Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 8th, 2019

Is Facebook Mark Zuckerberg’s Revenge for the Iraq War?

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Peter Canellos offers an interesting perspective in Politico, and I can agree that when the George W. Bush administration was pushing the US to invade Iraq — a totally discretionary move, since Iraq posed no danger whatsoever to the US (unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, the home of 19 of the 9/11 terrorists) — the mainstream media at that time seemed to go right along, downplaying any reports that undermined the push to war. (Not all of the mainstream media: the Atlantic published several lengthy articles that made a cogent argument against the attack and invasion, including a piece by James Fallows titled, as I recall, “Iraq: The 51st State.”)

Canellos writes:

Mark Zuckerberg’s recent media blitz included a lot of scripted lines that belie his intentions—such as his assertion during a cozy chat with News Corp CEO Robert Thomson that journalism is crucial for democracy—and one that rings strikingly, resoundingly true: His claim at an October 17 speech at Georgetown University that his views on free expression were shaped by his collegiate frustrations over the failure of the mainstream media to expose the weaknesses of the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq.

The comment passed with relatively little notice, except among skeptics who saw it as a self-serving, ex-post-facto justification for Facebook’s reluctance to impose constraints on its users’ political assertions. But it was a rare personal admission from one of the least-known and most privacy-obsessed of moguls, and offered an organic, true-to-his-experiences explanation for his decisions at Facebook, many of which have proved to be ruinous for the mainstream media. It turns out it wasn’t just the profit motive that drove Facebook to become the prime source of information around the world; Zuckerberg wished to supplant the mainstream media out of something closer to real animus.

“When I was in college, our country had just gone to war in Iraq,” he explained. “The mood on campus was disbelief. It felt like we were acting without hearing a lot of important perspectives. The toll on our soldiers, families and our national psyche was severe, and most of us felt powerless to stop it. I remember feeling that if more people had a voice to share their experiences, maybe things would have gone differently. Those early years shaped my belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time.”

This is the closest Zuckerberg has ever come to acknowledging a formative event, an aha moment, that shapes his perceptions of the relative merits of the mainstream media and social media. And it feels authentic to the moment; by late 2003, when the 19-year-old computer whiz was pondering the world from a Cambridge dorm room, it had started to dawn on the country that many of the justifications for the Iraq war were faulty—especially the reports of weapons of mass destruction. Young people rightly extended their anger from the Bush administration to the mainstream media that had failed to alert the country to the flimsiness of the government’s case.

If there was any doubt that those resentments linger, Zuckerberg laced his speech with encomiums to the fresh, clean air of direct democracy and backhanded swipes at the mildewed professional media. “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world—a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he declared. “People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences.”

He defended political ads on Facebook as a voice for the voiceless, saying he considered banning them but reversed himself because “political ads are an important part of the voice—especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”

The specter of a 35-year-old mogul making off-the-cuff decisions about how much speech (or “voice”) is healthy for society engenders a queasy feeling. It suggests that Elizabeth Warren and others may be right that too much monopolistic power exists on one platform— especially one that coyly presents itself as an innocent conduit for information while blithely acknowledging its governing power over constitutional liberties. But pending future action, such power is indeed vested in the character and values of Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg’s criticism of mainstream media might be honestly earned. Like Vietnam before it, the debate over the Iraq war dominates the political attitudes of a big slice of the generation that grew up around it. But it also represents only one window on the much larger, and more complicated, question of how best to provide a check and balance to the power of government, and to properly inform the populace. Zuckerberg may have come to his views sincerely, through his own impressions. Like other youthful conversions, they may be very hard to shake. But they aren’t remotely the last word on the question.

For while Zuckerberg may be open about his intentions, he can seem almost willfully blind to their consequences. In his speech, he tries to capture the long arc of American history, veering from the civil rights movement to the repression of socialists during World War I to the era of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. He quotes Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. But he never mentions the words “conspiracy theory” or “Donald Trump.”

That left a ghost in the lecture hall at Georgetown, shadowing all of Zuckerberg’s pronouncements and justifications: the abject failure of his chosen mode of communication in the 2016 election, a lapse that threatens to recur if not corrected and that carries more enduring consequences for America than the sins of the mainstream media in the early 2000s.

***

Back when a handful of major news outlets held outsized influence over the national political dialogue, it was common to rail against these unelected gatekeepers. By habitually returning to the mean, insisting on reporting whose candidacy seemed most viable and whose views comported with Main Street assumptions, those media arbiters perpetuated a bland centrism, or so the theory went. They chopped the ends off of the political spectrum, left and right. People who challenged the system had to struggle to be taken seriously.

This critique found a persuasive advocate in the late Ross Perot, who happened to be both a fan of conspiracy theories (particularly regarding POWs) and the CEO of a data firm. Almost three decades ago, when the only web on anyone’s mind was Charlotte’s, Perot envisioned a running national plebiscite, in which average citizens voted like senators. They would simply plug their choices into their home computers, thereby diminishing the importance of Congress and the media’s control of the national debate surrounding its actions.

Perot’s vision of a daily Brexit has yet to come to pass, but his desire to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 6:15 pm

What’s Your Gut Microbiome Enterotype?

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Yet another reason to favor a plant-based diet: it tilts your gut microbiome in your favor (and away from colon cancer).

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 5:57 pm

Minding matter: Physics vs. reality

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Adam Frank, professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester in New York, writes in Aeon:

Materialism holds the high ground these days in debates over that most ultimate of scientific questions: the nature of consciousness. When tackling the problem of mind and brain, many prominent researchers advocate for a universe fully reducible to matter. ‘Of course you are nothing but the activity of your neurons,’ they proclaim. That position seems reasonable and sober in light of neuroscience’s advances, with brilliant images of brains lighting up like Christmas trees while test subjects eat apples, watch movies or dream. And aren’t all the underlying physical laws already known?

From this seemly hard-nosed vantage, the problem of consciousness seems to be just one of wiring, as the American physicist Michio Kaku argued in The Future of the Mind (2014). In the very public version of the debate over consciousness, those who advocate that understanding the mind might require something other than a ‘nothing but matter’ position are often painted as victims of wishful thinking, imprecise reasoning or, worst of all, an adherence to a mystical ‘woo’.

It’s hard not to feel the intuitional weight of today’s metaphysical sobriety. Like Pickett’s Charge up the hill at Gettysburg, who wants to argue with the superior position of those armed with ever more precise fMRIs, EEGs and the other material artefacts of the materialist position? There is, however, a significant weakness hiding in the imposing-looking materialist redoubt. It is as simple as it is undeniable: after more than a century of profound explorations into the subatomic world, our best theory for how matter behaves still tells us very little about what matter is. Materialists appeal to physics to explain the mind, but in modern physics the particles that make up a brain remain, in many ways, as mysterious as consciousness itself.

When I was a young physics student I once asked a professor: ‘What’s an electron?’ His answer stunned me. ‘An electron,’ he said, ‘is that to which we attribute the properties of the electron.’ That vague, circular response was a long way from the dream that drove me into physics, a dream of theories that perfectly described reality. Like almost every student over the past 100 years, I was shocked by quantum mechanics, the physics of the micro-world. In place of a clear vision of little bits of matter that explain all the big things around us, quantum physics gives us a powerful yet seemly paradoxical calculus. With its emphasis on probability waves, essential uncertainties and experimenters disturbing the reality they seek to measure, quantum mechanics made imagining the stuff of the world as classical bits of matter (or miniature billiard balls) all but impossible.

Like most physicists, I learned how to ignore the weirdness of quantum physics. ‘Shut up and calculate!’ (the dictum of the American physicist David Mermin) works fine if you are trying to get 100 per cent on your Advanced Quantum Theory homework or building a laser. But behind quantum mechanics’ unequaled calculational precision lie profound, stubbornly persistent questions about what those quantum rules imply about the nature of reality – including our place in it.

Those questions are well-known in the physics community, but perhaps our habit of shutting up has been a little too successful. A century of agnosticism about the true nature of matter hasn’t found its way deeply enough into other fields, where materialism still appears to be the most sensible way of dealing with the world and, most of all, with the mind. Some neuroscientists think that they’re being precise and grounded by holding tightly to materialist credentials. Molecular biologists, geneticists, and many other types of researchers – as well as the nonscientist public – have been similarly drawn to materialism’s seeming finality. But this conviction is out of step with what we physicists know about the material world – or rather, what we don’t know.

Albert Einstein and Max Planck introduced the idea of the quantum at the beginning of the 20th century, sweeping away the old classical view of reality. We have never managed to come up with a definitive new reality to take its place. The interpretation of quantum physics remains as up for grabs as ever. As a mathematical description of solar cells and digital circuits, quantum mechanics works just fine. But if one wants to apply the materialist position to a concept as subtle and profound as consciousness, something more must clearly be asked for. The closer you look, the more it appears that the materialist (or ‘physicalist’) position is not the safe harbor of metaphysical sobriety that many desire.

For physicists, the ambiguity over matter boils down to what we call the measurement problem, and its relationship to an entity known as the wave function. Back in the good old days of Newtonian physics, the behaviour of particles was determined by a straightforward mathematical law that reads F = ma. You applied a force F to a particle of mass m, and the particle moved with acceleration a. It was easy to picture this in your head. Particle? Check. Force? Check. Acceleration? Yup. Off you go.

The equation F = ma gave you two things that matter most to the Newtonian picture of the world: a particle’s location and its velocity. This is what physicists call a particle’s state. Newton’s laws gave you the particle’s state for any time and to any precision you need. If the state of every particle is described by such a simple equation, and if large systems are just big combinations of particles, then the whole world should behave in a fully predictable way. Many materialists still carry the baggage of that old classical picture. It’s why physics is still widely regarded as the ultimate source of answers to questions about the world, both outside and inside our heads.

In Isaac Newton’s physics, position and velocity were indeed clearly defined and clearly imagined properties of a particle. Measurements of the particle’s state changed nothing in principle. The equation F = ma was true whether you were looking at the particle or not. All of that fell apart as scientists began probing at the scale of atoms early last century. In a burst of creativity, physicists devised a new set of rules known as quantum mechanics. A critical piece of the new physics was embodied in Schrödinger’s equation. Like Newton’s F = ma, the Schrödinger equation represents mathematical machinery for doing physics; it describes how the state of a particle is changing. But to account for all the new phenomena physicists were finding (ones Newton knew nothing about), the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger had to formulate a very different kind of equation.

When calculations are done with the Schrödinger equation, what’s left is not the Newtonian state of exact position and velocity. Instead, you get what is called the wave function (physicists refer to it as psi after the Greek symbol Ψ used to denote it). Unlike the Newtonian state, which can be clearly imagined in a commonsense way, the wave function is an epistemological and ontological mess. The wave function does not give you a specific measurement of location and velocity for a particle; it gives you only probabilities at the root level of reality. Psi appears to tell you that, at any moment, the particle has many positions and many velocities. In effect, the bits of matter from Newtonian physics are smeared out into sets of potentials or possibilities.

It’s not just position and velocity that get smeared out. The wave function treats all properties of the particle (electric charge, energy, spin, etc) the same way. They all become probabilities holding many possible values at the same time. Taken at face value, it’s as if the particle doesn’t have definite properties at all. This is what the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, meant when he advised people not to think of atoms as ‘things’. Even at this basic level, the quantum perspective adds a lot of blur to any materialist convictions of what the world is built from.

Then things get weirder still. According to the standard way of treating the quantum calculus, the act of making a measurement on the particle kills off all pieces of the wave function, except the one your instruments register. The wave function is said to collapse as all the smeared-out, potential positions or velocities vanish in the act of measurement. It’s like the Schrödinger equation, which does such a great job of describing the smeared-out particle before the measurement is made, suddenly gets a pink slip.

You can see how this throws a monkey wrench into a simple, physics-based view of an objective materialist world. How can there be one mathematical rule for the external objective world before a measurement is made, and another that jumps in after the measurement occurs? For a hundred years now, physicists and philosophers have been beating the crap out of each other (and themselves) trying to figure out how to interpret the wave function and its associated measurement problem. What exactly is quantum mechanics telling us about the world? What does the wave function describe? What really happens when a measurement occurs? Above all, what is matter?

There are today no definitive answers to these questions. There is not even a consensus about what the answers should look like. Rather, there are multiple interpretations of quantum theory, each of which corresponds to a very different way of regarding matter and everything made of it – which, of course, means everything. The earliest interpretation to gain force, the Copenhagen interpretation, is associated with Danish physicist Niels Bohr and other founders of quantum theory. In their view, it was meaningless to speak of the properties of atoms in-and-of-themselves. Quantum mechanics was a theory that spoke only to our knowledge of the world. The measurement problem associated with the Schrödinger equation highlighted this barrier between epistemology and ontology by making explicit the role of the observer (that is: us) in gaining knowledge.

Not all researchers were so willing to give up on the ideal of objective access to a perfectly objective world, however. Some pinned their hopes on the discovery of hidden variables – a set of deterministic rules lurking beneath the probabilities of quantum mechanics. Others took a more extreme view. In the many-worlds interpretation espoused by the American physicist Hugh Everett, the authority of the wave function and its governing Schrödinger equation was taken as absolute. Measurements didn’t suspend the equation or collapse the wave function, they merely made the Universe split off into many (perhaps infinite) parallel versions of itself. Thus, for every experimentalist who measures an electron over here, a parallel universe is created in which her parallel copy finds the electron over there. The many-worlds Interpretation is one that many materialists favor, but it comes with a steep price.

Here is an even more important point: as yet . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Lid note for Field Company No. 10 skillet

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The Duxtop Cookware Glass Replacement Lid (11 Inches) fits the Field Company No. 10 skillet perfectly, something that’s possible exactly because the Field skillet doesn’t have pour spouts (which would require a special lid). I’m using the No. 10 a lot these days.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Recipes

Tempeh batch 7 after 24 hours

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Seems to have a nice, even dusting of mold after 24 hours incubation. At this point, I am moving it from the oven-with-light-on to the countertop (room temperature, in other words), still with the tented and perforated aluminum foil loose cover. This is a green-lentil tempeh, made using 3 cups lentils (measured before cooking). Full tempeh write-up here.

Update: After the tempeh had been on the counter, loosely covered, for 1.5 hours, I lifted the foil and put my hand just above the tempeh. It is indeed generating quite a bit of warmth. I had no idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Plant-only diet, Recipes

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The crisis in physics is not only about physics

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Sabine Hossenfelder, aka Bee, Research Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, writes in her blog Back Re(Action):

In the foundations of physics, we have not seen progress since the mid 1970s when the standard model of particle physics was completed. Ever since then, the theories we use to describe observations have remained unchanged. Sure, some aspects of these theories have only been experimentally confirmed later. The last to-be-confirmed particle was the Higgs-boson, predicted in the 1960s, measured in 2012. But all shortcomings of these theories – the lacking quantization of gravity, dark matter, the quantum measurement problem, and more – have been known for more than 80 years. And they are as unsolved today as they were then.

The major cause of this stagnation is that physics has changed, but physicists have not changed their methods. As physics has progressed, the foundations have become increasingly harder to probe by experiment. Technological advances have not kept size and expenses manageable. This is why, in physics today we have collaborations of thousands of people operating machines that cost billions of dollars.

With fewer experiments, serendipitous discoveries become increasingly unlikely. And lacking those discoveries, the technological progress that would be needed to keep experiments economically viable never materializes. It’s a vicious cycle: Costly experiments result in lack of progress. Lack of progress increases the costs of further experiment. This cycle must eventually lead into a dead end when experiments become simply too expensive to remain affordable. A $40 billion particle collider is such a dead end.

The only way to avoid being sucked into this vicious cycle is to choose carefully which hypothesis to put to the test. But physicists still operate by the “just look” idea like this was the 19th century. They do not think about which hypotheses are promising because their education has not taught them to do so. Such self-reflection would require knowledge of the philosophy and sociology of science, and those are subjects physicists merely make dismissive jokes about. They believe they are too intelligent to have to think about what they are doing. [The Dunning-Kruger effect in action — and demonstrating that the problem is caused by ignorance, not stupidity. It’s a defect that derives from lack of knowledge, not lack of intelligence. – LG]

The consequence has been that experiments in the foundations of physics past the 1970s have only confirmed the already existing theories. None found evidence of anything beyond what we already know.

But theoretical physicists did not learn the lesson and still ignore the philosophy and sociology of science. I encounter this dismissive behavior personally pretty much every time I try to explain to a cosmologist or particle physicists that we need smarter ways to share information and make decisions in large, like-minded communities. If they react at all, they are insulted if I point out that social reinforcement – aka group-think – befalls us all, unless we actively take measures to prevent it.

Instead of examining the way that they propose hypotheses and revising their methods, theoretical physicists have developed a habit of putting forward entirely baseless speculations. Over and over again I have heard them justifying their mindless production of mathematical fiction as “healthy speculation” – entirely ignoring that this type of speculation has demonstrably not worked for decades and continues to not work. There is nothing healthy about this. It’s sick science. And, embarrassingly enough, that’s plain to see for everyone who does not work in the field.

This behavior is based on the hopelessly naïve, not to mention ill-informed, belief that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 9:09 am

Posted in Education, Memes, Science

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OneBlade’s automatic angle adjustment

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The Mühle Cosmo brush I used today completes the second shelf, which mostly held synthetic brushes. This brush has an exceptionally soft knot, which easily made a fine lather from my vintage Lenthéric shaving soap.

The OneBlade’s automatic angle adjustment was less enchanting this morning than it was previously, because I kept wanting a different angle, a desire the razor is constructed to ignore. I did get a good shave but not so good as I think I would have gotten if I had had a bit more control of the angle.

Still: three passes left my face generally smooth, and a splash of D.R. Harris’s Old English Lavender water finished the shave with a pleasant experience — and psychology shows that how an experience ends greatly influences our memory of the entire thing, the quality of the ending apparently being the lens through which we view the experience (so that, for example, one should strive to end vacations with something that is guaranteed to be a pleasure).

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

Choose your path — and avoid the fear of missing out

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Epicurus advocates enjoying the daily pleasures that life presents. That requires being present for those pleasure and not becoming preoccupied by absent pleasures.

I mention this idea in the long post on my diet — how some who choose a plant-based diet become preoccupied with the foods they’re not eating (the steaks, ribs, roasts, sausage, duck breast, scrambled eggs, triple-cream cheese, and so on) to the extent that they fail to focus on the pleasures of the food they are eating. Their focus is on denial (no meat! no dairy! no eggs!) and not on affirmation; they keep looking back at what they once had and ignore all the wonders of the new possibilities open to them. I wrote:

How to be happy with your diet

Look at the variety of whole plant-based foods and the meals you can make with them. If you focus your attention on what you can/should eat and not dwell on what you can’t (or shouldn’t) eat, you’ll feel much more satisfied with your lot. If you constantly obsess about foods you should avoid, you’ll make yourself unhappy and undermine your will to eat well. I mention this because it seems that people have a tendency to focus on what they lack and not on what they have. (“We look before and after, And pine for what is not; Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” – from To a Skylark, by Percy Bysshe Shelley.)

This is a specific example of a more general situation — namely, whenever you choose a direction you necessarily must forsake other directions.

The Road Not Taken – by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Having chosen a path, an Epicurean will enjoy the pleasure of that path and not fret about what s/he has missed from all other possible paths. Whatever you do and whatever you have, you can think of myriads of things you aren’t doing and don’t have. Do not let yourself become attached to those absences.

For example, if you choose a whole-food plant-based diet, do not consider it as rejecting meat, dairy, and eggs (the negative view, which focuses on the path abandoned), but rather look for the pleasures of the path now chosen.

More generally, we necessarily move from one day to next and from one season to the next. We are always moving on, changing, and (hopefully) growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. That growth suggests a path that constantly presents new vistas and new choices. Each stage along the way is an abandonment of the previous stage. One can focus on the loss of the previous stage or look for the pleasures the new stage brings. If you follow Epicurus, it is obvious that you should enjoy the pleasures.

I mention this in Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving:

I realized recently that this book might have been more accurately titled The Epicure’s Guide to Shaving, for Epicurus[i] would surely approve making necessary tasks enjoyable. He thought that chance encounters of atoms falling through the void, randomly interacting, produced — after much time — us and the world in which we live. In his view we cease to exist when we die, while the atoms of our body continue to tumble along through time and space.

Because Epicurus believed that life is a one-shot deal, he made enjoying life a high priority. A dissolute lifestyle tends to have highly unpleasant consequences, so it makes sense to seek enjoyment first in the small things of life, which is what we mostly encounter day to day. Learning new ideas and mastering new skills are examples of activities that provide enjoyment without harm.

Take, as a random example, the morning shave: an Epicurean who shaves will seek a way to derive enjoyment from the task: to spend his (limited) time doing things he doesn’t enjoy makes no sense when he could instead do them enjoyably. Moreover, an enjoyable task requires little willpower: you are drawn to the task rather than having to push yourself. Indeed, a task can even be restorative and energizing; rather than draining you, a task approached properly can provide both enjoyment and a satisfying sense of fulfillment.

The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi wrote several books on a mental state he termed “flow”: a focused, absorbing, satisfying involvement in what is happening in the moment[ii]. So another way to state the Epicurean position is that one should arrange his or her life to maximize the opportunities for flow to occur. Flow is a mental experience, so introspection combined with an attitude that encourages the enjoyment of small things—to look for joy, and to think about how to find more occasions of joy—is an obvious step.

This book is my contribution to an Epicurean lifestyle: the book offers a way to make a necessary chore enjoyable. But don’t stop just at shaving.

[i] Epicurus: See Catherine Wilson’s book and (of course) his own writings, and there’s also the Wikipedia entry on Epicurus.

[ii] Mihály Csíkszentmihályi: See the Wikipedia article on flow. Each person can find activities appropriate for him or her that will promote flow: rock climbing, painting or drawing, gardening, cooking, playing a musical instrument, and the like. Csíkszentmihályi defined the term in his studies and in the fascinating book that emerged from them, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

This is why I see as wrong-headed the effort by some who take up a plant-based diet to focus on trying to mimic the foods left behind: seeking imitation bacon, imitation sausage, imitation roast, imitation burgers, imitation cheese. Those strike me as distractions that prevent appreciation of the new vistas that the new direction offers. That approach amounts to looking back at the past and longing for it.

The Chambered Nautilus – by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

To cling to your current mansion and fear to abandon it prevents means you will not encounter (nor appreciate) new pleasures. It’s bad enough when this fear means one fails to appreciate the pleasures of a new dietary direction, but such fears can cost more: they can imprison one in a life of misery because their focus is totally on what would be lost by moving on. Consider, for example, a terrible marriage in which two remain together only because each fears the loss of wealth and possessions (the house, the lifestyle, the cars, …). Their wealth and possessions are a prison, and they remain in their current chamber of misery, never moving to a dome more vast. They view taking a new path only as the loss of the old path, and they cannot see the possibility of pleasures that lie unseen ahead.

Epicurus would, I think, see this as a tragedy. They have but one life, and to remain stuck in a miserable situation, never considering the joys that could await them in a new stage, always clinging to what they now have, holding back from moving on: that enacts a terrible price.

Rabbi Ben Ezra – by Robert Browning

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

That’s but the first stanza of a long poem. It presents a two-chambered version of the nautilus: youth and old age. Don’t cling to youth, for it must pass. Enjoy the pleasures of a fuller experience.

Those who fear change do not grow, for growth is change. They fear to leave the mansions of the past to see what pleasures lie ahead — they cannot make this leap of faith. If your attention is totally taken by what was, potential new pleasures pass by unobserved and unexperienced.

So if you choose a whole-food plant-based diet, embrace it. See where it takes you. Explore the new mansion.

Update: This morning another poem occurred to me on somewhat the same theme — a theme that seems to appeal to poets because being distracted from what is here now before one by pining for what is not is a common human (and uniquely human) condition. Here’s the poem:

Maud Muller – by John Greenleaf Whittier

Maud Muller, on a summer’s day,
Raked the meadow sweet with hay.

Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
Of simple beauty and rustic health.

Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
The mock-bird echoed from his tree.

But when she glanced to the far-off town,
White from its hill-slope looking down,

The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast,—

A wish that she hardly dared to own,
For something better than she had known.

The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
Smoothing his horse’s chestnut mane.

He drew his bridle in the shade
Of the apple-trees to greet the maid,

And ask a draught from the spring that flowed
Through the meadow across the road.

She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
And filled for him her small tin cup,

And blushed as she gave it, looking down
On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.

“Thanks!” said the Judge; “a sweeter draught
From a fairer hand was never quaffed.”

He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
Of the singing birds and the humming bees;

Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

And Maud forgot her brier-torn gown
And her graceful ankles bare and brown;

And listened, while a pleased surprise
Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

At last, like one who for delay
Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away.

Maud Muller looked and sighed: “Ah me!
That I the Judge’s bride might be!

“He would dress me up in silks so fine,
And praise and toast me at his wine.

“My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
My brother should sail a painted boat.

“I’d dress my mother so grand and gay,
And the baby should have a new toy each day.

“And I’d feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
And all should bless me who left our door.”

The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
And saw Maud Muller standing still.

“A form more fair, a face more sweet,
Ne’er hath it been my lot to meet.

“And her modest answer and graceful air
Show her wise and good as she is fair.

“Would she were mine, and I to-day,
Like her, a harvester of hay:

“No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

“But low of cattle and song of birds,
And health and quiet and loving words.”

But he thought of his sisters proud and cold,
And his mother vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.

But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

And the young girl mused beside the well,
Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.

He wedded a wife of richest dower,
Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

Yet oft, in his marble hearth’s bright glow,
He watched a picture come and go;

And sweet Maud Muller’s hazel eyes
Looked out in their innocent surprise.

Oft, when the wine in his glass was red,
He longed for the wayside well instead;

And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms
To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

And the proud man sighed, with a secret pain,
“Ah, that I were free again!

“Free as when I rode that day,
Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay.”

She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
And many children played round her door.

But care and sorrow, and childbirth pain,
Left their traces on heart and brain.

And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,

And she heard the little spring brook fall
Over the roadside, through the wall,

In the shade of the apple-tree again
She saw a rider draw his rein.

And, gazing down with timid grace,
She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
Stretched away into stately halls;

The weary wheel to a spinet turned,
The tallow candle an astral burned,

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o’er pipe and mug,

A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, “It might have been.”

Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;

And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 3:57 am

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