Willingness to look stupid

“People frequently think that I'm very stupid. I don't find this surprising, since I don't mind if other people think I'm stupid, which means that I don't adjust my behavior to avoid seeming stupid, which results in people thinking that I'm stupid. [...] I think that, overall, the upsides of being willing to look stupid have greatly outweighed the downsides.”


Learning something every day

[Arnold Bennet] suggests that we use the evenings for learning. About what? It doesn’t matter, really. But you should spend your time learning about something. [...] The point is that you spend your time learning about something you’re interested in so that you experience it more deeply.


Bennet has a few words of caution for us.

First, he recommends that we start small. With a small amount of time and small expectations. Don’t try to apply this every day of the week. Give yourself a window of an hour for thirty minutes of reflection; expect interruptions and distractions.

Next, he recommends that we don’t become too strict about our regimen. The idea is for the learning and reflection to serve our life, not for our life to serve the regimen.

With anything that improves life, we have to avoid becoming a snob about it. There may be reasons that it doesn’t work for everyone, or why they can’t implement it. Improving ourselves is enough work already — there’s no need to worry about improving everyone else.

Finally, we should be cautious of failure at the beginning. Learning of a way to improve one's life can come with a strong motivation that disappears quickly when things get tough. Be careful not to overdo things.

The cost of a thing

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.

Henry David Thoreau
from “Walden” (1854)

Neuroscience of afterlife

Now we know that rather than merely reacting to the external world, the brain spends much of its time and energy actively making predictions about the future—mostly the next few moments. Will that baseball flying through the air hit my head? Am I likely to become hungry soon? Is that approaching stranger a friend or a foe? These predictions are deeply rooted, automatic, and subconscious. They can’t be turned off through mere force of will.

And because our brains are organized to predict the near future, it presupposes that there will, in fact, be a near future. In this way, our brains are hardwired to prevent us from imagining the totality of death.

If I am allowed to speculate—and I hold that a dying person should be given such dispensation—I would contend that this basic cognitive limitation is not reserved for those of us who are preparing for imminent death, but rather is a widespread glitch that has profound implications for the cross-cultural practice of religious thought. Nearly every religion has the concept of an afterlife (or its cognitive cousin, reincarnation). Why are afterlife/reincarnation stories found all over the world? For the same reason we can’t truly imagine our own deaths: because our brains are built on the faulty premise that there will always be that next moment to predict. We cannot help but imagine that our own consciousness endures.


Think about what the word [concentrating] means. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way.

Community vs. your TODO-list

You can show up for others, which can mean so many different things. You can talk to people you don’t know, which can take many other different forms. You can give alms willingly and without expectations. But most of these things involve taking time away from the concentration on your own to-do list. Community is showing up to weed the library garden even though it’s on a Saturday and you like a certain routine for your Saturday. It is actually joining the volunteer fire department. It is committing to a two-hour-a-week volunteer spot even though it feels weird because you’ve learned to dedicate all hours to work, and then blocking it off the same way you would block off any other commitment. It is offering assistance before it is asked for, even if it means camoflaging (sic) it in the form of “I’m going to the store, can I pick anything up for you?” It is having conversations that go nowhere even when you have dinner to start. It is unlearning so much of what many of us have taught ourselves about making every moment of our lives as efficient and optimized as possible.

Creative work is good for the soul

I am now in my sixties and drawing comics again has rejuvenated me. It is not only that I am doing the kind of work I did in my youth, but that I am directing my mind to think along the same lines that it did back then. [...] To do creative work is good for the soul. As long as you have an enthusiasm, you have happiness.

Paul Kirchner
“Awaiting the Collapse” (2017)

Comforting fictions

Story-telling, especially at an impressionable age, is a way of understanding ourselves and our surroundings.

As adults, we prefer stories, like our lives, to be predictable, to be fixed, to have the comfort of formulas that every soap opera and most films conform with. Yet life is messy. It contains accidents, contradictions, loose ends. There is probably no plot and yet there are more possibilities than we dare imagine. Ultimately, none end very well. There’s a vertigo to contemplating such matters but it is more truthful and ironically less childish than the comforting fictions we adhere to.

Brooks on daily goals

Take stock of long-term goals regularly, but not too often (for me, every six months does the trick); focus the rest of the time on what is to be done today that creates positive progress. Finish your work, set it aside, and relish the accomplishment. Then, start again tomorrow.