Fore!

Group Of Teenagers Sharing Text Message On Mobile Phones
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From all appearances, just about every Missourian, and many from well beyond, attended the final round of the PGA golf championship this past weekend. From what I saw on television, however, I have no better idea of what someone from Missouri looks like. All I saw were smart phones.

That’s the new norm, of course. Anyone with a front row seat to history is not watching it; they’re filming it. They’re literally living their life through their phone.

The most obvious question is, why? Are they really going to watch Tiger’s drive on the third hole years from now?

I suspect people are just documenting their presence. They might show the video to colleagues at the office or send it out to close friends. Fair enough. But what does that suggest? Desperation, perhaps? If it’s personal validation we need, our mere attendance at a sporting event is pretty artificial.

I sense that we’re all feeling more than a little disconnected from the world at the moment. I wonder, however, if smart phone technology is helping or hurting. Can you really connect to the world through your phone? I don’t think so. It’s a thing.

And what are the long-term implications? Smart phone cameras have gotten much better, but they aren’t human eyes. And it’s not just a question of resolution.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the human brain and the senses that feed it. But the old truism, you can’t know what you don’t know, still applies. We still don’t know how emotions are formed or where contentment comes from. We have only theories about how we develop a meaningful sense of connection to the world around us. Is it really smart to put a permanent smart phone between us and the reality around us until we do?

I’ve done it, mind you. I went through a phase when my daughters were quite young when I filmed them constantly. And then I created clever little movies on my Macintosh.

Whenever I suggest we watch one, however, they have no interest. They’re on their phones checking out the latest Instagram posts. (They tell me that Facebook is so passé.)

I’m actively trying to unwire now. I consciously leave my smart phone at home quite frequently. And somehow, I must say, I actually feel more connected. Since I can’t check messages while standing in the checkout line, I actually observe.

And what I’ve observed most, to be honest, are people living through their smart phones. Everyone is texting, talking, checking their social media accounts, and, yes, snapping pictures. It’s all a bit bizarre once you sit back and truly observe it.

But each to his own. I do know, however, that if I ever get the chance to watch Tiger hit a golf ball in person, I won’t be taking any video. I want to be in the moment. I want to observe all of the reality—pixels and beyond. I want to be there, not filming there.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

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A simple, practical guide to getting the most out of life without the orthodoxy of organized religion or the impersonization of political correctness and the “you must” movements.

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Balanced Understanding

Baby Face
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I believe in the sine wave theory of the universe. What goes up ultimately goes down, and vice versa. It’s darkest just before the dawn and all that.

The sine wave, however, which defines all light and sound, is really just a circle in motion. Rotate a pencil around a fixed axis, move it forward, and you will draw a sine wave. (Look it up on YouTube.)

So you might say that it is really the circle that is at the heart of the universe and life. And I think that’s right.

Why is the earth round? (It’s spherical, but the distortions can be easily explained.) The scientists will tell you that gravity is the reason. When the earth was formed, and still hot and pliable, a circle was the most efficient geometry to accommodate the laws of gravity.

Fair enough.

But there is no universal law of gravity. Galileo, Newton, and Einstein have all had a hand in explaining how gravity works. Einstein, for example, gave us the notion of general relativity, explaining that gravity is not a force but a curvature in the space-time continuum.

It has since been shown, however, that general relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics. “Damn, another scientific explanation bites the dust.”

So, in the end, no one has come up with a unifying mathematical model of gravity. Where did it come from? Why does it exist? Why is the earth round?

It is, perhaps, comforting to believe that scientists will ultimately figure it all out. But I am no longer convinced that is true. And I am even less convinced that it matters.

One of the legacies of the Enlightenment, which gave us science and reason, is the notion that there is an explanation for everything. And the attraction of that is that an explanation inevitably leads to “progress.”

But does progress inevitably lead to greater happiness or personal fulfillment? The historical record does not make a very compelling case, to say the least.

What if we didn’t ask quite so many questions? What if we just accepted things as they are?

I’ve actually started to do this when I go on walks in the woods. I clear my mind. I mentally banish questions like “What kind of bird is that?” or “Why do you suppose that tree grew that way?” I just observe. I let the symmetry and the beauty just wash over me. And, yes, it makes me happy.

It’s a powerful way to live and I strongly recommend you try it. I guarantee your stress levels will go down when you ultimately accept that you don’t have to understand everything. (Perhaps understanding is a process of knowing less, not more.)

But don’t forget that circle. The circle, however it’s formed, is the geometric symbol for balance. And that, in the end, is the key to finding happiness and contentment in life. Kind of like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket on a cold winter day.

It just feels good.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

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A simple, practical guide to getting the most out of life without the orthodoxy of organized religion or the impersonization of political correctness and the “you must” movements.

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Entropy, Aisle 5

Photograph of shelves with promotions
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If you walk the aisles of any retail store you will quickly note that the retailer and the manufacturers who support it have two defining strategies, beyond price: new and choice. Every other product is “new” in some ill-defined way, and if a category of products is currently popular, the choices will be many.

Manufacturers put tremendous money and effort into new product development. And, in the end, the “latest and greatest” is often marginally different from the product it replaced, or, more likely, is now offered in addition to. In the glass business we once had water glasses, juice glasses, and beer glasses. Period. Now you will find a seemingly infinite number of specialty glasses for margaritas, mojitos, craft beers, you name it. And, guess what, they’re all made from the exact same ingredients, and the drinks will taste identical in any of them.

The technology companies are doing the same thing. I recently read an account of a group of Silicon Valley veterans talking about the future. To a person they predicted, with incomprehensible self-assurance, that they would define the future and that it would involve more and more computers. “…today is the slowest day society will ever move.” And, “Never ever try to compete with a computer on doing something…if you don’t lose today, you’ll lose tomorrow.”

There was lots of talk, of course, about artificial intelligence and deep learning, neither of which, in any traditional use of the terms, actually exists and never will. Self-driving cars, to their way of thinking, are a given, even though the closest anyone has gotten is, essentially, a train without rails. One participant actually suggested that we move directly to flying cars and skip self-driving, because the legal approval, he surmised, would be easier. (He naively thought that only the FAA would be involved.) One even predicted that within two decades some of us would choose to live fulltime within virtual reality.

The only question no one asked, and I suspect no one has an answer for, is why? Will virtual reality make us happier? Will flying cars give us greater contentment? Will another specialty glass give us greater connection to the world around us? And if everyone lives to the age of 200, where will we put everyone, and how will we feed them?

What we’re witnessing is the entropy of life. In business, companies assume they “must grow or die,” although there is absolutely no historical evidence of that. In technology there is the presumption that more is better, even though there is plenty of evidence already that this is not true.

Entropy is the natural tendency of the universe. That doesn’t mean it’s irrefutable. It only means that it will take some effort. It won’t happen on its own.

But what if we don’t make the effort? What if we don’t forgo making the purchase we don’t really need? What if we don’t hold our corporations and politicians accountable for the technological entropy they bring upon us?

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

66778099_Kindle Ready Front Cover_7396632

A simple, practical guide to getting the most out of life without the orthodoxy of organized religion or the impersonization of political correctness and the “you must” movements.

click here for the paperback

click here for the electronic version

Fight Entropy

Dark thoughts, negative thinking and emotions concept 3D rendering.
photo credit: iStock.com/image_jungle

I often advise my business clients that the most productive thing they can do today is to spend some time thinking about what they believe in. What defines you as a person? Or, more importantly, what would you like to define you as a parent, spouse, colleague, friend, member of society?

Our beliefs are defined by our values, our experiences, and our aspirations. They connect the past, present, and future, providing a roadmap that is adaptive but insures consistency, one of the most important elements of success in all aspects of life, from work to parenting. It’s a roadmap that is even more important today because of the pace and magnitude of change we face in all facets of our lives.

At the same time, we are bombarded on a daily basis with messages attempting to influence what we believe. They’re not always obvious or transparent, but no generation in the history of the world has been nudged, cajoled, bullied, and shamed into believing someone else’s version of reality quite so insistently as we have.

While we can never know reality completely, we should at least have a hand in defining our own version. How can we connect to the world around us if we have no identity we can call our own? Those around us cannot connect to an ever-shifting mirage. And as Maslow articulated, we can do nothing with our lives until we connect and develop a sense of belonging to something.

The most powerful law of physics is the law of entropy. Concentrations dissipate. And it doesn’t matter what it is. Your child’s bedroom is not going to clean itself up. Nor your desk at work. Muscles atrophy. Discipline dissipates if not reinforced. So, too, do values and beliefs. Which is why there is often such a big disconnect between what people say they believe and their actual behavior. Their beliefs have dissipated since they last committed to them.

Entropy also explains why we are so susceptible to acting in ways in which other people tell us we must. (And there is no shortage of those people around today.) Entropy makes surrender the easier path to follow.

Self-satisfaction dissipates too, however. We are inclined toward disorder, a lack of confidence, and the anxiety that the world is not the way we’d like it to be. And it won’t get better unless we consciously do something about it.

Spend some time thinking about what you believe. What are your values? What do you want to stand for? These are not questions with definitive answers. They are tools to help you fight entropy.

And fight it you must. Entropy is the ultimate expression of the reality that the universe is composed only of energy. Matter, as physicists now know, is just energy that is moving imperceptibly.

Your choices, as always, represent a duality. You can succumb to entropy. Or you can fight it. Entropy, however, is the natural state. You can’t fight it without first overcoming the natural tendency not to.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

66778099_Kindle Ready Front Cover_7396632

A simple, practical guide to getting the most out of life without the orthodoxy of organized religion or the impersonization of political correctness and the “you must” movements.

click here for the paperback

click here for the electronic version

“42”

Apple iPhone 4s Siri
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I have an Alexa device. Other than sporadically responding (“Sorry, I don’t understand”) to the voices on Netflix, or my daily request for a weather update, it largely sits silent. All of which changed, however, when my 15 and 17 year-old daughters recently visited. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I wondered if she was, in fact, “happy,” and vacillated between hearing it in her voice and not.

What quickly became obvious, more importantly, is that Alexa was a very different “thing” to them than to me. I find I shy from asking her questions because I naturally and inevitably feel compelled to be civil and considerate; to say please and thank you. They apparently feel no such obligation. They find it funny to ask her questions she can’t answer. (I worry that she will be frustrated.) While they don’t treat her with contempt, they do treat her with cold indifference. (They never say thank you.)

This difference between my daughters and me, undoubtedly, can be explained by familiarity and its impact on context. I have been Pavlovized over six decades to associate a human voice with a human. In their short lifetimes machines have always talked.

There can be little question that one of the unintended consequences of this development is the dehumanization of humanity itself. There has been a convergence between organic life and inanimate life that we often attribute to advancements on the inanimate side. Clearly, however, perception on the organic side has been compromised as well.

That’s important, of course, because perception and reality define each other in a never-ending iterative process of expression and interpretation. As a result there is far more than familiarity at stake.

The whole Red Hen saga has been unfolding during this time and I wonder if this technological dehumanization is contributing to the loss of civility in our public interactions with each other. (Or, more importantly, our acceptance of incivility.) We tend to evolve and acquire new behaviors with fairly limited discretion and, as a result, dehumanization would not be surgically influential.

My bigger fear, however, is that technology is dehumanizing our ability to differentiate true and inferred knowledge.

I am, quite frankly, unimpressed with Alexa’s intellectual prowess. I hear the work of a legion of young people who have taught Alexa to answer the most obvious, but superficial questions: What is your last name? What is your favorite color? Tell me a Ninja joke. If asked the meaning of life, “42” is the answer.

My daughters don’t appear to hear that simplicity. In part that is another unintended consequence of technology—the blurring of intellectual curiosity and entertainment.

Like everything else in the universe, these unintended consequences are interconnected. To which I ask: Is technology getting smarter or is it simply dumbing us down to its binary level?

Either path, of course, will lead to dystopia. Is there really a difference between a world in which the machines take over and one in which we have stopped being human?

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

66778099_Kindle Ready Front Cover_7396632

A simple, practical guide to getting the most out of life without the orthodoxy of organized religion or the impersonization of political correctness and the “you must” movements.

click here for the paperback

click here for the electronic version

The Iceberg Effect

Outstanding Iceberg Greenland
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If scientists are greatly hampered in their efforts by the fact that reality is defined by an almost limitless, perhaps infinite, number of variables, only a handful of which we are even aware of, much less can measure, economists, sociologists, and historians are hobbled in much the same way. In this regard there are no hard and soft sciences, as we commonly refer to them. There is only the blind man’s attempt to describe the elephant his fingers explore.

Historians, for their part, seek to understand the most famous figures of an era on the assumption that they must surely have influenced the history that ultimately unfolded. There is nothing about the present, however, of which we have a more intimate knowledge, to suggest that individual people, no matter how powerful or well known, shape history as much as they are merely propelled along by it.

Economists measure grand statistical trends that are assumed to be proxies for the micro economic activities that each of us undertakes in the process of living day to day. Most of us, however, are forced to question this connection when we evaluate our own condition. And while the whole can produce something greater than the sum of its parts, can a collection of falsehoods be true? Unlikely, at best.

Sociologists, likewise, observe and measure patterns in a society on the assumption that when it comes to human behavior, coordination is of greater influence than coincidence. Few of us, however, consciously consider such influences as we go about our day. If anything, we often feel that we are the leaf propelled along by the current of a river we don’t begin to fully understand and certainly have no sense of influence over.

It is no wonder that we are in a habitual state of correction and re-evaluation. It is no wonder that our publishers and our scholars didn’t run out of things to explain centuries ago. And probably never will, despite assurances from scientists who ignore the duality of the universe and blindly proclaim that all will be known in time.

I refer to it as the iceberg effect. We evaluate life and the universe while sitting in a ship bobbing on an ocean that no amount of technology or scientific discovery can ever fully penetrate. What lies below we may never know.

And where is the duality in this? On the one hand, the iceberg offers the excitement and the romanticism of the perpetually unknown. On the other, the iceberg insures the fear and uncertainty of the same perpetually unknown.

A fertile duality, of course, for the poets and the artists among us. A risk, however, should we, like the captain of the Titanic, ever convince ourselves that the iceberg is not real or present.

Sophocles (406 BCE) was right: “Not knowing anything is the sweetest life.” But so was Daniel Boorstin (1914-2004): “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.” It is the duality of the iceberg.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

66778099_Kindle Ready Front Cover_7396632

A simple, practical guide to getting the most out of life without the orthodoxy of organized religion or the impersonization of political correctness and the “you must” movements.

click here for the paperback

click here for the electronic version

Dumbing Down Knowledge

Microbiological studies
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Scientific discovery is all about isolating variables and controlled testing. And the ability to isolate variables, of course, is all about finding the patterns in whatever reality we’re trying to understand scientifically.

And since reality is defined by an almost limitless number of variables, there are lots of patterns to be found and scientifically tested. If we look at the wrong variables, however, or there are more fundamental variables that we don’t yet know exist or don’t have the technology to measure, the patterns we see can be illusory. Which is why a great deal of scientific discovery is ultimately proven to be wrong. The science wasn’t bad. The scientists just saw and validated the wrong patterns.

The risk of error, of course, is enhanced by the fact that scientists are constantly looking to discover something new. And in the interest of efficiency and productivity they are actually incentivized to see not the patterns that are there, but the patterns they expect to see.

It’s a variation of what psychologists and neuroscientists call precognitive assumption. The brain processes only a small fraction of the data that the senses provide. It looks for patterns that it recognizes and when it is satisfied it sees one, an assumption is made. If we didn’t think in that way we wouldn’t get much done.

The threshold for precognitive assumption is different for all of us, but we all do it. And, as a result, we’re all wrong at least some of the time. The impact might be as simple as falling for a magician’s trick, but it could be as significant as announcing a scientific discovery that later proves to be false, or at least not complete.

Those assumptions are formed based on our experience and our acquired belief systems. And the strength of those assumptions, of course, differs for all of us.

In the case of scientists, who tend to be highly educated and can, as a result of immense experience, be set in their convictions, those assumptions, which are normally so productive, can actually become counter-productive. The reason is that if a scientist’s assumptions are strong enough, he or she will not only see false patterns but will, in fact, avoid seeing real patterns that don’t align with their existing belief system.

In this way it can actually be said that science, as great as it is, can actually “dumb down” knowledge. Instead of discovering reality, we can falsify reality in order to make it fit our scientific paradigm. It happens all the time.

A similar risk exists in the area of digital technology. Before we can create an expert or intelligent system we must redefine the process in binary terms using algorithms. We must, in other words, dumb down the reality we are automating.

Will self-driving cars contain artificial intelligence? Or will the engineers dumb down the act of driving to the binary level of the technology? You’ll want to know before you put your family in one.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

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My latest book is now available in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon. Click here for the paperback. Click here for the Kindle version.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@gmoreau.com

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