I: Found Objects
Ideas are easy. Knowing what to do with them is hard.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
–Will Rogers (attrib.)
It is not experience but the understanding of experience that matters.
–Norman Hoegberg (via Dan Cuddy)
Bad decisions make good stories.
In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.
It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.
Adventure is just bad planning.
Luck is probability taken personally.
Luck is opportunity recognised.
Never trade luck for skill.
Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.
A beginner practices something until he can do it right. A veteran practices something until he can’t do it wrong.
Because I think I’m making progress.
–Pablo Casals, when asked why he continued to practice at age 90
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I’ve just never been one of those “I can do anything if I put my mind to it” kind of guys. I find it more workable in life to be at least somewhat aware of my limitations, especially since there seems to be no limit as to my limitations.
Winning can be defined as the science of being totally prepared.
Never think about what they might do; think about what they are capable of doing.
–Chester W. Nimitz
History is not what happened, but what people convince themselves must have happened.
It’s not what has happened that makes the next thing happen, it’s how people perceive what has happened.
Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.
Do not believe what you want to believe until you know what you ought to know.
–“Crow’s Law,” as quoted by R.V. Jones
Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.
I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance.
Inquisitiveness is precisely the opposite of aggression.
–Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder what happens next. Not to explain to them what just happened, or to suggest to them what happens next.
Between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
–Viktor E. Frankl
In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments — there are consequences.
–Robert G. Ingersoll
Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.
Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them — never become conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
What do we know . . . of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos.
We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
A fact is not a truth until you love it.
Fact is the enemy of truth.
Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions.
Our perceptions are fantasies we construct that correlate with reality.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
–Philip K. Dick
Reality has one advantage over fiction: it does not have to be plausible.
— Joe Carroll
To the timid and hesitating everything is impossible because it seems so.
–Sir Walter Scott
When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.
Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.
–John D. Rockefeller
To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.
–Edward R. Murrow
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
–Richard P. Feynman
Avoid those whose views on every subject can be confidently predicted after you have discovered what they think about one.
–Sir John Mortimer
Question a man’s judgment, not his motives.
Complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers.
The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it.
–George Bernard Shaw
One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.
If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
Every scene is either a fight, seduction, or negotiation.
All I do know, for certain, after 53 years in this business, is that writers who sincerely think that their language can represent reality ought to be plumbers.
There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
You don’t choose what will work. You simply do the best you can each time. And you try to do what you can to increase the likelihood that good art will be created.
A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than for other people.
There are two kinds of writer’s block. One is when you freeze up because you think you can’t do it. The other is when you think it’s not worth doing.
I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, “You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy, I’m a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?” and I really, really don’t. I’ll go peaceable-like.
Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.
–Alain de Botton
Qui plume a, guerre a.
Happy is the man who fights without hatred.
Easy reading is damn hard writing.
The only way to write is well. How you do it is your own damn business.
Start where you are. Use what you’ve got. Do what you can.
The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live. Be a man before being an artist.
Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you get old, people won’t think you’re going gaga.
Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes.
The best you can hope for in this life is that your delusions are benign and your compulsions have utility.
Through the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.
There’s fundamentally, deep down, a deep strain of stupidity in everything I do, crucial in the understanding of my work.
* * *
II: In Context
From A. S. Byatt, Possession (New York: Random House, 1990), 457:
We are defined by the lines we choose to cross or be confined by.
From Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage, 1993), 7:
Thamus [from the metaphor in Plato’s Phaedrus] simply takes for granted — and therefore does not feel it necessary to say — that writing is not a neutral technology whose good or harm depends on the uses made of it. He knows that the uses made of any technology are largely determined by the structure of the technology itself — that is, that the functions follow from its form. This is why Thamus is concerned not with what people will write; he is concerned that people will write. It is absurd to imagine Thamus advising, in the manner of today’s standard-brand Technophiles, that, if only writing would be used for the production of certain kinds of texts and not others (let us say, for dramatic literature but not for history or philosophy), its disruptions could be minimized. He would regard such counsel as extreme naivete. He would allow, I imagine, that a technology may be barred entry to a culture. But we may learn from Thamus the following: once a technology is admitted it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is — that is to say, when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open.
From same, 77:
I am not prepared to argue here that the theory was correct, but to the accusation that it was an oversimplification I would reply that all theories are oversimplifications, or at least lead to oversimplification. The rule of law is an oversimplification. A curriculum is an oversimplification. So is a family’s conception of a child. That is the function of theories — to oversimplify, and thus to assist believers in organizing, weighting, and excluding information. Therein lies the power of theories. Their weakness is that precisely because they oversimplify, they are vulnerable to attack by new information. When there is too much information to sustain any theory, information becomes essentially meaningless.
From J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1973), 113-116:
A popular cliche in philosophy says that science is pure analysis or reductionism, like taking the rainbow to pieces; and art is pure synthesis, putting the rainbow together. This is not so. All imagination begins by analyzing nature. Michelangelo said that vividly, by implication, in his sculpture (it is particularly clear in the sculptures that he did not finish), and he also said it explicitly in his sonnets on the act of creation.
When that which is divine in us doth try
To shape a face, both hand and brain unite
To give, from a mere model frail and slight,
Life to the stone by Art’s free energy.
‘Brain and hand unite’: the material asserts itself through the hand, and thereby prefigures the shape of the work for the brain. The sculptor, as much as the mason, feels for the form within nature, and for him it is already laid down there. That principle is constant.
The best of artists hath not to show
Which the rough stone in its superfluous shell
Doth not include: to break the marble spell
Is all the hand that serves the brain can do.
Of course, it cannot be literally true that what the sculptor imagines and carves out is already there, hidden in the block. And yet the metaphor tells the truth about the relation of discovery that exists between man and nature; . . . In one sense, everything that we discover is already there: a sculpted figure and the law of nature are both concealed in the raw material. And, in another sense, what a man discovers is discovered by him; it would not take exactly the same form in the hands of someone else — neither the sculpted figure nor the law of nature would come out in identical copies when produced by two different minds in two different ages. Discovery is a double relation of analysis and synthesis together. As an analysis, it probes for what is there; but then, as a synthesis, it puts the parts together in a form by which the creative mind transcends the bare limits, the bare skeleton, that nature provides.
The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Civilisation is not a collection of finished artefacts, it is the elaboration of processes. In the end, the march of man is the refinement of the hand in action.
From T. B. Pawlicki, How to Build a Flying Saucer and Other Proposals in Speculative Engineering (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1981), 59:
A scientific intelligence can be gauged by the point at which a person accepts an answer as final and satisfying.
From Lewis Mumford, “Technics and the Future of Western Civilization,” from In the Name of Sanity (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954), 55-57:
This tendency to overlook the human end which our automatic organizations serve has begun to pervade our whole civilization; and in the end, if it is uncorrected, it may effectually undermine our best achievements. For the fact is that standardization, organization, automatism, which are the real and special triumphs of modern technics, tend with their very perfection to produce routineers; people whose vital interests and activities lie outside the system to which they have committed themselves. The vice that dogged the regularities and automatism of monastic life in the Middle Ages, the vice called acedia, or lethargic indifference, already tends to creep into the older, staler departments of our technology. . . .
When we eliminate the active human factor in industry, in other words, we may also eliminate, with all but fatal success, the impulses, passions, drives, and aspirations that make for continued technical perfection. . . . No matter how marvelous our inventions, how productive our industries, how exquisitely automatic our machines, the whole process may be brought to a standstill by its failure fully to engage the human personality or to serve its needs.
From Wally Herbert, The Noose of Laurels: Robert E. Peary and the Race to the North Pole (New York: Atheneum, 1989), 14:
Read the hidden lines correctly and, at best, all one can say is that the searching light has caught another facet of the story, for the whole truth, by its nature, is impossible to see. But what if the reader should stumble upon a story that appears to be more human and therefore much more likely than the one the record shows? Should that reader challenge the accepted version, or accept that history always hides a good deal more than it reveals, and leave the hidden story undisturbed where it was buried by the need of men for heroes with whom they could relate?
From Abraham Pais, Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 3:
History is highly subjective, however, since it is created after the fact, and after the date, by the inevitable process of the selection of events deemed relevant by one observer or another. Thus there are as many (overlapping) histories as there are historians.
From Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, Penguin Classics edition (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), 386:
For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it.
From Gary Gemmill and Judith Oakley, “Leadership: an Alienating Social Myth?,” Human Relations v45 n2, 113-130, 113 [DIALOG abstract]:
The concept of leadership may be interpreted as a myth that reinforces established social assumptions about the need for hierarchical authority in organizations. The widespread acceptance of this leadership myth reflects the growing sense of helplessness among organization members about their ability to create a less alienating workplace environment. The emergence of organizational leadership theories that emphasize the need for omnipotent leaders can likewise be viewed as an indication of the trend toward increased emotional and intellectual deskilling in contemporary industrial society.
From Galileo Galilei, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican, trans. Stillman Drake, 1953, 35, as quoted in A. Rupert Hall, “On Knowing, and Knowing How to . . . ,” from A. Rupert Hall and Norman Smith, eds., History of Technology v3, 1978 (London: Mansell, 1978), 91:
Logic, as it is generally understood, is the organ with which we philosophize. But just as it may be possible for a craftsman to excel in making organs and yet not know how to play them, so one might be a great logician and yet still be inexpert in making use of logic . . .
From Soren Kierkegaard, as quoted in Samuel C. Florman, The Existential Pleasures of Engineering (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1976), 100:
In his failure, the believer finds his triumph.
From Antoine de Saint Exupery, Flight to Arras (Paris: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1942; Harbrace Paperback Library ed., tr. Galantiere), 52:
We were living in the blind belly of an administration. An administration is a machine. The more perfect the machine, the more human initiative is eliminated from it. If, into a perfect machine, you introduce steel into one end, automobiles will come out of the other end. There will be no room for technical flaws, errors of measurement, human carelessness. And in a perfect administration, where man plays the part of a cog, such things as laziness, dishonesty, or injustice, cannot prevail.
But a machine is not built for creation. It is built for administration. It administers the transformation of steel into motor cars. It goes unvaryingly through motions pre-ordained once and for always. And an administration, like a machine, does not create. It carries on. It applies a given penalty to a given breach of the rules, a given method to a given aim. An administration is not conceived for the purpose of solving fresh problems. If, into your automobile-manufacturing machine, you inserted wood at one end, furniture would not come out at the other end. For this to happen, a man would have to intervene with authority to rip the whole thing up. But an administration is conceived as a safeguard against disturbances resulting from human initiative. The gear-wheels of the watch stand guard against the intervention of man. The watchmaker has no place among them.
From same, 78-80:
Ah, the blueprints that historians will draft of all this! The angles they will plot to lend shape to this mess! They will take the word of a cabinet minister, the decision of a general, the discussion of a committee, and out of that parade of ghosts they will build historic conversations in which they will discern farsighted views and weighty responsibilities. They will invent agreements, resistances, attitudinous pleas, cowardices. . . .
Historians will forget reality. They will invent thinking men, joined by mysterious fibers to an intelligible universe, possessed of sound farsighted views and pondering grave decisions according to the purest laws of Cartesian logic. There will be powers of good and powers of evil. Heroes and traitors. But treason implies responsibility for something, control over something, influence upon something, knowledge of something. Treason in our time is a proof of genius. Why, I want to know, are not traitors decorated?
From Antoine de Saint Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars, tr. Lewis Galantiere (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1967), 33:
Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something moulded. These prison walls that this age of trade has built up round us, we can break down. We can still run free, call to our comrades, and marvel to hear once more, in response to our call, the pathetic chant of the human voice.
From Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm (NY: HarperCollins, 1997), 299:
Writers don’t often know much about the world they’re trying to describe, but they don’t necessarily need to. They just need to ask a lot of questions. And then they need to step back and let the story speak for itself.
From W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage (NY: 1984, Penguin), 314:
Of course it was cause and effect, but in the necessity of which one follows the other lay all the tragedy of life.
From David Ritchie, “If I Agree with Latour That in Some Sense We are Modern And We are Not, How Do I Then Do History? An Article in Four Frames,” Journal of Unconventional History, vol. 10 no. 3, Spring, 1999, 47:
Modernists wrote manifestos. I am not doing so. This is not a manifesto.
I reject objectivity; I embrace truth
I reject carelessness; I embrace fiction
I reject dullness; I embrace liveliness
I reject smallness; I embrace enlarging thought
I reject theory; I embrace practice
And so, I shall practice.
From Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 102:
If a storyteller thinks enough of storytelling to regard it as a calling, unlike a historian he cannot turn from the suffering of his characters. A storyteller, unlike a historian, must follow compassion wherever it leads him. He must be able to accompany his characters, even into smoke and fire, and bear witness to what they thought and felt even when they themselves no longer knew.
From further down the same page:
Historical questions the storyteller must face, although in a place of his own choosing, but his most immediate question as he faces new material is always, Will anything strange or wonderful happen here? The rights and wrongs come later and likewise the scientific know-how.
From Aristotle, Metaphysics, tr. Hope (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987), 318:
But the many troubles which these men have with the generation of numbers, and their inability to bring them together in any coherent way, seem to indicate that mathematical entities are not separate from sensible things, as some would have them be, and that they are not the first principles.
From Anatole France, as quoted in Carter Jefferson, Anatole France: the Politics of Skepticism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1965), 160:
I am not virtuous enough to believe and to profess the religion of humanity. I lack the courage to renounce my fantasies, the caprices of the individual conscience. I love my errors. I do not want to renounce the delightful liberty to lose my way, to lose my self, to lose my soul.
From J. Krishnamurti, Commentaries on Living, First Series, ed. D. Rajagopal ([s.l.]: Quest, 1979), 94:
Without self-knowledge, experience breeds illusion; with self-knowledge, experience, which is the response to challenge, does not leave a cumulative residue in memory. Self-knowledge is the discovery from moment to moment of the ways of the self, its intentions and pursuits, its thoughts and appetites. There can never be “your experience” or “my experience;” the very term “my experience” indicates ignorance and the acceptance of illusion. But many of us like to live in illusion, because there is great satisfaction in it; it is a private heaven which stimulates us and gives us a feeling of superiority. . . . Illusion is clothed according to tradition, keeping it within the field of respectability; and as most of us seek power in one form or another, the hierarchical principle is established, the novice and the initiate, the pupil and the Master, and even among the Masters there are degrees of spiritual growth. Most of us love to exploit and be exploited, and this system offers the means, whether hidden or open.
From same, p. 143:
There was quietness in the room; the nervous agitation had subsided, and they were all eager to go into the problem without expecting a result, a definition of the right thing to do. The right action would emerge, naturally and fully, as the problem was exposed. The discovery of the content of the problem was important, and not the end result; for any answer would only be another conclusion, another opinion, another piece of advice, which would in no way solve the problem. The problem itself had to be understood, and not how to respond to the problem or what to do about it. The right approach to the problem was important, because the problem itself held the right action.
From same, pp. 171-2:
Listening is an art not easily come by, but in it there is great beauty and understanding. We listen with the various depths of our being, but our listening is always with a preoccupation or from a particular point of view. We do not listen simply; there is always the intervening screen of our own thoughts, conclusions and prejudices. We listen with pleasure or resistance, with grasping or rejection, but there is no listening. To listen, there must be an inward quietness, a freedom from the strain of acquiring, a relaxed attention. This alert yet passive state is able to hear what is beyond the verbal conclusion. Words confuse, they are only the outward means of communication; but to continue beyond the noise of words, there must be in listening an alert passivity. Those who love may listen; but it is extremely rare to find a listener. Most of us are after results, achieving goals, we are forever overcoming and conquering, and so there is no listening. It is only in listening that one hears the song of the words.
From Shunryu Suzuki, ed. Edward Espe Brown, “Resuming Big Mind,” Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 54:
In zazen we do not try to stop thinking or cut off hearing and seeing. If something appears in your mind, leave it. If you hear something, hear it, and just accept it. “Oh” — that is all. No second activity should appear in your zazen. Sound is one activity. The second activity is, “What is that sound — is it a motor car or garbage truck or something?” If you hear a sound, that is all — you hear it. Don’t make any judgment. Don’t try to figure out what it is. Just open your ears and hear something. Just open your eyes and see something. When you are sitting for a pretty long time, watching the same place on the wall, you may see various images: “It looks like a river,” or “it looks like a dragon.” Then you may think that you should not be thinking, but you see various things. Dwelling on the images may be a good way to kill time, but it is not sesshin.
From David Chadwick, Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki (extract from Chapter 6, “Wartime: 1940-1945,” pp. 92-115, at http://www.cuke.com/excerpts-articles/cc%20excerpts/war%20ch6.html):
As long as you depend on something special, something it is assumed you should depend on, you are not strong enough to go on by yourself. You cannot find your way. So first of all, know yourself and be strong enough to live without any sign, without any information — that is the most important point. There is truth, you say, but there can be various truths. The question is not which way you should go. If you only try to go in one direction, or if you always depend on signs, you will not find your own way. The best thing is to have eyes to read various signs.
From Alan W. Watts, The Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work, and Art in the Far East (New York: Grove Press, 1958), 36-7:
Suffice it to say that the general idea behind Tao is that of growth and movement; it is the course of nature, the principle of governing and causing change, the perpetual movement of life which never for a moment remains still. . . . In reality there is nothing in the universe which is completely perfect or completely still; it is only in the minds of men that such concepts have arisen, and it is just those concepts which, according to Taoism, are at the root of human misery. . . . Movement is only noticeable to something [that] is relatively still, but this is a false stillness because it creates friction with that which is moving. . . .
This doctrine can easily degenerate into mere laissez faire and thus eventually Taoism became an easy-going fatalism, whereas the original teaching was nothing of the kind. For coupled with the doctrine of Tao is the teaching of wu-wei, the secret of mastering circumstances without asserting oneself against them. Wu-wei has been translated by so many Western scholars as non-action and by corrupt Taoism it was held to mean the same thing. Actually it is the principle underlying ju-jutsu [sic] — a highly successful form of overcoming an opponent in wrestling — the principle of yielding to an oncoming force in such a way that it is unable to harm you, and at the same time changing its direction by pushing it from behind instead of attempting to resist it from the front. Thus the skilled master of life never opposes things; he never tries to change things by asserting himself against them; he yields to their full force and either pushes them slightly out of direct line or else moves them right round in the opposite direction without ever encountering their direct opposition. That is to say, he treats them positively; he changes them by acceptance, by taking them into his confidence, never by flat denial. . . . It is the principle of controlling things by going along with them, of mastery through adaptation.
From “Aging,” Dhammapada XI, verses 153-154 (tr. Thanissaro Bhikku):
Through the round of many births I roamed
seeking the house-builder.
Painful is birth
again & again.
House-builder, you’re seen!
You will not build a house again.
All your rafters broken,
the ridge pole destroyed,
gone to the Unformed, the mind
has come to the end of craving.
From Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog (New York: Bantam Spectra, 1998), 490:
That’s the problem with models — they only include the details people think are relevant . . .
From Lana Wachowski, as quoted in Aleksandr Hemon, “Beyond the Matrix,” in The New Yorker, September 10, 2012, p.72:
Originality can’t be economically modeled.
From Baron Wormser, “The Woods: A Meditation” in AGNI 61, April 2005:
When we look for one thread of motive, we are, in all likelihood, deceiving ourselves.
Anything out of the ordinary tends to be taken personally.
All it takes is one naïve or committed or stubborn person to undo any behavioral law.
The connection I sensed inside me was that the reading elicited the writing. Something in me wanted to make those things called poems. This making is the primal urge and the issue of audience is bound to be secondary and problematic. A quatrain excited me and made me want to make one, the way any made thing — a patchwork quilt or a dadoed bookshelf or a cable-stitch sweater or a honey cake or an iron poker — might impel a person to want to make one. I wanted to butt lines up against one another and see how they fit. I wanted to see how the shape determined the line and vice versa and how rhythm and sound created what seemed like infinite texture and density within a stanza. I wanted to feel the weight of such a slight thing, for I knew it had a weight and that the weight varied from one stanza to another. I wanted to order the sounds that the syllables and accents made into patterns that pleased me. I wanted the strange precision of such an endeavor — exact and inexact, steadfast and dream-like, all at the same time. I wanted to practice balance and imbalance, trace symmetry and asymmetry, toy with words and honor them. Such making offered an expressiveness that went far beyond the perquisites of the blurting, declarative self.”
* * *
When all the philosophers, sociologists, and historians finally finish weighing in on the role of technology in society, I humbly suggest that we should leave the last word to someone whose life and work demonstrated a deep understanding of its complexities.
From Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 13 (Lost Moon) (New York: Pocket Books, 1995), 290 [emphasis added]:
“Look,” [Don] Arabian said after a pause, “you know this is no problem and I know this is no problem. But if the battery screws up, I’m going to say so. And if a tank screws up, I’m going to say so. And if the crew screws up, I’m going to say so. Fellows, these are just systems, and if you’re not honest with yourself about what went wrong, you ain’t gonna be able to fix anything.“