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Life’s Fare

Perhaps the ultimate cruelty is that we are both aware of our existence and at the same time we are intensely social creatures.

Awareness of our existence means awareness of our death.

As social creatures we have a need to form bonds with others, to communicate with them. Yet how hard it is to transmit our deepest feelings and thoughts. No one is ever able to fully convey their innermost perceptions to another; to know that there is someone else who understands the world exactly as you or I see it.

Writers and artists spend lifetimes in the pursuit of this transmission. One way or another, all of us do. Yet despite these efforts the connection is imperfect. There is static in the wires. I am not you. You are not her.

So we all die alone.

Good comes of this. Awareness of death makes humanity strive, create, progress. But we know we will never fully commune our innermost selves with anyone else. We know as we live that we will die alone.

Why such a heavy price to pay for all that we are?

 

 

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The Singular Solutions

If we could find the one solution, we wouldn’t have to think any more. Life would be bliss. Just apply the one solution every time and get the best results.

So read the book and do what it says.

More likely: let me tell you what the book means, and then do what I say.

What worked for me, in my place, during my time, in my situation, must work for everyone, everywhere, all of the time. So here’s the solution for you all.

This solution is what got me to where I am. When I think about it afterwards, it must have all been down to this. No random forces or lucky breaks involved.

Even between three and ten solutions are attractive. The top three things you need to know to live a better life … The seven habits of successful people … The top ten things to get you to the top …

But how boring if one solution solved everything. Even if there are three solutions, it’s a limited menu to choose from. Boredom would quickly set in.

Fortunately it’s not so. Just so much candy for an evolved brain that craves quick ways to figure out how to avoid sabre toothed tigers. Quick fixes for staying alive. Singular solutions are no different to sugar coated donuts.

And just as hard to resist.

In the modern world saturated with sugar, and messages, resistance is valuable. Don’t let the sugar in and avoid diabetes, heart disease. Stay trim and fit. Don’t let the seductive messages in and there’s no need to chase solutions … try this, try that.

Even better, when you look at what’s behind the messaging, the message volume can be cut down to a tenth. Weed out all those that are someone’s agenda dressed up as singular solutions in order to lure you in.

Internal minimalism – remove the clutter.

And relax. No singular solutions needed. The world may be complex and nuanced, ever changing with place, time and situation, yet you can simply respond to it as it comes.  It’s an adventure.

 

Aonikenk

The bowl shaped by my own hand

Slips from my fingers and falls

To the cold stone tiles

Where as night follows day

It shatters

Into a thousand willing fragments

 

The eternal angel in his lofty spire

Shrugs with indifference

As my bowl and its shards

Are frozen together forever

Different no more

Now spirit is broken

 

The artist seeks extension

By turning his thoughts to solids

That they may escape the worm

But all must perish

In the jaws of the cosmos

Churning, churning

 

In the southern lands the Aonikenk knew

That on his final day

All that he had would be burned

His name never spoken again

Yet for this

His time was sweet

Unexpected Places

“Hello.”

“Hello Peter, it’s Alex. I hope I’m not disturbing you. I’ve got something rather important to tell you.”

“No, your not disturbing me at all. I’m on holiday actually, but it’s raining right now. We’re waiting for it to stop before we go out. It’s good to hear from you.”

“Well you might not think that when you hear what I’ve got to say. I’ve just read reports that a universal cellular trigger for cancer has been identified. I’ve read the research paper that backs the reports as well. It seems that they have found that there is just one fundamental trigger for all forms of cancer. The research has been done well and they have plenty of evidence. They’ve also found how to suppress the trigger. It’s straightforward to suppress it once you understand the trigger’s mechanism. And as far as anyone can tell, stopping it won’t have any side-effects either.”

“What ….? So those guys at USCI beat us to it. They were better funded than us I suppose, but still …. I thought we were going to come up with something interesting before them. And this …. this …. if it’s true … this is the cure.”

“It wasn’t USCI I’m afraid. I wish it was.”

“Then who was it?”

“This work was done in Tanzania?”

“Where?”

“Tanzania, in Africa. The United Republic of Tanzania to give the country its full title. I had to look it up”

“Is this a practical joke Alex? It’s not in very good taste after all the work we’ve done. I’ll admit it, you had me worried there. It’s lucky there’s no camera on me.”

“No joke, Peter. I’m serious. It’s happened. I looked into this in detail before accepting it myself. At first I assumed it was a fake. Whoever heard of any research coming out of Tanzania, let alone anything close to this? But something in the sub-title of the paper struck me, something that made sense, so I started reading all of it. The thesis and the experimental results comprehensively hang together. In fact you have to wonder how we’ve all missed it. Then I investigated the source of the paper, the National Institute for Medical Research. It’s a government body, set up principally to research diseases that affect Tanzanian citizens. There are three names on the paper, all hold senior research positions at the Institute. ….. Peter? …. Peter, are you still there?”

“Yes …. yes Alex. Sorry, I’m still taking this in. I hardly know what to say. Can you tell me how it works, what exactly have they found?”

“I’m sending you the paper. It’s all in there, it’s an excellent piece of work and very well presented.”

“OK. So who else knows about this? Is there any way we can keep it to ourselves?”

“That was my first thought too. I’ve checked – it’s out there now. I’m sure all the big research units have seen it, but none of them have mentioned it. It seems they’ve all tried to keep it locked down. But Aikinson must have seen it. You remember him? Retired now, used to do some work on cancer himself and then reviewed grant applications. He’s an independent, just a guy at home, but he has contacts in the media and he must have brought their attention to it and also vouched for its credibility. It started spreading on all the major news sites around half an hour ago.”

“I wonder if anyone will believe it. Given the extraordinary size of this claim. A cure for cancer, all cancers, in one leap. It hardly seems credible. And given the source ….”

“They’ll believe it soon enough. This is it, I’m sure of it.”

“Then we’re screwed, aren’t we? How do you think this has happened? How did they do this and we couldn’t?”

“I’ve been thinking about that too. Until I read the paper I wondered if they had found a plant extract, you know something from a plant that grows only in that part of the world. A lucky break. Perhaps some traditional witch doctor herbal medicines put them onto it. But it’s not that at all. They did fundamental cellular and biochemical research, just like us. And it turns out the answer was staring us all in the face. So I can only speculate that it’s been something to do with being out of the mainstream. We couldn’t see the obvious because it was so familiar to us, but I suspect it wasn’t so familiar to them, so they had fresh eyes. The human mind is creative but you’ve got to let it free. We were shackled by our own prejudices.”

“Perhaps they piggy-backed on our research? This might have been one of those discoveries that was about to happen everywhere, and they just happened to get there first. The world was on the cusp of it. Someone was going to do it; we’d all got to the stage where it was just random chance who it was going to be.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think popular opinion is going to buy into that argument easily. The fact is that they discovered it. So you’re right that we’re screwed. The Foundation is going to be furious. It would be bad enough if USCI or some of those other guys had beaten us, but Tanzania! And they’ve not just beaten us in one field event, it seems that they won every event in the tournament.”

“I don’t think we have just some shouting from Johnson and the other board members to deal with. It’s worse than that. Who is going to fund us in the developed world now when they can get results like this somewhere in Africa? I’ll bet those guys in Tanzania worked on a tenth of the budget that we do, maybe even less. At the very least we’ll be continually reminded of what they achieved and asked to do more with  less. It’s very likely though that our outright amount funding will simply decrease. I’m not sure any money for cutting edge research like this has gone to Africa or anywhere else in the developing world. But this will surely change the view of what those guys can do. It’s a game changer for our business. I guess technology and globalisation gets us all in the end. What’s happened in other industries is now going to happen to advanced medical research as well.”

“I fear you’re right. I’d hoped you would say something different, but I think I knew already what you’d see and I have to agree with you.”

“Well there is something we can salvage from this, something big, if we move quickly enough. We’ve always focused on the research, relying on other people to take care of commercialising it for us if we came up with something valuable. Now we have to be the people who do the commercialising. I think we know enough about how that works. We have to get to these Tanzanians and take the fruit of their discovery to the market. The innovation may not have our name on it, but we’ll be rich.”

“I’ve got bad news on that as well. A Tanzanian drug company has already taken out full world wide patents on the molecule that suppresses the trigger. They’ve also worked out and patented the process to synthesise the molecule. Of course they still have all the tests to pass, the clinical trials and so on. But they’ve got it completely sewn up. When it comes to market they’re the ones who are going to be rich. They filed all the patents before the research paper was published, so they’re not the hicks we all might have thought they are. They know what they’re doing.”

“So that’s it. Now the world will have a cure for cancer. I guess that’s us finished then.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

10th January – Knowing

Let’s talk about the difference between believing and knowing. We live in a time in which much of what we think we know is ‘received information’. We receive information from books, from newspapers and magazines, from the internet, and from what other people tell us. This process starts at an early age. Children receive answers to their questions from their parents. At school we are taught in classrooms and told to find further information from written sources.

Acquiring received information is efficient. We can ‘learn’ more quickly this way than if we had to find out everything firsthand.Much of the structure of the modern world could not exist without learning from received information. For instance an up to date understanding of the natural sciences depends on taking earlier advances at face value rather than each of us replicating the key experiments.

However consuming received information is not the only way we learn. We also learn from experience.

Received information leads us to hold beliefs. Those beliefs may or may not subsequently be validated by our own experience. If a belief is not subsequently the subject of direct experience, then it remains a belief. There is a vast territory of such beliefs in each of our minds. We may hold beliefs conditionally, weakly, moderately, or even strongly, but until they are substantiated by direct experience they must necessarily all remain beliefs.

Experience however leads to knowing. Once you have experienced something, it is no longer a belief; you know it. Knowing is more powerful than believing.

There are some understandings of the world that cannot be acquired by means of received information. The most commonly cited example is ‘what it feels like to be in love.’ You could read as many books as you like about being in love but you would have only an intellectual impression of what it means to be infatuated with someone. Once you have experienced being in love, even if you have never read a single word about the matter, then and only then do you know what it’s like to be in love.

Knowledge acquired through experience has a greater power within us. It sits deeper and holds more firmly than any belief that we may have acquired from received information.

This is not a rigorous philosophical categorisation of forms of knowledge, I have no time for that, it’s a practical examination of the human condition. In fact all the above is preamble, to provide you with some context for the statements that I am going to make, as follows:

  • Notwithstanding our common humanity, we cannot know ourselves from received information. Whilst others may have provided perspectives from their own examinations of themselves, ultimately self-knowledge has to be experienced.
  • Knowing the truth about ourselves is the most powerful form of knowledge that there is.
  • We each need this self-knowledge to achieve the ultimate understanding that I want you to have.

Well there’s a paradox! I am asserting something in a form that for you will be received information, but I’m also saying that received information is not good enough for our purposes. So you will not be able just to read these messages to ultimately know what I know, to understand what I  understand. I will need you first to know yourself in order to take  you on this journey, and only you can do that. Not to worry though, there are ways and means to get this done as you shall see in due course.

 

 

 

5 January 2017 – What is Weak?

The witch doctor in yesterday’s story seemed a bit harsh did he not? Even if the rain did subsequently come when he said (how did he do that?), he left the village calling the chief ‘weak’. The chief had done everything he knew to bring the rain. He had all the people of the village perform the rain bringing rituals, and when that hadn’t worked he had the inspiration that they should all perform the rituals in unison to try to make them more powerful. He was then willing to admit defeat and gamble on the witch doctor being able to do something.

So why call such a man ‘weak’? Harvard Business School should be writing him up as a role model: the leader who tries all the conventional remedies and when that doesn’t work is prepared to think outside the box, subjugate his own ego, and put his credibility on the line to deliver a new solution that hits the target in short order.

The witch doctor called him weak because the chief could not see. The witch doctor called him weak because ritual is blind. Ritual without interior sight is nothing. Interiority is strength, exteriority is weak.

Have you ever been convinced that something relatively unlikely was going to happen and then it did? How did that make you feel? Slightly spooky I expect, but also powerful. “I knew that was going to happen, even if you couldn’t see it.”

4 January 2017 – More Than A New Hope

Hello, still with me? I’m delighted. I wonder how many people I lost yesterday with my biblical quote. This journey you are going to take is not a religious one. Dare I say it, it goes far deeper than that. You may be wondering how one can go deeper than religion, but it’s possible, as I will show you. However regardless of its source the quote was on to something. Something very important.

I have to take you in increments towards a new understanding of the world. This is more, much more, than simply a new hope, because this understanding has absolutely practical qualities. It’s not just an intellectual appreciation of our origins, or our purpose, or of some other currently unfathomable or contentious aspect of human existence. With this understanding you can do things, quite extraordinary things, that you can’t do now.

For today’s step on the journey towards this understanding I have a short story for you. The story is simply meant to plant a small seed. Just let the story rest in your head, don’t try to find any deep inner meaning in it. It should just lay there, passive. In due course we will water it and you will find it’s significance, but for now we are just preparing the ground.

The Nama village had not had proper rain for two years. As a result the crops had been meagre, the animals had too little to graze on, and now the well was running dry. The villagers were becoming desperate as another season without rain would likely spell the end of their community, and for many possibly their lives as well. The village chief had done all he could. He had instructed the people to perform the traditional rituals to bring rain, and he had collected the whole village together on several occasions to perform the rituals in unison to try to amplify their effect. Still the rains failed to come. 

As despondency and resignation took hold, one villager held to hope. He had heard about a powerful witch doctor who he felt could solve the village’s problem. He asked the chief’s permission to seek out this witch doctor and bring him back to the village. This was a bold step since if the chief gave the go ahead he would be admitting to the villagers that he had failed them. Furthermore, in approving this action his credibility would then lie in the ability of an unknown witch doctor to bring rain. However the chief agreed, and even allowed the villager a ration of provisions to take on his journey.

Five weeks later the villager returned with the witch doctor and introduced him to the chief. The chief asked the witch doctor to bring rain to the village. The witch doctor wanted to know what the villagers had done to try to bring rain, and the chief told him about the rituals they had performed. When the chief had finished explaining, the witch doctor remained silent. The chief didn’t know what to do with the silence, and so asked the witch doctor’s price for helping to bring rain. Still the witch doctor remained silent, his gaze fixed on the chief.

Finally the witch doctor spoke. “You ask my price, but there is nothing you could give me that I have not already got.”

There was another long silence. 

“You are weak,” said the witch doctor, and he turned from the chief and started to walk away.

“But what about the rain?” the chief called after him in desperation.

“It is done, two days time,” replied the witch doctor without turning and still walking away.

Two days later the rain started.