Archive for October, 2008

Nobody knows anything

Monday, October 27th, 2008

The American author and screenwriter, William Goldman had a phrase he used about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.

Presumably he coined this phrase after years of dealing with the people who run Hollywood and divining how they operate. Most people would consider this statement heretical. How can anybody earning such huge sums of money for their work not know what they are doing?

It now appears that this statement can be applied to just about any area of society. Look at banking. The entire premise of banking is based on an illusion and the only way it can work is if everyone behaves as if the illusion is real. As soon as you come out with an observation like ‘nobody knows anything’ you sow the seed of doubt and the illusion starts to unravel.

Years ago, I remember financial investment experts stating that stock market investments should be viewed as long term ones – three to five years. Then as bubbles burst they started to revise this advice and extend the period to between five and ten years. Today it wouldn’t surprise me if they were talking about a twenty year investment before you saw a decent return on the stock market. They are having to make it up as they go along.

This time it is different. It is different because experts are actually starting to admit nobody knows anything. So, anybody want a top job in banking, no previous experience necessary (in fact, it would be preferable).

The balloons of death

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Every time I see a news item where dozens, if not hundreds of helium filled balloons are released into the air my heart sinks. Such an occasion is meant to be a celebration of some kind but the massive irony is this; every balloon released could represent a dead turtle that tries to eat the brightly coloured ‘jellyfish’.

Save the turtles, kill the balloons.

The dumbing down of television

Friday, October 17th, 2008

There was a time, many years ago now, when I used to be enthralled by certain television programmes. I remember a particular Horizon science programme about a lake in Africa (I think) which exploded with carbon dioxide and killed all the living things which were around it at the time with a suffocating cloud. It was a terrific story. It had mystery, tragedy, research, experiments and an astonishing conclusion. I learned something from this programme.

In recent years however, such programmes have been nigh on impossible to find. I’m not sure what the reasons are for this decline (probably loss of market share to other media) but I can only assume that there is less money to make quality programmes. The result is a homogeneous, bland wallpaper of cheap and tatty television which is as disposable as a politicians’ platitudes.

So it was with an increasing despondency that I used to scroll through the evenings television listings on teletext, trying to find anything of interest. Then on October 9th it was almost as if the television companies themselves admitted defeat; the BBC withdrew the facility of viewing the listings on teletext. Clearly, they had become too embarrassed by the moribund state of their industry to allow such public humiliation.

Everyone is stuck in a forward gear

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has a list of human requirements usually represented as a pyramid. At the bottom is food and sleep etc., at the top is self actualisation. All the stages in the hierarchy require some kind of forward momentum to achieve the next stage in the pyramid. The need for shelter, for example, is solved through growth, enterprise, innovation, industry.

All except one.

Not many people have reached the final stage – self actualisation – because, traditionally, it was beyond the reach of all but the most talented. Today however, despite what the media exhorts, it is within the reach of most people living in the Western world. Very few individuals make the final stage however as it is unknown territory and there is little encouragement from the media to explore this part of human development. This might have something to do with the fact that not much thought had been given to the subject. But as we hit the buffers on the penultimate stage of the pyramid, we need to address the subject now. That’s because self actualisation dispenses with the apparatus for getting there.

By definition, when we reach the top of the pyramid, we have all the material and emotional things we need to live a fulfilling life. The only ‘growth’ is self development and the encouragement of development in others. So if the whole of society and your entire life is built upon the premise of growth in material goods and consuming those goods, how do you suddenly shift to a neutral or even reverse gear and adopt an entirely different world view?
I keep reminding people that, as a citizen in the western world they are already one of the richest people in the world. A person living on an average income in the UK could easily work one or two days a week and have the rest of the time to themselves if they give up the unnecessary consumerism. But because there is no alternative to consumerism, there is nowhere else to go and so people relentlessly continue forward into the trackless wastes of a materialistic desert. Even the area of self development cannot free itself of the consumerist model – ‘buy this book! Pay for this course!’ et-cetera.

For example, in our time poor society an unemployed person on benefits should, logically be the one of the happiest people in society because most of their time is their own. But if there is nothing to do with that time but watch other people chasing and ‘enjoying’ consumerism, which is inextricably linked with esteem and status, then that free time becomes jail time. The only possible escape is if you have a passion for something which requires very little money but a great deal of energy and skill.

Some people are addressing the issue of an alternative to consumerism and the nascent academic subject of happiness is touching upon it. Similarly, the environmentalist movement is making people consider indirectly, the unthinking profligacy of consumerism and forcing the question “Is that all there is?”

So what’s to do?

  • Firstly, we need an infrastructure of community. Historically, the church provided this but as the western world becomes more secular, the churches prominence is declining and nothing is taking its place.
  • Secondly we need to educate people about happiness. Make it a subject at school.
  • And thirdly, we need to encourage creativity everywhere. The days of processing children in our schools to become good workers in the factories and offices needs to be phased out and replaced with a radical programme of support and facilitation for students’ own talents and passions.

We are one

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Evening sky

Nearly every society that I am aware of has an interest in mind altering drugs. My belief is that these drugs give us a new perspective on life.

As conscious human beings we are crude measuring devices of our environment. Ultimately, we take drugs for the same reasons Shaman take them. We want to see beyond the limitations of our ‘reality’ by heightening the sensitivity of our measuring device.

Sometimes, we can get a profound insight into ‘reality’ whilst under the influence of these drugs. These insights can affect out lives dramatically. Mostly though, narcotics are merely a hint that what we think of as ‘reality’ is a small window into a vast space of possibilities.

But drugs are not a prerequisite for insights. Creative thinking, knowledge and wisdom can provide them as well. I proved it today. Today, I had an epiphany.

Nearly all my best ideas come to me during or after jogging. It is as if I have trained my brain to exercise at the same time as my body. This epiphany happened at such a time.

There are no edges.

That was the realisation. The power of the idea came from the understanding of the ultimate truth in the idea… no edges.

Because we are crude measuring devices, we can only make crude generalisations about our environment. These generalisations are good enough however, for us to navigate the environment, to complete our mission as living organisms.

Let’s take our bodies. We imagine we know where the extent of our bodies lay; we know where our bodies end and the rest of the world begins. Most people would claim their skin represents the ‘edge’ of their bodies. But the outermost layer of skin is dead and the dead cells are being shed constantly so actually pinpointing the edge becomes tricky.

Another example would be an island at sea. From space it would be easy to define the edge of the island. As we moved closer to the island the edge may become slightly fuzzy if the island has a shelving beach and a significant tide. Then as we stand on the beach we notice the sea is in constant motion and we cannot define where the land meets the sea exactly. Even if the island had sheer cliff walls made of granite, on a microscopic level, the granite is being eroded by the sea and no precise edge would be discernible. Even the atoms of matter themselves, quantum physics tells us, appear to posses qualities that deny the very concept of certainty.

There are no edges.

What does this mean? Well, if there are no edges, it can only mean that everything is connected – everything.

So everything is part of one thing. We are all one.

Ancient texts are full of this wisdom. They knew of it before quantum physics confirmed it. Knowing and understanding however, are different measurements.