Later On

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

Archive for June 16th, 2021

Short walk but still flowers

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I did buy dried garbanzos and raw peanuts to make the chickpea-and-peanut tempeh. Plus a small pack of Tylenol because tomorrow I get my Pfizer shot and I want to be prepared. But no long walk today — 2700 steps is a midweek rest day.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Daily life

How to think about pleasure

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Sam Dresser has an interesting article in Psyche:

Need to know

Over breakfast one April day in 1778, James Boswell asked Samuel Johnson why he gave up booze. Dr Johnson replied that he didn’t like to lose power over himself, but assured his friend that he would one day drink again when he grew old (he was 68 at the time). Boswell replied: ‘I think, Sir, you once said to me, that not to drink wine was a great deduction from life.’ To which Dr Johnson answered: ‘It is a diminution of pleasure, to be sure; but I do not say a diminution of happiness. There is more happiness in being rational.’

It is a common notion, even in our own day, that pleasure is in some sense a distraction from happiness – or that it doesn’t lead to the kind of happiness that really matters. Pleasure, in and of itself, is ‘lower’ than the real heavy hitters, such as Truth and Virtue and Wisdom and God, those hallowed founts of authentic happiness. It is universal – indeed inherent – that we humans are drawn to pleasure. Yet pleasure-seeking itself is often seen as an indulgence, and therefore rings with a kind of selfishness, even a kind of confusion. Pleasure doesn’t last, the idea goes, but Truth does, or Rationality does, or Wisdom does, and so those are the things that we ought to seek.

Whenever and wherever they are found, moralists and their dreary ilk often describe their own times as characterised by debauched hedonism. But does it accurately describe our time? Are we in the thrall of a love affair with pleasure? I don’t think so. Even if more people are more comfortable than they used to be, it’s still hard to admit to doing something pleasurable just because it’s pleasurable. More often, pleasure is excused as a little reward, a diversion, a break from the demands of the ‘real world’. Pleasure is something that will allow you to work harder, to catch your breath before returning to the turmoils of life. Searching for pleasure for pleasure’s sake is an act tinged with shame and, when it’s admitted to, excuses ought be made.

Lord Byron gave our tense relationship with pleasure a memorable couplet: ‘O pleasure! you’re indeed a pleasant thing / Although one must be damn’d for you, no doubt.’ Those who give in to pleasure have often been compared, unkindly, to animals. The Roman Stoic Epictetus told those who identified pleasure with goodness to go ‘lead the life of a worm, of which you judged yourself worthy: eat and drink, and enjoy women, and ease yourself, and snore.’ Friedrich Nietzsche located a being that, for him, was perhaps even lower than the worm: ‘Man does not strive for pleasure,’ he wrote. ‘Only the Englishman does.’

This isn’t true of all pleasures, however. The trouble for Dr Johnson, as he was quick to explain, was ‘sensual pleasure. When a man says, he had pleasure with a woman, he does not mean conversation, but something of a very different nature.’ (You can almost see the wink on his vast face.) The pleasures he disdains are the bodily pleasures, the ones we get from aged whisky and taking off your boots after a long hike. The pleasures that count, for Dr Johnson and for many other thinkers, are the pleasures of the mind. These are the pleasures that are pure, unmarred by the Earth. They’re to be kept clean and separate from the pleasures of the body, which are for the lower sorts of people. Or, as Dr Johnson rather flatly put it: ‘[T]he greatest part of men are gross.’

The purpose of this Guide is simple: I want to talk about some of the ways that people have thought about pleasure over the years. Pleasure is a surprisingly slippery idea, surprising because it seems so obvious what it is. But trying to actually nail it down is like nailing down a cloud. Regardless, that makes it more important to reflect on pleasure – its value, its nature, and the places that people have found it. My hope is that, by thinking through what pleasure is, by analysing and probing and querying it, perhaps you’ll be more likely to find it in the places you least expect (but no promises, of course).

Think it through

Pleasure is everywhere and yet it’s hard to work out quite what it is

The sheer variety of ways that people procure pleasure is unsettling, as well as a testament to the plasticity of our species. The differences can be small – I can’t understand why people like to watch golf – and the differences can be great, especially across cultural and temporal gulfs – the pleasure people once got in attending the afternoon execution seems, to me, a bit odd.

Think of pleasure in your own life. What is common to all of the things that give you pleasure? The throughline between warm scarves and charity work and calling your grandmother; between the cool side of the pillow, the sad-happiness of nostalgia, the pop of a champagne bottle opening – what could it be other than that these are all, in their way, pleasing? So, the question is: if pleasure can be found in all these sundry ways, then what is it? And the most common answer is a tad ho-hum: stuff that feels good. Stuff that you like. The experiences that make you say: ‘Yep! There it is.’

Many philosophers have accepted this, or a version of it, and have taken it to mean that there’s not a whole lot more to be said about the nature of pleasure (moralising about how others go about getting pleasure, of course, is a different story). Pleasure is what it is. Its very heterogeneity, its inconceivable variety, has led many to conclude that it’s an elementary component of our existence, or an absolutely simple experience. Edmund Burke said it was so simple it was ‘incapable of definition’. John Locke held that pleasure ‘cannot be described … the way of knowing [pleasure] is … only by experience.’

This view of pleasure as unanalysable, it seems to me, makes the nature of pleasure even stranger given its ubiquity in our lives. Can it really just be, as William James held, that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 2:16 pm

The ‘20-5-3’ Rule Prescribes How Much Time You Should Spend Outside

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Michael Easter, author of The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self, has an extract from the book in Prevention:

The herd of 400-pound caribou was running 50 miles an hour and directly at me. The 30 animals had been eating lichen in the Arctic tundra in Alaska when something spooked them. I was sitting in their escape route. The ground began to vibrate once they cracked 100 yards. At 50 yards, I could see their hooves smashing the ground and kicking up moss and moisture. Then they were at 40 yards, then 35.

I could hear their breathing, smell their coats, and see all the details of their ornate antlers. Just as I was wondering if the rescue plane would be able to spot my hoof-pocked corpse, one of the caribou noticed me and swerved. The herd followed, shaking the earth as they swept left and summited a hillcrest, their antlers black against a gold sky.

That moment when those caribou shook the earth also shook my soul. It was transcendent, wild as a religious experience. And it’s not even the most intense thing I did in Alaska. I experienced savage weather, crossed raging rivers, and faced a half-ton grizzly. My brain was feeling less hunkered down in its typical foxhole—a state I’d compare to that of a roadrunner on meth, dementedly zooming from one thing to the next. My mind felt more like it belonged to a monk after a month at a meditation retreat. I just felt . . . better. The biologist E. O. Wilson put what I was feeling this way: “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.”

When I returned from the wild, my Zen-like buzz hung around for months. To understand what was happening, I met with Rachel Hopman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Northeastern University. She told me about the nature pyramid. Think of it like the food pyramid, except that instead of recommending you eat this many servings of vegetables and this many of meat, it recommends the amount of time you should spend in nature to reduce stress and be healthier. Learn and live by the 20-5-3 rule.

20 minutes

That’s the amount of time you should spend outside in nature, like a neighborhood park, three times a week. Hopman led a new study that concluded that something as painless as a 20-minute stroll through a city botanical garden can boost cognition and memory as well as improve feelings of well-being. “But,” she said, “we found that people who used their cell phone on the walk saw none of those benefits.”

Other research discovered that 20 minutes outside three times a week is the dose of nature that had the greatest effect on reducing an urban dweller’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In nature, our brains enter a mode called “soft fascination.” Hopman described it as a mindfulness-like state that restores and builds the resources you need to think, create, process information, and execute tasks. It’s mindfulness without the meditation. A short daily nature walk—or even a walk down a tree-lined street—is a great option for people who aren’t keen on sitting and focusing on their breath. But turn off your phone—alerts from it can kick you out of soft-
fascination mode.

5 hours

The minimum length of time each month you should spend in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 1:55 pm

This Weirdly Smart, Creeping Slime Is Redefining Our Understanding of Intelligence

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Michelle Starr writes at ScienceAlert:

Imagine you’re walking into a forest, and you roll over a fallen log with your foot. Fanning out on the underside, there is something moist and yellow – a bit like something you may have sneezed out, if that something was banana-yellow and spread itself out into elegant fractal branches.

What you’re looking at is the plasmodium form of Physarum polycephalum, the many-headed slime mold. Like other slime molds found in nature, it fills an important ecological role, aiding in the decay of organic matter to recycle it into the food web.

This bizarre little organism doesn’t have a brain, or a nervous system – its blobby, bright-yellow body is just one cell. This slime mold species has thrived, more or less unchanged, for a billion years in its damp, decaying habitats.

And, in the last decade, it’s been changing how we think about cognition and problem-solving.

“I think it’s the same kind of revolution that occurred when people realized that plants could communicate with each other,” says biologist Audrey Dussutour of the French National Center for Scientific Research.

“Even these tiny little microbes can learn. It gives you a bit of humility.”

P. polycephalum – adorably nicknamed “The Blob” by Dussutour – isn’t exactly rare. It can be found in dark, humid, cool environments like the leaf litter on a forest floor. It’s also really peculiar; although we call it a ‘mold’, it is not actually fungus. Nor is it animal or plant, but a member of the protist kingdom – a sort of catch-all group for anything that can’t be neatly categorized in the other three kingdoms.

It starts its life as many individual cells, each with a single nucleus. Then, they merge to form the plasmodium, the vegetative life stage in which the organism feeds and grows.

In this form, fanning out in veins to search for food and explore its environment, it’s still a single cell, but containing millions or even billions of nuclei swimming in the cytoplasmic fluid confined within the bright-yellow membrane.

Cognition without a brain

Like all organisms, P. polycephalum needs to be able to make decisions about its environment. It needs to seek food and avoid danger. It needs to find the ideal conditions for its reproductive cycle. And this is where our little yellow friend gets really interesting. P. polycephalum doesn’t have a central nervous system. It doesn’t even have specialized tissues.

Yet it can solve complex puzzles, like labyrinth mazes, and remember novel substances. The kind of tasks we used to think only animals could perform.

“We’re talking about cognition without a brain, obviously, but also without any neurons at all. So the underlying mechanisms, the whole architectural framework of how it deals with information is totally different to the way your brain works,” biologist Chris Reid of Macquarie University in Australia tells ScienceAlert.

“By providing it with the same problem-solving challenges that we’ve traditionally given to animals with brains, we can start to see how this fundamentally different system might arrive at the same outcome. It’s where . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Although it’s technically a single-celled organism, P. polycephalum is considered a network, exhibiting collective behavior. Each part of the slime mold is operating independently and sharing information with its neighboring sections, with no centralized processing.

“I guess the analogy would be neurons in a brain,” Reid says. “You have this one brain that’s composed of lots of neurons – it’s the same for the slime mold.”

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 1:48 pm

Why People Fall For Conspiracy Theories

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In FiveThirtyEight Kaleigh Rogers and Jasmine Mithani have a clear explanation of why people succumb to conspiracy theories. They write:

Think of a conspiracy theorist. How do they see the world? What stands out to them? What fades into the background? Now think of yourself. How does the way you see things differ? What is it about the way you think that has stopped you from falling down a rabbit hole?

Conspiracy theories have long been part of American life, but they feel more urgent than ever. Innocuous notions like whether the moon landing was a hoax feel like child’s play compared to more impactful beliefs like whether vaccines are safe (they are) or the 2020 election was stolen (it wasn’t). It can be easy to write off our conspiracy theorist friends and relatives as crackpots, but science shows things are far more nuanced than that. There are traits that likely prime people to be more prone to holding these beliefs, and you may find that when you take stock of these traits, you aren’t far removed from your cousin who is convinced the world is run by lizard people.

Flying to conclusions

Let’s begin our tour of cognitive fallacies by going bird-watching. Picture, if you will, avid bird-watcher Fivey Fox at their two favorite spying spots. In one habitat, there are more cardinals than bluebirds — a 60:40 ratio — so Fivey calls that habitat “Big Red.” In the other habitat, “Big Blue,” there is an opposite ratio of bluebirds to cardinals (60 bluebirds, 40 cardinals).

In the interactive below, you initially can’t see which spot Fivey is bird-watching in, but you can see what bird they spot. After each sighting, Fivey notes the bird in their notebook, and then you decide whether you have seen enough to guess the correct habitat or you’d like to see more birds. Have a go! . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 1:38 pm

The Pulp and Pleasure of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ 40 Years Later

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In The Ringer Brian Phillips has a nice look back at Raiders of the Lost Ark and its ancestral works in pulp fiction — and how tropes were adapted. He writes:

For me, it’s not the boulder, it’s the book. Anyone who loves Raiders of the Lost Ark can probably name the moment early in the movie when they realized what they were watching. Maybe it’s the hand darting through the crack to grab the fedora. Maybe it’s the smirk on Indy’s face when he thinks his sandbag trick worked, right before the temple—whoops!—starts to cave in. Maybe it’s Belloq waiting outside to relieve Indy of his hard-won treasure, the twist that teaches you the crucial early lesson about what this adventure is going to be like—that the hero is smart and resourceful, but not invincible. He can take hits. He can lose.

Whatever your moment is, it’s the one when you first start to notice the low-key inner glow that tells you this is not just another action movie. It’s the moment you know you’re in for something special, a story where every scene, every set piece, every throwaway line, every happy accident of filmmaking, are going to conspire together in the interest of sheer delight. Consider: Raiders features the greatest movie star of his generation working with the greatest blockbuster director of his generation working with the greatest pop world-builder of his generation; all of them, in their own way, supreme and uncompromising weirdos. It would have been so easy for their quirks and temperaments to blow each other up, like the scenery in one of the movie’s Rube Goldberg action sequences. Instead, the lit match of Harrison Ford’s jadedness somehow did not ignite the spilled gasoline of Steven Spielberg’s ego just as the runaway fighter plane of George Lucas’s imperiousness rolled into it. Raiders is not a perfect movie—more on that later—but if you’re on its wavelength, there’s very little that can rival it as a pleasure-delivery device. Everything just works.

You feel it, when you’re watching a movie like that. It’s like watching someone on an incredible run at a casino; everything that’s supposed to be hard and unpredictable suddenly feels easy and assured. It’s a kind of magic you can settle into, one that elicits a feeling of lucky surrender: Ahh. In all of film history, Raiders may be the one in which the audience is most completely, and in every sense, along for the ride.

Anyway: There’s a moment for everyone when that ahh hits them, and for me, as I said, it’s the book. Indy is back on campus, in his wire-rimmed glasses and his tweed suit. He’s explaining to the Army intelligence men about the Ark of the Covenant, that maybe this is what the Nazis are looking for in the desert; this is what Abner Ravenwood was researching before he disappeared. If you love the movie, this stuff is as familiar to you as your childhood phone number. Lost City of Tanis: check. Staff of Ra: check. The Well of Souls: check. Then one of the Army intelligence guys goes, “What does this Ark look like?” and Indy replies, “There’s a picture of it right here.”

And he puts down this book. It’s a huge, old-fashioned, leather-bound volume, the sort you need a key to open, just the tome you picture a professor-adventurer consulting in front of a roaring fire, in a tufted leather chair, while sipping a glass of port. The book, in other words, is a shameless pulp artifact, and it’s because of that—because we’re happily ensconced in pulpland already—that we don’t even blink when Indy opens right to the page and says, “That’s it.”

Again: He has the book right there. It’s, conservatively, 1 million pages long. He opens to the picture of the Ark in less than two seconds. This is a tiny, almost unmentionably trivial detail; at the same time, I’m positive that nothing more delightful has ever happened in a movie. As delightful? Maybe. But more? The book tells us several things, quietly, all at once. First, it tells us that even more than the worlds in most movies, this is a world in which reality will always furnish whatever is the most atmospheric thing for any circumstance. Need to chase a train through the desert? Here are some beautiful horses. Need to steal a plane from the Luftwaffe? Oops, there’s a 7-foot Nazi beefcake shirtlessly guarding it. Are you in a North African bazaar? Have an adorable, mischievous, superintelligent monkey. I’m convinced that this, the ready availability of the coolest thing for any moment, is what makes the famous scene where Indy pulls his gun and shoots the sword-twirling assassin, so indelible. It extends a logic that’s been part of the movie’s ground rules from the beginning. You expected something good? Here’s something better.

The second thing the book tells us is . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 1:33 pm

Vikings Blade Chieftain is an exceptional TTO razor

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My Rooney Victorian made a terrific lather from Van Yulay’s Aphrodite shaving soap, but I did have to add water a few times during loading. When that happens, I assume the soap uses clay as an ingredient — and here are the ingredients of Aphrodite shaving soap:

Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera, Coconut Fatty Acid, Castor, Glycerin, Potassium & Sodium Hydroxide ,Coconut-Babassu-Argan-Abyssinian Oils, Cocoa Butter, Calendula, Extracts, Ground Rose Petals, Hersery’s Cocoa, Poly Quats, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Silica, Amino Liquid Silk, Rose Clay, Essential Oils and Fragrance.

It was the razor that got most of my attention this morning. So far as I can recall, the Viking Blades Chieftain is the best TTO razor I’ve used, judging on feel and performance (or comfort and efficiency). Despite its relatively low price ($25), It feels quite solid and well-constructed. I like that the blade end tabs are not exposed — a nice touch — but the main impression I got is how great the razor works.

Three totally comfortable passes left a totally smooth result, and a splash of Aphrodite aftershave ended the shave. What a great way to start the day.

Written by Leisureguy

16 June 2021 at 10:29 am

Posted in Shaving

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