The Walkabout Diaries: A Now Rose is a New Rose

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Here’s the deal folks. 



I could take pictures of the same rose bush, and never take exactly the same picture twice. In fact, it wouldn’t even take trying on my part. In fact, no matter how hard I tried to take exactly the same picture, it wouldn’t happen. Moment to moment, my hand would murmur, the sun would slide ever so slightly in the sky, a wanton puff of wind would blow the bush.



Of course, I don’t try to take exactly the same picture. Part of the joy is expanding the universe of possible pictures and being open to the possibilities that abound from angle, light, surround, seasons, my own mood, the bush’s mood, the sun’s mood, the mood of the clouds. No, of course, I don’t believe they have conscious emotions — necessarily — but mood describes it was well as any word and the moods of the world are sometimes extremely important in determining our moods. Ask the survivors of any natural disaster whether their “mood” was “influenced” by the disaster! (No, I won’t pay your medical bills). Of course, we know it in these extreme cases, but don’t we really also know it when it comes to less catastrophic events as well? Isn’t your mood influenced by the weather, the time of day, the noise you’re subjected to, the mood of those around you — all of these impact your mood to some extent and therefore, they will have some impact on the quality of the experiences you have.

Your experience with a photograph will be altered according to the mood of the photographer who took the picture, the mood of the planet at that place and time, and — let’s not forget — your mood as well. And, even if you’ve seen hundreds of my pictures, there is no way you or I could draw in detail what the next picture will look like. 

I cannot, indeed, take a picture of a rose. I can only take a picture of the now-rose. And, another now-rose. But, since no two ‘now’s’ are identical, so too, the now-rose is never like any other now-rose. Even if we had two pictures a second apart that were pixel by pixel identical (exceedingly unlikely!) It would only be because of the limitations of our sensors. Let’s not forget that these are living plants doing the “business” of life every second! And even the molecules of inanimate things are moving about, assuming the garden is above absolute zero. Roses are not known to thrive at -435 C. That’s the state, though, that some strive toward now. Absolute predictability based on absolute power means nothing learns; nothing adapts; nothing is truly alive. 

Here’s the deal folks. 

Every experience with another human being is unique. 

Yet, we like to try to categorize them. 

By person. 

By age of person.

By skin color of person.

By gender.

By religion. 

By etc. etc. and so forth.

Yet, you have literally no idea for certain what the next moment will be like. Yet, some people are willing to treat what will happen as a certainty, which would be absurd for something as well-regulated and well-studied as, say, baseball. They would never bet their life that a particular hitter would or would not get a base hit. They wouldn’t do that even if they knew his batting average to the third decimal. But they are willing to stake everything, not on a knowledge of the other person, but based on “knowledge” of a category that is not only useless but based on folklore, propaganda, and fakery.

Instead of being scared by the bees, why not take the time to appreciate the now-rose of human experience — the ever-changing dance of all humanity — which moment will never ever come again. No, not that one either. 

Nope, not that one either. 

Still different. 

Just stop now and notice. 

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Go Deep

Corn on the Cob

The Jewels of November

Race, Place, Space

Essays on America: Labelism 

Go Deep!

Breadth? Or Depth?

Slowing down global climate change is a challenge. What I’m about to suggest is not “the solution” but it might help. It might also help you keep  within your budget and even help you enjoy life more. 

Here’s the deal. In the consumerist society, we are educated, indoctrinated, encouraged, Madison-Avenued, persuaded, entreated, and wheedled into buying more stuff. If you are competitive, you might even be persuaded to believe that your “stuff” is a measure of how well you’re doing in the game of life — or even, that the quality and quantity of the stuff you have is a measure of your own worth! 

Even without the push of a consumerist society, it’s quite natural to seek out a variety of foods, places, people, experiences, etc.  

What if I told you that there’s a way to have a wonderful variety of things in your life without greatly damaging your wallet, your life, or your planet?

What if I told you that this way is simple and does not require buying my book or my course or attending my workshops or signing over all your assets. 

I said it is simple, but I didn’t say it is easy. Lots of people want you to stay busy in the rat-race and earn as much as possible in order to buy as much as possible so they will get even richer and more powerful. But it’s not a game you have to play. 

They want you to play the “Breadth” game; that is, make your life more varied and interesting by buying a huge variety of “stuff.” Every time you watch TV; ride a subway; listen to your car radio; look at a magazine — there are folks trying to convince you that in order to stay healthy, obtain a mate, keep your mate, make your kids happy, play a better game of tennis, etc. etc. etc. all you need to do is **BUY** their super-duper-looper product or service. 

Indeed, when you do buy or rent that product or service, you will feel better. 

For a month. Or a week. Or a day.

Now, make no mistake. If you really need shelter, food, clean water, or medical attention, money can make a huge difference. But beyond that?

The research shows that  beyond the basics, having more money is completely non-predictive of happiness. If you think back on your own experience, you’ll likely recognize that as well. 

“Well, fine,” you might say, “but I like variety. Why can’t I have it?”

You can. My suggestion is that instead of always going for breadth by sampling something different, that you sometimes use your imagination to produce something different by going in depth into whatever you already have or have access to. 

Instead of thinking you need to save up your money to buy an estate, you can buy property that makes it easy to visit a park. Instead of visiting a different park every weekend, you can visit a nearby park and look at it in different ways. You can walk the park primarily for exercise. You can learn the local plants and look for various plants. You can learn the local birds and see how many you can identify. You could take a camera on your walk and take pictures of natural beauty. Or, you can take pictures of the artifacts. You can take pictures from different angles, or in different conditions of light. You can draw instead. You can listen to the sounds; smell the smells; pay attention to how your muscles work. 

You can make up stories about the animals in the park. You can make up stories about the plants. You can use the library or the Internet to find out about the history and pre-history of the land that is now the park. I’ll wager that you actually did things like this when you were a kid. 

Guess what? You don’t have to stop just because you’re an adult. You can dive into the things you have. In your house or apartment, you have a variety of objects. Instead of throwing them out for something new, you can instead learn more — much more — about an object — it’s history, how it’s made, who invented it, how to maintain it, etc. 

Remember: every time you buy something new, it costs you money. Not only that, there’s a hassle involved. There’s packaging to get rid of. It’s one more thing to keep track of; one more thing that can fail; one more thing to bump your toe on; one more thing to push the world toward climate disaster.  

The breadth of things you can try is large and depends on the amount of money that you have.

The depth of things you can try is limitless and depends only on the amount of imagination you allow yourself.

Happy drilling!

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The Great Race to the Finish

There’s a Pill for That

Corn on the Cob

Essays on America: Ice

The Teeth of the Shark

Ah, Wilderness

You Must Remember This

Pivot Projects

All Around the Mulberry Bush

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“How are the burgers coming, Babe?” The aroma was literally making her mouth water. She strolled out onto the deck, a cold martini in each hand. “Here you go, Babe.”

“Thanks sweetheart! They — are — ready! Bring your buns right over here!” Ted laughed at his own wit. Darla didn’t particularly find it funny, but what the hell. A beautiful, warm, late afternoon. Don’t spoil things over nothing, Darla she told herself.

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Soon Darla and Ted downed — yes, that’s the right word — not, “sipped” — “downed” their icy cold martinis and began to chomp right in on their burgers. Darla smiled as a bit of blood dribbled down her chin. Ted motioned at his own chin and looked at her in just that way that each pair in a couple learns to read as: “Honey, you’ve got food on your face…right…here!” 

She patted at the dribbled meat blood and tried to put her napkin on the wooden table, but her fingers stuck to the oil sticky napkin and it fell to the wooden deck. Darla bent to pick up her napkin and that’s when she noticed it.

Darla had one of those minds that is often impervious to things around her. She might not notice, for instance, that a particular picture is off-kilter for weeks, months, or years — not even if she walks by it every single day. But once she realizes that it is off-kilter, she will stop at nothing to straighten the painting immediately. Then she would feel pride as she said to herself, There you go, Darla, old girl. Fixable problem. Fixable problem. You did it. It was a useful phrase and a useful habit that she had picked up from her mother. Find and solve fixable problems. 

So it was with the deck. It was July. They had been eating outside on this same deck five out of seven nights for many weeks. Yet, she had never before noticed how faded the staining was nor how splintery some of the boards had become. 

Mid-burger, Darla pulled out her cellphone and called her aunt Helena who knew her own business like the back of her hand and everyone else’s even better. She smiled at Ted. “I just found a fixable problem,” she said. She got the name of a reliable contractor and the next morning scheduled work to start. 

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It was expensive — and they couldn’t use their deck for a few months. But Ted agreed that it had been worth it. The deck looked 1000% better. Totally worth it. 

The only slight problem was that the lumber had been heavy which required a heavy truck to come down their driveway. Which had pretty well demolished the too-thin concrete. When, at last, the work was done and deck was redone, Darla noticed the serious unevenness and cracks. “Well, that’s a fixable problem,” Darla muttered to herself. Sure enough, with a few weeks, Darla had found a contractors to pour a new and stronger concrete driveway. The new driveway was unbroken, stronger, smoother, and — coincidentally — made a much effective barrier to the nearby tree roots. The new, unbroken concrete helped prevent water and air from reaching the roots of the tree. 

At first, the tree, in her tree-like way, was terrified. She thought she might die of thirst. But her ancestors had been searching for water for tens of millions of years. She found a new source. Her roots found the teeniest of cracks in the sewer pipe and entered, grew strong with the nearby nutrients. The tree was relieved. 

The tree had no idea, we imagine, that 22 days later, the toilets in the house would begin to back up. But they did. At first, Darla thought that their dog, Lauren, must have hidden a dead animal in the house. But no. The smell was much worse. 

When they found no pet, Darla thought perhaps Ted was simply eating more red meat than usual and that it was his sweat that stunk up the house. But he denied it. At last, the source of the smell was visible as well as odiferous. 

Luckily, it proved to be just another fixable problem. The plumbers fixed the sewer pipes. At least from the human perspective.  

From the tree’s perspective, her roots were still denied access to water, air, and nutrients trapped near the surface. She kept searching, but eventually, it became clear to her that she would have to cut her losses so she concentrated on growing what she could. Half the tree weakened, sickened, and died. 

The August storm was not unusually strong. But it was strong enough. 

Strong enough to split the tree. Hundreds of pounds of pine tree dove onto the new deck, smashing it to smithereens. 

When Ted and Darla later went to survey the damage, Darla picked up a toothpick sized smithereen. She turned it in her fingers and began, “Well, at least, it’s … “ But at that point she looked into Ted’s eyes and thought it wiser — much wiser —  not to finish that particular sentence. 

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Naughty knots

The Forest 

The Teeth of the Shark

Life Will Find a Way

What About the Butter Dish

https://petersironwood.com/2020/03/02/dont-they-realize-how-much-better-off-they-are-now/amp/

Comes the Reign

The Tree of Life

The Psychology of Change: Distraction

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Distraction has many impacts, but one, at least in my experience, is that it greatly slows down learning to adapt. 

Here is an example from much earlier in my life, (so you’ll know it’s not primarily an age effect). 

One of my college part-time jobs was as an A/V assistant. It was actually a very cool job, because I got to travel all over the University and show movies or slides in classes in architecture, collagen, aging, genetics, sociology, Shakespeare, etc. I would typically arrive at work and get a “kit” which was basically a small suitcase with whatever A/V equipment was required for a particular gig. On the outside, the supervisor had used a magic marker to write on a piece of masking tape a building number, a room number, and the time I was to be there. Depending on the location, it could take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes for me to get to a particular location, if I was already familiar with the room. There were maps on campus to show where all the buildings were, but once inside, signage varied tremendously from building to building. Some buildings were laid out logically and some had lots of signage. Some had both. Some had neither. 

When I went to a new location, there were many times I came to T-shaped intersection and had to make a “blind” choice as to which hall led to my assigned room. If, say, I turned right, I might look at the numbers on various classrooms and determine that I had gone the wrong way so I’d turn around and get to the assigned room. What’s interesting is what happened the second time I went to that same room. You might think I would turn left because, after all, a week earlier, I had discovered that I needed a left turn to efficiently reach my goal. If someone had asked me where the room was, I would have known without a doubt. But in the actual moment, that’s not what I did.

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What I actually did when I reached the choice point was turn right, just as I had initially done. I would take a few steps down the wrong hallway and wake up to the fact that I was going the wrong way. And what do you suppose happened the third time I reached that decision point? Would I turn to the left in a nice smooth way? No. I would still turn right. I would begin to take a step to the right and then stop dead in my tracks and turn to the left.

Why had it taken me three tries to learn instead of just once? You may think, “Oh, that’s just the way people are.” I think it would be closer to the truth to say, “Oh, that’s just the way we people are.” That is to say, the culture of hyper-competitiveness keeps most of us, certainly including me, pre-occupied most of our waking hours. Walking on the reasonably well-lit regular corridors of a university campus did not require my full attention. So, my mind was always churning on about something else when I came to the decision point. 

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Of course, that’s just one example. There are many others. I learned at an early age to multi-task. Sometimes, that may be useful to me just as your multi-tasking is sometimes useful to you. But there is at least one important downside. 

You’re being in a constant state of busy-ness makes it harder for you to notice that you need to learn something new and it makes it harder to do something even if you do see the need. If you come to a choice point and make the wrong choice, in many cases, you can figure that out fairly easily — if you’re paying attention. If you cut yourself off from what is really happening, learning, change, adaptation — it all becomes much harder. You can cut yourself off in many ways: alcohol, drugs, being a workaholic — but my favorite is distraction. 

While distraction has it’s pros and cons for me, and likely for you, the constant busy-ness is wonderful for business. They will sell you anything and everything to distract you. But here’s a fun thing to do. 

Take a break.

Concentrate on one thing at a time.

Try it for an hour.

Try it for a day.

Do you really get less done? Do you have more pleasure or less? Do you learn more quickly or more slowly? 

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Thoughts on gratitude and mindfulness: Corn on the Cob

The Invisibility Cloak of Habit

Essays on America: Wednesday 

Essays on America: Happy Talk Lies

Essays on America: The Update Problem 

How your choices can even influence evolution: Ripples

On Seeing Beyond the Headlines: The Jewels of November 

The Psychology of Change: Children Teach

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In thinking about the psychology of change, one possible approach is look at stories of psychological change. Any specific story may be premised on a thrilling but unrealistic process of change. On the other hand, if we find story after story that presents a particular set of circumstances conducive to change, it may signal that the stories are capturing something fundamental about at least one kind of change, or at the very least, they capture something about the way we believe change occurs. 

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As a psychologist, many of the movies that move me the most are ones wherein there is fundamental character change. Conversely, movies or shows whose protagonist(s) keep making the same mistakes over and over again to be frustrating. When it comes to character change, in movies, there seem to be several common variants.

Protagonist goes to (hick town, home town, foreign country, war, boot camp, school, etc.) — a novel environment and generally one that the protagonist initially misperceives and/or actively dislikes.

Hick town: Heart of Dixie

Home town: Sweet Home Alabama

Foreign country: Under the Tuscan Sun

War: Full Metal Jacket

Boot Camp: Stripes; Private Benjamin

School: Legally Blond; To Sir, with Love

Beauty Pageant: Miss Congeniality 

In many cases, a child is key to the psychological change of the adult. Perhaps you recognize some of these examples: 

Silas Marner.

A Christmas Carol. 

Finding Forrester. 

I am Sam. 

The Blind Side

The Magic of Belle Isle

Ana

Karate Kid

Matilda

In some cases, the agent of change may be a person with lower status; e.g., a servant as in East of Eden. In other cases, it can even be an animal as in The Call of the Wild. Sometimes, change occurs among multiple characters and from multiple sources as in The Sound of Music. Here, the children help change Maria, help change the Captain while Maria & the Captain also change each other. 

In many cases, the “change” is portrayed, not as purely the accretion of new skills, but as the re-emergence of something that was there all along but needed to be elicited. For instance, in The Magic of Belle Isle, Morgan Freeman is already an accomplished writer, but he hasn’t written anything for awhile, finding solace in a bottle instead. In attempting to help a young girl find her voice as a writer, he rediscovers his own. In many cases, as the mentor or teacher tries to teach a younger person, they often get back in touch with their own (earlier) self. 

Psychotherapy may be viewed as a kind of teaching as well. In Good Will Hunting, for instance, Robin Williams plays the part of therapist working with a brilliant but emotionally damaged young man played by Matt Damon. The therapist manages to open up the angry young man, but at the same time, the patient opens up the therapist to the possibility of having a relationship again. The patient does this by reflecting back to the therapist the very things the therapist is saying in order to open up the patient.  

We see something of a similar kind of process in Akeelah and the Bee. Here, the talented speller, Akeelah gains a tutor in spelling and he teaches her spelling (and many other things as well). But she also re-awakens in her tutor, passionately caring about life. 

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What do these stories seem to be telling us about change in adults? 

  1. For the adults, the change seems to be a re-awakening of something that is there, but hidden beneath defenses that have been erected to shield from pain. 
  2. The conditions for change occur because the adult teacher, to be effective, has to “open up a deep and honest channel of communication.” Though unintended, once that channel is opened, it is a two-way street. The teacher may well have opened up solely for the benefit of the student, but once open, they benefit as well. 
  3. The channel is not just informational; it is empathic; it is emotional. 
  4. Change is contagious. In Akeelah and the Bee, for instance, it isn’t only Akeelah and her tutor who change. So does Akeelah’s mother; so do some of the other kids in the spelling bee; indeed, Akeelah’s entire neighborhood joins in an effort to teach Akeelah. 
  5. Change is not monotonic. As people begin to change, they almost inevitably “backslide” at some point. Good Will Hunting, for instance, begins a relationship with a woman but then tries to sabotage the relationship because he’s terrified she will end it. 
  6. Effective change agents pay attention to what works for that particular person. Akeelah’s tutor, for example, notices that Akeelah uses rhythm when she’s trying to recall how a word is spelled. He doesn’t try to “talk her out of doing that” or “show her a better way.” Instead, he encourages her and introduces a skipping rope to make the rhythm even more of a “whole body” experience. In The Blind Side, the adoptive mother discovers that Michael Oher (a strong, talented athlete) is fiercely loyal and although his nature is gentle — and perhaps too gentle for the violence of football, by having him think of the ball carrier as someone in his family — someone he needs to protect, Michael becomes an extremely good blocker. 

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Other posts related to the “Psychology of Change.” 

The Update Problem

What about the butter dish?

How the Nightingale Learned to Sing

Comes the Dawn

Roar, ocean, roar

The jewels of November

The most serious work

Ambition

The Impossible

Peace

Wilbur’s Story

Come back to the light

Who knew good grades are an aphrodisiac

The forest

The teeth of the shark

Milkweed Seeds

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From Wikimedia Commons

I really loved them as a young child. Each one felt so silky! You had to hold her just right so as not to ruffle her delicate “wings.” If you gripped her tightly, you would cripple her and instead of sailing away on the breeze to her destiny, she would plop to the ground at your feet. Then, she would look up and shake her little seed husk at you and wonder how you could be so clumsy.

It wasn’t only that milkweeds looked and felt cool and seemed expressive. According to lore and superstition, they were magic! If you captured one and then made a wish on it, and let it go, your wish would come true! 

Even as a small child, I was rather a doubting Thomas. But then again, even though I could see no possible way it could work like that, why would my parents lie? Maybe it could work. Maybe it would only work sometimes. And even if I didn’t believe my wish would necessarily come true, there was always a chance, right? If this little ritual played itself out with a group of friends, that made it even more fun because they believed it would definitely work. 

Who would imagine that milkweed plants would develop a parachute for their seeds to spread? You know who else likes milkweed plants? Monarch butterflies. And do you know one reason they like them? It makes them taste bad to predators. Since they have a distinctive pattern, the predators avoid them. And not just them. Some butterflies have apparently evolved to look like Monarch butterflies so the predators also avoid them even though they don’t feed on the milkweed and presumably taste bad, though I cannot confirm this with personal observation. I have never tasted butterfly.  (Well, not knowingly). 

Many of those spritely silk spheres fall on fallow ground. Some don’t receive enough water. Some sprout deep in some sad and sunless sewer. Deprived of light, she shrivels and dies. Others may wash out to sea. More than a few swirl helpless into toxic substances. There are a lot more of those around these days. Have you noticed? Milkweed has. And so have millions of other species. Yet, they are surviving. Barely. And the Monarchs are surviving. Barely. 

And what about us? What about we humans? If we are surviving by destroying entire species at a rate to rival a direct meteor hit on our planet, what does that say about us? That we are thriving? Or just surviving? 

Meanwhile, the milkweed seeds still disperse. It seems a fit symbol for hope. Because, every so often, a milkweed finds those perfect conditions and she grows into a beautiful plant who in turn provides nourishment for a beautiful bouquet of butterflies, including the Monarchs. Not all milkweed seeds thrive, but when they do, they really know how to thrive and enjoy their thrivingness. They are an apt symbol of hope.

Called “Butterfly Milkweed” — (not the kind with the large parachute seeds)

If you do something kind for no benefit or reward, that too is a symbol of hope. You have dropped a pebble of kindness into the fountain of society. If enough people do that, the water itself will stay vibrant and healthy. If hardly anyone drops a pebble of kindness, the society will stagnate and stink. I have seen milkweed seeds stuck on the surface of polluted puddles. Such seeds … and deeds … do not always strike fertile ground. But when they do, it can be amazing! 

And  by simply making a wish on the magic milkweed seed; by doing a kind deed; if there are enough seeds, enough deeds — the tree of life will flourish. And so will you.

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Math Class: Who are you?

Imagine all the people

Listen: You can hear the echoes of your action

Ripples 

I can’t be bothered

Tit for tat

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy

“What’s that Lassie? Timmy Fell Down the Mine Shaft … Again?!”

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Which came first? The chicken or the egg? 

(It’s meant to be a conundrum).

Now, of course, science knows the answer. And the answer is … the egg. Something almost like a chicken laid an egg with a novel cross-over or mutation and that egg grew into a chicken.

Here’s another conundrum and so far as I know, science does not yet know the answer.

Which came first?

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The word or the story? 

Let’s expand the question a little. Did humans first come up with nouns — names for particular things or perhaps verbs referring to actions and then later, string some of these together to make the first stories?

Or, did stories come first and later, the names for things and objects were excised from these stories? 

Most likely, the two co-evolved — language and stories. But I will argue that story is actually more fundamental. 

Why? 

It turns out that my cat Luna is a storyteller. 

Remarkable cat? Perhaps. But I think after I explain just how she’s a storyteller, you’ll remember other times that animals used “storytelling” in your own life. 

When Luna was a kitten, she loved to chase the laser pointer. At the ripe old age of three, she’s far less enthusiastic about it. But she still likes the idea of playing laser pointer. She may or may not recognize the words “laser pointer” but she definitely can’t reproduce it. She vocalizes a lot and it seems as though she’s “taking turns” with me when we “talk.” But, at least to my ear, she’s always saying the same thing which sounds much like a plaintive chirp of a question. 

Her repertoire of actions however, is much more varied. At night, which is when we play laser chase, she often comes up to me and “chirps.” She looks at me while she chirps and when I look at her, she goes into phase two which is to “re-enact” chasing the laser pointer. It is possible that she re-enacts chasing the laser pointer to “communicate” with me that she wants to do it. Or, it’s possible that she just “imagines” chasing the laser pointer and the imagining is associated with the actions. It is also possible that at first, she simply recreates the associated actions, but, since it reminds me of the laser pointer and I often play with her at that point, the reinforcement could turn a passive re-enactment into an instrumental and perhaps “intentional” behavior pattern. 

In a similar way, it’s easy to imagine one of our distant ancestors re-enacting a struggle, finding and digging up roots, picking berries, running away from a particular form of danger, etc. For our ancestor too, it might be that they begin by simply remembering something, and in so doing, they re-enact some of the actions they took. Eventually, they come to realize that their re-enactment encourages others in the tribe to follow and do their own berry picking. 

We can easily imagine that in a particular region there might be several kinds of berries; some kinds might sport thorns; some not. Some might require bending over to reach (like strawberries) while other might require reaching up like high-bush blueberries. Re-enacting a story of berry picking might easily be repeated on many occasions. Eventually, the motion of picking a particular kind of berry might become ritualized or routinized. Some other clever ancestor may have trapped a small rabbit by using a strawberry as bait. He might use the same gesture(s) for strawberry that others used earlier in order to indicate that strawberries exist. This gesture, or sequence of gestures, over time, comes to indicate “strawberry” in many different stories. Eventually, it becomes the “word” for “strawberry.” 

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But the stories came first. 

All right, you might say, but such stories are all reconstructive stories. How did fiction arise?



To answer that question, let me tell a tale about another cat from a much earlier point in my life. That cat was named Eva. She was an indoor/outdoor cat. We didn’t even have a litter box for her. Whenever she wanted to go out, she would go to the front door and scratch at it. There were five of us in the house so someone was likely to be close by. Whoever was nearby would open the door; she’d go out & do her business and then come back to the door and scrape it on the outside. Unlike my current crop of cats, Eva pawed gently at the door. She didn’t seem bent on destroying it. She was simply signaling that she wanted in or out.

In a similar fashion, when Eva was hungry, she would go to the kitchen and paw on the little wooden doors under the sink. This was where the cat food was kept. Whoever was near would pour out some cat food for Eva. 

It’s not necessary to invoke stories here. She was reinforced for scratching the front door by having us open it so she could go out or in. She was reinforced for scratching the doors beneath the sink by being fed. 

Eva, in due course, as an indoor/outdoor cat, became pregnant. Three tiny kittens were born to her. One nice spring day, a few months later, Eva left the living room and trotted into the kitchen and scratched on the cupboard door. I was nearby, so I brought out the cat food and filled up her dish. Instead of digging in, however, as she usually did, she instead, left immediately and trotted to the front door. She hand’t taken even a single bite!

 This struck me as odd. I wondered whether she had a sudden urge to go relieve herself. Such a sudden and overwhelming urge that she ignored her food? I don’t recall a cat ever doing that while I was observing. But there she was at the front door. Okay. 

I opened the front door, and out she went. I closed the door so she could do her business. But almost immediately, she pawed at the door to be let back in! What was going on? Eva was a smart cat. She wasn’t like our poor cat Shasta who would go to the door of the back deck and meow loudly to be let out…even when the door was already open. 

But Eva was a smart cat. Why was she back so soon? I wondered about it as I opened the door again. Guess what?  In tumbled her three little kittens. She led her furry trio to the kitchen where they chowed down on the meal I had just “prepared” for Eva. 

Had Eva just “told me a story” in order to manipulate me into doing her bidding? I’m not sure we can really call what she did a story. But I’m not sure we cannot call it a story either. It certainly seems as though Eva did some nice problem solving behavior. It seems most likely that Eva had heard her kittens outside. She was much closer to the source and her hearing was much better than mine. It’s also possible that she “remembered” that they were out there. I had not let the kittens out and had not known they were out there. 

It seems as though Eva was using her “mental model” of how I would react to various stimuli and put together separate elements. She devised a multi-step plan which included my predictable behavior in order to reach her goal of feeding her cats. 

It seems as though Eva was using her “mental model” of how I would react to various stimuli and put together separate elements. She devised a multi-step plan which included my predictable behavior in order to reach her goal of feeding her cats. 

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When I was an undergraduate, I trained a rat to do a sequence of five behaviors in order to get a reward. That was completely contrived however. In order to train this behavior, I had to go through a very careful sequence myself. I first trained the rat to press a lever. Pro tip. You can’t simply wait for the rat to press a lever in order to reinforce it with a food pellet. First, it helps to “click train” the rat. Even after they get a food pellet, it takes time for them to find the thing and devour it. And it takes time. It turns out that in the long run, it’s more efficient to first train the rat that a “click” happens when the food pellet is delivered. The click is quite salient to the rat and can be heard everywhere in the cage. So, it’s “better” as a reinforcement in some ways than food. However, every so often, you still need to reward the rat with an actual food pellet or it will stop paying attention to the click. In much the same way, most dog owners teach their dogs that “Good Boy” is a kind of signal associated with a head being petted and occasionally a food treat. That’s much more practical than giving the dog a treat every time. 

If you are trying to teach an animal a multi-stage trick, you need to “thin out” the schedule so that they are not reinforced every time they execute the required behavior, but only occasionally. And, at every step, it took a great deal of attention to “lead” the animal to the intended behavior. At every step, beyond the first few, it is easy to “break” the chain of behavior by waiting too long to deliver reinforcement. Remember, these chains of behavior became trained in rats trapped in a cage. Their environment differed considerably from the one they evolved in. These rats, by the way, are almost like identical clones. How hard would it be to train a rat to execute a chain of five random behaviors in the wild? It took a lot of patience and attention to carry it out in the lab. I think it would be much harder in the wild. 

What if there’s another way? What if, in at least some cases, you establish a “relationship” with another animal so that you are able, at better than chance, to “read” each other’s intentions and desires. You can “tell” when your dog really needs to go out even if you haven’t trained him to a specific behavior. Your dog knows when you are about to go out for a walk, even if you carefully avoid using the forbidden word “walk” out loud! 

I’d be curious what you think about pets and whether you have any stories about them using stories. 

Real stories. 

I’m not talking about the typical Lassie episode which goes something like this:

Lassie: “WOOF! WOOF!” 

Timmy’s Dad, Mom, or Uncle: “What’s that you say, Lassie? Timmy was playing in the abandoned mine shaft again?” 

Lassie: “WOOF! WOOF!” 

Adult: “Well, didn’t you try to talk him out of it?”

Lassie: “WOOF! WOOF!”

Adult: “Oh, I see. Yeah, I agree, he can be pretty recalcitrant. Did you mention that last time he did this, I told him I would ground him for a month if he ever did it again?” 

Lassie: “WOOF! WOOF!”

Adult: “Right. Of course you did. Sorry. Well, what tools do I need to get him out this time?” 

Lassie: “WOOF! WOOF!” 

Adult: “Dynamite? Why would we need dynamite?” 

No, not that kind of story, but stories about things that actually happened. Have your pets ever tried to “manipulate you” into doing something by telling you a “story”? 

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The Story of Story: Part One

You Gave me no Fangs

The Creation Myth of the Veritas 

Fool me! 

DreamGlider

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If you go gliding on a dream, Sir, 

You’d better know the weather, wouldn’t you say?

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If you’re biding your time, Sir, 

Waiting for a better day, 

Week
Month
Year
Lifetime

To come and make it all:

SO

MUCH

easier.

Everything must be breezier! 

It seems so on TV! 

Easy Peasie If you Pleasie

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But if you’re gliding on a dream, Ma’am,

You must know and not-know 

You must see and not-see

You must love and not-love.

(Or, so I’ve been told). 

Be bold.

Maybe you were never meant to be enrolled

In the School of Division.

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What good is precision,

After all, when you are answering entirely

Most assuredly, most completely, 

The wrong question entirely?

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And, yet we are given glimpses, are we not?
A nod, just, here and there. That there might indeed,

May be connection without the necessary knot.
We will see ourselves at last as same-treed.

We really don’t have to chew on the skulls of enemies 

To get what we want in this life.
It’s just a way of thinking — a limited way of thinking 

A way of really stinking up the works for all and shrinking 

The pie for everyone in a pathetic attempt

To take more than a fair share. 

So, if you care attentively

Please entertain for a moment or two

That what’s good for me —

Could also be good for you! 

Astounding truth, the Sea is parted! 

The Way is clear!

Everything Floats.

And, then, the Dream Glider sets you down upon the ground again and 

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Maybe it never really happened and of course how could there be you would have to change your life and that’s a pain so you’d really rather not think about it and you’ll just parrot back the words of …

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But somewhere underneath all that plastic, 

You saw the truth; You know the truth. Fantastic.

You know we’re all in this together; 

And not just the birds of a feather.


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Listen! You can hear the echoes of your actions

Imagine all the people

The only them that counts is all of us

Ripples

You Know!

Toddlerhood Nation

Somehow

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And then, at that precise moment: that’s when the trouble really began in earnest. 

Of course, looking back on it now, there were plenty of signs, if one cared to look. 

But one did not care to look, did one? Why would one? After all, it was so much easier to pretend it didn’t matter; to pretend everything would work out ‘somehow.’ 

‘Somehow.’ 

Was there any word in the English language so destructive or at least so self-delusional as ‘somehow’? 

Because ‘some’ is not your typical ‘how.’ A typical ‘how’ is a plan put together by knowledgeable motivated people and executed by knowledgeable motivated people. Some such plans are more detailed and some less so. Some have very well-defined responsibilities and some do not. But none of the real ‘how’s that I have ever seen happened by accident. 

‘Somehow’ is too rare; too unreliable; too fickle to pin your life on, and way too fickle to depend upon for the life of your kids and grandkids. 

Rely on ‘somehow’ and here is what you get — multiplied by a billion. 

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“Come on, Margery, look at me. It could have happened anywhere. Come on! You think I’m not devastated too? He was my son too, you know. I loved him too, you know.” 

“Why, Jim? Why? It didn’t have to be this way. It really didn’t. People have known those chemicals were carcinogenic. What were they thinking?”

“I know, Marge. I know. So many innocent lives lost.”

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“Nothin’? Nothin’ for you either, George?” 

“Nothin’! Again! I’m tellin’ ya Lennie; it ain’t like it used to be. Not at all. It’s not bad luck. It’s no luck. There is literally nothin’ out there, Lennie. Well, leastways, nothin’ edible.” 

“Just may be that it’s time for the likes of such as us to find us somethin’ different to do. Ya know?”

“Lennie, don’t be startin’ again about a rabbit farm. I done told you that already. Fishin’ is what we know and it’s all we know.” 

“I know. I know you’re right George. But just — there ain’t no fish any more. That ain’t good if you’re a fisherman.” 

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“They’re so beautiful, Daddy! Can we go see some real stars some day, Daddy?”

He bit his lower lip. He sighed. How had it come to this? “No, darling. We could go to watch a car race though!” 

“Mmm.” (Softly). “I’d rather go see some real stars. Why can’t we?”

(Sighs). “I’m sorry, sweetie. There’s just too much … “stuff” … in the sky to see the stars. Except for our sun, of course. That’s a star!” 

She bit her lower lip. “Daddy, is that the same “stuff” in the air that killed all the bees, and birds, and butterflies?” 

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“Another down day for the dow, breaking down below 5000, but an up day for Air Quality Kills. For the first, time, world-wide, the EPA says we’ve finally broken the 10K per day barrier. Details at Five at Five on at Five. 

“Now, back to the international women’s lingerie no-holds barred jello wrestling quarter finals. In the pink, …”

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“So. It’s come to this. I never believed it would happen, Ahmed.”

“Nor I, Saul; nor I. But, it’s not like we weren’t warned. And, even that it would be about water.”

“I know; but still. Nukes? Really? What’s the point? No-one can live in the whole region for centuries. Who won, Ahmed? Who won?” 

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[The following passage is translated from the original Arcturian. It’s a “literal” translation; or, at least as “literal” as any translation can be when the target language is English.]

“Blue Hike Candle, Please to report scan results of not-so-very-far-away gray brown rock planet.” 

“Amber Saddle Wave, Please to report scan results of not-so-very-far-away gray brown rock planet as:

No evidence of intelligent life.”

“Mauve Crest Bucket, Please to report recommendation action of not-so-very-far-away gray brown rock planet.”

“Amber Saddle Wave:,Please to report recommendation action of not-so-very-far-away gray brown rock planet as:

Ignore and revisit in 50 millennia rather than the run-of-the-air-turbine 5 millennia. The tailless monkeys are learners of many silly tricks. But they still sewer-stinky most of their time and energy and [Here, on the recording wails an untranslatable cross between the percussion of a jack-hammer and the trumpet of an elephant with a sad whale song weaving in and out of counterpoint]  trying to steal from each of the other of the other of the other.”

“Mauve Crest Bucket, Please to report recommendation action of not-so-far-away gray brown rock planet as ignore and revisit in 50 millennia accepted. NEXT!”

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Ah Wilderness

The Forest 

Skirting the Turtle 

Math Class: Who are you?

Don’t they realize how much better off they are now?

You Must Remember This

Screaming out a Warning

Roar, Ocean, Roar

The Teeth of the Shark 

The Walkabout Diaries: Life Will Find a Way

Yum! How About Some Ground Glass?

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Lies in civilization are much like ground glass in an otherwise nutritious, delicious  buffet. They are dangerous. They are potentially deadly if undetected. Quantity matters. One piece of undetected ground glass is serious. One hundred pieces means that some people will die. Twenty thousand means everyone who partakes of the buffet will likely die. 

If one side lies constantly and one of the things they lie about is saying the other side lies, then, of course, your “loyalty” to your own side may get you to thinking: “Both sides lie equally.” Or, even more sadly, “The other side lies!” 

Imagine Rembrandt’s Mona Lisa: a beautiful painting. Now, imagine painting a red stripe one inch wide diagonally through the painting. It’s only a small part of the painting, after all. Maybe 10%. But is the value decreased by only 10%? Of course not. 

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Ever use a dictionary? How much would you pay for a really good dictionary? How about a dictionary with 1% errors? How about one with 10% errors? How about one with 50% errors? How about one with 100% errors?

Imagine you finally manage to save up enough money to buy your dream house. Location: near highways, shopping, & parks. Style: perfect. Condition: perfect. Except for one small thing. 

It reeks. 

Living in a society that is perfused with lies is like living in a house situated right next to a sewage plant. 

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The *only* advantage humans have in their struggle to survive is their ability to cooperate and communicate. A lie diminishes that ability to coordinate. The impact is not just that one lie. It’s the spread of skepticism. It’s the felt need to double and triple check everything. 

In a complex society, even a tiny bit of deception can multiply far beyond the immediate effects. That is particularly true if a deception passes through a number of weak points in what could be and should be the world-wide web of wisdom. 

For example, an employee at a drug company might be pressured to downplay side effects in a report. He does so. But in a corporate culture of honestly, someone will catch the lie and patiently explain that this is not the way things are done around here. The error will be corrected.

And no-one will die from that lie. 

On the other hand, the same employee doing the same act in a company with a sociopathic corporate culture might well have that lie not only propagated but further elaborated. As a result, the drug is over-prescribed and over-used. Millions of dollars, and then, that money is like seed money to buy layers and layers of political protection and press protection. At last billions of dollars flow from the pockets of customers into the pockets of the drug company. And, when I say “the drug company” of course, ultimately it ends up in someone’s pocket. Whose? A little of it goes to workers within the company. A huge amount goes to the top executives. But a huge amount also goes to the major stockholders — people who did nothing to discover or promote the drug, but in some sense provided money to support the company. 

Guess what? It might even turn out that the drug’s drawbacks outweigh the benefits. In the short run, that might not diminish profits at all. 

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Again though, we need to realize that the damage to society is not limited to the effects of this particular drug (though those can in and of themselves be devastating effects). It is experiences like this, for instance, that play into vaccine reluctance. Because some drug companies have done some unethical things, people naturally have some degree of mistrust for *all* drug companies for *all* drugs. Nor is the mistrust that such a scheme produces limited to the drug industry. If people believe corruption is widespread, they may themselves become more tempted to engage in it. Even if they don’t themselves engage in lies, deception, bribery, etc., they will certainly be on the lookout for such schemes. It will be harder to take people at their word. 

Putting crushed glass in a buffet injures people and ruins the buffet. And, if it happens often enough, it can turn you off from going to any buffets or any restaurants. 

Lying can seem attractive in the short term. But in the long run, it will be found out. It will ruin your individual reputation, but it will also tarnish the reputation of your organization and even, to some extent, your entire industry. Beyond that, lies work to spoil society as a whole.

Imagine that a well-functioning society is something like a well-oiled machine. One part connects to another and things function smoothly. Lies are like pouring sand in the gears. Things will move more slowly. Parts will also wear out more quickly. Add enough sand and the motor will burn out or the machinery may catch fire. Would you put sand in your gas tank? Would you add sand to the oil in your auto? Of course not! Why would you support lies in your company or in your society? 

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Apart from the societal disintegration that lies promote, if you actively pursue a policy of lies to benefit yourself, you are basically taking a kind of informational poison into your own psyche and eventually it will poison your mind. You’ll become more and more addicted to a strategy of relying on lies rather than relying on doing a good job or learning from your mistakes. When someone asks a perpetual liar a question, they will not be able to simply answer. They will have to calculate who knows what and how easily the lie will be found out and try to recall what lies that they have already told to whom. 

Just as more and more of an addictive painkiller must be used to achieve the same level of pain relief, so too, an addicted liar will find that they have to tell more and more lies. The lies may at first be “reasonable” lies. That is, at first, a liar may tell lies that are plausible. Over time, they will have to tell more and more absurd lies. If the liar is a popular figure, his or her fans may echo the lies despite not having any relevant direct knowledge. As the lies become more absurd, the fans echo not only plausible, lies but also echo absurd lies. To those who are not addicted to the lies, fan behavior becomes more and more ridiculous and pathetic. 

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Happy Talk Lies

The Invisibility Cloak of Habit 

The Update Problem

You Gave me no Fangs

Myths of the Veritas: The Orange Man

Essays on America: Addictions

Bounce

Claude the Radio Operator

A Lot is not a Little