Influence: Douglas Adams

Ready To Leave The Planet.Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, may have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for. We all know that at some point in the future the Universe will come to an end and at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there’s plenty of time to worry about that, but on the other hand that’s a very dangerous thing to say.

– Douglas Adams, Speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge, UK, (1998)

I was introduced to the works of Douglas Adams in my youth, and his dark satire suited me well – but he was larger than that in many ways. He also happened to be alive when I was reading his works, and in that he held a fairly lonely spot. So lonely, in fact, he left it in 2001.

His non-fictional work is worth seeking out.  He played with Pink Floyd, co-wrote a Monty Python skit, worked with the BBC in educating the public about wild life… he was far from just a boring human being.

People should know where their towels are. They should also not panic all the time.

Influence: Buddha; The Concept of Anatta (Non-Self)

253/365:ShortcutRecently, I believe I irked a few people who had said that they would do things by telling them not to worry about them since they hadn’t yet done them. There was no anger in this. It was simply accepting that they were not doing those things, that time had a different meaning to them, and they may have been over-committed. They weren’t moving in the same direction at this time.

It wasn’t personal, just as their non-action toward me wasn’t personal. It was simply what it was – and since I view everyone as fluid… well, now we get to the topic at hand.

In my travels, a much younger version of me was reading up on Buddhism. I happened to be in Okinawa/Japan at the time, and one of my fellow Corpsmen was a Buddhist, so I read up about it – and one of the more useful things I picked up from it was the concept of Anatta (Non-Self). Recent science seems to back the theory of non-self.

It wasn’t too hard to grasp for me because I already saw how I had changed in the past, and when faced with issues how I changed in the present. The idea that the self is dynamic rather than static became a foundation. And the idea that since the self changes from moment to moment not only in ourselves but those around us, it is fickle to believe what people say that they will do unless they prove otherwise, and even then it is fickle.

And then there’s the fact that people are simply horrible about over-commitment, but that’s off topic.

When I do become angry with people – it happens less often these days – it’s usually because they are forcing my ‘self’ down a path I was trying to avoid because I know what I will be during that part of life and that may not be what I want to be – but, what is to be is to be.

When I started thinking about all of this stuff in the 90s, I recognized the changes happening and why they were happening. Then I thought I understood it all because a part of my self was… monitoring my self, and that seemed to be the answer – I thought I understood, but that understanding was superfluous. The part of yourself that monitors yourself also changes. It all churns and mixes, and until you actually work your way through that you’re just a surface swimmer when you have to plumb the depths.

Things done to me are done based on perceptions of me, and as flawed as those have been over the years I am unsurprised when those perceptions lead to the wrong conclusions for others. So I ask myself why those things are done, and if I think it worthwhile I change, and if not I do not.

Some parts of me do not change, such as sticking to my word, and I used to expect that from others. I no longer do. When they do not keep their word, I simply remove my expectation. There are times when the expectation is necessary, when there are expectations of me, and so I have to translate that to something tangible to someone else using the tools at my disposal – but if I can forego the expectations of my self, I can forego the derived expectations of others.

And ultimately, I surround myself with people who are similar – who keep to their word, who are authentic, and who add to the value around me rather than simply promising to – and I fill that role as well, or I expect the same treatment. It’s about trust, priorities, and being true to the self.

That I do not believe in supreme beings is superfluous as well in all of this, since those that do surround me and often keep true to themselves as well.

Regardless of what happens in the world, the fluid self must move on and it cannot do so by holding the hands of those that are not moving in the same direction.


Influence: Nikola Tesla

Tesla-bulbUntil the last decade or so, Nikola Tesla‘s place in history was paid lip service. Growing up around a motor rewinding shop, I was surrounded by the children of his works just about every day. When I found out that one man had come up with all these ideas, I had to know more about him – and there certainly is a lot to know. His grounding in science and technology was one thing – but a lot of people don’t know that he also translated poems, and that he also was a friend of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).

Grounded in science, he visualized things people couldn’t ‘see’  – magnetic fields, the flow of electricity. This is a man who created alternating current, something that many people can’t wrap their heads around. Increasingly, people can’t get their heads around any electrical thoughts, it seems, but… 

Beyond his science, he was a visionary who consistently put his castles firmly in the sky and then managed to build solid foundations under them. He lived a solitary life, which to an extent I understand – how do you share the kind of thoughts you have with someone else? How could anyone truly be close to someone who worked so hard to make his visions real? A solid work ethic, a solid scientific background, and the willingness to do what it took to see his vision through.

And people have begun to realize that. I could write more, but why would I when The Oatmeal pretty much nails it?

To understand reality is the drive in science, to dream and build in that reality is engineering.

Influence: Richard Feynman

Everyone has influences, and I’ve decided to write about a few of mine. Outside of Physics circles, few people seem to know about Richard Feynman – which is a shame. The majority of Feynman’s written works are not hard for people without a scientific background to read, and they all entail a philosophy well summed up here:


Without a doubt, his writings have influenced me. In some places they resonated because they made sense to me on an intuitive level and allowed me to grow beyond that. In other places, such as Ethics, it opened me up to new possibilities in looking at situations though I didn’t necessarily agree with him but have no space to argue with.

As an example, his work on the Manhattan Project was something that he thought about with this logic: He and others were scientists working on a project, and the greater society was responsible for how that work was used (A summary from ‘The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist‘). This is a straightforward way of looking at things that can assist in dealing with paralysis when trying to move forward, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily correct. Ultimately, in this example, he was right – particularly since there was a race at the time to have atomic weapons and someone else would eventually have them and use them.

Yet his way of looking at the world beyond the matters of people was less problematic and more supportive to my own life in that there is beauty in science, particularly since I have always existed within technology and art. Some of the greatest works of art around us are explained by science – the simple flower as an example:

I have a friend who’s an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don’t agree with. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. But then he’ll say, “I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.” I think he’s kind of nutty. … There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.
— Richard Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)

Quite an interesting man – a curious man – was Mr. Feynman, unabashedly so, and one of the great communicators in Science. These days there are greats such as Neil deGrasse Tyson to keep an eye on – but I do not know the body of his work well, and he is not done yet – he’s certainly not as dead as Feynman.

Some more quotes that I think are of worth from Feynman:

Well, we’re getting a little philosophical and serious, ok? Let’s go back to what we’re doing. One day we look at a map and this capital is K-Y-Z-Y-L and we decided it would be fun to go there because it’s so obscure and peculiar. It’s a game. It’s not serious. It doesn’t involve some deep philosophical point of view about authority or anything. It’s just the fun of having an adventure to try to go to a land that we’d never heard of, that we knew was an independent country once, no longer an independent country, find out what it’s like. And discover as we went along that nobody went there for a long time and it’s isolated made it more interesting. But, you know, many explorers liked to go to places that are unusual. And, it’s only for the fun of it. I don’t go for this philosophical interpretation of “our deeper understanding of what we’re doing.” We haven’t any deep understanding of what we’re doing. If we tried to understand what we’re doing, we’d go nutty.
— Richard Feynman, p. 236, from interview two weeks before his death in “The Quest for Tannu Tuva” (1989)

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything. There are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask “Why are we here?” I might think about it a little bit, and if I can’t figure it out then I go on to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose — which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell. Possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
— Richard Feynman, p. 239, from interview in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” (1981)