Boston Book Festival 2011: How to Live?

From BBF site: “Join three amazing scholars as they discuss the age old questions of how to live a good life. Sarah Bakewell shares insights gleaned from writing her national book critics circle award-winning book: How to live, or, a Life of Montaigne, while Harvard’s maven of multiple intelligences Howard Gardner reflects on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed and anthropologist and ethnographer Michael Jackson discusses Life Within Limits: Wellbeing in a World of Want. Moderated by art historian Joseph Koerner”.

The discussion opened with an interesting question from Michael Jackson – what in life is worth living for if you have nothing (post-war, lack of basic resources, nothing except for what could be made from mud). He recollects his trip to Sierra-Leon, one of the poorest countries in the world. You will find the answer in relations with others – words, humor, stories, passion for engaging and inquiry.

We have lost that kind of intelligence, social intelligence.

Howard Gardner: There is too much noise nowadays, and the noise comes from around the globe. People are looking for dry land, safety land, solid ground. They don’t want to dribble, but reflect on the big picture.

Howard’s book is about the trio of virtues. Young people should get general sense of ethical education, and be exposed to relative and post modernists views, but give them some dry land. People have always imagined places beyond home to live in, places where they can freely choose their own life, and where they find the upstream region of self.

Montaigne book starts with quotations: authenticity, author, authority have the same root… Do you have the authority to say things? If you are the author then yes. It comes to original source which is self.

What is the hardest thing and sweetest thing in your life? Those are always small things.

There are many different approaches regarding how to live. 100 years ago people studied more philosophy, 50 years ago – psychology, today – economics and policy. Evolutionary psychology, rational choice economics, social science …But they all about human agency – we do have choices.

And we make mistakes, we chose things that don’t make us happy and don’t choose things that will make us happy. In American society we often lose our way suspended between fear and greed.

Writers’ advice: Start conversations with people. Talk to people you admire and talk about your own choices… We need to establish common spaces, where everyone can talk about problems and get feedback. “World is a head load depending on how you carry it or how you interpret”.

“I regard every defeat as an opportunity”.

“Do good work, use your resources for someone else”.

“Promote what you do, not yourself”.

Is virtue another intelligence? No, virtue is about how we use intelligence, it is about character, which is more important than intelligence. It is skilfulness. Social intelligence is about what one does not what one is.

Friedrich Nietzsche: ”Goodwill is the best virtue”.

Main lesson: Living well is not about living in a perfect way with rules, but about sharing our feelings and engaging with others.

Visit “Mind adventure” booth: “If it ain’t practical – it ain’t spiritual”.

The Power of Technology

This post starts new series of posts about technology and its impact on humans. Some of the things that sci-fi writers wrote many years ago were indeed invented eventually, like planes, laser surgery, X-ray machines, weapons of mass destruction, etc. Many other inventions are still in works or considered to be totally fictional (time machine, clothes to make us invisible, etc.)

Common belief is that new technological discoveries are good for us and can solve a lot of problems or at least reduce our own limitations (help us live longer, reallocate resources, etc.) The majority of these inventions is to benefit humans, but could also harm us depending on how they are used. We somehow trust our governments to do the job of screening all innovations and deciding what the outcome will be. But do governments really have control over all private labs and research projects in the world? Who stands behind most technological discoveries? Will findings always be used to benefit us?

“With great power, comes great responsibility”. Many governments can’t resolve internal conflicts, never mind international. There is so much controversy about what is right or wrong, true or false, good or bad. There are always cultural nuances in morals interpretations (capital punishment as an example).

Both in literature and cinematography we find examples of how things may go awfully wrong for humans. Just to name a few movies: “I, robot”, “The Island”, “Twelve Monkeys”, “The Matrix”, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”, “Minority report”, “Blade runner”, etc.

H. G. Wells wrote “The War of the Worlds” over 100 years ago (published in 1898). From Wikipedia:

“Human Evolution from the War of the worlds:

The novel suggests a potential future for human evolution and perhaps a warning against overvaluing intelligence against more human qualities. The Narrator describes the Martians as having evolved an overdeveloped brain, which has left them with cumbersome bodies, with increased intelligence, but a diminished ability to use their emotions, something Wells attributes to bodily function. The Narrator refers to an 1893 publication suggesting that the evolution of the human brain might outstrip the development of the body, and organs such as the stomach, nose, teeth and hair would wither, leaving humans as thinking machines, needing mechanical devices much like the Tripod fighting machines, to be able to interact with their environment.”

Not to talk about extremes, but by means of technology we are changing our behavior and ourselves. We are focusing more on developing our brain instead of our heart. To connect to our hearts, Dalai Lama said, we need to unite and focus on our similarities, not our differences. He joked that it would happen if Martians invaded Earth. There’s a grain of truth in every joke. Why can’t we do it on our own?

Technology that we create creates all kinds of opportunities. We need to make sure that we create not just for the sake of it. Kurt Vonnegut’s wrote about it in his novel “Cat’s Craddle” (1963).

The book came about after Vonnegut interviewed scientists and found that some were indifferent about the ways their discoveries might be used. The University of Chicago awarded Vonnegut his Master’s degree in anthropology for Cat’s Cradle. In this book humans simply die from their own creation called ice nine. Cat’s Craddle is fiction and lets keep it this way.

Kurt Vonnegut and H.G. Wells are not alone, there are other writers who ask similar questions and challenge unlimited power of technological inventions and humans behind them. One of those writers is Sherry Turkle, who spent over 30 years researching the topic of technology. Her latest book “Alone Together” came out in Jan 2011. She warns us that technology does change us and we need to know its effect on us. Tomorrow, Oct 15, 2011, she will be speaking at the Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. So if you are not ready to read her 300 page book, come and hear what she has to say, and decide whether you agree or disagree… “Either you think, or others have to think for you, and take power from you.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Mark Twain’s Tips for Living Life

You may know Mark Twain for some of his very popular books like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He was a writer and also a humorist, satirist and lecturer.

Twain is known for his many – and often funny – quotes. Here are a few of my favourite tips from him.

1. Approve of yourself.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

2. Your limitations may just be in your mind.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

3. Lighten up and have some fun.

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

4. Let go of anger.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

5. Release yourself from entitlement.

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

6. If you’re taking a different path, prepare for reactions.

“A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

7. Keep your focus steadily on what you want.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.”

8. Don’t focus so much on making yourself feel good.

“The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.”

9. Do what you want to do.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Re-posted from The Positivity Blog

My Landmark Forum Insight (Part Three)

9. The world is the way it is and others are the way they are. No one owes you anything; no one is really in your way to achieve anything.

In life there are no problems. People do all kinds of things, sometimes hurting to us. But that is what happens. Change your perception/expectation and make action. Be the player, because for the player there is not “is” nature or “I” nature. There is just being.

No matter what circumstances are, deal with them in constructive manner. Like in hockey, you are in the game of falling down and getting up as quickly as possible, not sitting on ice and crying about being mistreated. The game is to be trying to get out of the issue. And the most important thing – you can choose your game. And if you still think there are problems, you can choose your problems too. You can create good problems to get rid of small ones. Replace small problems with big problems. Example, instead of being depressed about your extra weight, start a campaign to eradicate hunger around the world.

There are many possibilities and you can create anything you want in your life.

10. You are not stuck with who you end up being. You are not what happened to you. You are whole, complete and unbroken, and no one needs to fix you. You just need to choose yourself. When you choose, there are no likes or dislikes.

You are not deciding to be more, better, different, but you choose to be certain way. When you choose there is no doubt what you are and what you are not. You are not to prove anything or try to be anything, you just are what you create.

How do you do it? When reality doesn’t match your opportunity, you declare your new possibility with your word and enroll others into your new world of possibility. And then you register in it by making action.


Usually world creates the word. It should be the other way around. Your word creates your world. Foundation of integrity should be our declaration: “I will honor my word, I’m my word!”

Action is correlated with the way you see the world. Being is consistent with your actions. Have authentic communication with those who support you. Focus on things that matter to you. Don’t postpone the moment when you might get happy or have future accomplishment. There is nothing out there in the future, because then and there is now. Actions give you results and they go to the past, which is nothing. The rules of creation are to understand our defense mechanism/human reaction and make a difference that makes a positive difference.

My own take on this is our own clearing work. We can re-write our own biography, no one would know the difference, in terms of how we felt. In history the winner creates his glorious story. My favorite book about it is “Chapaev and Emptiness” by Victor Pelevin. So in our case, since we are the winner and the loser of our own life we fabricate our own story. What will we choose to be? Will we choose the story that we want or we don’t? Are we the loser or the winner? We can create everything from nothing, and our suffering could become our blessing. We can create our own meaning to our own life. “People living deeply have no fear of death” ~Anais Nin.

Check out other articles about Landmark Forum: NY Times and Huffington Post.

My Landmark Forum Insight (Part One)

If Landmark course was free, I would recommend every person on the planet to take it. Landmark teachers to understand other people’s opinions, our own reactions, letting go and forgiveness. It teaches optimism and it empowers people. It works for many, but not for everyone.

I liked when Roger, our instructor, told us in the beginning, that even if we don’t accept Landmark’s world view, we can just try it out and see what it feels like. Definitely, an open-minded approach. There was no cursing, no making me do things against my will, but a lot of revelations and learning opportunities, and I’m glad I finished 3.5 day Forum with 120 other people in Quincy 3 weeks ago. Even though I don’t agree with some concepts and terminology used, the Forum definitely broadened my perspective of the world. And that is how:

1.The first thing we were introduced to was What happened vs. Our interpretation or what kind of story we create around the event. We behave as if we know everything. We know that there are things we know and don’t know, but there are also things we don’t know we don’t know, even though we behave as if we know everything or almost everything. So when something happens we immediately interpret the event the way we see it, and automatically attach meaning to it (our own meaning). Example, someone was laid off and thought it happened because his boss never liked him. Then the employee may think that life is not fair, when in fact the boss didn’t dislike the employee but had to eliminate that particular position.

I really like this approach, as it helps understand views of all parties involved in any situation. Any event can be interpreted differently by those involved or not involved. So … always be listening.

2. All the talking about what happened doesn’t help. Example, there is talking during the game in the stands. The whole talk is about the game – who did well , who didn’t, and who will win, but all their talk has zero impact on the outcome of the game. Only those who play have action, and only they can impact the outcome of the game. So when you complain about something unfair in your life, it will not help anything. What you need to do is to pull yourself together and act!

3. Integrity is when we are true to our word. A lot of people suffer because they know they are not what they say. They lie, they cheat, they pretend – they become inauthentic. Integrity breech happens, when we are not true to ourselves (our values, beliefs, inspirations) and not sincere with others about our intentions. To restore integrity is to restore person’s relationship to his word.

4. Rackets come to play, when we start blaming someone or something for things not working out for us in our life, for our own underperformance. Racket is a fixed way of being and a persistent complaint.

Rackets are used in case of loss of power, freedom, self-expression or peace of mind.

Payoff: Right/wrong, dominate/avoid domination, self justify/invalidate others, win/lose.

Cost: Love/affinity, self-expression, health/vitality/wellbeing, satisfaction/fulfillment.

Rackets are a way for us to not take responsibility for our own life.

How to overcome rackets? Don’t change, as change causes persistence. No change causes disappearance. Just choose to be the way you want to be, invent a possibility in your life to do it and do it step by step.

Contemplating The Inconceivable (Part Two)

I really want to know what existed before the Bang, and what happened during and after the Bang too… So I went to the meetup to at least hear some theories.

At the event the group was divided into two, and at our table we didn’t get to discuss much on “before the Bang”, except for one – there was energy and it exploded (it just couldn’t handle itself in non-material form anymore :))

The most interesting part of the conversation was the debate about relationship between material vs immaterial matter. We can’t really prove that immaterial proceeded material or that immaterial even exists, but we can always bark about it 😉 Arthur said, that people have ideas and theories that are not results of living in the material world. They come from somewhere else…

Ben argued that it is clear as day light that everything that comes to our mind is derived from our senses in contact with material matter. And all science does – explains the laws of material nature.

Arthur disagreed saying that quantum physics is not intuitive. Ben said that quantum physics is explained by mathematics created by observing our material world.

Arthur replied that science didn’t come from observing nature. Thus invention of numbers, which are non-material, came from no material concept…

I support the idea that there are parts of us that belong to material and non-material matter, and we are at the same time in the physical and non-physical space. If immaterial can create material then we (humans) can create material matter with only our non-material side (thoughts or energy). Is it inconceivable?

But what struck me the most is the idea that we would probably not exist if we knew everything: what happened before or after the Bang, how we got created or evolved, and our mission or the upper limit of our potential. What would be the point if we knew what we are capable of and what not? Then we would not be creating. The spice of our life is not knowing our potential but striving to perceive it and perhaps supersede it. What if we have unlimited potential? And that is the beauty of it. We are here to find out.

Again, it is scary to think that there is no beginning or end to space or time, but we are the elements of this beautiful Universe (in whatever form) and we are here to do something…

I remember reading a book many years ago about the following theory:

We, humans, are privileged to come to this shape and form because there is a queue of souls in the storage (somewhere) that are waiting for millions of years for their turn to appear on Earth and start creating. (I wonder if our mission is given to us upfront, but then we sign confidentiality contract and all memory is erased.) Then we get born and try to figure things out and start creating something ( life). Our conditions upon birth are predefined in some way (who knows, maybe we pick them too) and after we die, we may come back depending on whether we accomplished original mission or not.

In short, it seems like a video game with multi levels called “Human being completion program”, you die and get born again, only the environment is never the same as developers are constantly upgrading their software (we call it evolution). And after we finish all the cycles, we are done. Our accomplished soul doesn’t even come to create anymore, it goes to storage as future creation material. We will not come to Earth anymore, unless someone writes a sequel and we are allowed to play again.

All jokes aside, I still don’t have the answer to questions like: What created the space in which we exist, never mind our current form? What miraculous events happened (some alien’s implant or God’s creative workshop) during the Big Bang and human beings emerged? If someone has a good answer, please, enlighten me, but I hope we are not an experiment run by some superior mice 😉

For now I’ll leave you with my speculation:

What if we and our planet Earth are the incubator of inconceivable??? Both physically and non-physically… Let’s just reread works of Herbert George Wells (and grow body parts, clones, become invisible at will, teach people fly, telepathy, time travel and develop world brain). Totally inconceivable will happen because that is why we are here for, but we better create consciously to not harm others, because others want to create too… whatever they come here for…

Contemplating The Inconceivable (Part One)

I found Boston Area Philosophy Discussions Meetup and its event called “The Outer Limits of Thought: Contemplating the Inconceivable”. The question was “Can we talk about what we don’t know and can’t prove, and what could be our answers?”
That is what the event’s description said:
“In closing his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Wittgenstein remarks that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Yet, as has often been remarked one suspects that, very unlike the Logical Positivists who were spawned by the publication of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein may have harbored some mystical inclinations.
After all, being unable to speak about something does not necessarily imply a lack of substance; it may simply mean that we are unable to speak meaningfully about it.Physicists will tell you that the fractional moments just after the Big Bang occurred can be conceptualized and quantified, but before the bang…well on that subject science must consign itself to silence. Our universe may have been spawned by other universes or by other dimensions but whatever argument is taken it seems to descend into an infinite regress that begs the question of “How did it all begin?”
The “before the big bang” conjectures are only one example of what I am playfully calling metaphysical “barks.” We love to bark, as much as wolves love to howl at the moon. And, sorry dear positivists, a philosopher who is true to his questioning and angst driven core will always question the basis of those questions that defy answers. Evolution and the questions concerning the origins of life are more fodder for probing the outer limits of thought.

One of the philosophic accomplishments of Immanuel Kant was the formulation of his antinomies of pure reason. The questions about 1) space and time, 2) atomism, 3) freedom and 4) God are, Kant argued, impossible to resolve because in each case opposite conclusions can be deductively proved, but since the thesis and the antithesis cannot both be correct certain knowledge regarding these basic questions is impossible (I make no claims here of precisely stating Kant’s argument).

So, is the philosophical contemplation of these questions meaningless and/or fruitless? I think not. In fact, the second antinomy shows why contemplating the inconceivable is well worth the effort. Modern physics may not have solved the problem of whether or not all matter is ultimately composed of simple atomistic parts as, for example, quantum physics allows quanta to be both a particle and a wave, but the fact of the matter is that knowledge of the basic building blocks or non-blocks of matter are vastly more understood today than in Kant’s day. The unrelenting research and query into these fundamental questions expands both knowledge and wisdom. In the matter of atomism, I think that the answers to this particular question may ultimately be attainable.

The Big Bang in its own terms may be interpreted as a temptation to engage immateriality.

In this discussion, might we not broach a whole new method? Can we not ask each participant for his or her spontaneous, free thinking, creative response and thinking-outside-the-box to a question relating to the origin of life, the origin of the universe, to one of Kant’s antinomies, or to immaterial existence. “

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