the gun.

Examples such as the above are the reasons I must disagree with Khosla’s assessment of the future of our societies. I wholeheartedl believe that if the people with the power to change also have a passionate reason for adaptation … then they will find a solution … and things will change. And unlike the trickle down theory in the financial terms … with adaptation, a trickle down of ideas will absolutely occur.

Some Epiphanies to Start the Day

Here are some epiphanies to open the day …

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
~ Harry S. Truman, Pres. U.S.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
~ Albert Einstein

“Memories of our lives, of our work, and our deeds will continue in others.”
~ Rosa Parks

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming it.”
~ Helen Keller