Let’s get started

‘YOU NEED TO SOLVE A PROBLEM. For them.’

‘What?’

‘Like, what do the online programs you are offering actually do for people? What do they get out of them? The writing and assembly thing, and other stuff?’

So much!’

‘I know you think so, and maybe it’s true for you and for some of the people you’ve worked with through the ecourses, with the magazine… is it a magazine? Yeah, okay, yeah. So, like, what is in it for them? What do they get out of it?’

‘…’

‘…’

‘People like these.’

‘I know they like them. But do you know? What they are joining for?’

‘…’

‘…’

‘…’

‘Connection.’

‘Weak. And you can’t prove it.’

‘Meaning.’

‘Think harder.’

‘Sharing?’

‘No. Nobody knows you from anybody else, and you’re not famous, and you don’t aspire to be on Oprah, so you can’t go that route, you know? You have to be a real person who has a real thing that works for people. Remember what SN had said? Solutions to the right problems that users love to use. That’s design. That’s innovation.’

SN is so smart. We’re really lucky we got to learn from him, wow. Meantime I am learning from every single person I meet, who comes through these different salons and eWorkshops and stuff like that. I get it. I get it that people are looking for a new way to find new thoughts and to inspire themselves and that kind of jazz. And that most stuff is overdone, overprescribed and way too high-level commitment… I don’t know. Then you get just… well. It’s contrived. I think the opportunity for mixing to happen amongst groups is a big part of why I do these. Okay, you’re looking at me like, you don’t care why I do these. You want to know why they should care. I see. yes. I think I should really visit that. But… I think it’s because I personally invite them.’

‘No. That’s never it.’

‘Then, it’s because they want to actually get to their projects, but maybe don’t know how to start? Maybe they’re afraid of not finishing, or maybe not doing their work well…’

‘Now, that’s the start of something! Tell me more.’

‘Well, when I get going with these, I notice people say how they appreciate the reminders that float by every week, the ones that come from PayPal, even, that let them know they’ve committed to something. I mean, MH had written that, that there was this kind of accountability partnering that was good about it. This was 2014, so it was all still new, but it’s becoming more short-course stuff so people can feel like they are getting to things, and making progress, even though everything I send is designed to be complete-able within 20 minutes. Just that. It’s not a big ask to make 20 minutes of time out of your week to show up for something you care about, but is maybe in that ‘important but not urgent’ category. Know what I’m talking about? That quadrant thingy? Yeah… I think that is a big part of it. Finishes are tough to come by. But starts are even harder, for so many of us. There’s this paralysis, see, because there are so many options out there. That Q&A with MS recently, that was really great. I learned and saw how one person tackles the starting to start question, the how do I decide on where to begin massive thing that I think is daunting, for a lot of people… doesn’t matter who they are anymore… or where they’re coming from, or what their work is. Project management is constantly being intruded upon by messages blipping out of the aetherspace, commanding their attention. People worry that my projects with them online will take up even more time or be even more e stuff to do, but to be honest, ti’s like a project management kind of a thing for people, in the end. It’s a real person, prompting you to do the thing you’ve committed to doing. you’ve committed to yourself, to show up. And I see now that more than ever this is the crux of it. The pain of starting. The nudge is needed, to get going. Once you do, it’s much easier. But that first step, wow. People really want to do things like write and reflect and journal. Intellectually. Theoretically. But will they make the time? I don’t know about you but I find a lot of talking about this and very little actual doing, when I look around amongst the people whom, for the last 20 years or so, are talking about making but not getting to it. Not getting started.’

‘…’

‘…’

‘Know what I mean?’

‘Yeah. You’re the one that says, Okay, let’s do this. Let’s get started.’

‘That’s exactly what I do. That’s exactly who I am. But I don’t leave people after they join, of course. It’s a 1:1 dialogue for a while, and sometimes it becomes bigger, if and when people are ready for meeting and engaging with new and different others. For inspiration.’

‘Is that it? Inspiration?’

‘People who need inspiration? Yeah. That’s another whole group I can help. Definitely.’

‘But people would say they don’t need inspiration. They would say they don’t need help getting started. What would you say to them?’

‘I’d say, okay, great. Do it. But if you haven’t done it and it’s a year later, let’s talk.’

Making it up as we go >

 

Where great physics intersects with great literature: Outbreaks

NEILS BOHR: ‘There is no quantum world. There’s only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics is what we can say about nature.’

A surprising overlap in thinking: What Neils Bohr and Henry Miller both say about the creative process

SERENDIPITY LANDED IT ON MY LAP.

In a dusty, sun-caked patio of a lending library in Phnom Penh, the worn volume tossed towards me by a longtime friend, with the abrupt grunt, and a halfhearted recommendation. ‘This one, maybe. You might like it, A.’

Henry Miller. The Colossus of Maroussi.

I did.

Too much.

I still haven’t returned it. One day, eventually, but it is too nice to read and reread the dense packets of prose that answer life’s big questions: what is our purpose, how can we reconcile our callings towards the esoteric (live artfully, miraculously) when the world is ravaging itself in global warming, apathy, fragmentation, and war. I lately read classics more and more. They seem to have some of these things organized and carefully, beautifully, and quite convincingly spelled out.

What we are, how we are meant to live, and what we might yet become are super giant metaphysical questions. When I talk about metaphysics, people get kind of all distant and a little weirded out. Science is hard, I get the rebuttal. I spent a lot of time in a part of America with the highest concentration of PhDs (this would be Raleigh-Durham), and often, more often than I care to admit, ran up against the celebration of logic over all.

Logic is a mess. Logic is killing us. And logic isn’t working. When we have the world upping in temperature inch by inch, the empire of Disney comes along and tries to put it out of our mind with a pretty little distracting animation about a world of cold and ice. A movie glorifying war comes out at just exactly the time as, guess what? Real war’s on. This is weird, but this is the world we are in. I was in this bungalow in a hippie outlay in a rural part of Cambodia one day, just hanging out on a hammock, and this older guy gets it that I’m getting him, and just tells me point blank, it’s all over. ‘The truth will be buried in a sea of irrelevance. You should read Aldous Huxley.’ ‘Tell me more.’

CAN’T SAY THAT I AM A BIG READER. I like talking, though. Correspondence in the written form is cool, too. What matters is the quality of exchange. The dialogue. Value is the awareness of something new, an input that is beginning to plant somewhere, and inform the old learnings. I am reading for the sake of curating a magazine. I don’t have much else to read, except what will engage the people I care about. The ones who ask questions.

Miller, describing his thoughts at being taken to an astronomical observatory in Athens along with his friend Lawrence Durrell:

The image I shall always retain is that of Chartres, an effulgent rose window shattered by a hand grenade. I mean it in a double or triple sense—of awesome, indestructible beauty, of cosmic violation, of world ruin suspended in the sky like a fatal omen, of the eternality of beauty even when blasted and desecrated. ‘As above, so below,’ runs the famous saying of Hermes Trismegistus. To see the Pleiades through a powerful telescope is to sense the sublime and awesome truth of these words. In his highest flights,musical and architectural above all, for they are one, man gives the illusion of rivaling the order, the majesty and the splendor of the heavens; in his fits of destruction the evil and the desolation which he spreads seems incomparable until we reflect on the greate stellar shake-ups brought on by the mental aberations of the unknown Wizard. Our hosts seemed impervious to such reflections; they spoke knowingly of weights, distances, substances, etc. They were removed from the normal activities of their fellow-men in quite a different way from ourselves. For them beauty was incidental, for us everything. For them the phsyicomathematical world palped, calibred, weighted and transmitted by their instruments was reality itself, the stars and planets mere proof of their exeellent and infallible reasong. For Durell and myself reality lay wholly beyond the reach of their puny instruments which in themselves were nothing more than clumsy reflections of their circumsribed imagination locked forever inthe hypothetical prison of logic.

Their astronomical figures and calculations, intended to impress and overawe us, only caused us to smiole indulgently or to very impolitely laugh outright at them. Speaking for myself, facts and figures have always left me unimpressed.’ —Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi, published in New Directions Books: New York, 1941

Neils Bohr takes it further

THE WEIRD PART IS this. Henry Miller’s ideas about precision and logic and the people who profess that this is the prime tier of thinking itself is right in line with the physicist who gave us the model of the atom, Neils Bohr.

Now, I have been writing quite a bit here lately about my rambles in DENMARK. And the Neils Bohr Institute visit in particular, for example, features in a strong, central way in the new book I am writing (more on that some other time). Mainly, I wanted to get back to Phnom Penh and find a different library, one that has textbooks and not just novels, so I foudn the ___ university on the second floor above a moto parking lot and went on in, and got to the physics section, which I already knew about because of some old research on Bohm and qualia, and discovered, quite happily, a biography of Neils Bohr.

The man who became so well-loved in Copenhagen that taxi drivers taking physicists invited to study there took no money for their clients when they heard the destination was the Neils Bohr Institute has given us, as Miller, a lot of meaty and comprehensive thought on our collective work in life to be the best humans we can. Like Miller, he gets easily irritated with people who profess to know things, absolutely. What I learned from being in Denmark, as the biographer also comments, is that one must suspend his conditioning that directs us to speak and act as though we are ‘correct.’

There is no quantum world. There’s only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics is what we can say about nature.

–AS

Jai Ranganathan: ‘Sharpen and heighten’

OFFLINE CONVERSATIONS lately are turning to the process itself, and, to take it further, discoveries that happen on the way to ‘making.’ Maybe it’s in the air? Looking back on what creative people have told me about this work of making, I recalled something I learned from science podcaster Jai Ranganathan. (Find him on twitter at @jranganathan.) We had met at a science conference in NC’s Research Triangle Park. That was the kind of place where bunches of people convened to share tips on making science interesting to a general audience, more or less, and I discovered Jai was set to instruct scientists at University of California Santa Barbara on how to use social media.

Conversations about sharing discoveries inspired this interview with Jai Ranganathan.

DK: What do you need to think about when opening a wide-open project like a podcast? That’s a pretty big blank canvas.

JR: First, define your purpose. Then, what’s your scope? Do you want to be a local brand? Have a national audience? If you want a large audience, people really go for video.

DK: OK. So if you know your purpose, then what? Any tips?

JR: Sure.

  1. Think about where can you add value. Ask businesses, ‘What’s a problem you have?,’ and then share, ‘Here’s how we might solve it.’
  2. Give your product away so people want to know more.
  3. You can do latest tips. Interviews. You could have seminars.
  4. Just get started. Do it frequently. Keep it short—2 minutes.

DK: Wait, so you just have to be prolific?

JR: You don’t have to be flashy, or always funny, or the best-looking. But you have to be compelling in your voice. Be engaged, animated, and interesting.

DK: But what about talent?

JR: Talent is overrated. You have to be interesting/entertaining first, or else it doesn’t matter what you have to say!

DK: How do you do that?

JR: Boring podcasts are that way because people are checking boxes off a how-to list, as opposed to doing something that’s really them. Anything creative like this—podcasting, video, or writing—is about deciding what you want to say, and what’s your way of saying it. How to make that your own is key.

DK: How did you get into this?

JR: I was doing my postdoc in conservation biology. If you’re not a scientist, your job is to write papers. I was disenchanted after a while. How likely was it that what I wrote would lead to action? So as a hobby, I started interviewing scientists. I’ve always really liked radio. Someone found me and offered to pay me to do this, so now I have $2,000 broadcast-quality equipment and I make a good living. But, I had hoped more people would listen.

DK: What can others learn?


JR: It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing and why the heck you’re doing it. Don’t make it too scripted. You can have a script, but don’t read it. Imagine somebody giving a talk and reading a script–it’s death! And you know, you have to like doing it. And keep doing it, that’s key. Don’t wait to get good. No one sprouts out of the earth fully formed.

First published in S P A C E