Category: Inspirational

The body as the yardstick for meaning

| May 8, 2016 | Reply

Mark Johnson (of “Metaphors we live By,” written with George Lakoff) gave this excellent talk destroying the notion that meaning is something ethereal and disembodied. Instead, the body is the yardstick for meaning. This talk turns much of traditional epistemology upside down.

Johnson opens the talk with a Billy Collins talk titled “Purity.”


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Quotes on dangers of materialism

| May 5, 2016 | 1 Reply

I offer these quotes as a hypocrite who strives to live less in the world of things.  I found many of these on a site called Tentmaker.

It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly. –Thoreau 

Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for itself, but because it will content your spirit for the moment. –Mark Twain

An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit. –Pliny the Younger

Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.— Thoreau

Possessions are usually diminished by possession. –Nietzsche

The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury. –Charlie Chaplin

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. –Thoreau

The man who pets a lion may tame it, but the man who coddles the body makes it ravenous.– John Climacus

The most terrible thing about materialism, even more terrible than its proneness to violence, is its boredom, from which sex, alcohol, drugs, all devices for putting out the accusing light of reason and suppressing the unrealizable aspirations of love, offer a prospect of deliverance. –Malcolm Muggeridge

All earthly joy begins pleasantly, but at the end it gnaws and kills. –Thomas a’Kempis

You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. –Charles Haddon Spurgeon 

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.–Mahatma Gandhi 

Thousands upon thousands are yearly brought into a state of real poverty by their great anxiety not to be thought of as poor.—Robert Mallett

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. –Jim Elliot

The be-all and end-all of life should not be to get rich, but to enrich the world. — B. C. Forbes

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.–D. Elton Trueblood 

Learn to live a life of honest poverty, if you must, and turn to more important matters than transporting gold to your grave. – Credenda

That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. — Thoreau


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Guided meditation Video

| October 7, 2014 | Reply

I’ve soured on Sam Harris over the years, but I still find him to be highly articular and engaging.

In recent weeks, some friends have indicated that I look absorbed and even anxious, even though my life is filled with joys and possibilities. I have been told that I have tied myself in knots, and I have heard, “You need to get out of your own way.” For the umpteenth time, it has been suggested that I consider meditation in order to clear my mind.

You can learn about meditation in many places. I’ve read articles and even a book on meditation. Today, I stumbled across this video by Sam Harris, who has long been an advocate of meditation. The fact that he is also well versed in cognitive science caused me to be interested in his approach to meditation. This is a 26 minute guided meditation. I found myself surprisingly able to hang onto the process and to escape some of the things that have been distracting me as I viewed this video. I’m going to come back to this several more times, while I continue to explore personal meditation.


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True war heroes

| March 29, 2014 | Reply

Many of us “Support the U.S. Troops” in the Middle East even though we have no idea what they are doing on a day to day basis. There is no significant news reporting from the areas where the soldiers do whatever they do, so many Americans fills this vacuum with hopeful imagination. I don’t. I assume the worst. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and there is no sunshine where the U.S. military is operating in the Middle East. At any time over the past ten years, you could read 100 consecutive days of most any local newspaper, and you wouldn’t know anything about the day to day conduct of members of the U.S. military. You would barely know that we were at war. There have been no meaningful photos and no stories to advise us of what is really going on, where our heavily armed military encounters civilians.

Nonetheless, in our ignorance, we declare ALL troops to be heroes, clapping for them at baseball games and other social events, having no idea what they are actually doing. Imagine honoring any other profession, not having any self-critical information with regard to that person’s activities. “Ladies and Gentlemen, let me hear a round of applause for Joe, who is a great musician,”imagine everyone in the room clapping, even though none of them had ever heard of Joe, and none of them have heard him play even one note.

Sometimes we do learn what a soldier has actually done, and sometimes it is a actually the story of a hero. Take the case of Hugh Thompson, who stepped up to do what was right, at his own risk:

Returning to the My Lai area at around 0900 after refueling, he noticed that the people he had marked were now dead. Out in a paddy field beside a dike 200 metres (660 ft) south of the village, he marked the location of a wounded young Vietnamese woman. Thompson and his crew watched from a low hover as Captain Ernest Medina (commanding officer of C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment) came up to the woman, prodded her with his foot, and then shot and killed her.

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In New Zealand, an historic vote on gay marriage, and then a song

| April 20, 2013 | Reply

New Zealand recognizes gay marriage:


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Don’t give up on your dreams to change the world

| February 21, 2013 | Reply

Bryon Reese urges that we not give up on our dreams to change the world. Don’t succumb to apathy and pessimism. It’s time to get to work, regardless of the perceived obstacles or the long odds of success.

Resse’s TED talk reminded me of this quote:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand,” he tells his children. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.

Atticus Finch, in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”


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Inspiration to keep trying

| January 30, 2013 | 1 Reply

Things weren’t easy for the Beatles in the beginning, and this article (and video) make that clear. I find this to be inspirational–in the beginning of an endeavor, you often need to swallow your pride and just keep working at things. Many worthwhile projects are marathons, not sprints.  Further, the 10,000 hour rule will often be part of the process, you aren’t an expert at what you are trying to be, not at the very beginning.


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Why keep trying to clean up corrupt political systems?

| January 26, 2013 | 1 Reply

Why keep trying to clean up corrupt political systems? Glenn Greenwald offers this advice:

[O]ne indisputable lesson that history teaches is that any structures built by human beings – no matter how formidable or invulnerable they may seem – can be radically altered, or even torn down and replaced, by other human beings who tap into passions and find the right strategy. So resignation – defeatism – is always irrational and baseless, even when it’s tempting.

I think the power of ideas is often underrated. Convincing fellow citizens to see and care about the problems you see and finding ways to persuade them to act is crucial. So is a willingness to sacrifice. And to create new ways of activism, even ones that people look askance at, rather than being wedded to the approved conventional means of political change (the ballot box).

For reasons I alluded to above, putting fear (back) in the heart of those who wield power in the public and private sector is, to me, the key goal. A power elite that operates without fear of those over whom power is exercised is one that will be limitlessly corrupt and abusive.


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Haven’t you ever read . . . ?

| December 19, 2011 | 9 Replies
Haven’t you ever read . . . ?

I am often asked whether I’ve read a particular book, and I usually haven’t because there are a gazillion new books published every year. Here’s what I say: “No, I haven’t read THAT book. Thank you for your suggestion.” Here’s what I think: Please quit acting as though I haven’t been doing any serious reading just because I haven’t read the book that YOU just told me to read.

For the past 20 years, I have been on a quest to grasp a somewhat detailed understanding of human animals. This has been a rather intense pursuit, jump-started (for about 5 years beginning in 2006) by my auditing of more than 30 hours of graduate level cognitive science courses at nearby Washington University in St. Louis. During the past 20 years, I have read almost entirely non-fiction, and I’ve been rather careful to limit my topics mostly to the topics represented by the books below. Recently, I decided to inventory what I have been reading. I’m not entirely sure why I did this. Perhaps it is because the end of the year is approaching, which tends to be a time for reflection regarding who we are and where we are headed. What better way for a writer to determine his direction based upon the books he has especially admired for the past two decades?

Thus I took an inventory of the non-fiction books I have read that have significantly influenced me. I tend to make many notes on the books I own (I haven’t started into electronic books yet), and I retain them in my “library,” which is actually a storage room that contain lots of other household items. Yesterday, I ventured into my library with the intent of documenting the books that have especially impressed and challenged me. I ended up selecting less than 20% of the books I own for this honor. What follows below is a list of such books, all of which I have read over the past 20 years.

It is not a perfect list. I am sure that there are many dozens of other books that I have overlooked. I probably own 500 books that I have only browsed so far, or not even begun, yet look promising. I’m more and more convinced that I will never read most of my unread books unless I win the lottery and retire. I try to not keep a steady course, though my quest seems hopeless. I’m reminded of this hopelessness every time I stumble on a pile of 30 unread and partially read books by the side of my bed.

In my list below, I have only included those books that I have actually read. I would highly recommend any of them. I have not included in many other books I have read that I would consider merely been useful or “good.” As I made my list, it occurred to me that I have been greatly influenced by more than books. I have read far more pages of online or in paper magazine articles than book pages. More recently, I’ve been impressed by many video and in-person presentations/lectures. I have also corresponded with many people over the years on these topics, including many of the authors of the books in my list. I’ve poured immense time into my reading and writing. It surprised me how much material I have reviewed in 20 years, considering that I also have a day job as a consumer lawyer and also try to spend time with my family.

It occurs to me that I am extremely lucky to be living in a time and place where I can benefit from so many incredible ideas developed be others. Each of these authors spends his or her entire life working hard, and then I simply scoop up the their life’s work by investing a mere day or two or reading. I have mentioned many of these books and authors in the five years that I’ve been writing at this website; I find that writing comments about these book helps me to absorb the material better.

It also occurs to me that I would not be at all who I am had I not seriously read the books in my list. I make reference to many of these ideas many times each day. To the extent that I have been able to come up with interesting ideas, it is quite likely that “my” ideas came, directly or indirectly, from these books, and that I am thus standing on the shoulders of giants (there I go again with the borrowing). Without further ado, here many of my favorite non-fiction books, broken into a few general categories:

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