Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

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?

God?

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.

Faith From First Principles

November 23, 2021

In physics or philosophy we strive to begin with something called first principles and then logically derive our thoughts and conclusions and actions from there.

I’ve been think often lately about first principles of the Christian Faith or first principles of being a follower (disciple) of Jesus. The photo is an example of one way I think through things. This is sort of a mind map. I began with a thought comparing Jesus’ two main instructions to us–first love God and our neighbor and second go and make disciples. Then I wondered how John (the Baptizer) fit in. His message was to “repent”, that is, to turn our hearts toward God and prepare to accept the message from Jesus.

Where I started to go with this by putting it all together from the first principles would go something like this:

  • Rise in the morning and begin to orient my heart toward God for the day
  • Live in the kingdom today by loving God (love as some action not some emotion)
  • Do something for someone to live out that love for my neighbor
  • Have someone I can “disciple”, or today we may also use the words mentor or coach

That would be a good day having done all this. As I reflect at the end of the day (Examen), I could say that I had lived as I should.

Muddled Thinking

November 22, 2021

The child sat in the elementary classroom staring out the window. At some point the teacher noticed and stopped talking. All the other kids noticed and watched. Soon the child realized the room was too quiet and looked. “What were you doing?” asked the teacher. “Thinking.” “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to think in school?” Well, at that point everyone burst out laughing, and the teacher had to recover from the reactive statement.

Story told by Earl Nightingale

This story popped into my thoughts yesterday as I sat on a couch staring out the window. For, I was thinking. I had researched a topic (trends shaping the Industrial Internet of Things for 2022, if you wish to know), and I was pondering business, technology, and scenarios. But, had my wife (former teacher, by the way) noticed, she would have accused me of sleeping.

“It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.”

Simone Weil

Sometimes we think we have explained something, but the others don’t seem to understand. Maybe we reflect. We have not properly thought out the subject so that we are clear in our own minds what we are thinking.

I just read the description of a character in a novel where “he reads a sentence or two and then pauses to think about it.”

Thinking is work. Literally. Your brain will burn fuel from your body’s storehouse while you actively think. I’m not sure that we’re ever taught it. I know we don’t practice it enough.

  • Did we pause to consider the origin of our assumptions
  • Did our logic flow efficiently step-by-step
  • Where are other ideas
  • What are the implications
  • What if I’m wrong

I settled on an idea of a trend totally off the wall from my original thoughts about which technology might catch on next year. Quiet moments spent thinking through that which we’ve just read is an investment well spent. Especially if we are pondering wisdom teaching and stories of spiritual growth.

Four For The Road

October 25, 2021

Here are four pieces of wisdom for living.

Experiment. Life is an experiment. You try something. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, then you try something else. Always.

Invent. Look for new ways to do something. Invent a tool, a pattern, a lifestyle. Go on a new path beyond the same old experiences.

New Ideas. One way to train your brain to come up with new ideas is the 20 things method. Sit with a page of paper and a pen. Write a question at the top of the page that you are trying to solve or figure out. Write an idea. Write another, maybe just playing around with the words. After about 15 answers, you’ll notice the ideas are becoming more creative. By 20, you will have the solution you are seeking.

If you missed writing class in school, that will be much to your detriment. This is a variation of the list method (a thought which just occurred to me). You begin with an idea and begin to write an essay. By the time you have finished the essay, you will have ideas that you never imagined when you began. It happens with me almost every day that I sit down to write this blog.

Practice these daily.

Ask better questions. This got me into trouble as a student. Some people just seemed to have an ability to take things on faith. I still remember chemistry class in high school, but the same held through in almost every class I took even throughout university. Some people accepted whatever the teacher said, remembered it, wrote it on tests. They were the A students. I always asked, how do they know that? I puzzled things out. I didn’t care about the test. It was superfluous. I was a B student.

I feel I lack on asking better questions many times. That is my personal challenge. What is yours?

Thinking About Thinking

September 9, 2021

Our rational mind tries to figure things out. But it must start with an assumption. Some sort of starting place. Then it proceeds to think more or less rationally. Perhaps for justification.

Our mind, however, will believe anything we tell it to believe. Our starting point for thinking could be completely wrong. Or flawed. Or incomplete.

We must first find the proper starting point for thinking. Perhaps through prayer, contemplation, meditation, study we see through our fog. We develop a new way of looking at our story.

Look at the way Jesus told stories. Almost always they are designed to shock the hearer’s assumption so that they now think from a new starting point.

Are we shocked by Jesus’ stories? Or have we read them or heard them so often that we miss the point?

Can we pause, breathe, relax and then approach these stories with new eyes, like a child? Maybe we can be shocked again like the original hearers?