Posts Tagged ‘questions’

I saved a quote from an article last week that I thought spoke very well to how important it is to always keep the mind questioning and open to new answers. So much shifts around us, so many new things are revealed each day that previously were hidden, that if we can’t maintain a habit of keeping our eyes open to them we’ll wind up blind. We’ll only see a world that once was visible to us, and project it onto what’s really in front of us, seeing our illusions rather than reality.

That’s a super hard habit to keep though. Maybe the answer is to every week (or day or month?) pick one thing we’ve assumed and try to find as many different ways to look at it as possible and see if we change our assumptions. Like when I challenged my assumption that I hated mushrooms (done wrong, I still do, otherwise I LOVE them).

We should find a way that works for us, though. It’ll take practice. It’ll take trial and error. But I think we’ll hit on something that works for us. Because Marty’s right.

[I]t’s dangerous to always think with exclamation points instead of question marks. Your stance on any particular issue is far less important than whether your worldview is a product of inquiry or incuriosity, whether you feel more comfortable questioning the crowd or blindly marching with it. No ideology has a monopoly on reality.

– Marty Beckerman


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Time enough for a quick thought about not getting caught up in trying to settle on the perfect answer…

The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers.
Ruth Benedict

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Today, I wish to share a quote in simple celebration of “stupid questions”. When you don’t know what more experienced people have already established as “fact”, sometimes you can find out ways to get places they’d ignored as “impossible”.

In the context of deeply entrenched problems that many people have given up on, it helps to not have a traditional framework so you can ask the naïve questions. That can help you set goals that more experienced people wouldn’t think are feasible.

– Wendy Kopp

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I’d like to share a quote I saved from something I was reading the other day:

If you apply stricter criteria to theories you dislike than theories you like (or vice versa!), then every additional nit you learn how to pick, every new logical flaw you learn how to detect, makes you that much stupider. Intelligence, to be useful, must be used for something other than defeating itself.
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, “A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation

This, of course, holds equally true for people you dislike, habits you dislike, experiences you dislike, etc. etc. etc. So I think we will greatly benefit if we apply equal amounts of patience and self-reflection between what we like and dislike (and you know me, I think those amounts should be quantified as “a lot”). That might sound obvious, but it’s hard to remember sometimes.

Luckily, like most things, it gets easier with practice. Practice becomes easier as we start to see the results in our own lives.

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Just a few random thoughts in the form of questions…

What are you waiting for?


Do you have to actively wait, or could you go on with all the other business of living, and just let it come?

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I couldn’t quite get together a coherent, non-technical-related thought this morning, so I thought I’d look up the Hacker Koan entry in Wikipedia for inspiration. A Hacker Koan is a “koan” made up by computing enthusiasts, especially network and AI programmers, particularly at MIT. One of the examples there I really like, and since they’re recent (and won’t really benefit from my paraphrase-telling), I’m just going to copy/paste the “koan” form, and the original story it was based on. Both have meaning.

Uncarved block

In the days when Sussman was a novice, Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6.
“What are you doing?”, asked Minsky.
“I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-tac-toe“, Sussman replied.
“Why is the net wired randomly?”, asked Minsky.
“I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play”, Sussman said.
Minsky then shut his eyes.
“Why do you close your eyes?” Sussman asked his teacher.
“So that the room will be empty.”
At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.

Unlike most traditional Zen koans, this koan has a possible concrete and correct answer: just as the room is not really empty when Minsky shuts his eyes, neither is the neural network really free of preconceptions when it is randomly wired. The network still has preconceptions, they are simply random now, and from a random rather than a human source.

Interestingly, this particular koan seems to have been closely based on a real incident; the following text extract is from Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (chapter 6):

So Sussman began working on a program. Not long after, this odd-looking bald guy came over. Sussman figured the guy was going to boot him out, but instead the man sat down, asking, “Hey, what are you doing?” Sussman talked over his program with the man, Marvin Minsky. At one point in the discussion, Sussman told Minsky that he was using a certain randomizing technique in his program because he didn’t want the machine to have any preconceived notions. Minsky said, “Well, it has them, it’s just that you don’t know what they are.” It was the most profound thing Gerry Sussman had ever heard. And Minsky continued, telling him that the world is built a certain way, and the most important thing we can do with the world is avoid randomness, and figure out ways by which things can be planned. Wisdom like this has its effect on seventeen-year-old freshmen, and from then on Sussman was hooked.

—Steven Levy, HACKERS: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

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Today’s thought is about overthinking, and about how hard it is to think clearly once the overthinking has begun… Rather than illustrate the point by belaboring it, I just want to share a quote by George Bernard Shaw:

No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.

I tried to come up with something to say about that in hopes of dealing with what it means to me (something about it being hard to put the obvious into words, or sometimes it being hard to see the obvious or even accept that what’s obvious can really be that simple and true), but… well, it’s meaning is fair nigh obvious. Therefore, I found the task too difficult! 🙂

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Today’s thought is just a Zen koan that says pretty much what I have on my mind:

Gasan was a Zen monk who was pretty well known for his practice. One day a college student visited him and asked if he’d ever read the Christian bible. Gasan said he hadn’t, and asked the student to read it to him.
“No, read it to me,” said Gasan.

The student opened the bible and read from St. Matthew, “And why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these… Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”

Gasan replied, “Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man.”

The student continued reading. “Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”

Gasan then said, “That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood.”

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There’s a Salon advice columnist named Cary Tennis, of whom I’m quite fond.  I love his perspective and turns of phrase, and how he can be more than a little mad (in both senses of the word) but still come out thoughtful and poetic and, in the truest sense, PRACTICAL.

Somebody had written him about having to choose between two things that were happening at the same time, and he said that it made him think of the incompressibility of time.  He then said something that I’m just going to quote:

To do the “incompressibility of water” experiment referenced above, one must first remove all the bubbles of air from the water. If you suck out all the bubbles, then your flask full of water becomes a hammer. Which makes one realize that time, which is also in its pure state incompressible, does, like water, seem to contain many bubbles; that is how we learn to manage time, and how one person can do twice or three times as much as the next person in the same period of time: We find the bubbles. We work in the bubble space. Bubbles in time are found in such things as the random or not-so-random thoughts one has while making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Bubbles in time occur while driving, while walking the dogs, while reading e-mail. Thinking takes place in the bubbles.

If you suck out all the air in the water, then the flask becomes a hammer. If you suck out all the bullsh** in time, then time becomes a hammer. If you fill each bubble with thought, then consciousness becomes a hammer.


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In zen, a mondo is a saying or story where the point isn’t to tell something, but more to kind of ask something of the person who reads or hears it.  And for that person, the point isn’t so much to answer the question in the story, but more to realize they have the answer to a larger question that the story doesn’t even mention.  It’s another of zen’s many little ways of both trying to snap us into spontenaiety and to help zen teachers (sometimes called roshi) tell where their students are at.

One mondo tells about a time Suzuki Roshi was giving a talk to his students.  He said that life was impossible.  One of his students asked, “If it’s impossible, how can we do it?”

The reply was, “You do it every day.”

My first thought was along the lines that life isn’t something to DO, or accomplish, because ‘accomplishing life’ really is impossible.  It’s something to experience though, and that’s something that’s worth the daily doing.  That’s not “the right answer”, just something that sparked for me in the everyday.

But then, I like something sparking for me every day. 🙂

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