Eventorum – Warning Sirens…

Thinking on the anomalous weather across North America this past December, capped by a tragic, drought-fueled, out of season wildfire in CO…

Nature is sounding the alarm; her civil defense sirens are blaring.

Humanities’ response is to design better hearing protection.

Photo of the Marshall Fire, Boulder County, CO on December 30th, 2021: by J.S.

Copyright ©️ 2022 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #11 – On the Wisdom of Self Storage

Lately I have been thinking about “stuff.”   That is to say, how much stuff we have, which really boils down to how much we consume and waste. This is putting it kindly because most of it is, to be honest, worthless and needless crap.  And it comes with massive environmental and societal costs in the form of extraction, production, distribution, and disposal (everything in our culture is ultimately dumped into the environment), with cascading impacts on resources, ecological diversity, pollution, and so on.  There’s lots of debate about these issues, which in social discourse always ends up being about jobs versus the environment; ignoring the hidden truth that the corporate elite walk away with the vast majority of the benefits and the rest of us, and the environment, pay all of the costs: the profits are privatized and the risks are socialized.

Rather than heading down this well trodden theme, I’d like to ask you: have you thought about the personal costs of your love affair with stuff? 

The personal costs of stuff are substantial and begin with having to pay for it, and for many this also means going into debt.  Why are you enslaved “to the man?”  Because of stuff!  But there is also an emotional toll that stuff takes on us.  Think about this for a moment… we actually have to manage the stuff.  Daily.  By the hour, by the minute even. That miracle fitness gadget sitting in the corner of the basement?  Well, we now need that space for the latest, must-have widget. So we move the miracle to the garage.  And when the garage fills, then we turn to the ultimate modern contrivance, self storage.  It’s a kind of deferred disposal; a bizarre form of landfill (landfills are themselves a bizarre concept if you think about it).

How do I know this?  Well, it’s common sense really. But one only needs to stroll through any suburban neighborhood with one’s eyes open.  The first tell tale sign is that the cars not in the garage.   Confirmation comes when you finally pass an open garage and you see that there is so much junk in there that there’s barely room for a human to walk about, let alone to park a car in it.  Frankly I’d be too embarrassed to open my garage door if that were me.  But I digress.

Another telltale sign?  Again, just move through the world with your eyes open and look.  You will notice that we are gobbling up open land to build evermore Self Storage Units.  I’ve been noticing over the past few years that more and more are going up, and less and less of the local open space remains.  Putting this working hypothesis to the test, I did a little digging.  The evidence (data found here) is presented in the figure above, which shows self storage construction in billions of US dollars by year through October 2018, adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars by the consumer price index.  This figure confirms my suspicion that there is pronounced increase in the rate of growth of construction of self storage facilities, beginning about four or five years ago.

I’ll let “The Minimalists” help you with your stuff problem.  Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are great: they’re wise, witty, helpful, and most importantly, non-judgmental.  But for me the take home is that this is yet another example of the lack of wisdom of humanity (Provocations #2 – Whither Wisdom?).  We do not think through the consequences of our daily decisions and actions.  To wit, we’re willing to spend $100 a month, or more, to store the stuff we will never use again.  Seriously, who’s going to drive to some remote storage facility to dig out the miracle fitness thingy that they never used in the first place, and haul it home to use it?

So I admit that the title of this blog entry was a bit misleading; a bit of the old bait and switch.  I should really have called this ‘On the Lack of Wisdom of Self Storage.”

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider, All Rights Reserved

Provocations #10 – Perceptions

“From the viewpoint of your eyes your own head seems to be an invisible blank, neither dark nor light, standing immediately behind the nearest thing you can see. But in fact the whole field of ‘out there in front’ is a sensation in the lower back if your head, where the optical centers of the brain are located. What you see out there is, immediately, how the inside of your head ‘looks’ or ‘feels’.”

Alan Watts

This is a remarkable thought.  I have long maintained (one of my aphorisms) that there is no reality, there are only our perceptions of it.

Imagine a pleasant summer day.  It’s mid-day and there is not a cloud in the sky in any direction.  You look straight up and what do you see?  Blue!  Perhaps we might even call it sky blue.  And the reasonable among us would all agree about this (one must always allow for the contrarians!).

But our experience of blue is likely very different.  For starters, we do not actually “see” blue light.  Scientifically speaking, blue light is visible electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of about 450–495 nanometers.  However, our eyes take in the image of ‘blue sky’, inverting and bending it as they do so, and transforms it into electrical signals sent through the optic nerve to the brain for processing and interpretation.  The Scientific American has a nice cartoon graphic of the process here.

And there’s the rub!  The brain is interpreting electrochemical signals, not the actual scene itself.  Following Alan Watts’ teachings about Buddhism, as well as  practical experience and modern science, this is reality.  That’s part of the point.

But the interesting bit to me is that the brain functions by establishing vast and complex neural networks based on electrochemical signals.  The neural pathways I establish for the blue sky scene I’m seeing, and all previous and successive blue skies, are linked to other sensations and experiences.  Certainly these neural patterns of entwined memories, experiences, and sensations are entirely and utterly unique for each individual.  So our perception of blue sky is also, by definition, unique.  What we see is inextricably linked to how we see it.  The observer and the observed are inseparable.

Taking a slight diversion into the realm of modern physics for a moment, this notion manifests itself in many ways.  For example the “observer effect” is a theory that states that simply observing a phenomenon, actually (necessarily) changes the phenomenon being observed.  Another example is Werner Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle.” In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle states that the more precisely one characteristic is known, say the position of a particle, the less precisely another quantity can be known, such as the momentum of the particle.

By extension, the same can be said of our perceptions and experiences of literally everything.  We cannot extricate ourselves and our sense of self, from nature and the world, any more than you can separate front from back or up from down.  We are of it.  Experience is it.  And we all are marvelously and wondrously unique in this.  And more importantly, we are all connected by this.

I think that Jose Ortega y Gasset put it best:

“I am myself and what is around me, and if I do not save it, it shall not save me.”

 

Eventorum – Fiddling With Nature

About the Image:   The clean, white snow melts more slowly than dirty (darker) dust-covered snow because it reflects more radiation from the sun rather than absorbing it.  This Image was excerpted from NPR, and was courtesy of the Center For Snow and Avalanche Studies.

Happy Earth Day!

A day for celebration and reflection on our impact on the planet.

Eventorum:

Through humanity’s alteration of the landscape in the Southwest, we’re disrupting Nature and fiddling with the water supply of 40 million people:  “The Rocky Mountains Have A Dust Problem“.

Eventorum explained.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Trending Words

You can tell what’s on people’s minds (and is trending in the news), by the words people are looking up:  Merriam-Webster’s Latest Trends (Word lookups driven by news events, celebrities, sports, and more).

Here’s the top 5 list (screen grab) from 14 April 2018:

2018_04_14 MW Trending top 5 words-only

Eventorum explained.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #6 – Too Busy to Think

About the Image (above):  Interior, Grand Central Station, New York, New York (January 21, 2007) by Carol Highsmith.  Image from the Library of Congress

I had another topic in mind for Provocations #6, but I’m going to take a different tack instead.  Frankly, I’ve been too busy to give much thought to the original subject, which called to mind a passage from the writer, Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968).  Merton was an American Trappist monk; a theologian, a mystic, a student of comparative religion, a poet, and a social activist.  In his book (I love this title), Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Merton writes:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

His words are obviously directed towards activists for positive social or environmental change.  But they apply more broadly.

TMertonStudy

Thomas Merton

Give Yourself a Break

This is a personal cost of our hectic, even frantic lifestyles.  Others include detrimental affects on our health and on our relationships.

There are larger more insidious costs as well.  Our busyness, overwork, and the stress induced by them, prevent us from questioning the status quo; from holding our leaders accountable; from making healthy choices for the planet and for us; from reflecting on the impacts of our lifestyle choices; from working on positive change.

So give yourself a break.  Take some time for friends and loved ones.  Spend some time out in nature, she’s the greatest muse we have.  Give your brain a little space to function.  And we might find ourselves well on the way to making the world a little better and happier place.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #2 – Whither Wisdom?

Whither Wisdom?

Image: The Bodhi Tree was a large and very old sacred fig tree in Bodh Gaya, India, under which legend holds that Siddhartha Gautama, aka “the Buddha”, attained enlightenment.

On January 4th, 2018, a Washington Post headline read “Trump moves to vastly expand offshore drilling off US coasts”. This is frightening on several levels. For me, the first would be the direct ecological impacts of this activity. More significant is the amount of sequestered carbon that would be released into the atmosphere if we extract it, adding to global warming and pollution. I could go on but this is enough to motivate the topic of this blog, which is that humans are quite clever but in the main, we are extraordinarily unwise.  This plays out in the aforementioned news article as, we can figure out how to extract oil from beneath the sea floor (an engineering feat to be marveled at), but as a society we lack the ability to understand that this is a fundamentally bad idea.  Wisdom tells us that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Mental Models

Whether we recognize it or not, each one of us has a number mental models about how we think that the world works.  These are a set of semi-unique filters that color our social interactions with other people, how we see the physical world, our interpretations of economic policies, and so on. I have a number of my own.

For example, one of my fundamental tenets is that there is no reality, there is only our perceptions of reality.  Two people can attend the same event, and moments afterward express very different views about what actually transpired.  Another more recent precept for me, is the aforementioned notion that at a very fundamental level humans are clever but unwise. This idea has developed over the past few years or so in my mental model of humanity, as I try to grasp and understand the events and decisions I have been witnessing.

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines cleverness as, well, “the quality of being clever.”  Someone who is clever is “quick to understand, learn, and devise or apply ideas” and “showing skill and originality; ingenious”.  Whereas wisdom is defined by “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement; the quality of being wise.”  I have chosen the definitions that best indicate the sense in which I am using the words herein.

Intelligence

In some informal sense I see intelligence as the sum of cleverness and wisdom.  It would seem to me that all other living things —be they trees, honey bees, mountain lions, Orca, or pick your favorite— are intelligent in this sense.  They are clever in their existence, in working out their own survival; feeding themselves, finding shelter, reproducing, and so on.  But at the same time they are wise in that they live in harmony and balance within their respective ecosystems.  They only take what they need, and they innately and elegantly live out their lives fulfilling their respective roles.

Humanity on the other hand has forgotten its place.  We have chosen unwisely to ignore limits and any notion that we live in an interdependent and finite world.  We consume without limit, which means we also waste without limit. Consciosly changing large swaths of our home into cesspools.  We believe that we can defer confronting our problems because someday, miraculously, “technology will save us” (it will not – this will be the topic of a future blog post).

Frankly, the vast majority of our problems stem from either a lack of imagination, or a failure of imagination.  Meaning, in the former case that we cannot see beyond our immediate impulses, and in the latter case we see it but choose to ignore it out of fear and greed. I suspect that a failure of imagination is the more likely explanation.  But the end result is the same in either case: we currently have an inability to realize that there is more than one choice about how we live.  We fail to see that we could live life another way, and be happier and healthier, even if the transition would be difficult.  The transition to a better, more sustainable way of living is precisely how we should apply our remarkable traits of cleverness.

Closing Thoughts

Tea bag wisdom (from the little paper label)…

“The difference between between a flower and a weed, is a judgement.”

—Unknown

A sneak peek at what’s next: the next few blogs will explore how our lack of wisdom is hurting us; why the past is not a good guide to the future.  A look at what one might call the trinity of the unwise, namely:

  • The Ratchet Effect
  • Questions of Scale, and
  • Compounding Problems

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider, All Rights Reserved