Monday, August 26, 2013

Fate Versus Free Will - The Servant in "Appointment in Samarra"

Appointment in Samarra

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said,

“Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said,

“Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture. It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Question:  How does the story "Appointment in Samarra" relate to the ideas of fate and free will?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Achievement: The Beatles and the 10,000 Hour Rule

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the issue of achievement, arguing that talent alone is not enough to propel someone to success, especially when it comes to complex cognitive tasks like playing chess at the grandmaster level.
The British Invasion of 1964 and the arrival of Beatlemania in America are too often told as a story of overnight success for the four lads from Liverpool.  The reality is that they worked hard in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, beginning in 1959 to hone their skills.  Thus the Beatles illustrate the following formula for success: 


What song better illustrates the Beatles' strong work ethic than this one?  "A Hard Day's Night."

See Gladwell's article "Complexity and the 10,000 Rule"

Question:  How does the 10,000 hour rule relate to the formula for achievement/success?
Question:  What can the Beatles teach us about success and achievement?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Despair - Aegeus and Theseus

In the story of "Theseus and the Minotaur" from Greek mythology, Theseus succeeds in killing the Minotaur and, with the help of Ariadne, is able to escape the labyrinth.  Theseus' escape plan involves a ball of string, or clew, given to him by Ariadne.  By tying the string at the entrance of the labyrinth and unwinding it as he walks, Theseus is able to retrace his path to escape the maze after killing the Minotaur.  This is the origin of the word clue:  evidence used to solve a mystery.

Despair enters the story when Theseus forgets his promise to his father, Aegeus, that if he killed the Minotaur he would hoist white sails, rather than black ones, on his return trip to Athens.  Seeing black sails, Aegeus believes his son is dead and throws himself from the high cliffs to the sea below.  The sea thereafter became know as the Aegean Sea.

We might also reserve a place in the Ideas Hall for Theseus under "memory" since in his jubilant spirit of victory he fails to pay attention to detail and forgets to change the sails.

Question:  How does the story of Aegeus and Theseus relate to the theme of despair?
Question:  How does a ball of string relate to the clue followed by a detective?

Wisdom - King Solomon

This Old Testament story illustrates the judgment of Solomon, the king of Israel:

1 Kings 3:16-28 (The Message)
16-21 The very next thing, two prostitutes showed up before the king. The one woman said, “My master, this woman and I live in the same house. While we were living together, I had a baby. Three days after I gave birth, this woman also had a baby. We were alone—there wasn’t anyone else in the house except for the two of us. The infant son of this woman died one night when she rolled over on him in her sleep. She got up in the middle of the night and took my son—I was sound asleep, mind you!—and put him at her breast and put her dead son at my breast. When I got up in the morning to nurse my son, here was this dead baby! But when I looked at him in the morning light, I saw immediately that he wasn’t my baby.”
22 “Not so!” said the other woman. “The living one’s mine; the dead one’s yours.”
The first woman countered, “No! Your son’s the dead one; mine’s the living one.”
They went back and forth this way in front of the king.
23 The king said, “What are we to do? This woman says, ‘The living son is mine and the dead one is yours,’ and this woman says, ‘No, the dead one’s yours and the living one’s mine.’”
24 After a moment the king said, “Bring me a sword.” They brought the sword to the king.
25 Then he said, “Cut the living baby in two—give half to one and half to the other.”
26 The real mother of the living baby was overcome with emotion for her son and said, “Oh no, master! Give her the whole baby alive; don’t kill him!”
But the other one said, “If I can’t have him, you can’t have him—cut away!”
27 The king gave his decision: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Nobody is going to kill this baby. She is the real mother.”
28 The word got around—everyone in Israel heard of the king’s judgment. They were all in awe of the king, realizing that it was God’s wisdom that enabled him to judge truly.

File:Judgement of Solomon.jpg

Question:  How does the story of Solomon and the baby illustrate wisdom?

Knowledge and Ignorance - The Socratic Paradox

"I only know that I know nothing"

Innovation - Steve Jobs' Bicycle of the Mind

Steve Jobs brief analogy illustrates perfectly the human propensity for tool building and innovative thinking.

Bicycle : Locomotion : : Computer : Mind
Question:  How does Jobs' bicycle illustrate human innovation?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Euphemism - George Carlin

No one has more clearly and succinctly summed up and exemplified the definition of euphemism than George Carlin.  His outstanding example of how "shell shocked" evolved into "post traumatic stress disorder" tells us so much about how language evolves  -- and sometimes devolves -- and how clear meaning can be clouded by euphemisms.

Question:  How does Carlin's explanation of the term "post traumatic stress disorder" illustrate the down side of euphemism?