Monthly Archives: April 2010

Sincerity and selves

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Following up to “Why so many self-help books?“.

According to David J. Gordon in Shavian comedy and the shadow of Wilde

But Wilde’s dandies are self-possessed because, paradoxically, there is no single self for them to defend, only a mask or persona to adopt opportunistically; it is in fact Wilde’s main argument against “sincerity” that it must be false because there are many selves.

His footnote cites The Picture of Dorian Gray

For the canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of art. Form is absolutely essential to it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightful to us. Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities. 

Such, at any rate, was Dorian Gray’s opinion. He used to wonder at the shallow psychology of those who conceive the ego in man as a thing simple, permanent, reliable, and of one essence. To him, man was a being with myriad lives and myriad sensations, a complex multiform creature that bore within itself strange legacies of thought and passion, and whose very flesh was tainted with the monstrous maladies of the dead.

and The Critic As Artist

ERNEST. Well, at least, the critic will be sincere.

GILBERT. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. The true critic will, indeed, always be sincere in his devotion to the principle of beauty, but he will seek for beauty in every age and in each school, and will never suffer himself to be limited to any settled custom of thought or stereotyped mode of looking at things. He will realise himself in many forms, and by a thousand different ways, and will ever be curious of new sensations and fresh points of view. Through constant change, and through constant change alone, he will find his true unity. He will not consent to be the slave of his own opinions. For what is mind but motion in the intellectual sphere? The essence of thought, as the essence of life, is growth. You must not be frightened by word, Ernest. What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities.

Aside: Unrelated to selves, but also about sincerity, from The Picture of Dorian Gray

“I don’t agree with a single word that you have said, and, what is more, Harry, I feel sure you don’t either.”

   […] “How English you are Basil! That is the second time you have made that observation. If one puts forward an idea to a true Englishman — always a rash thing to do — he never dreams of considering whether the idea is right or wrong. The only thing he considers of any importance is whether one believes it oneself. Now, the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it. Indeed, the probabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purely intellectual will the idea be, as in that case it will not be coloured by either his wants, his desires, or his prejudices. […]”

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Learning to dream, dreaming to learn

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Elsewhere I wrote

Dreaming, done well, is the most positive action.

According to Tara Parker-Pope

Whether someone can ultimately harness the power of dreaming to improve learning is an open question, but Dr. Stickgold does have a suggestion for students or others trying to master a task or study subject.

“If you’re a student and you want to do better on the test, you might need to dream about it,” Dr. Stickgold said. “The question is, ‘How do I get myself to dream about it?’ The answer is to get excited about it. That seems to be what you dream about.”

Opportunity doesn’t knock

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They say, when opportunity knocks, open the door. But the only ones who knock on my door are mailmen and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Opportunity doesn’t knock, nor does it “come just like a thief in the night”. According to H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.

which is often paraphrased as

Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.

According to Woody Allen

80% of success is showing up.

Bad karma

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I wrote elsewhere

The deep lie beneath the jolly surface lie [of Santa Claus] is karma — a causal arrow from my personal choice of naughty or nice to whether I’ll taste every good thing in life or only the switch’s sting. If the horn of plenty flows to me like the hot water in my morning shower, while those others must fetch back their rations in a dirty old bucket, well then, I deserve it and so do they.

Their pain isn’t as motivating as your pain

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Following up to Solution orientation and Busy bee.

According to Ed Sperling

There has been much talk about holistic design, but at most companies architecture and design are not part of a holistic approach. Neither is software development, which remains a separate world even though the majority of engineers being hired at chip companies are software engineers. But engineers in many companies continue to function in silos rather than as part of end-to-end teams.

“The work gets done, although it’s painful and highly iterative,” said Gianfagna. “But it’s because the work gets done that there hasn’t been a big change in thinking.”

Maybe it all comes down to who is feeling the pain. According to General Public

It’s a matter of order
It’s a matter of class
First to get told
Are the last to get asked
Just mind your ass
When the buck gets passed

Wild fluctuations in asset prices show we know nothing

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Investing your capital is a difficult puzzle! But a puzzle that can’t be avoided, because your capital is always invested in one investment vehicle or another, even if it’s just gold coins buried under the roses. (No, I didn’t do that. Please don’t dig up my roses.)

The greatest puzzle for me is the wild fluctuation of asset prices. This seems to show that far from being a market with perfect knowledge, it’s instead a market with hardly any knowledge. If the main players had much knowledge — about current facts, the underlying processes, or the future that will result from them — then the prices would be very stable until some unforeseen event, such as an exploding volcano, added significant new knowledge to the game.

And it does seem to be little more than a game, like high-stakes poker in a card club. Even if there were any big guys with real knowledge, they’d be using it to get superrich, not sharing it with me in the pages of the Wall Street Journal or a newsletter from a bank.

Or maybe it’s a crooked game. According to the cliché, “The best way to predict your future is to create it!”, so it’s possible that the superrich are able to manipulate the market enough that they can cause and profit from predictable fluctuations. If so, they aren’t going to tell me about that either.

But you’ve got to put your retirement money somewhere.

It’s paralyzing.

Update: Eating an early dinner in the break room, my compulsively reading eyes fell on the June 8, 2010, Wall Street Journal. I read an interesting column by Sam Mamudi titled “Bond-Fund Managers See Signs of a Bubble: Heavy Inflows and Naivete About Losses”. I then turned over page C11 to see a story on page C12 by Richard Barley titled “For Bonds: Give Credit Where Credit is Due” that begins

During 2009’s rush to risk, stocks and corporate bonds soared in tandem. Renewed fear over slow growth and sovereign debt could break the link — with bonds the winners.

Maybe they are talking about different time frames, but is there really any reason to believe any of this, or is it just astrology?

The Internet as the brain of Metaman

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Reviewing Jeffrey M. Stibel’s Wired for Thought, Patrick Tucker writes

Missing from this engaging and persuasive book is any doubt or hesitation that a future smarter, more brainlike Internet is a good thing. A cautious pause may be in order. The basics of biology suggest that intelligent creatures prioritize their own survival above the well-being of others. We evolved our smarts to better survive in a competitive, difficult environment. If the Internet is a brain, the question becomes, what does it think of us?

That reminded me of Gregory Stock’s Metaman. According to its Wikipedia entry

it is possible to imagine a superorganism that incorporates men as its ‘cells’ and entices them to sustain it