August, 2010

Aug 10

Winging It

I really do not know what I am going to write about for this blog post. I feel like the quality of the post is going to suffer because of it.

Typically, I put a good amount of thought into what I am going to write, the weekend before I post. Almost always, the idea for the post relates to some idea or experience I had the week before. After I give it some thought, the idea behind the post finalizes and I feel comfortable writing the post on Monday.

But this week, I have nothing. So, I just sat down and told myself to start writing. And there are two ways I can intrepret what I am doing.

I could view it as not allowing thought to get in the way of action. I am being mindful while writing. I am going with the flow of the moment. The post will accurately reflect my thoughts. And this post will be better than all of my other posts.

Or I am just winging it. My lack of planning will result in a low quality post. And I won’t get any point across regardless of the amount of effort I put into the actual writing of the post.

Like most things, it is not that extreme and it is not an either/or situation.

I think that there needs to be a little planning beforehand. But I also think that once you sit down to write, you just need to go with the flow.

So, how does this post measure up to my other ones? It brings up interesting points but does not make not make a definitive point. But not all posts need to do that.

Aug 10

Crack in My Windshield

Windshield Crack

I have a crack in my windshield. I got it a few days ago, and I have not had a chance to get it fixed.

Originally, it was not that large. I didn’t see an immediate need to get it fixed. But yesterday, I noticed that the crack had gotten longer.

What had happened that made it bigger? I wasn’t sure. I needed to employ some rational thinking.  And I needed to do it quickly so that I could avoid any situation that would cause more problems.

How much longer was it?  When did it actually increase in size?  Where was the car when it happened?

I could not answer any of those questions with 100% certainty.  I had my suspicions, but I was not sure.

So, I decided to place a smudge on my window at the end of the crack.  Today, I drove my car like normal.  But every time that I got in my car, I checked if the crack had increased in size.

I parked in the parking deck at work in the morning.  I checked the crack size before I went to lunch.  No change.  I parked outside at lunch.  There was no change after the half hour I was at lunch.  I parked in the sun at work after lunch.

Leaving to go home, the crack had increased in size.  My suspicions were confirmed.  Exposure to heat for a long period of time caused the crack to get longer.

I am not sure what made me think to smudge my window, but it set up a situation where I could measure change (however crudely) and the time that the change occurred.

Science can show up in the smallest things.

Photo courtesy of bionicteaching 

Aug 10

The Monty Hall Problem

Three DoorsThinking rationally is difficult. It requires you to be disciplined. You have to follow the rules even when you want to take the easy way out.

You have to follow the rules even when they completely go against your intuition.

In the same spirit as this post, let’s do a quiz.

You are presented with three doors.  Behind one door, there is a brand new car. Behind the other two doors, there are goats.  You are asked to pick one door.  You will receive the item that is behind the door that you choose.

After you pick the door, you are shown a goat behind a door that you did not choose.  This leaves two doors unopened.  The door you chose and one other door. You are then asked if you would like to switch your choice.

Would switching your choice help you win the new car?

Continue reading →

Aug 10

The Novelty of Eastern Thought

I found this post while browsing through Less Wrong a few days ago.

In it, Eliezer Yudkowsky writes about how his writing on rationality has been influenced by Zen and Eastern philosophy in general. He spends a lot of time talking about how his writing is different than the Eastern religions (such as Buddhism and Taoism). But he comes back with saying that the concepts that he is attempting to get across are similar to what Eastern philosophies are attempting to convey.

I feel the same way. Many of my posts have talked about this duality. Just last week. Here. And here.

However, he does describe a possible reason for why his writing (and, in turn, my writing) is influenced by the East. Eastern philosophies are different than what he was raised to believe in. Eastern philosophies are new.

In his post, Yudkowsky writes “If I had grown up in Taiwan, my writing would probably sound far more Buddhist and Taoistic; and perhaps I would talk of the inspiration (though not advice) I had received from reading some Taiwanese book about Greek philosophers, and how I often felt closer to Judaism than my forgotten childhood Buddhism.”

I probably notice the influence of Eastern philosophies more because they are different and new to me. But that does not make their influence or similarities any less meaningful. There are important lessons to be learned from the East. And while the religions that surround these philosophies are filled with gods, worshiping, rituals, suffering, sacrifice, etc., the concepts and practices are very useful and enlightening.

One such practice is mindfulness. In the East, it is surrounded by thousands of years of ritual. This combined with its novelty to Westerners makes it off-putting to many. But I have found it and the practice of thinking rationally the two most effective methods of controlling my thoughts.

So, (just like Yudkowsky mentions in his post) it does not matter how these methods are dressed up and presented to you. If they work, they work.

Aug 10

Solving the Jigsaw

Jigsaw SolvingSometimes mindfulness is not appropriate.  Sometimes rationality is the only way to go.

I sat in front of a jigsaw puzzle the other day and decided to attempt an experiment.

My normal thought process when trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle is to identify an area of the puzzle that I want to fill in, look for a missing piece that is around the edge, identify the part of the picture that is missing and then search for the part of the picture within the pieces that have not been placed yet.  The strategy works to a certain extent, but I wanted to improve it.

I decided to employ mindfulness to help the puzzle solving process.  I identified an area of the puzzle I wanted to solve.  I saw a missing piece and the missing part of the picture.  I then turned off my mind.

Continue reading →