Monday, February 16, 2015

David Carr's last words

His final column, drawn from the syllabus for his Boston University communications school course, is full of life wisdom and sound pedagogy. I'll be cribbing from it from now on, beginning with the way he introduced himself:
"Your professor... hates suck-ups, people who treat waitresses and cab drivers poorly and anybody who thinks diversity is just an academic conceit. He is a big sucker for the hard worker and is rarely dazzled by brilliance. He has little patience for people who pretend to ask questions when all they really want to do is make a speech.
"He has a lot of ideas about a lot of things, some of which are good. We will figure out which is which together. He likes being challenged. He is an idiosyncratic speaker, often beginning in the middle of a story, and is used to being told that people have no idea what he is talking about. It’s fine to be one of those people... he will strive to be a lucid, linear communicator.
"Your professor is fair, fundamentally friendly, a little odd, but not very mysterious. If you want to know where you stand, just ask.”
He encouraged teamwork. “While writing, shooting, and editing are often solitary activities, great work emerges in the spaces between people,” David wrote, adding, “Evaluations will be based not just on your efforts, but on your ability to bring excellence out of the people around you...”
David warned there would be a heavy reading list. “I’m not sliming you with a bunch of textbooks, so please know I am dead serious about these readings,” he wrote. “Skip or skim at your peril...”
“Who you are and what you have been through should give you a prism on life that belongs to you only... Don’t raise your hand in class,” he wrote. “This isn’t Montessori, I expect people to speak up when they like, but don’t speak over anyone.”
“If you text or email during class, I will ignore you as you ignore me,” David added. “It won’t go well.” 
I'll bet most of his classes went very well. Gonna miss him too.

Gonna miss Jon Stewart

Embedded image permalink

Friday, February 13, 2015

The secret of happiness

"What do happy people do differently?"

Our school's news and media relations department passes along a happiness query, in response to which I'm running this up the flagpole. Salute?
Q: I'm looking for experts in happiness, positive living, and psychology to contribute at least three answers to this question to be featured in a long-form article (the more unique the response, the better, and the more likely your answer will be featured in our story): What do happy people do differently? 
A: To your query about what happy people do differently, I think the philosopher Bertrand Russell put it best in his 1930 book The Conquest of Happiness:

“The secret of happiness is very simply this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.”

“The wise man thinks about his troubles only when there is some purpose in doing so; at other times he thinks about other things, or, if it is night, about nothing at all.” 

Also (a propos of Valentine's Day):
“Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.” 

But (a propos of every day, and of the hectic and noisy lives we live):
“A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live.”  

American philosopher William James also had a great deal to say about happiness, much of which I tried to convey in my book William James's "Springs of Delight" (Vanderbilt Press, 2000). In sum, he said happiness is the bonus result of deliberately attending to our own personal "springs (as in wellsprings, but also perhaps as in springboards) of delight." 

It's perfectly natural for humans occasionally to experience a dip in mood and zest for living ("a falling dead of the delight"), but this can be managed and even overcome if we'll just learn to take note of the small and habitual activities that regularly return us enthusiastically to ourselves and our lives with renewed enthusiasm. Different strokes for different folks, of course. In my case, a daily walk usually does the trick. Others find their delight in music or art or other reliably repeatable diversions. Each iteration is a kind of "moral holiday" that gives us temporary release from worry and propels us back to life.
But, as another old dead guy who thought a lot about how to be happy said: Que sais je? What do I know? 
Image result for montaigne on happiness 

Monday, February 9, 2015

John Lachs's Practical Philosophy

I'm delighted to learn of an international conference in the works for next August 11-13 in Berlin, honoring my old Vanderbilt mentor and friend John Lachs.

"Johns Lachs's practical philosophy" deserves all the attention and support it can get. The list of speakers is already impressive, beginning with the honoree himself.

I hope it's not true that the plug's being pulled on John's legendary Intro Ethics course, a casualty of meddlesome administrative undersight. If so, Vandy does indeed have an ethics problem.

Speaking of meddling: the Daily Beast ran a nice piece on Lachs's latest book recently. It continues to sound the affirming theme present in all of them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A walk to nowhere

Why do some people find it harder to run or walk on a treadmill?
...the most likely explanation for any drudgery associated with treadmill exercise is psychological. Treadmills are indoor machines, and many studies show that people generally prefer outdoor workouts. In various experiments, people have reported experiencing less fatigue, more vitality and greater pleasure after walking outside compared with on an indoor treadmill.
Also, treadmills typically provide a walk to nowhere, which may be demoralizing. In a study published last year, volunteers who set out to walk a course that had no clear finish line felt more fatigued afterward than when they covered the same distance with an obvious finish line ahead on which to focus.
So the lesson may be that, if you can, find a treadmill with a monitor and video programing showing an outdoor walking course with a beginning and, most important, an end.
Still, "the nectar is in the journey" - not the destination. The trouble with treadmills may simply be that they lack both. It's not so much that they go nowhere, as that they don't go at all.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A note from Michael Pollan

The food ethics guru notes his return to a theme he explored in Botany of Desire, which we read a while back in Environmental Ethics. He's lately
been immersed for much of the last year in a new project, the first fruits of which appear in the February 9 issue of the New Yorker, out today.  I’m eager to share this piece with you because the research has been some of the most exciting I’ve done. “The Trip Treatment” is a long narrative exploring the current renaissance of scientific and medical research into psychedelic drugs. My story looks at several recent and ongoing trials of psilocybin–the active ingredient in magic mushrooms—at Johns Hopkins, N.Y.U. and Imperial College in London, through the eyes of both the researchers and the volunteers. The U.S. trials involve giving cancer patients a guided psychedelic journey to help them cope with their fear and anxiety; most of the volunteers I followed found that the mystical experience they had on the drug radically altered their thinking about life and death.  Psychedelics are also being used to treat addictions (for smoking and alcohol); to explore the neuroscience of spirituality, and, in conjunction with various brain scanning technologies, to try to answer some fascinating questions about the self and consciousness. Here’s a link to the article, which is posted today: This might at first seem like a departure from writing about food. But those who have followed my work for some time know I’ve also had a longstanding interest in altered states of consciousness. I wrote about cannabis in The Botany of Desire and opium in Harper’s Magazine.  For me, these remarkable molecules are part of the same co-evolutionary story, products of nature with the power to change us.
And with such power comes the possibility of changing our environment and how we engage it. CoEvolution thus becomes companion to CoPhilosophy. Accelerating Intelligence News