Why Knowledge is Essential to Life



The sun also arises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
All rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
Ecclesiastes 1: 5 – 7

Why Patterns are Essential to Knowledge
Patterns are rather amazing things. We depend on patterns to help us make sense of the universe. For example, we see that the sun eventually disappears from our sight within a twenty-four hour period, and that the sky grows dark. However, the disappearance of the sun does not cause us to panic because we know that it will eventually reappear in the sky, bringing light to our world. We know this because this is the pattern we have observed for millennia. Picture it otherwise. Can you imagine what the world–our lives–would be like if this phenomenon happened at random, unpredictable intervals? This pattern is one of the kindnesses of the universe.

Why Time is Essential to Patterns
Time allows a pattern to be identified. We measure the length of intervals during which things remain the same, when they change, and how long the change lasts until it is replaced by another change. When the changes repeat themselves at regular intervals, they reveal a pattern. Because time is so intimately related to patterns, I find the length of time intervals of particular interest.

Why Measurement is Essential to Time
If a time interval is too short or too long, the pattern–if it exists–may remain undetected. Take, for example, the pattern of a hummingbird’s wing beats. To the unaided eye, it looks like a blur. Only when time is artificially slowed can one see the wing beats’ pattern. On the other hand, suppose that low tides occurred only once every ten thousand years. How would we know that high tides existed? The Bible tells the story of a great flood that covered the earth. What if that was part of a pattern that happened over a long interval of time?

Why Perspective is Essential to Measurement
Sometimes I wonder if the things that appear linear or exponential are actually part of a sinusoidal pattern. It’s a possibility. Every curve looks like a line if you zoom in close enough. For years, humans believed the earth was flat because they were too close to the curve to see it. (I recently read that there are some people that still hold that belief.) But how does one know that the line which one sees is in reality a curve? How does one “zoom out?” How does one shorten a too-long time interval? What is needed is a “wrinkle in time.” Does such a thing exist? I got a hint of an answer after reading The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, but that is for another post.






“Mathematics gives a voice to the vision inspired by real world phenomena. The best writing does the same.”
The Book of Rhino

(Painting by Jose Alvarez)

Emotional Manipulation


“The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized by the possessor.”
Jane Austen ~ Pride and Prejudice

Investigating the Source of Fear
I usually taught a unit on logic and critical thinking to my calculus students after the AP exam. I would give them dozens of advertisements pulled from magazines and would ask them to choose the one they liked the best. Then we could discuss their choice; in particular, we focused on the strongest emotion they experienced when looking at the picture. The point of the exercise was to investigate the emotional response that advertisers and marketers try to evoke in order to sell their products. My late father-in-law was advertising manager for a local newspaper and understood the efficacy of manipulating the emotions. He gave me a book to read titled Subliminal Seduction by Wilson Bryan Key that explained the concept in detail. It was an illuminating and rather frightening book. According to the author, every word and image of an advertisement is carefully choreographed to manipulate human behavior by playing on human emotions.

Examining the Purpose of Fear
I think of that when I see the current ads on television and the Internet and wonder what emotions are being played. Many of the ads have incorporated a time factor to their message, in that whatever the product, it either speeds up or slows down the passage of time. There are some products that claim one can do things faster with faster being assumed to be better. But it is? Why is faster equated with better? Why the need for speed?

For a possible answer, I investigated the emotions being massaged by such advertising and concluded that the most plausible one is fear–a very powerful emotion.

Identifying the Personality of Fear
The rise in online networking and social media has intensified an anxiety known as FOMO or “fear of missing out.” Some people are afraid that everyone else is experiencing something important that they are not. Their fear can dictate their behavior; it is not unusual for them to camp out overnight in line for the latest movie, the newest phone, or best bargain on Black Friday. Advertisers and marketers play on this fear, especially when it comes to being left behind the “cool” people. Given the abundance of ads that use the FOMO strategy, I conclude that it must work. In his book, Key emphasized that the expense of a marketing campaign greatly influences how a product or service is advertised. Companies do not invest money into an ad campaign that does not prove effective. Therefore, there must be enough people for whom FOMO influences to make it worthwhile to use as an advertising tool. Who are these people for whom the need for speed is a necessity? Who are the most likely to respond to an emotional prompt? For the answer, I looked to the Enneagram.

There are three personality types who are motivated primarily by their emotions: Type Two, the Helper; Type Three, the Achiever, and Type Four, the Romantic. Of these three, only the Achiever is oriented toward the future, which is the logical time orientation of the speed associated with growth. I find this interesting; the Achievers are the most likely sellers, and they are also the most likely buyers of what the Achievers have to sell. It makes sense in that they know how to communicate with one another, speaking as it were the same language.

Overcoming the Seduction of Fear
I do not know how cognizant or comfortable people are with emotional manipulation, but I do have a few recommendations for those who wish to avoid it.

  1. Imagine doing without something that you have or want to have and identify the immediate emotion produced. If you feel disappointed, angry, depressed, or some other unpleasant emotion, then consider why you feel that way. Is this response proportionate to the object denied? Feeling annoyed that the grocery store is out of fuyu persimmons is not the same as launching into a purple-faced tirade about it. Sit with the idea of not having what you want until your emotional response is satisfactory to you.
  2. Determine whether it is a need or a want. Try to place it on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If it is not a ready fit, it probably is a want. How much value do you place on something you want? What is it worth to you? Are you comfortable being emotionally manipulated to have it? If not, then go back to #1.
  3. Picture what you want in the hands of someone you do not like. (This may be difficult if you like everybody.) Can you live with the object of your desire in someone else’s possession, or does the very thought make the sun dark in your eyes? If the latter, then practice #1.

I did not grow up with emotional manipulation; it was not our family culture, so it was not until I was twelve years old that I experienced my first taste of it. For a while, I was powerless against it, having no clue what was going on. At the time, I concluded that I was going insane. Eventually, I learned a few tools for dealing with it, the chief of which is that knowledge is power. Understanding is more than half the battle. That was the reason I presented my students with a lesson on logic and critical thinking. Most of them were seniors heading off to college, and I wanted to prepare them for some of the non-academic, social issues they would face. It was a lesson they always found fascinating. I am fascinated by the subject myself and consider it well worth a side journey on the Time Project.




Is It Possible to Sell a Secret?



They Have a Secret
There are a great many books written about secrets; their titles are generic. The Secret to Success, The Secret to Popularity, The Secret to Selling, etc. With so many secrets being sold, are there any left to sell? The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Secret Life of Bees, The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. The irony in selling a secret to the public is that, once it is revealed, it is no longer a secret. But people keep buying it; like Schrödinger’s cat, it is simultaneously both alive and dead. But a universe observed is a universe altered by the observation.

I Have a Secret
I, too, have secrets: a secret for success, a secret to popularity–why, I even have a secret for selling mathematics to teenagers, but my secrets are not for sale. Why? It’s because I do not know what they are; my secrets are very secretive, even from me. Oh, I have some reasonable conjectures based on empirical evidence and analysis but nothing definitive. I don’t know enough about my secrets to say, “Aha! I have a secret to sell.”

Archimedes Had a Secret
Getting back to the idea of selling secrets: The secrets I have investigated thus far are not really secrets, at least, not in the sense of being revelations. They are more like common sense ideas that have been wafting around for years that anyone could identify by observing real world phenomena. I suppose whenever a new technology is invented, it is followed by a flurry of secrets on how to best appropriate it. I imagine after Archimedes invented the catapult, some enterprising Achiever produced a pamphlet titled The Secret to Getting the Most out of Your Catapult: The Perfect Arc to Hit Your Mark.

Some Secrets are More Serious Than Others
The Underground Man did not sell his secret, at least not intentionally. He gave it to Liza for the price of her body. His tragedy was not knowing his secret until Liza exposed it; Liza’s tragedy was finding herself possessing a secret that was not intend for sale. How could it be? Who would buy the secret of being a sick man, a spiteful man, an unattractive man. Those secrets are never for sale, yet it was freely given to Liza. The Underground Man hid his questions in her face but never looked for answers. His secret was that his consciousness was his disease. Poor man…he thought it was his liver.

(Hmm…I had a mass on my spleen. Is that where my secrets are hiding?)

The Secret to Levity is No Secret
I don’t think it is possible to sell a secret. But what do I know? It’s a secret. But I can always find a way to laugh, even when I don’t feel like it. The secret? It’s from H. L. Mencken.

Most of the sorrows of man, I incline to think, are caused by just such repining. Alone among the animals, he is dowered with the capacity to invent imaginary worlds, and he is always making himself unhappy trying to move into them. Thus he underrates the world in which he actually lives, and so misses most of the fun of it. That world, I am convinced, could be materially improved, but even as it stands it is good enough to keep any reasonable man entertained for a lifetime.




Why Are the Most Popular Websites Run by Achievers?

Michael Fishing

Aldo Leopold and his brother explored the Delta of the Colorado River by canoe in 1922.

“On the map the Delta was bisected by the river, but in fact the river was nowhere and everywhere, for he could not decide which of a hundred green lagoons offered the most pleasant and least speedy path to the Gulf. So he traveled them all, and so did we. He divided and rejoined, he twisted and turned, he meandered in awesome jungles, he all but ran in circles, he dallied with lovely groves, he got lost and was glad of it, and so were we. For the last word in procrastination, go travel with a river reluctant to lose his freedom in the sea.”
A Sand County Almanac

The Time Project is the river I am currently exploring; I am in no hurry. One of the pathways the river has led me to is the breeding ground of The Most Popular Blogs, each with its own nesting place. The nests are all very similar. The ones I have investigated thus far all show signs of being built by Achievers–Personality Type Three on the Enneagram.

Their common characteristics are they successful at making money online, and they share advice on how other people can do likewise. They want to help people with their problems, and from reading their blogs, I gather that one of the problems people have is not making the amount of money they want to make in the time in which they want to make it. I think the Achievers want to speed up the moneymaking process for people.

Some of the most popular blogs have podcasts or Q&A sessions where people can ask questions. Most of the questions are about making money; more specifically, they are about monetizing something online. They want to know how to grow followers, increase Internet traffic, start a business, be an entrepreneur, or get links to their websites. One young man, bouncing off the screen, (no doubt to demonstrate his boundless energy) wanted to know how to monetize his energy. (Hmm…Essence of Energy, bottled and for sale.)

So why do these popular websites exhibit the characteristics of the Achievers? Well, it’s because Achievers are Out There. To borrow from Ayn Rand, they are “the day after tomorrow.” Their time reference is the future, and their motivational center is in the emotions. Also called Motivators, they are energetic, efficient, industrious, and competent. The national identity of our country is Achiever, imported from the Europeans who first migrated to America and pushed from the east coast to the west. It makes sense that the Achievers currently dominate the Internet. It is a Great New Thing, a Brave New World to conquer. Their ubiquitous presence on social media fosters the illusion that everyone is an Achiever–or at least wants to be–but that is not true. There are other personality types who also write blogs and want to help people. But right now, theirs are not the most popular websites. That may change when Time eventually favors sustainability over growth. I’ll wait and see. I am in no hurry. In the meantime, the nesting grounds of the Achievers afford a wonderful opportunity for observation.

Next Time Project Post: Is It Possible to Sell a Secret?



When It’s Good to Do As They Say and As They Do

Ivan-Waves at Night

I would rather be adrift in my own turbulent sea than safely secured to someone else’s anchor. Still, I am thankful to those who showed me how to sail the ship.
The Book of Rhino

Home Environment
My parents were socially engaged people. They made friends easily and got along with almost everyone they met. I cannot remember anyone not liking my parents. They hosted dinner parties, cocktail parties, barbecues, and church study groups. My dad was a salesman who traveled during the week to service his customers. My mother was active in a sorority and in our church. She volunteered for fund-raisers and cub scout events. She knew all the neighbors. Two memories stand out of how their social life influenced mine. It was when I was sixteen.

At the beginning of my sixteenth summer, my dad sprained his ankle and could not drive. He volunteered me as his designated driver for the next two weeks while he made his sales calls in the Four Corners area. Although I groused about it at first, it turned out to be the best two weeks of the summer. Every morning we would leave for one of the surrounding towns, speeding down the highway at seventy to eighty miles an hour. It was great. My dad sold parts to machine shops, auto and truck repair shops and parts houses. During a call, I sat in the car or in the office and read. The smell of oil, the whine of a pneumatic drill, the stacks of order forms held down by boxes of nuts and bolts, the mandatory playboy calendar, and the low rumble of masculine laughter wafted into my subconscious like second-hand smoke. The very air breathed testosterone. Even though I did not know any of my father’s customers, I felt I could greet anyone of them as “Earl” and the name would fit.

My father’s voice subtly altered in tone and vocabulary when he was at his craft. It was the same at the truck stops where we ate lunch. He knew the waitresses and the regulars by name. I was aware of the elbow jabs and ribbing he took from tooling around with a young woman he introduced as his “daughter” (sure, she is.) I liked seeing my dad in his element; it was different from home.

My mother worked at a restaurant attached to a motel. During winter break, she became acquainted with three college boys from out of town. They had come to Durango to ski at Purgatory Ski Resort and were staying at the hotel. My mom liked these boys and arranged for them to take me skiing with them the next day. I did not know these fellows, but I trusted my mother. The next morning I was ready to go. They strapped my skis to their car and that was it.

When we arrived at Purgatory, we parted to ski our separate ways, intending to meet at the lodge at the end of the day. (Skiing is a solitary activity; it’s not like you can carry on a conversation.) Besides, these boys were better skiers than me and were heading out to the more advanced ski runs. I had a great time that day. When it was over, we all piled into the car, wet, tired, but very satisfied. We listened to CSNY on the way home, and the guys asked me if I would like to go again tomorrow. I said yes. I thought it was nice of my mom to include me in her social world just so that I could have a good time. I remembered that.

The Inner Circle
It wasn’t just observing my parents’ social circles that impressed me; it was that I was part of their social life. They talked with me. In addition to the usual parental directives about chores, school and homework, they talked with me about Life. They addressed issues of importance and concern to a growing child: bullying and popularity; sex, marriage, pregnancy, and abortion; politics, religion, faith, and God. They had insightful things to share. Yet I never felt pressured to adopt or conform to their way of thinking. Rather, I always felt free to think my own thoughts and experience my own feelings, even when they differed from theirs. It was their greatest gift to me.

The Outer Circle
I treasure the ability to think and feel for myself. I value that ability in others. For that reason, I will not be sharing lists of Do’s and Don’ts on the The Time Project: Journey. I cannot tell people what to do; I can only make recommendations. I also will primarily write in the first person–I do not presume to speak for any group of “we.” I don’t even know whom “we” is that I could write about them. (Although I know they are out there.)

“I had always wanted, above all things, not to be interfered with.”
C. S. Lewis ~ Surprised by Joy

(Next Post: Why Are the Most Popular Websites Run by Achievers?)



Origin of the Theses


I think one can miss what goes on in the world while writing about what goes on in the world. We all need “I ~ Thou.”
The Book of Rhino

“The man standing in his own kitchen-garden, with fairyland opening at the gate is the man with large ideas.”
G. K. Chesterton ~ Heretics



As I wrote in my last post, the Time Project originated from a sense of urgency coupled with social isolation. While sitting with the idea of urgency, the words “speed”, “quickness”, “fast” came to mind. I paid attention; they were telling me something. A statement by Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice came to mind.

“The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance.”

I wondered if Darcy’s assertion was true; is it a great thing to be able to do something quickly? If so, what makes it so valuable? Is quickness the new gold coin of human worth? I decided to investigate the concept of doing things quickly versus slowly, calling it the Time Project. My initial research confirmed I am onto something. A few weeks ago, I came across two articles online about time. The first stated “Today many companies are expecting their employees to do more work in less time.” The second was titled “How to Write a Book: The Secret to a Super-Fast First Draft.” It was an AHA! moment.

I decided to share my Time Project journey on my blog, not because of any sense of urgency, but because of my current state of social isolation. Ever since I started chemotherapy treatment for cancer, I have been mostly confined to my house. The infusions leave me feeling weak and sick, in no mood for company. Moreover, the drugs that are used lower my white blood cell count, increasing my risk for infection. The result? Social Isolation. Even though I am more of an introvert than an extrovert, I am not a hermit. The forced isolation is frustrating. I enjoy interactions with people in small groups or one-on-one, especially when those interactions include discussion of life issues and human relationships. (I also enjoy discussions of mathematics, but that is with a very limited social group.)

However, interacting with others online poses no risk of infection and can be done when I am physically up to it. That is why I am writing about my project and posting it on my blog. While it is not as satisfying as engaging with someone in person, it is still a connection with another human being. It tells me I do exist–I am not completely isolated. Of course, this leads me to another train of thought about why I appreciate social interactions. Another de-gestalt.

(Next Post: When It’s a Good Thing to Do What They Say And What They Do


Who is John Gestalt?


Most of what we perceive does not touch us at the conscious level; it flows to the vast sea of unknown knowledge.
The Book of Rhino

The Time Project originated from a sense of urgency coupled with social isolation. I was not aware of this when I first thought of the project; I only knew that the prospect thrilled me. As I began working on the project, I occasionally wondered why I was so taken with it but did not actively pursue an answer. I figured that understanding would eventually percolate to my conscious thoughts. The sense of urgency, I knew, was connected to The Book of Rhino; it has been for the past year. Since the publication of the first book, I have been working on the second in the series. However, in recent weeks the sense of urgency has taken on a new flavor, and I wanted to find out what it was and what it meant, so I began an inquiry.

Accessing the Reservoir of Unknown Knowledge
Whenever I have a question to answer, a problem to solve, or an issue to consider, I fully participate in the process. By that I mean I sit with my mind, my body, and my emotions in the present moment and let the vast sea of unknown knowledge flow around me. Eventually, I experience an awareness of ideas poking at me and begin to examine them, one by one. I call this process “de-gestalting.”

A gestalt is something formed by two or more parts in such a way that the parts are virtually indistinguishable one from another. Webster’s dictionary defines a gestalt as “a unified whole; a configuration, pattern or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts.” A cup of coffee with cream and sugar is a simple model of a gestalt; a tossed green salad is a non-model.

When I sit with something long enough, its parts begin to separate themselves. It is not like a random train of thought that travels from soup to nuts. All of the parts are connected to the parent component–like cream and sugar separating from the coffee. It’s these distinguishable parts that are so interesting to me. I know they are connected; I know they mean something. The inquiry process is a guide into what, how, and why.

Knowing the Unknown
The inquiry process is a journey into knowledge. It begins with me in a box; I am unaware of the box for a while, and then, I realize I am in a box. I decided to think “outside the box,” but sometimes all I do is build a bigger box or redecorate it. I have to keep sitting and waiting for the flow of unknown knowledge. Eventually, I am able to step outside the box, and if the tides are favorable, I will come to a place where the box no longer exists. (The latter is rare.)

The Time Project
What this means is that as I embark on the Time Project, I will stop to examine parts that detach themselves from the whole. It means that I may write about seemingly unrelated topics. However, I will write and research from the assumption that they are connected and therefore worth examining. Who knows? I may eventually learn that the box never existed.

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and wild
With a faery, hand in hand
William Butler Yeats ~ The Stolen Child

(Next Post: Origin of the Theses)


Daneel Olivaw’s Guide to Decision-Making

Bones and Rocket

Why Starting Well is the Best Option

In a previous post, I introduced the difficulty some people face when making decisions such as whether or not to attend college after high school graduation or go into business. I presented as a guide some of Salvor Hardin’s epigrams. In this post, I would like to offer another set of recommendations, this time from another Isaac Asimov character, R. Daneel Olivaw.

Daneel Olivaw is introduced in Asimov’s novel Caves of Steel. He is one of my favorite literary characters. He is a robot. Because he is a robot, the Three Laws of Robotics are programmed into his brain. To disobey one of the laws would disable him. In my opinion, the Three Laws of Robotics make very good laws for humans as well. I think we humans would do well to let them inform and influence our decisions.

The First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

This law alone would save humanity a world of grief. Can you imagine what it would be like if every choice was filtered through that litmus test? Will the result of my choice injure another human being?

The Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Well, that puts an end to the rich and powerful ordering or hiring other people to their dirty work for them. You want me to go to war for you and kill other people? No thanks.

The Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

This law would allow humans to find their No and give them the right to use it. I am not subject to anyone’s agenda.

Starting Well
Daneel Olivaw had the three laws hard-wired into his system. He had no choice but obey. All of his decisions started from a good place. However, we humans have choices. Why is that? Why is such terrible power placed in our hands? As history shows, humans have injured other humans most dreadfully. The astounding thing is that humans keep inflicting harm, even though it has never, ever turned out well. On the other hand, humans’ capacity for good can exceed expectations. When it comes to benefitting their fellows, some human beings perform spectacularly. By some wondrous arrangement of chromosomes, the Three Laws of Robotics are hard-wired into their systems. They start well. Can everyone start well? Is that a choice people can make? I think it is.

I think that anyone can obey the laws of robotics–call them the Laws of Humanities. I think that anyone can start well. It doesn’t matter if you enter the race after it has begun. A start in the right direction is an excellent start, even if you sneak in and hide in the crowd. Well done, runner, well done. Look around and see all of us who are running alongside you. We shout. We cheer. We have started well.

To very great minds the things on which men agree are so immeasurably more important than the things on which they differ, that the latter, for all practical purposes, disappears.
G. K. Chesterton ~ Heretics

(Next Post: Who is John Gestalt?)


The Revelation ~ Prologue


Dore-Landscape R

Tell me what is the night or day to one o’erflowed with woe?
Tell me what is a thought? & of what substance is it made?
Tell me what is a joy? & in what gardens do joys grow?
And in what rivers swim the sorrows? and upon what mountains?

Tell me where dwell the thoughts, forgotten till thou call them forth?
Tell me where dwell the joys of old! & where the ancient loves?
And when will they renew again & the night of oblivion past?
That I might traverse times & spaces far remote and bring
Comforts into a present sorrow and pain.
William Blake ~ Visions of the Daughters of Albion


“Albion was dying. However, the women agreed to violate their own precepts in order to save their people. They prayed the Great Good would understand and forgive.”
The Book of Rhino