On Dreams And Dreaming

“Dreams are nature’s answering service – don’t forget to pick up your messages once in a while.” – Sarah Crestinn

Of all the things that affect humans on a near-daily basis, how many remain as mystical as dreaming? The nature and purpose of dreams have been debated since the beginning, and yet, we still have no conclusion or consensus.

In his published essay on Enron (and now in his book What The Dog Saw), Malcolm Gladwell makes reference to National Security expert Greg Treverton’s famous distinction between puzzles and mysteries. Mysteries do not have simple, factual answers. And although puzzles really don’t either, they are by process and intelligence, well, solvable. When the right amount information is found, puzzles can and will eventually be solved. Mysteries on the other hand, “require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much.”

Dreams are a mystery. Dreams are not a puzzle. We will not one day realize the complete physiology and meaning of dreams to its fullest extent so that we can close the text book on dreams. They are a mystery and will remain a mystery. Yes, we may continuously add new findings and hypotheses – either through scientific research or epiphanies, but I believe dreams are inherently a mystery. They are not meant to be fully discovered.

That being said, there are plenty of facts out that characterizing dreams and their nature. Here are some:

  • We dream on average of one or two hours every night. And we often even have 4-7 dreams in one night.
  • One third of our lives is spent sleeping. In our lifetime, we will have spent about 6 years of it dreaming. That is more than 2,100 days spent in a different world.
  • Five minutes after the end of the dream, half the content is forgotten. After ten minutes, 90% is lost.
  • Dreamers who are awakened right after REM sleep, are able to recall their dreams more vividly than those who slept through the night until morning.
  • Men tend to dream more about other men, while women dream equally about men and women.
  • Everybody dreams. Simply because you do not remember your dream does not mean that you did not dream.
  • If you are snoring, then you cannot be dreaming.
  • Studies have shown that our brain waves are more active when we are dreaming than when we are awake.
  • Blind people do dream. Whether visual images will appear in their dream depends on whether they where blind at birth or became blind later in life.
  • Back in the Roman Era, striking and significant dreams were submitted to the Senate for analysis and interpretation.
  • The word dream stems from the Middle English word, dreme which means “joy” and “music”.

References/Links

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Boundaries Of The Human Condition

“That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.” – Thomas Jefferson

There exist many concepts and rules by which we are bound, some of which we may be aware and some of which we may not be aware. Those concepts and rules of which we are aware exist throughout nature and space because we can observe them and learn them, manipulate them and control them, and hear them and speak them. Those concepts and rules of which we are not aware exist because we cannot observe them and learn them, manipulate them and control them, and hear them and speak them. In a sense, we are bounded by that which we can know and cannot know – although those boundaries can and will change throughout the course of history.

It’s interesting to think about our intellectual boundaries, limits, and intersections because they can be sliced and diced a thousand and one different ways. To a chef, his or her capacity may be bound by a colander, letting some things in and others out, clogged and dirty at times and crystal clear at others. To a biologist or chemist, he or she may see it as some semi-permeable membrane that expands and contracts, filters substances based on the needs of the whole system. And to an astronomer, the boundaries may be the vast unknown of our universe: with new discovery always comes more knowns coupled with more unknowns.

Regardless of the profession, it’s valuable to think about. For me, I’ll gladly wear the shoes of a different scientist each waking day but to start, here are a couple different categorizations of our intellectual boundaries, just to jot some thought.

Spatial Dimensionality

Think of our intellectual capacity as bounded by one big room. This room can grow as it’s supported by more material, can shrink with the absence of structural connections, and can lose energy with a loss of insulation, cracks in the windows, etc. It can become more complex or simple in a hour’s time with the addition or removal of new features and can take on a new look and persona with the manipulation of a few simple characteristics such as paint and fixtures. You get the point.

Walls – The walls are the support and protection, and are the primary means by which we are bound. The walls are our rules of lateral movement, being, and knowing. In a room of infinitesimal walls, we’ll find just as many corners (getting us ever close to the perfect circle) but we’ll still be limited by a surrounding perimeters. In our room, the walls are our physical concepts, our school subjects, our theorems and laws, our rules of society.

Floors – The floors are our foundation. Without the floor we would not be able to maintain our position and as a result, move from one position to another. The floors are our foundation for thought – our family, our circumstance, our physicality – our reference point.

Ceilings – The ceiling is our limit. The ceiling provides cover and security, shape and reflection, and a foundation for belief and new thought. The ceilings are our hypotheses and conjectures, our gateway to the unknown as much as it they’re the gateway for belief and clarity of vision.

Corners – The corners are the intersections of life, the crossroads of knowledge and new thought. Every corner is formed by the other structures mentioned above. The corners are the relationships, the interdisciplinary nature of life, the idea that everything is connected.

Existential Dimensionality

Now think a bit differently. Think that our intellectual capacity is bounded by core concepts which, when intersected, form feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and understanding. The core concepts are the things we should study – the basics of existence from which we should gain our foundations. I spoke about studying people earlier, with an overview of Archimedes. For the places, I’ll talk about some of my 2010 visits in the near future. And for time, we’ll it’s the scale by which we can make sense of history, and the perception and reasoning that comes with it. The triangulation of these three things gives an enclosure of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that form the boundaries of our intellectual capacity.

People – We are who we are as much as we are who we’re with (and who used to be with us). To feel, learn, and think, we must understand how other people feel, learn, and think (or felt, learned, and thought). This is core to society, law, science, religion, and everything else.

Places – We are who we are in the place that we are. If I were in a different place right now, my actions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs may be different as a result. Place is a part of circumstance which most certainly contributes to our thoughts and beliefs.

Time – We are who we are because of the historical context in which we live. Time forms this context and provides structure to the way we think, how we can act, and as a result, what we might think and believe.

Feelings, Thoughts, & Beliefs – Our coordinates at any one time (say, x=people, y=place, z=time) describe who we are. The result of who we are is an output of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. These form the boundaries, limits, and intersections of our intellectual capacity. Change coordinates, and we’ll find new outputs. And the most important thing to note: as with mathematical coordinate systems, there’s no limit to our coordinate system space, only to a local solid surrounding a group of coordinates. Limits may exist on my axes, by not on the coordinate system as a whole.

Links

The Secret Sauce

Everyone needs a secret sauce, a blend of ingredients that when experienced, defeats all stress and evokes bliss.

Every palate is unique. The perfect combination of flavors is different for every person. The feelings evoked by a single bite may be bliss or miss, depending on a multitude of factors. As a result, every palate has its own “secret sauce”. This is that perfect combo that trumps everything.

For me, my secret sauce is exactly that – a sauce. My Nono (grandfather) has made hundreds of pans of his sauce over the years, filling his house with the smell of awesome and the aura of glee. It’s a perfect blend of vegetable and meat, spice and heat, tang and sweet. I, like so many, have taken his recipe to try and duplicate it, but to no avail. That’s a distinguishing characteristic of the secret sauce – it’s part sauce and part human. What makes it so great is that my Nono makes it and nobody else. The flavor can be closely duplicated, but the feelings and the experience as a whole cannot. I love the fact that it is made by him, he has been making it for so long, and it has made so many people full and happy over the years. That combination, with the flavor, makes me as happy as can be.

And so there’s a secret sauce of life; a secret sauce for personal delight. For each and every individual there is a unique combination of feeling and experience, not to be duplicated by any other individual, that defeats stress and evokes pure, inner bliss. Surely it could require some physical component such as a a place or a meal or a friend or a game, but it’s not about the food but the mood. The feeling and experience, like that which I own when having my Nono’s pasta sauce, is unique to me and is all I need. For you, maybe it’s Ragu. But it doesn’t matter. We need to know what our secret sauces are and how we can find them. Only then are the ingredients of the world used for the most genuine condition, the most fundamental of purposes, the being of happy.

Links

People Studying People

Society is people. Whether it’s business growth, intellectual advancement, government, mass media, artistic culture, knowledge transfer, sports successes, health care, economic development, or charity, it all starts with people. Therefore, in order to learn about how society is shaped and how it can change, it’s imperative that we learn as much as we can about the people who have come before us.

One purpose of my blog is to organize information about influential people of the past and present to try and pass this information on to others. Adsideology very much follows this notion – that life is about people, and we should study people to become people. I do recognize that the more diverse the people, the more wholesome the information gained. However, I’ll probably start with some mathematicians as I’ve recently bought a few books on the great ones in history.

As a start, let’s think of some numbers. Solely focusing on Earth, how many people have ever lived? Most estimates fall around 100 billion total. The interesting note about this number is that with a current population of over 6.7 billion, this means that almost 7% of people ever born in the history of Earth are living today. In other words, only 93% of people ever born have ever died! Pretty wild to think about, right?

On Knowledge Innovation

I want to quickly mention a correlating note regarding knowledge innovation for the future – how new thought can best be stimulated given the current state of society. It is clear that one pillar of innovation will always be people – the human component. Even in a world growing in reliance on information services, the human component will always remain. I’ve posted previously on the need for the human component in future mathematics initiatives as well as the need for expanded human intervention for optimized search technologies. The fact is, the human component will always be there. Common sense, yes, but commonly understood, maybe not.

Links

the mind as a map

The human mind should work much like modern mapping and camera technology – zoom, pan, adjust, layer, interact – and export too.

At any moment, the majority of minds fall into one of two categories: big and strategic, or focused and tactical. But as changing times require changing minds, the third category has emerged: the dynamic and balanced. This category can be seen as a mix of the first two, instantaneously being able to function based on the attributes of the surrounding medium.

These minds are very much like new cameras, mapping applications, GPS tools, and related emerging technologies. They build a informative picture for a user, based off organized databases and knowledge bases, and allow a level of functional interaction to continuously feed new information to that user. These functionalities, when applied to the human mind, are all essential for continued growth in a rapidly changing (and unpredictable) society.

Zoom

  • Act as a lens. Be able to zoom in and out from a single focal point. For any given topic, the mind must be able to pay attention to the smallest of details while still being able to see the big picture. Understand the color and shape of the individual puzzle pieces while at the same time seeing where that piece fits into the full picture on the puzzle box.
  • Re-focus instantaneously at every level of zoom. Purposely making pictures blurry can provide useful in some instances, but the act of focusing should be natural and automatic. 
  • Like looking at a Magic Eye or a lovely Seurat, be able to find the right level of zoom where the picture is most clear.
  • “Zoom Analytics” as I’ll call it, should be embraced as a common analytical method. It’s always been a mathematical problem solving technique, but not universally taught.

Pan

  • Need to be able to swiftly move from topic to topic, and connect those that are related.
  • Moving back to a previously-visited topic should bring quicker loading of that memory.

Adjust

  • The mind must continuously grow in dimension and adjust for core characteristics. Recognize patterns and contrasts, shapes and sizes, color and form and adjust the view and output accordingly.
  • Toggle perspective and angle to see the infinite sides of any one picture. Perspective is everything.

Layer

  • If the brain consisted of data and memory silos, the main interface should be able to integrate any combination of data and memory into a single comprehensive picture.
  • It should be able to see localized data as well as aggregate data for larger constructs. Filter data and memory based off a set of parameters, re-organize it, and feed it into the common operating picture.

Interact

  • The picture is not static. The brain must by dynamic in nature, allowing a constant influx of new information and updating of old information. 
  • Re-organization of data and memory should be consistent with the changing society in which we live. When a scientific/technological revolution occurs, the way in which our information is processed and stored must be compatible with the changes in society.

Export

  • Not every tool can do every task. That’s why exporting is good. Create a new data set from which you, or someone else, can work. Export a map or a picture that can be analyzed by another set of eyes. For the human, you must be able to transfer stored information to others, and most importantly, communicate it effectively. English is English, math is math, kml is kml.
  • Language is good because it is a standard by which we can effectively communicate. Choosing words wisely is something that should be practiced on top of a common linguistic standard. It’s one thing to speak the same language, but another to foster understanding.

And so, truly finding a balance between big and small perspectives is important. It’s important for making wise decisions, being a team player, being an effective manager, giving valuable advice, and finding optimal direction in life. So as much as you make sure you can get deep in the weeds, make sure you can easily get out.

“It’s not what you’re looking at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

cents and sensibility

The negative mentality around nickels and dimes needs to “change”.

Today at Starbucks I ordered a grande regular coffee which came out to $2.01. As I reached for my cash, the barista quickly said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a penny. You don’t want 99 cents and I don’t want to count it.” My immediate reply was, “Well thanks, but it’s all the same.”

I laughed to myself as I left and thought about this some more. Why do people truly hate getting change? If you think about it, 99 cents is just a penny less than a dollar bill. And what do you do with the change you get? Don’t most people collect it in a secure place (jar, jug, can, pouch, piggy bank, etc.) to grow and cash it in later? It’s a nice, indirect way to save money (see Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” program).

I started to really embrace coins about five years ago when i began putting every penny from my pocket, the floor, the couch, or the street, in an empty Carlo Rossi jug. I’d save up change from the entire year and put it toward groceries used for that year’s St. Calzone’s Day celebration (it’s averaged $50-250 per year).

And to this day, I still enjoy getting change. I like not only the compact weight, circular shape, grooved edges, pressed terrain, and aging color, but also the curiosity around a coin’s travels. Dollar bills seem to always be accounted for whereas it seems as though 10% of coins are lost at any moment in time.

I think that negativity around change exists mostly due to disorganization (people feel they will forget where they put it, will lose it in a couch, or are not good at collecting it) as well as due to psychological effects (people think that collectively it’s less valuable than any dollar bill equivalents). I wonder if people, when estimating the total value of coins in a jar/bottle, commonly undershoot the actual value?

There have been some interesting economical studies that suggest (and support) a related theory – that people are more inclined to spend coins rather than dollar bills. Called “The Denomination Effect”, it supports the idea that maybe people want a dollar bill because they’ll be more inclined to save it rather than immediately spend four quarters on some Fun Dip at the gas station. Interesting studies.

Regardless, my point is that we should all learn to love change. The concept itself is a universal framework for brewing mathematical juices and collecting change can provide both a direct and indirect mechanism for saving money.

thick skin

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve all heard that one before and it’s just not true. We are humans – words can hurt us and will hurt us at times. But in order to learn as an individual, to grow as an organization, and to advance as a society, it’s imperative that we know how to properly deal with criticism.

Criticism will come at us from every dimension of life, for the rest of our lives. Sports, school, work, writing, speaking, conversing, cooking, dreaming, loving, running, designing, singing, drawing… well, you get the point. Recognizing the many faces of criticism is the first step in developing thick skin.

Once you’ve recognized it, how can you analyze it? Well to start, there are some simple questions to ask:

  • Who is giving the criticism?
  • What is the nature of and motivation behind the criticism?
  • It the criticism valid?
  • How can I benefit from the criticism?
  • What is the optimal response to the criticism?

The goal is to maintain composure and to address criticism properly. Thick skin still let’s you sweat. Always keep your cool and address criticism with your mind, not with your emotions. Creating anger from internalization of critiques will never be beneficial.

A technique I use for many problems I face is a mathematical construct that involves breaking the problem into its simplest components and then strategically attacking each one. The same construct applies to any type of critique whether personal or professional. Break it down to its underlying motives, objectives, validity, and logic, and derive the proper response and lessons learned.

Lastly, learn to think about others. Don’t be quick to blame someone or to simply deflect criticism because that’s the easy thing to do. Don’t be quick to retaliate with criticism of your own. Think about who is giving the criticism, who the other players are, and how you can optimize your own self without being selfish.

So to summarize, what does having thick skin entail?

  • You need to be able to take shots.
  • Stay on your feet and stay balanced.
  • Do not internalize rejection.
  • Understand the genetic makeup of criticism.
  • Think about others.

Grow thick skin. It will make you a great leader, a great colleague, and a great friend.

Quotes

  • “Taking shots builds stronger armor.” – Me
  • “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” – Harry S. Truman
  • “Living well is the best revenge.” – George Herbert
  • “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “Inner strength shows itself not when the world is praising you but when others are critical.” – Gabriela Cora

Links

Learning to Develop a Thick Skin: Don’t take things personally, don’t let others get to you, remember that everyone gets rejected sometimes, learn to counterpropose when things don’t go your way, learn to meet in the middle, don’t hesitate to unstick sticky situations, don’t be self focused, stop the self-talk, don’t worry about looking stupid, learn to be patient, don’t be quick to blame, think about others

Developing a Thick Skin (from a writer)

Developing a Thick Skin (in IT)

How to Develop a Thick Skin (eHow): Face your fears, never let them see you sweat, continue to improve, stay busy, stay positive and surround yourself with positive people