Longform interview (podcast) with Cal Fussman

I enjoy almost all the podcast episodes with Tim Ferriss, but one of the most recent, with Cal Fussman, was an absolute delight to listen to. Cal is a great story teller.

He speaks about his encounters with Muhammad Ali, that I found endearing. Also Cal and Tim talk about interviewing styles and writing.

Sheer enjoyment, thanks Tim and Cal!



Central theme in my meditations and writings at the moment is Not-Knowing. I am influenced by The Zen Peacemakers Sangha, whose tenets are:

  1. Not-Knowing by giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe
  2. Bearing Witness to the joy and suffering of the world
  3. Taking Action that arises from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness

Buddhist meditation teachers often say that the practitioner should not judge, or have opinions about others, either positive or negative. I think that the moral position of Not-Knowing goes even one step further, because when I have the choice of either judging or not judging, that implies that I have an understanding about the other. In taking the position of Not-Knowing, I do not even pretend to understand, because usually understanding comes with preconceptions, e.g. labels or categories that you impose on the other. Therefore, Not-Knowing is more free.

In the video below, the psychotherapist Harlene Anderson explains this concept in a way that accords a lot with my experience.

Second Thoughts About The First World

Photo of an Arabic beggar
Photo courtesy of Fatimeh Nadimi

We live in the first world and we are very lucky. We have more than enough material wealth, we belong to the richest countries in the world. During my upbringing, I was told that the reason that we are rich, is that we are a developed nation. Countries like Ghana are poor and that can be explained, because Ghana is not yet developed as fully as our country.

Recently, I wonder if it is not the other way around. Richness always brings forth development of science and art. The Italian Renaissance was also the time of greatest relative wealth. Later on, in the same country, production of art declined together with the economy.

We are developed because we are rich. Do not use development as legitimization for wealth. Development is equal to wealth. There is only wealth versus poverty.

Follow-up On Work The System

Cover of The Systems Mindset

Sam Carpenter is the author of the terrific book Work The System. I wrote about it here. The content was mainly about business, so about the running of a company using standardized procedures.

Now, Sam has published a follow-up, which centers around your personal life. Is is called The Systems Mindset and is available for free here.

I highly recommend it, I will write a review of this inspiring book later.

The Next Large Civilization Stage? The Internet

Courtesy of Leo Koolhoven
Courtesy of Leo Koolhoven

Below are, as I see them, the phases of civilization of humans, from 12,500 years ago until the next 200 years. I see five phases, although there might be more later on.

1. Villages
12,500 years ago, in the Holocene age, the Agricultural Revolution happened. People invented how to domesticate plants (crops) and animals. Agriculture evolved. People settled in houses and started to live in villages for the first time.

2. Cities and states
After that roughly 6,000 years ago, the Secondary Products Revolution took place, where crafts and commerce originated. People made products from the domesticated plants and animals. After that, the first cities were built.

3. Discovery, travel
Then, the age of discovery, where people travelled and inhabited the world. In this age, the world’s seas and oceans were crossed by explorers. Colonies where concurred and occupied. Global trade originated.

4. Urbanisation
In recent history, man moved en masse from the rural villages to the cities. In 2050, more than 60% of man will live in cities. We now live in the age of Anthropocene, because man has severely impacted the earth and the atmosphere.

5. The Global Network
The next phase in settlement: the Internet and the future social media. Although physically, people do not migrate, but their consciousness and senses will be connected to The Global Network, in something that will be future of social media. Therefore, I see the Internet as the next big civilization phase.

The Dalai Lama And The Definition Of Happiness

Picture of the robe of the 14th Dalai Lama (red)
Picture courtesy of Christofer Michel

“I believe the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in that religion or this religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness…”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

The Dalai Lama often writes that all sentient beings strive for happiness. But what is the definition of happiness other than that what one strives for? Therefore claiming that everyone strives for happiness is not usefull, it contains no information.

In the post On The Measurability of Happiness on Philosophy Forums, Phelgm gives an operational meaning of the term.

Subjective well-being is how good a person feels about his well-being: if I feel good about my well-being, then I could be called happy, and if I don’t feel good about my well-being, I can be called unhappy.

I studied psychology in the eighties, when behaviourism was still popular. Our professor of biological psychology, quite minimalistically, explained:

We asume that whatever the organism strives for, is what makes it happy. This is the operational definition of happiness.

So I think that the proposition that we strive to happiness is empty. It delivers no new information

Altruism In Conflict

Photo Courtesy of Riccardo Cuppini
Photo Courtesy of Riccardo Cuppini

I struggle with the concept of altruism. As I understand it from Buddhist literature, the practice of altruism is striving for the happiness and well being of every sentient being. Recently, Matthieu Ricard published a whole book about this subject. It is on my to read list. Matthieu Ricard is one of my favorite authors.

In society however, people have conflicting interests. If I strive for the happiness of the one, often this means the misfortune of the other.

Parable of the Island
An elderly man and his two adult sons are on summer vacation on a beautiful island. They enjoyed their time together and on the last day, their plane back home will depart on 11 AM. The eldest son wants to go fishing with his dad. The youngest son wants to take his father to another part of the island, to visit a village with a old church. There is no time to do both. How can the old man be altruistic? When he endorses the one, he disappoints the other.

Altruism means that you should never decide based on your own interest, but on that of the other (altero). Is altruism still possible when there are two or more opposing others, in a situation of conflict?

At the end of the day, everyone’s friend is no one’s friend.
(Italian proverb)

A solution to overcome the problem of conflicting interests, is to focus on a synthesis, a cause that transcends the opposing parties.

This brings me to the work of Bernie Glassman of the Zen Peacemakers Sangha, who teaches a method of being present in a situation or area of conflict, concentrating (meditating) and then as if by divine inspiration, the synthesis or higher cause reveales itself to you.

Photo of Bernie Glassman

Photo courtesy of Joan Halifax

Some thoughts of Roshi Bernard Glassman:

We bear witness to the joy and suffering that we encounter. Rather than observing the situation, we become the situation. We became intimate with whatever it is – disease, war, poverty, death. When you bear witness you’re simply there, you don’t flee.

My opinion of Loving Actions are those actions that arise naturally when one enters a situation in the state of not-knowing and then bears witness to that situation. It has nothing to do with the one’s opinions or other’s opinions as to whether it is loving actions or not.

My conclusion: the Buddhist practitioner who follows the altruistic ideal, should meditate on how he lives, chooses and acts in the midst of war, chaos and conflict. Altruism is never easy or simple.

TED talk by Matthieu Ricard

Work the System and The OS Fund

Picture courtesy of halfrain (Flickr)
In the book Work The System, Sam Carpenter states that reality is composed of a large number of systems, that for 96% work flawlessly:

I work the system, but not just one. I work all the systems in my control— professional, financial, social, biological, and mechanical. You have your own systems. Do you see them? Do you control them? It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO, employee, stay-at-home mom or dad, retiree, or student. Your life is composed of systems that are yours to control—or not control.

My personal summary of the method:

  1. Identify or define a system, for instance your weekly shopping round
  2. Design ways to decompose the workings of this system, identify ways to control it
  3. Compose the improved version of the system by writing a procedure or installing a life hack
  4. After every iteration, evaluate the improvements (Kaizen)

Reading this book certainly changed my perspective, my way of looking at my circumstances. Most people define a large portion of the things happening to them as fate and feel helpless about a lot of their life events. When you have the epiphany of, what the author calls, the systems mindset, you not only recognise a lot of systems in your life, but you can also design ways to control them and thereby improving the outcome of the circumstances to your advantage.

Systems are everywhere, even your own body and health can be viewed as systems that are either under your control or not, but when you can control them, you should try to improve.

The systems mindset is rational, the way to optimize the systems is largely a cerebral activity, spirituality, emotions, the heart, are not considered by the author. That is a limitation of the approach but still I find this way to reduce learned helplessness very inspiring.

The OS Fund

Last month, I listened to the conversation between Tim Ferriss and Bryan Johnson, investor. They talked about the so called OS Fund. This fund of 100 M US$, promotes the mindset of what they call analysing the underlying operating system of phenomena, like economics, medicine, trade, aviation, space travel, etc.

In the same way that computers have operating systems at their core — dictating the way a computer works and serving as a foundation upon which all applications are built — everything in life has an operating system (OS). It is at the OS level that we most frequently experience a quantum leap in progress.

Bryan Johnson, courticy of Wikipedia

Bryan Johnson has high ambitions. We can improve the intricate mechanics of reality, just like we can improve the operating system of a computer.

OS Fund Manifesto
Free pdf or audio book of Work The System
Follow-Up on Work The System, with focus on personal life.

Slow Computing

Last week, I read this new and inspiring testimonial: The Joy Of Slow Computing

When I use open source software, I am no longer a consumer, but a member of a user/developers community. If my Yosemite has a bug, I can complain to the multi billion dollar company Apple, that probably doesn’t care for me as an individual. Not so with Zotero, Inkscape, Firefox or any other great open source creation; I can visit the friendly virtual village, for help or even bug fixes, that are tailored to my needs.

As Eric Raymond has written in The Cathedral And The Bazaar, this is a fundamental shift in experiencing software.

Picture of arduino electronics

Photo courtecy of uosɐɾ ɹnɥʇɹɐɔɯ.

See also: Are You A Consumer or Community Player?