Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

The Answer With The Fewest Possible Complications

March 2, 2023

Occam’s Razor guides us to seek explanations with the fewest possible set of elements. Often we paraphrase it as the simplest explanation is usually the best.

I went from one rabbit hole to another. First a discussion on LinkedIn where I thought the explanations missed the point. Which led me to a search for the meaning of Occam’s Razor. If you follow all the arguments by philosophers on the Wikipedia page I linked, you will find yourself in another massive rabbit hole. Funny that these philosophers take a maxim about simplicity or fewest elements and write paragraph after paragraph.

We do that when explaining Christianity, too. Or, too often.

When Jesus was pressed for an explanation, he cited his scriptures to love the Lord and he added from a different location to love your neighbor. At the end of his ministry he left one command for his followers–to love one another.

When the rich young man came to Jesus asking about eternal life, he said he’d followed all the commandments since he had been a child. Jesus saw still an impediment to his loving others and told him to give away all his wealth to the poor. He saw that this got in the way of the young man’s opening of his heart. Rule following and attachment to wealth weren’t enough.

I follow this line of reasoning simply to go to the argument with the fewest elements–Jesus clearly taught us to guide our lives by love. Why do we complicate things like the philosophers and theologians? Maybe because love is too hard.


February 27, 2023

I wonder if geese become confused.

It’s northern Illinois in late February. We have warmer days and colder days. The ice on the ponds has melted in spots and remains in spots. Do you wonder what exactly geese see when they are circling above and coming in for a landing at a pond they know well? Have you ever seen them land on the ice and go skidding for several feet?

During my walk, I saw most of the flocks of geese swimming in the open water. There was a couple, though, walking on the water–well, the ice at the other end of the pond. Everyone else was contented. They raised a ruckus with their honking.

Were they confused? Looking for help?

I wondered about our confusion. Perhaps reading something from the Bible or some random spiritual writer. Inevitably we will read something confusing. What is our response?

Do we ignore it and hope it will go away?

Do we think of something we agree with that is similar and just push past that part?

Do we pause? Puzzle over the phrase? Grab our iPhone, go to Safari, search for what other people on the Web have to say?

Perhaps we stop and contemplate for a while. Opening ourselves to God for the spirit to bring us at least a partial enlightenment.

I used to rush through things. I’d try to do many things at once. Then I learned to slow down. Hit the Pause button. Instead of looking for immediate relief from confusion, stopping to think and contemplate.

We can wonder where the water is and honk our fool heads off. Or, we can pause and re-center ourselves and find the open water.

Asking More Questions

December 6, 2022

Wisława Szymborska, poet and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote, “Any knowledge that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life.”

I’ll admit, I have problems asking questions. On the other hand, I read something, and I wonder about it. Why did the author choose that series of words? What was the point? Wait, doesn’t that remind me of …..?

Too often we read something and stop. We take the words at face value. We don’t try to understand just what the writer was trying to tell us.

Doesn’t this often happen when reading the Bible? Do we assume the tone of the priest reading the Gospel at church? But when we are studying and trying for understanding, it is fair to ask:

Hey Luke, why did you include this story?

John, I don’t understand why you always talk about light and dark?

Paul, why do you use such confusing word plays?

Reading, Writing, Thinking

November 30, 2022

I missed a day here yesterday. I had an outpatient procedure that necessitated leaving home about 5:30 am. I blamed the condition on past workplace stress. More likely it was hereditary given a bit of family history of my brothers. Also likely not as much genetic as growing up in the same household. We had plenty of stress there.

Glad to report that the operation was successful. I can’t praise the people at Advocate Sherman hospital enough from the receptionist to the nurses, doctors and support staff. By the time I got home yesterday early afternoon, my LiveWell app had been updated with all the blood test results, the results of the procedure, and the surgeon’s notes and commentary. Crazy good.

This sort of technology and follow up would be fantastic for service calls in my other job relative to manufacturing. Or even the service person who comes to your house. There’s the good side of technology when it’s a servant. Then there’s the bad side (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

This morning at 5:30 felt good. Back in the saddle. 

I read many thinkers and writers. Never stop learning. This thought came from Paul Graham’s monthly newsletter.

You can’t think well without writing well, and you can’t write well without reading well. And I mean that last “well” in both senses. You have to be good at reading, and read good things. By “good at reading” I don’t mean good at the mechanics of reading. You don’t have to be good at extracting words from the page so much as extracting meaning from the words.

Most people I read consider writing as part of thinking. To me, it’s core to education. They need to do more of it at least from middle school through grad school. I often begin with an idea that came from observation or reading then begin to write. Bless computers—it’s easier to backspace and begin again than cross out and re-write.

It’s a practice. It can be a spiritual practice. Read, observe, think. Begin to write. As you sort out your thoughts, you’ll find new wisdom percolating. You might even change your mind on some things through thinking rather than reacting. I know I have. Even (especially?) through somewhat critical comments.

Making Words Fit Our Attitude

October 28, 2022

Procrustes, a character in an ancient Greek story, had an obsession with making things fit his prior concept. He had a bed for guests. If a guest was too short to fit the bed exactly, he would have the guest stretched. If the guest were too tall, he’d cut the legs of the guest until he fit the bed.

We do that with concepts. We have an idea about what the Bible should say. Who knows how we ever came up with that notion, but it exists. And then we read the Bible. We try to stretch or chop the words in order to make them fit our preconceived ideas of what they should say.

Beware the Procrustean Bed when reading Scriptural text–or anything, for that matter.

Intelligence Shows By Ignoring

October 26, 2022

Publicity agents and marketers flood my email inbox promoting the latest new product or technology application. They use many big words. Usually I can delete the first paragraph. It tells me nothing. Then I delete other $50 words and keep the $1 ones. Thousands of readers come to my technology blog (unlike the dozens who come here) because I try to make sense and place a context for the news.

I gain by subtracting.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his book of aphorisms (sort of like proverbs) The Bed of Procrustes, “They think that intelligence is about noticing things that are relevant (detecting patterns); in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).”

A philosophical razor (rule of thumb) attributed to the 13th Century philosopher William of Occam (Occam’s Razor) tells us that when choosing among competing hypotheses about the same prediction, the simplest one is to be preferred.

I’ve seen people (preachers, teachers) take a simple teaching of Jesus or of Paul and expand it beyond all proportion. 

Maybe when Jesus said “they will know my followers by their love” what he meant was people will know my followers by their love.

Learning to See What’s Around Us

September 29, 2022

Two fish swim together across the pond. They meet an older, wiser fish. He says, “Hello, boys, how’s the water?”

The two swim for a bit, then one asks the other, “What’s water?”

This story is from a commencement speech given at Kenyon College in 2005 by David Foster Wallace.

He began with the common advice that college’s role is to teach you to think. The real point is knowing what to think about. Even more, to become aware of what surrounds you.

You’re tired and grumpy after work. Then you realize you are out of food at home and must go to the supermarket. It’s rush hour. Someone in a gas-hog SUV drives aggressively trying to pass everyone. You arrive at the store. You manage to find what you need. The check out line is long. There’s an overly made-up chubby woman screaming at her kid. The cashier says have a good day with the voice of death.

You think–perhaps that SUV was driven by a dad trying to get a sick kid to the hospital. Perhaps the woman at the store was tired after nursing a husband sick at home with cancer. Perhaps the cashier is caught in a dead-end job with many pressures at home.

Perhaps we don’t see the “water” around us. Perhaps we blame other people for things when we don’t understand their problem. Perhaps we think people are purposely out to get us when in reality they are just trying to get by. Just like us.

Perhaps by seeing the water, we can live a more compassionate life. And that would be good.

Searching The Scriptures For God

July 26, 2022

The first generation of Jesus-followers passionately scoured the Hebrew scriptures, not looking for rules to regulate their lives and the lives of everyone around them, but for all the signs of Jesus they could find.

They were trying to find Jesus in the scriptures.

When we go to the scriptures, what are we looking for?

Rules to impose on others–and maybe ourselves if it’s convenient?


I suggest the best use of our time and energy searching through the Bible lies in discovering God and Jesus and the Spirit. Open the words and hear God speak to you.

Intellectual Discipline

January 11, 2022

The man sat next to me at lunch at the conference I attended last month in Florida. He is a reliability engineer. His professional life has a foundation built on numbers. He began talking about Covid and how he and his wife had both contracted a bad case of the virus. She took a medication recommended by few doctors. She did recover. I’m not talking about medicine here.

He quoted statistics from India to support their decision.

I was surprised. He has far more training in numbers than I, yet he quoted statistics that had a spurious rigor. If he used numbers like that in his plant, some very expensive equipment would be broken.

We all get suckered in by statistics that are incomplete or misleading. And we all can miss those numbers that tell us something important. Just like we should apply intellectual discipline when studying the Bible, we should also stop and consider when we see numbers thrown around in the news or even from the pulpit.

Soon after my conversation, I ran across The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics by Tim Harford. This book does not require a background in math. It is readable. Packed with stories about people who famously got the numbers wrong and those who got them right. This book will help you not be fooled by every number you see flashed at you.

I suppose I should hint at the ten rules (dare I say 10 Commandments in a spiritual disciplines blog?).

  • Stop and notice our emotional reactions
  • Combine the “bird’s eye” statistical perspective with the “worm’s-eye” view from personal experience
  • Look at labels on the data, do we understand what’s really described
  • Look for comparisons and context
  • Look behind the statistics at where they come from
  • Ask what is missing
  • Ask tough questions about algorithms and the big datasets
  • Pay more attention to the bedrock of official statistics
  • Look under the surface of any beautiful chart or graph
  • Keep an open mind

And finally, Harford’s “golden rule”—a good trait to develop for life in general—Be curious.

The Mind Needs Many Precepts To See

December 28, 2021

I sat here this morning to type a thought remembering something I read in number 94 (XCIV) On the Value of Advice from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I prepared the quote and then noticed quotation marks. The quote I remembered was not from Seneca but from a rival called Aristo whom Seneca was refuting.

There was a writer popular in the early 70s. I read his brief, popular book. It was a good story, but it was also a little light on understanding some things that I had studied deeply. But enough was there to cause me to buy his next book. This was an explication of the Christian Bible book of Hebrews. I had gone maybe two of his chapters into his book when I had a feeling nagging at the back of my brain.

I pulled out a Bible (actually a couple) and read those translations along with the book. There was only a slight resemblance between two generally accepted translations of the book (actually it’s more like a sermon) and the author’s own translation.

I discarded that book and never read anything from that author or his colleagues.

I feel that that author made a translation to fit his theology. I felt a dishonesty at work. But, had I quoted and explained the thought as if it were Seneca rather than his rival Aristo, would I not also have been guilty of a dishonesty? Even if it were just sloppy research.

There is a lesson or more.

Read more carefully.

Check your memory.

If you have read incorrectly, be prepared to change your mind.