Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Update on Honesty and Value-Oriented Conversations

It's been about a week now since I've stated my aspiration to keep a watch on my honesty and modes of conversation; how have I been doing?

Pleasantly, I haven't been doing too badly with my violations. Only every now and then do I give myself a slash mark, so I consider myself doing rather well. To my own perspective I think this makes me outwardly dull given my current development, but I think honesty is the first necessary requirement on the road to developing a flavorful self. Faking it may make for a more entertaining appearance in the short-term, but it would deprive me of achieving something so much more richer in the future.

Besides, I think I'm starting to see signs that this emphasis on honesty is actually improving both my sense of life and is making it more explicit. The best gestures of personality are the spontaneous and involuntary ones. In some instances I've felt a burst of emotion that I cannot help but display in a somewhat dramatic way.

This self-improvement venture may even be affecting my dreams. Recently I had a dream that me and a celebrity (Jason Alexander, "George" from Seinfeld) were running for our lives from assassins who wanted to kill us. Throughout its entirety I felt an authentic concern for the celebrity's life and refused to depart from him even as it increased my own chances of being killed. I was never once impressed with the person's celebrity status despite being aware of it the whole time, as I was only concerned with making sure his life was protected as well as mine; I even kept pace with his running even though I am much more fit than him. Given that I didn't know it was a dream and that I felt authentic emotion towards this man's well-being while believing myself in mortal danger, I consider this rather telling of my emotional nature. (It's a particularly striking dream since I perceived it as being my longest one ever at about 30-45 minutes, though who knows what that translates to in real-world time.)

Though this is not to say I'm out of the woods yet; work still must be done, so I'll continue to maintain my tracking practices in my notepad. Perhaps I might keep a tally of my honesty as a permanent practice even after I choose to reduce emphasis on value-oriented conversations. I'll continue on as I am now, to continue reinforcing this awareness into my everyday life.

The continuation of my Project may be holding me back from experiencing the full-effects of these practices, but, again, it's never a bad day to improve your life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dismissing the Negative

While I still like the principle of my thinking lists, I'm finding that putting them to practice is extremely difficult. Like the first time I tried employing them several years ago, I'm finding that I cannot generate any interest in guiding my thinking in accordance to the list, so it far too often has a null effect. Given the circumstances of my life right now, I consider this a problem particularly important to solve.

There are two main reasons as to why I wish to maintain thinking lists. For one, it's a matter of keeping myself productive at all times. At work, for instance, it is not always the case that there's a consistent stream of things for me to do or that I'll be able to break away from my task to do conceptual exercises (e.g. pulling chicken apart for soup), so during those activities in which I have the most time to guide my thinking I want to be able to guide my thinking productively. Secondly, I've cultivated the cumbersome habit of dwelling on the Circumstance towards which my Project is directed towards solving, which usually ends up souring my emotions and making me less productive. It is the second I regard as most important contextually, since I view it as one of the biggest roadblocks to my happiness (aside from the Circumstance) and idealized habits.

Honestly, such dwelling on the negative has been a problem for well over a year now. To recap, the Circumstance first invaded my thoughts when I was still in the process of trying to determine how to best and most effectively deal with it, and it continued to consume most of my hours of thinking since most of the things I've tried failed. Now that I've got the nearly fool-proof Project in place, I think it's best that I lose as much awareness as possible of the Circumstance, but I'm finding it difficult since it still exists in my life and still has an effect on me. It is during the moments in which I am engaged in free thinking, thinking away from the stimuluses of reading and writing, that I find it hard to keep my thoughts from that matter. For the sake of emotional health, it needs to stop.

My first thought of a solution was to try and restrict my thinking to only that which was on my thinking list or was before me in my endeavor as a way of prohibiting any irrelevant thinking. If I wished to change subjects, then the new topic must be written down beforehand. With how strict this methodology was, I was only able to maintain it for about half a day since the speed of my thoughts made it absolutely cumbersome to have to write down every single subject I wanted to think about, so I abandoned it. I managed to establish an inertia that kept my mind off the Circumstance that day, but it isn't sufficient for the long-term. The stimulus of change needs to be to my very lifestyle.

The list-keeping methodology advocated in Getting Things Done has given me an insight. According to the book, one of the things one must maintain meticulousness in is being sure to always check the appropriate to-do lists on a consistent basis so that one's subconscious will "trust" the lists and clear one's thoughts about them. I realize now that, despite my being consistent with my other checking, I hardly pay any continuous attention to my trigger lists (list of concepts) and thinking lists; I usually just stick them in my back pockets, be on my way, and only pull them off on the rare occasions that I think I need them. Consequently, my subconscious may not trust them as providing potential activities to complete, so they stay out of my normal thinking. If I were to check them more consistently, then perhaps I'd be more apt to productively utilize them. To try and defeat my dwelling on the negative, I'll add to my list of routine activities to check and edit both my trigger and thinking list to ensure that they remain constantly relevant and can provide fresh new things to exert my mind towards. Perhaps then I'll be more interested in thinking about the things on my thinking list.

Additionally, I've noticed that I have next to no difficulties in keeping my mind occupied while I'm engaged in an intellectual activity, like watching a movie, writing, studying, and so on. I should also strive to keep myself as occupied as possible in these realms to prevent myself from having periods of free thinking.

In fact, I think I could practically use my daydreaming as a guide as to when I should do some pure thinking about something (such as digesting the information from a study subject) or should move straight to the next activity I need to do. I've noticed that the content of my thinking and daydreaming alters pretty well in line with what I need to do. If I find that I'm interested in thinking about a particular subject, barring the Circumstance of course, then I can safely conclude that it is something I should think about. Also, now that I have more control over my daydreaming and have strengthened my ability to concentrate, when I daydream -- again, barring about the Circumstance -- it could serve as an indication that my mind needs rest. If I start to struggle and cannot comfortably guide my thinking or daydreaming to productive ventures or am dwelling on the Circumstance, then that probably could serve as a sign that I've petered myself out on what pure mental activities I was capable of and so need to get myself to another activity to occupy myself. Reading my mental workings this way may be the best way to comfortably guide my mental processes without straining or forcing myself.

But regardless of which is the most comfortable course to take, I recognize that there might be times in which I simply should exercise discipline and just force myself to guide my mental processes with the best of my will. Such moments will be extremely uncomfortable ones, but if my above musings are correct, then the amount of these moments can be potentially minimized, if not stopped altogether.

Success in this realm means being yet another step closer to my idealized self. It is of question as to how my mental state will be once I complete my Project and the Circumstance will have ceased affecting me, but for now I'm content to concentrate exclusively on dealing with matters as they are for now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Altruism Doesn't Grow on Trees

Money has been on my mind a lot since I've taken up my Project, and I've learned a great deal about my attitude towards it. What would I do with a lot of it? Well, I'd get my Project done, save, invest in my culinary and general education, and start funding some of my entrepreneurial ideas. That's about it. I really can't imagine myself indulging in extravagant luxury other than gourmet food; primarily, I'd use the money to fuel my business aspirations and educational endeavors. If I were to become successful and rich in business, then I'd use that money for even more business aspirations, to simply pursue greater and greater achievements. Hedonism is furthest from my mind in thinking of riches, and I actually feel uncomfortable at the thought of inheriting a vast fortune rather than making my own.

Given my attitude, it makes me contemplate how terrible popular attitudes are. Predominantly it seems like people want a large pile of money -- with no means to obtain it specified -- so they can live the most hedonistic lifestyle they've ever dreamed of, which I consider to be similar in error to people who desire retirement: they take a momentary desire and inflate it to the point that they think they could spend a lifetime perpetually satisfying it. It's erroneous since it confuses a short-term desire with a long-term one. I'd perhaps be tickled to order the complete series of my favorite television show, Monk, and utilize more expensive ingredients in my cooking, but I know what I'd truly want is to do in life in master my culinary craft and become a masterful business owner, using money as the means and not the end.

The most pathetic attitude towards money I've observed, however, are those that want to use a fortune for altruistic ends. Of course, as an Objectivist you know I'm opposed to the morality of altruism, but that actually isn't important here; what I'm concentrating on is what this says about a person who holds this desire. Regardless of one's moral stance, at first sight this seems like a very well-intentioned desire, but upon further thought it can be seen how truly pathetic such a person would be. The particular person that I've observed who holds this desire doesn't give much consideration as to how they would obtain a vast fortune: He seems to want it to fall out of the sky. One time I even observed him express a desire to marry a particular person for the sole purpose of gaining a portion of that person's wealth.

After theoretically obtaining such pined-after wealth, by whatever means, I've then heard the person state that he would pursue to distribute it to his family. This seems comical to me: He wants to gain a fortune so he can promptly get rid of it? Since the means of obtaining said fortune isn't really specified, why not just hope that the whole family achieves wealth in their own realms and in their own way? Why does he desire to be the sole distributor of the money he wants everyone to have?

I realize now that he desires to cheat morality by finding an effortless shortcut to implementing it. Altruism requires its practitioner sacrifice his values for the sake of other men, and to, most importantly, not keep any values for himself lest he be selfish. Since a value-oriented life is the only possible way to achieving happiness, altruism necessarily leads to pain. Imagine if you had spent weeks saving up for a meal at your favorite restaurant, only to drop the saved money in a Salvation Army tin situated in front of the restaurant's door. It is, again, irrelevant to this particular topic as to how one views this action morally, for what I'm trying to point out is that such an action leads to frustration. This is the essence of altruism, in which it demands you "Give until it hurts." Nobody enjoys practicing altruism: the people who act in accordance to it consistently will suffer from losing their values, and the people who betray it but still believe it to be ideal will suffer in guilt.

The person above who desires a vast fortune for him to distribute recognizes, at least subconsciously, that altruism is a painful practice, so he's looking for a pain-free way to implement it and easily obtain the status of moral saint. With a large fortune, he supposes, he could easily "sacrifice" his monetary values and take the fast road to becoming virtuous. Perhaps he might even think that he can skim off the excess as a little treat for himself.

Altruism, however, doesn't work like this. Morality, all moralities, depend on constant and consistent practice. You can't just accumulate a "score" and expect to be able to sit still eternally at one moral status. After the fortune disappears, the person would no longer have riches to distribute, but altruism would still demand him to continue his sacrificial practices, again painful. Even if the person did devise a deliberate pace at which to distribute his riches, in order to ensure he has riches to give until his death, he would still be suffering from the guilt that he's not fully practicing altruism; you have to give all your values in one fell swoop, so any lesser action will prevent a person from being virtuous according to this standard.

The thing that truly sticks out to me in all of this, however, is how absolutely pathetic this person has shown himself to be in desiring the easy way out of the practice of his morality. Even if he could achieve virtue by this standard, it still would be far from an admirable action. What is admirable is to observe people of strength accomplishing difficult feats, not weak, petty people engaging in effortless distribution. That this person desires to practice morality in absolutely the weakest fashion is reprimandable.

But could this perhaps be a mentality present in the culture in general? If so, then how atrocious. It certainly isn't a recipe for a nation of people to try and develop themselves in the strongest way possible. That means the rest of us that do want to become strong will also have to bear the weight of those who do not, both in business and culture.

If I had a million dollars I unashamedly admit that I would spend it on myself, but not in hedonism or to try to somehow counter the need for effort. My aim would be to keep myself alive and to develop myself in the best possible way, better improved with a fortune. (Recorded lectures aren't cheap!) For now I'd truly and honestly settle perfectly content with bare sustenance, to get my Project done and to concentrate on my studies and culinary practices. Getting rich can wait for later; there's work to do first.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Study Summary 9/17/10 - 9/23/10

This week I managed to complete chapters six and seven of Journals of Ayn Rand, completing fifteen conceptual exercises afterward, and chapter six of Good Calories, Bad Calories, completing ten conceptual exercises afterward. Goal-wise, I fell but one short: I managed to construct five posts for this blog (including this one), look up an oversight of computer programming and request a book, complete two chapters of Journals, establish a separate journal for a specific entrepreneurial idea I have, and document the entirety of my online recipes to Plummelo, but I did not complete two chapters of GCBC. All in all, I'm proud of my consistency and pacing, but believe that I could still be more rigorous in my efforts and push harder.

Unlike last week, this week I have the pleasure of knowing that my coming up short was a result of my own inadequate efforts rather than physical malfunctions. My brain felt fine except for some pleasurable burning and twitching, so I simply didn't push hard enough to pursue matters. Also, I wasn't rigorous enough due to my having foolishly become aware of the Thursday deadline (for this article) and so have hurried up a portion of my studies for the sake of getting it "done." There is still a need for me to not be aware of time while I study, I see, and I should be more careful to get to my work earlier so as to have plenty of time to lose myself in it.

GCBC continues to show its worth as a study subject. Though each chapter is of a moderate length, I generate quite a bit of notes from the reading and am quite mentally stimulated the whole time. There is still the difficulty, however, of me not keeping well enough track of concrete facts and switching to broad integrations, so I must continue my efforts to improve there. Overall, I'm having no problems of real concern with this study section.

Journals, however, leaves more to be desired. I'm starting to wonder whether or not it's really a subject truly worthy of study. The chapters are substantially longer than those in GCBC, and yet I can hardly come up with more than a few lines' worth of notes. A lot of the material is redundant due to my having studied Objectivism for a few years now, and the chapters regarding her notes during certain books bores me and seems more appropriate for fans interested in a less-intense reading than I'm currently doing. Nonetheless I will stick with it since I believe the wide variety of content offered in this book will yield something worthwhile here and there, and I am gaining good insight on my own character regardless.

For next week I will again try to complete two chapters each of Journals and GCBC, as well as accomplish several personal goals, though I may add to the list mid-week if I determine it appropriate (but will refrain from subtracting from it, for the sake of integrity). Among those other goals will be to include two sessions of mental math practice (I haven't written about it yet), to organize the topics I need to write about in my special entrepreneurial journal (and start some entries), restrict my Facebook and Twitter activities to times only after 8 PM, and to do some career research, which I think I should keep private for now due to its connection to the Project. As for the writing pace on this blog, I'm conflicted. On one hand, I know I'm perfectly capable of maintaining five posts per week, but on the other I have to wonder about the benefits and whether its cutting into time I could be spending otherwise. Perhaps I'm not making my writing valuable enough, to both me and the reader. For right now, I'll aim to continue the pace.

Onwards, then, to contributing to the sum of life.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting (Cooking) Done

At one point I asserted the possibility of my tracking my culinary development here weekly, but I've so far failed in that endeavor, only giving you my study summaries. In truth, I haven't been doing much in the way of culinary endeavors at all period. Sure, I am cooking to some extent to feed myself of course, but not with a wide enough variety of dishes and practices to make myself grow. At first I attributed this to the financial pressure of the Project, but I realize now that truly the problem lies in my recipe documentation system.

Every recipe documentation system I've seen on the internet absolutely sucks. There's no way to rotate or organize recipes, thereby leaving the confusion of seeing one's entire collection in a gigantic continuous list. That my computer is situated in the basement further complicates things, as I have to run up and down the stairs in order to track the steps of a particular recipe. The combination of the lack of good documentation, the irritation in properly rotating recipes (to ensure continuous and varied practice), and running about to read steps has led to me depending on a few varied staples and preparing them the same way over and over again. My diet isn't so monotonous that it's boring or not nutritious, but it is monotonous enough that it stands in the way of good practice. Things need to change, and I've been thinking about setting up a system that best encourages productivity.

Online, the best technology I've observed is Plummelo, which not only allows for saving recipes and writing in one's own, but also allows for meal planning and the generation of grocery lists. Still, I have to say it, well, sucks. The recipes are displayed in one continuous stream with no organization, which, while seemingly minor, is aggravating when you're trying to single out a recipe of a specific category. I'd also like to see a rotation feature that would shuffle the recipes so as to keep things mixed and allow for easier planning and varied practice.

I'm also thinking that I could invest in paper documentation, but we'll see. I've petered out my grocery funds for the month, so there's a little time to think about matters. A paper method would certainly present its own challenges -- the slowness in writing, manually shuffling, mentally keeping track of ingredients -- but it would allow me to implement to some degree what I view as ideal and to be able to more readily take cards up and down the stairs. So much improvement could still be made in this realm, however.

I'll continue contemplating this problem and will let you know of my efforts. While the ideal recipe documentation system may not be in existence right now, I need to work to at least remove the psychological barriers that prevent me from giving serious consideration to my meal and shopping planning.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thinking Lists

Lately I've noticed there are some flaws in my Mental Calvinball games, which have been preventing me from making the best intellectual use of my time at work. As noted before, the particular sort of game I've chosen is to count the dishes as I wash them, giving myself different multiples to count by to up the difficulty. Recently I've also taken to using my cellphone as a stopwatch to time how long it takes to complete certain tasks, such as cleaning a particular portion of the kitchen or peeling potatoes. It's done well to keep my mind on my work and to enhance my performance, but in some instances it's inadequate.

For one, restaurants are not busy 100% of the time. There are some nights in which I get so few dishes that counting them does no good to keep my mind on the task. On others we may be so drastically busy that I find, given a certain multiple, that I can't count the dishes in the pace I need to operate at to be efficient at my job. Such difficulties could give rise to the possibility of leaving my mind unengaged and allow for intellectual idleness or, god forbid, my dwelling on the Circumstance. Consequently, I've learned I need to cover my bases more effectively so as to allow my mind to be productive at all times, no matter what the circumstance or working condition. Obtaining such a level of preparedness would allow me to be more productive, focused, concentrative, and intellectually stimulated.

As such, I've decided to re-institute my thinking lists. Previously, while I was a Park Ranger, I maintained thinking lists as a way to encourage thinking in what was a predominantly physical line of work, but I stopped maintaining them since I thought it felt too much like I was "forcing" my consciousness. I see now a possible use for them as a way of filling up gaps in my time.

As the name might suggest, these lists are simply listings of topics to think about. While I'm out and am not particularly mentally engaged I might not know how to best direct my mind, so such a list is useful in that instance since it can suggest topics to occupy myself with: a particular entrepreneurial idea I have, a self-improvement goal I haven't sufficiently entertained, a question I posited but didn't investigate, and more. In times when I'm mentally "lost," this list can provide a useful direction to go in.

All I do is write a list of topics that I want or need to think about and keep it in my pocket at all times, along with my trigger list of concepts to do conceptual exercises for. If the situation calls for it, I can just glance at my list and be on my way.

With the current circumstances I face at my workplace right now, I think these practices -- Mental Calvinball, conceptual exercises, and thinking lists -- are sufficient to keep me engaged at all times. If I'm busy at the sink washing dishes, then I can do Mental Calvinball or use my thinking list; if I find a space of time with nothing to do but wait for something, then I can do conceptual exercises; if I'm engaged in a particularly long and repetitious task, then I can use my thinking list. Perhaps I could even work to combine methods. Pulling apart cuts of chicken to create chunks for soup, for instance, could engage both Mental Calvinball (timing the task) and my thinking list. Whatever the conditions are, idleness is inexcusable.

I'm not sure if it's my natural predisposition or the result of my lifestyle, but I find that there's a real need for the intellect in my life. The more I think and the more I master thinking the more it integrates itself into my value hierarchy and essential habits. Once someone managed to give me a slight headache by switching the topic of conversation away from something that excited my brain, and another time I had managed to make my head feel literally hungry since I decided to go for a walk before starting my studies. Without the use of my mind I'm unhappy. One night while at work I became very frustrated when I found I couldn't do my Mental Calvinball at the pace the dishes needed to be done. The best metaphor I've seen to summarize such an attachment to the intellect can be borrowed and rephrased from Sherlock Holmes: an active mind with nothing to contemplate on is like an engine without a car, for without a car it remains in one place and racks itself to pieces.

I'm certainly open to adding more mental practices if I find them valuable -- you can never have enough values -- but for now I think this will cover my bases totally. Unintentionally I have come to alter my lifestyle so that I can literally make use of every moment of life, whether at home, work, or in a waiting room. Given what such short lives we have, that's exactly where I want my practices to be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Valuable Conversations and Developing Authenticity

Don't think I've forgotten about my romantic aspirations, in which I've decided that the first major step I need to make is inner change. I've been monitoring my behavior with other people over the past months, and I have to say that I don't like what I've observed.

Succinctly put, I still have some elements of Peter Keating within me. I smile when my present emotional state doesn't call for it, tell jokes for the sake of appearance, reduce emphasis on organizing my living towards my ideals, refrain from portraying in person my values, and more. Such crimes against the self have been minor and uncommon in the actual number of times I have committed them, but in my vision of my ideal self they need to be eradicated totally. Given the small degree of second-handedness I have been displaying I am not experiencing any shame or guilt, but I realize with my intellect that such emotions will soon come to pass unless I seize upon my awareness of my bad habits and change for the better.

In truth, this is the same problem I encountered years before in the past, right when I discovered and started learning about Objectivism. Having lived most of my life without an explicit philosophy (given my youth), I have been a rather "empty" person in regards to an authentic, individual personality, due to not having the knowledge or methods to develop a rich individuality. Oddly enough, I got into Rand's philosophy through means of her non-fiction, not her novels, but still had quite a clear understanding that the way I acted around people was faking reality, though not in the terminology of second-handedness. I was embarrassed by the way I acted around my friends and chastised myself for it every afternoon on the way home from school. Eventually I managed to cease the behavior I viewed as against my ideals, but that didn't lead to totally positive action; that is, developing a self that I could be proud of.

So now I've retrogressed a little bit. Being involved more in social situations than I have in the past, what with work, now I'm showing the tendencies I thought I rid myself of. If I want to develop an authentic, lovable self, then I need to work on developing an authentic self. By authentic I mean showing myself for who I am at all times, or: being honest at all times.

I think the reason why I've developed such outwardly second-handed tendencies is because subconsciously I have observed that I don't have a sufficient cause for a desired effect: having an authentic and lovable self. As such, due to carelessness I've taken to trying to mimic the appearance of the effects I want (albeit poorly) and hoping they somehow lead to establishing the cause in a reverse fashion. For example, I'm internally assuming that if I perform the physical motion of smiling enough number of times it will eventually lead to the establishment of the emotions which give rise to smiling. Smiling should, after all, be a physical indication of a person's inner state. Of course, made explicit this is an absurd belief, but if we're not careful with our minds we can be prone to programming in some very silly fallacies.

If I were to continue this behavior in the long-run it might lead to winning the favor of the people around me -- such a "pleasant" fellow I would be -- but winning such favor would be devoid of substance; it would literally be all a matter of appearance. In the long-run it would lead to the failure to make actual value-oriented relationships since my outer world wouldn't match my inner world. To hope to achieve such relationships, both in the matter of friends and romantic partners, I need to work to establish the prerequisites in myself: the attributes that are admirable in a human being and a sense of life that gives rise to a deep love of life and the portrayal of true, rich emotions.

My Project does present a certain barrier in fully realizing my aim, as it's required that it be completed in order for me to achieve a boost in my sense of life and productivity, but I can make a darn good start in two areas: my honesty and conversational habits.

A few days ago a friend on Facebook sent me an interesting article in regards to how many famous men utilized pocketbooks. I myself have recently developed the habit of keeping a notepad and pencil with me at all times to keep track of my recordable thoughts, so this article has offered me good insight on how I could be better using my notepad. I really like Benjamin Franklin's idea of tracking his adherence to moral purity (though his version of ethics is a bit odd) by keeping a daily chart. My notepad is really rather tiny, so I could borrow the principle of his idea by writing two categories of things to aspire to and placing slash lines next to them every time I detect a violation. It should work to make me more aware of my habits, and awareness is the key factor here to initiating positive change.

As for honesty, the goal is to make sure I present myself as I truly am. To provide some examples: smiling only when my emotional state calls for it (excluding cordial smiles, such as during greetings and goodbyes), telling only jokes I truly find funny, offering my true thoughts when asked, and so on. The biggest source of my second-handed troubles is in regards to my mannerisms, such as faking the physical display of my emotions or sincerity, so I pretty much have no problem whatsoever in regards to expressing my true thoughts; I need to concentrate on my physical displays. Sure, I certainly could do better in pursuing more virtue in the intellectual realm, but since I'm neutral in this realm I think it's more important to work on what happen to be actual problems as of right now.

The conversational side is more an issue of lovability and can be considered nearly a cosmetic issue. In observing myself interacting with other people, I've noticed that my usual conversational habits don't concentrate nearly enough on the value-oriented aspects of life; instead I've been concentrating on non-values or anti-values. To be clear, I've spent more time talking about things I dislike or hate than I have about things I like or love. I talk more about what I hate about scrubbing crusted dishes more than what innovations I'd like to make, more about the attributes I dislike in a certain person than what attributes I like in people in general, more about music I hate than music I like, and so on. In talking about anti-values I haven't been extreme -- I don't bring into casual conversation things such as murder, my struggles with my Project, the detestable state of the world, and so on -- but even petty things such as concentrating on unenjoyable movies is sufficient to reduce the likability of a person. It is irrelevant whether a person holds a malevolent universe premise (that humans are destined to suffer) or a benevolent universe premise (that high values and happiness are achievable): Neither person takes pleasure in anti-values! The former type of person may concentrate on anti-values in an effort to make light of them or desensitize himself, but that does not bring him any closer to personal happiness; it only allows him to cope with what is an underlying negative sense of life, a personal hell constructed through a bad view on life.

To elaborate on this, the more you dwell on the negative the more the appearance of the negative stains you. Even if a person such as I were to hold a positive view of life, by concentrating on the negative it's undermining my ability, both in habits and presentation, to present myself as a valuable person. If in conversation I dwell on the negative, then those negatives are staining the presentation of my being like paint on clothes. Since nobody likes anti-values, concentrating on them reduces my lovability, regardless of my virtue.

I observed such a reaction with a particular irrational person in my life, who, despite being outwardly pleasant, relishes in concentrating on the horrible aspects of life. He doesn't merely run into it, but rather searches and keeps a watch out for news on rape, fire, poverty, death, and so on. He seems to do it for purposes of being a moral altruist, as if the mere acknowledgment of a tragedy somehow makes him a better person (he refuses to do anything to actually help), but given our subject it is only his conversation that matters. He talks so much of the terrible things he read in the papers, heard on the radio and from other people, and sees on the television that he seems to have become a sort of emotional embodiment of those horrors. Needless to say, I don't enjoy his company in the least. I've tried persuading him not to concentrate so heavily on those issues, saying they don't constitute the good in life and happiness, but he moralistically protests by reminding me just how terrible they are (which is circular reasoning). As a result, he has become one of the most unpleasant persons I have ever had to deal with, and after dealing with him for so long I can observe his anti-value fixation has prevented him from achieving happiness in life. In dealing with him, I am cold and mechanical, sometimes explicitly hostile.

That is a rather extreme example, but it nonetheless should make clear how enjoyable and valuable relationships can be prevented from coming into existence or even be destroyed if one were to become the irrational person I mentioned above in any degree. If you're one to try and make life a euphoric flower garden, what place does a person who thinks life is one big hospital have in it? Even a person who would happen to share that same hospital premise wouldn't be able to develop a happy relationship with similar people: Whether you think anti-values are what constitutes life or not, they will never make anyone happy.

In my own pursuits, I thankfully only need to alter my conversational habits, not so much my mentality as the above irrational people would need to. Simply, I need to take the "I hate..." out of my conversations. Sure, such negative conversations might be acceptable or even positive on certain grounds, such as talking about how comically bad a movie was, but I would like to reduce it to the bare minimum possible in favor of trying to incorporate more I likes and I loves. Concentrating on values not only does well to create a healthy sense of life for oneself, but to also contribute to the sense of life of others and, therefore, make yourself more lovable as a person.

In my notepad, I'll create two categories: Honesty and Conversation. Anytime I observe that I haven't displayed total honesty in my actions or if I inappropriately initiated a conversation based on anti-values, then I'll place a slash line in the proper category to denote a violation of such aspirations. In the long-run, I hope such slash lines will help reprogram my subconscious to alter my habits by maintaining an awareness of my actions through their representation in the slash lines. My notepad will be my moral teacher. Even if I forget to be meticulous in my documentation, I will at least be reminded of my goals as I open my notepad and see the categories sitting right at the top, or am rewriting the categories each morning (I rip out pages at the end of the day so that I can most quickly access the blank ones).

I have confidence that I'll be able to alter my habits in a very short amount of time. Previously, right when I discovered Objectivism, it took weeks to neutralize my habits since they were so ingrained over the years. What I'm noticing in my habits now is a phenomenon that has only sprouted within recent weeks, perhaps even more recently than that. Such bad habits should be easily uprooted like a weak dandelion, and soon I should be considering in what direction to move next.

Self-improvement in an enjoyable task, but the most difficult thing I find about it is deciding between the vast amount of areas I want to develop myself in. I know about establishing a value hierarchy in order to decide on which pursuits to take on first, but I always want to do them all at once! If it weren't for my to-do lists, I wouldn't be able to keep track of it all. Whatever amount of time it takes, the end result is always worth it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Selective Memory Update: An Improvement

It's been a long time since I've talked about my selective memory, hasn't it? Comically enough -- I had forgotten about it. Well, to get back on track if you have forgotten as well, this issue pertains to an involuntary subconscious habit I've developed in childhood and maintained ever since. In the shortest terms, I have had difficulty remembering very concrete abstractions, particularly isolated concepts. For instance, if I were to read a medical article regarding a particular health practice, follow the argument perfectly fine, and end up agreeing with the conclusion drawn at the end, usually what I would retain in my mind is a summarized version of the conclusion with the specifics omitted. In other words, after having cultivated the forest, I would no longer be able to go back and examine the individual trees. Such a mentality has been particularly difficult in trying to learn new concepts, as I have trouble learning the ones with complex referents, or even ones that simply have a lot of syllables or an etymological origin in a foreign language. With concepts and words it would be like my mind never processed them. Sometimes I would be reading an article and confront a concept or foreign name like I was seeing it for the first time, even though I knew I've seen it several times pages before.

Summarizing this phenomenon as having a "selective memory" may be inaccurate since it leaves the impression of my consciously cherry picking, but I cannot think of any better term to describe it for now. It's been particularly harmful in my educational endeavors, as it leads to trouble in me remembering complex concepts, or even being able to connect and interrelate facts of a person's life simply because they have a "funny" name.

Happily, I've noticed a significant improvement in my endeavor to combat this problem. My mind no longer skips over or ignores words and concepts that are difficult to deal with. I've been stopping to fully pronounce them in my head, learn how to spell them from memory, and can even better retain their meaning. There are still some difficulties, but this little bit of progress is still heartening.

My methodology lies within the form of note-taking and conceptual exercises I've specified in several articles about my study endeavors. By putting difficult concepts and words into isolation I have done well to train myself not to ignore them, and to be patient in wrestling with them. Specifically, in my notes I've taken to a strategy of writing unfamiliar words in repetition after I identified that they were difficult or unfamiliar. For instance, "atherosclerosis." I know in layman terms that means heart disease, but its intimidating spelling and pronunciation would have previously caused my mind to habitually skip over it and never learn how to pronounce or spell it. When coming across a word such as this that struck me as odd, I put an "X" in my notes and kept writing the word repeatedly until I noticed I could spell it without looking to my reading or to my previous writing. Such a short exercise may not lead to perfect mastery, but it does well for training considering the number of potential "odd" words to come across in my readings. Given longer practice, my spelling and pronunciation is sure to improve, along with its corollary effects on my speaking habits.

In regards to concepts, you know how it goes: I circle the concept in the reading to point it out and then, if I choose to do an exercise with that particular concept, I look up its definition in the dictionary, note its relationship to perceptual reality, and then examine the referents that give rise to it, including the unfamiliar concepts it depends on if it exists in a chain. These days I mostly do the exercises mentally or by rubberducking, but I haven't eliminated written exercises from my practices; I just try to refrain from them for the sake of efficiency. I'm a little uneasy when I'm doing conceptual exercises and find that I'm doing some concepts more than once, having forgotten I've done them before, but that only means I need to work harder and be more rigorous. Despite how irritating it might be to do repeat exercises, it's all good for memorization in the end.

There is still, however, the issue of trying to reach integrated conclusions while at the same time still being able the retain the essential concretes that give rise to that conclusion; that is, being able to see the forest and its essential trees at my choosing. I've tried incorporating specific symbols for integrations in my note-taking, in which, during a section of reading, I pause to draw the material into a mid-section integration and then work to make ever broader integrations as I continue reading. It's helping somewhat, but my habits are still yet sloppy: I'm having trouble writing working notes on limited content and then switching to writing conclusions on the content as a whole, and then making those integrations broader and broader as I continue. As of right now I'd say this is a problem of practice, not methodology, so I'll continue to try this strategy and to improve myself in implementing it.

The reason why I think its important to retain essential concretes in my mind is so that I can keep my mind reality-oriented and to become a better activist. For the former, concretes are required to ensure that highly abstract conclusions are rooted in reality, thereby making me objectively certain. For the latter, regardless of whether or not what I advocate is valid, concretes are needed in order to be able to persuade other people to my position. To elaborate on that last, take my advocation of a paleo dietary lifestyle: Sure, I might be able to say that Good Calories, Bad Calories offers a valid argument as to why today's nutritional science is unscientific, false, and improper, but such a conclusion isn't going to convince anyone unless I can cite important aspects of the arguments of the book, such as how Ancel Keys deliberately cut out a huge portion of data from his infamous Seven Countries study.

I'm glad that I'm showing improvement in developing a stronger memory and better psycho-epistemology, but yet more practice and rigor is needed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Study Summary 9/10/10 to 9/16/10

What a disappointing week. I achieved only two out of the five goals I had set for myself. I don't know whether it's due to some lack of action on my part or my setting my sights too high or what; something was definitely different. Early on in the week my brain felt very strange: It felt as if it were internally pressurized with air, and it was throbbing and pulsating. It wasn't painful or even uncomfortable, but it did correlate with a noticeable impact on my cognitive powers. Worse yet, it didn't go away until about two or three nights worth of sleep. I found it extremely hard to concentrate on my subjects, my learning and comprehension was harmed, and I felt mentally strained. I hypothesize that this may be my brain trying to recover from the stress I applied to it last week, especially considering my incorporating talking into my studies, but I don't know. I hope to at least get back on track and catch my stride again.

Nonetheless, I did get some things done. I completed note-taking for chapter five of both The Journals of Ayn Rand and Good Calories, Bad Calories, completing five conceptual exercises for the former and seven for the latter. I had some realizations during these readings. First, I didn't like chapter five of Journals. Considering my purpose in reading this book -- to gain insights on philosophy and methods of clear thinking -- this chapter was nearly totally unrelated to that aim, so it bored me to tears. I could hardly conjure up half a page of notes for the fortysome pages. Second, during my reading of GCBC I realized that my explicit purpose in reading the book -- to gain insight on proper scientific methodology -- is interfering with the total of what I could gain from this book. Since I was so focused on learning about the scientific method I was passing up good information on nutrition and its history, which is the specialization of this book. In other words, I was passing up the trees in the forest in order to examine its leaves. Having abstracted a general scientific principle, I was unimpressed and uninterested in information that I thought merely duplicated the same abstraction when it was really valuable concrete information. Next time I go to my studies I'll be sure to maintain an awareness of this selective focus.

I managed to complete the last two David Harriman articles, Proof of the Atomic Theory and Errors in Inductive Reasoning. Due to my cognitive "impairment" I had trouble with comprehension and concentration, but, to repeat from last week, I don't consider that much of a problem since the author states much of this material is taken from his book, The Logical Leap, the very book for which I am reading these articles to help decide whether or not to purchase it.

As for my verdict on whether to purchase the book, I have decided to do so and will incorporate it into my current study round. Surprisingly, even with my poor scientific background I was able to exert myself enough to understand the scientific concepts the author spoke about. If I have my notebook and dictionary around while I read the book my ability to comprehend the science is sure to improve. I don't know when I'll receive my shipment, so in the meanwhile I'll concentrate on Journals, GCBC, and incorporate in some other goals.

For next week, I think I'll aspire to complete two assignments for both GCBC and Journals, to start a focused entrepreneurial journal for an idea I want to start working on, continue my writing pace, and to exhaustively document my online recipes in one place (as opposed to having them scattered in bookmarks and whatnot).

Hopefully you're working to better your life as well.

Controlling the Concepts of Chocolate?

Here's something I hadn't been aware of:

What is Ghirardelli’s stance on the proposal to change the definition of chocolate?

Ghirardelli does not support the changing the “standard of identity” or “definition” of chocolate. As you may have heard, the FDA is considering changing the “standard of identity” for chocolate. These changes (proposed by other chocolate manufacturers) would allow for the addition of vegetable oil in place of cocoa butter without losing the ability to call the product Milk Chocolate, Semi-Sweet Chocolate or Bittersweet Chocolate. This substitution is not allowed today unless manufacturers clearly label their products as “chocolaty”, “chocolate flavored”, sweet chocolate and vegetable fat coating, or milk chocolate and vegetable fat coating.

If the proposed changes are approved, consumers would have no idea by reading the front of the label whether the traditional milk, semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate are suddenly made with other vegetable fats rather than the cocoa butter that they have come to expect.

I don't follow food news, so this proposed regulation is something I've never heard of. Conceptually, this is utterly ridiculous and will lead to confusion. In the most concise understanding possible, what we retain out of the vast amount of information that can be subsumed under a particular concept is its essential attributes. Books, books, and more books can be written about the biology, history, political implications, and more about trees, but from the most educated person to the youngest child the essence of that particular concept lies within its perceptual data. Regardless of how vast your knowledge may be, at its base are percepts of trees and their specific attributes.

What the FDA proposes to do here is to allow manufacturers to remove the known essence of what makes chocolate what it is and still allow manufacturers to call it that. Vegetable oil does not have the same appearance as chocolate, the same smell as chocolate, the same taste as chocolate, the same nutritional makeup as chocolate, the same origin of chocolate -- it's not chocolate. Keeping in mind proper concepts, only that which is derived from the cacao bean can be called chocolate or a product thereof.

A proper concept only subsumes referents that are similar in an essential way, though with the measurements of their specific attributes omitted. By subsuming vegetable oil under the concept of chocolate, the FDA would be placing an dissimilar referent in this grouping and give rise to the possibility of confusion. By placing in a group referents that are similar, under this conceptual framework, one can apply a conclusion to all the referents on the basis of a conclusion reached by study of particular referents. For instance, by eating one or two ripe lemons one can induct that all lemons are sour. If you were to place a dissimilar referent under the concept of lemon -- such as chairs -- then you'd be applying that conclusion about taste to those referents as well, which is epistemologically erroneous, not to neglect that taste isn't an essential attribute of chairs.

By placing vegetable oils under the concept of chocolate the FDA gives rise to the possibility that people may reach conclusions about the nature of chocolate -- like its nutritional benefits -- and think they apply to vegetable oil bases as well. This is not the case; it could not only lead to dissatisfied customers, but perhaps health consequences as well. What if an ignorant consumer allergic to those types of oils consumes a "chocolate" bar thinking it has cacao at its base? Or what if a person undertakes to try and benefit from the nutritional nature of cacao and thinks the vegetable oil based products are equivalent? This type of move could lead to a sicker, unhealthier populace that could grow more confused about the nature of chocolate after having experienced the effects of a non-cacao product, vegetable oil.

I'm glad that Ghirardelli is taking an opposition stance to this measure, though wish that they take an individual rights direction and state that the government has no right to legislate conceptual language. If this measure does go through, the best way to protect yourself is to establish a habit of reading nutrition labels. I certainly have, though I may not be one in danger of being effected by this measure since I actively pursue chocolates that list their cacao percentages.

Hopefully the government doesn't undertake to change the meaning of the concept cacao. Things would really be confusing then.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Balancing Mental Workloads

As I continue to take my studies more seriously I am also continuing to rediscover old issues that bothered me in the past, such as how time tracking devices disturbed my ability to concentrate. Some of them have been solved -- for the above problem all I need to do is conceal those devices -- but some continue to plague my efforts. Another such problem I have discovered is the issue of balancing my mental workloads so that I have a wide variety of mediums in which I can act and develop myself mentally.

To make matters clear, take a look at what my studies consist of right now: A pure reading of a series of articles over at The Objective Standard; reading, rubberducking, conceptual exercises, and notes for Good Calories, Bad Calories; and reading, rubberducking, conceptual exercises, and notes for The Journals of Ayn Rand. To summarize, most of this is a sort of passive activity, an activity that is geared towards my absorbing and integrating information rather than my actively creating it. To summarize it even more broadly, it's reading, reading, and more reading. I think my difficulty in being able to always maintain concentration and motivation to perform these tasks lies in the simple fact that I'm probably getting sick of such monotony.

Sure, this may be too narrow an assessment of my study activities, for there is writing too (remember the book reviews?), but that only brings us to a variety of two different types of tasks: reading and writing. Even this type of switching feels like a monotonous going back and forth. Despite my best intentions and judgment otherwise, this is a psychological difficulty that needs to be overcome in order to encourage the most effortless productivity and most consistent motivation. (By "effortless" I mean without psychological resistance, such as lack of motivation.) Recently, for instance, while I was reading one of the David Harriman articles my reading comprehension was totally shot even though I still had full cognitive energy; despite my best efforts, I simply couldn't get my mind out of "Let's do something else!" mode. (I didn't gain much from the article, but the author mentioned the writing is adapted from his book, which I am considering to purchase, so the article was useful insomuch that it contributed evidence for me to assess for the potential value of the book.)

The obvious solution seems to be to add more variety to my study practices, but the specific concrete means of doing that is still in question. Furthermore, there may still be some psychological alterations that need to be made after making such changes, such as preventing myself from neglecting certain tasks.

In truth, after my Project is done variety should naturally come into play. Cooking, baking, and culinary experimentation are largely absent from my life, despite being such large values, because I'm being extremely frugal with my finances due to the Project. I definitely need to get my cooking act together, which I'll talk about later, as it would do well to enrich my life, contribute to my studies, and help me ignore the Circumstance. Active entrepreneurship is also another possibility for diversifying my life, but that is most likely to come into play after the completion of my Project simply because of the learning and practice that needs to be done beforehand. (Note: In order to distinguish my most important project -- the one I can't yet talk about publicly -- from all my other projects, I'll refer to it with an uppercase "P"; I'll use an uppercase "C" to represent the circumstance that caused it to become necessary.)

Even after setting up such diversity, there's still the issue of avoiding the psychological pitfall of being involved in one task more than the others. For instance, in my first study efforts, due to some bad to-do list formats, I often preferred to spend my time doing my literature assignments over all the other tasks, often spending days in succession just reading a novel. (Ironic I'm getting sick of reading now.) So while there may be a great variety of things to do, I still need to exert myself to keep myself from neglecting another task in preference of another. Of course, this still prompts the question as to what I should do when I establish that mindset of desiring another task, such as during the above mentioned Harriman reading in which I couldn't concentrate despite being energized.

Maybe there's also the issue of cognitive rest at play here. Despite feeling rested, maybe the mental gears are tired from being used so intensely in one venue and desire to have another exercise. I mentioned before that I have had difficulty finding proper releases after being exhausted from my studying: I don't follow a lot of television save fewer than a handful of shows, I don't have much money to spare for most recreation (movies, technology, etc.), I hardly enjoy video games any more, and so on. Once I put down my books and decide to opt for a break it's hard to decide as to what that break should consist of, which leads to the frustration of being unable to satisfy my desire for recreation.

Art could be a potential solution. I've read before that it can be used for spiritual replenishment. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but my tastes in music and painting are severely underdeveloped. Due to a mean music teacher in elementary school, I hardly ever intentionally listened to music for the sake of listening to music, and I've never taken to seriously looking at paintings. Maybe I ought to take a good tour around the internet and see what I can find, such as this set from Quent Cordair, and also take my Pandora account more seriously. On the issue of music, perhaps I ought to be more meticulous in documenting what I like; nowadays I often let myself forget what songs I like, which may be leading to my not developing a true appreciation for them. If the lack of art in my life be a contributor to the presence of frustration in my recreational endeavors, then these methods should go a long way in remedying it.

As for my studies and what I could do now to ease my ailments while the Project is still in progress (and thus minimizing my culinary endeavors), I could take a mathematical route. Given my scientific interests and career aspirations, math is going to play a big part of my life, so the more I internalize it the better. I should seek out programs that allows for the instant generation of equations for me to solve, which would develop my mathematical "muscle." I know of a java based program for kids that allows for simple arithmetic problems, but I find it inadequate given the limit on how big and complex the equations can be made, not to neglect that it doesn't generate decimals (to up the difficulty).

So that's my plan of action for now: Contemplate how to get my culinary endeavors back on track, add mathematical practices to my routine, and give more serious attention to art, particularly music.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Metaphysical Contradictions Look Like

While eating breakfast one day I watched an episode of Tales from the Darkside, a somewhat cheesy fantasy show with unmistakable similarities to the famous Twilight Zone series. The episode I had watched was particularly frightening to me: It was called "Effect and Cause," about a woman who suffers from the invalidation of the law of identity. (**Spoilers below**.)

First off, I must admit that this plot synopsis is based on my own interpretation, not the one the writers of the show intended. What the writers wanted to show was a woman who experiences the reversal of cause and effect, that she experiences effects before the causes are initiated. This, however, is logically impossible to portray even with the most vivid of imagination. To borrow an example from a philosophical friend, try to imagine your arm punching without it moving. It can't be imagined and it can't occur: punching (the effect) requires motion (the cause). As such, I conclude that what the writers actually succeeded in portraying is the invalidation of the law of identity, especially considering that, after experiencing the effects of something, the cause was never initiated (thereby being an effect without a cause). For example, at the beginning of the episode paramedics rush to the woman's house in order to treat her for her injuries sustained from falling down the stairs, only to find that she just fell down the stairs as they arrived. No one in the woman's house actually called the paramedics, therefore the arrival of the paramedics is unprompted and thus uncaused. They may have received a telephone call on their end, but no such thing occurred in the woman's house.

Essentially, what happens in the episode is that the universe within the main character's house suspends the law of identity, causing objects within to start acting contrary to their nature. Objects get replaced, things start warping to different locations in the house, and some things start doing things they logically can't do. After the woman comes home from the hospital and notices these goings-on, she explicitly waxes philosophical about subjectivist metaphysics, stating that perhaps the only reason why the universe has any order to it is because human consciousnesses imposed such order. The woman thereby reveals herself to be a mystic and gives reason that it is her own mysticism that suspends the law of identity in her home.

At first her realization is a novelty. She manages to convince her somewhat mystic friend of what's happening inside her home and entertains him with the absurdities, such as watching cards in a deck change and mix up or making the friend's car keys warp from one side of the room to the other. The mystic woman is completely unbothered by what is occurring and treats it like an everyday amusement.

However, as she maintains her mysticism the universe in her home becomes continuously unstable. The formal name for the law of identity is the law of non-contradiction, and its antipode is the law of contradiction. As the law of contradiction becomes more and more consistent within the woman's home, things become horrifying. The woman no longer knows what to do or how to act safely in her home; objects start warping, changing into other things (such as a vase into a mouse), or just start plain disappearing. Electricity manages to pour through the kitchen faucet, and highly pressurized water starts rocketing out of the stove top burners, acts that are contrary to the nature of these objects. She can't predict what's going to happen next and so is frightened to interact with anything. Having a broken leg from falling down the stairs, she's hardly mobile on her own. In a panic at how the universe inside her home is literally becoming chaos, she calls her non-mystic friend to pick her up.

When the friend picks up, we receive more evidence that the main character's mysticism is the cause of her troubles. The woman's friend thinks her mystical worldview is just a bunch of nonsense, and through imposing her objective metaphysical views the reality inside the woman's home temporarily stabilizes and objects cease changing and warping. However, the universe continues coming undone after her friend hangs up. The woman tries to call her back, only to have the phone warp away from her. The phone then begins warping around so rapidly that the woman cannot predict or find where it goes, until it temporarily situates itself, absurdly, inside the refrigerator. When the woman tries to answer the ringing phone all she gets is a notification that it's been disconnected, where it then warps and suspends itself from the ceiling. Having enough, the woman tries to leave her home -- only to have the doorknob release from its socket, seemingly dangling from a snake skin. Full terror succumbs the woman. She turns around to see a horrifying painting in front of her that had just warped before her. She then takes off running, only to trip over furniture. When she looks up we see half of her face is melted; the law of contradiction was starting to take over her body. The episode closes with the woman laying on the floor screaming for help. The police are starting to pull up to her house -- to respond to an explosion that was about to occur.

This episode particularly intrigues me since it managed to frighten me on a metaphysical level. Before I thought such horror movies as ones about living dolls or ventriloquist dummies were the most frightening, but it really unnerves me to try and project what horror it would be to have to law of identity suspended in my home. If that happened, you would literally not be able to predict whether the next thing you touch is going to disappear, change, or perhaps even kill you. Regardless of your best efforts, escaping harm would be pure luck.

On an intellectual level, this episode offers me some insights on a problem that has been bothering me for quite a while. In this instance, it shows that people who state that the law of contradiction is what's truly the law of the universe do not truly know -- or perhaps evade -- the true logical implications of what the law of contradiction would entail. Put very mildly and in the absolute smallest degree, you would observe something similar to what happened to that woman: objects warping and changing without logic or consistency, effects without causes, and even things acting in way that isn't possible to their nature (such as the stove top burner streaming jets of water). When you look around your own home and everywhere you go, this obviously isn't the case. Objects don't randomly change, teleport, or act in ways that are logically impossible to them. There's consistency, order, logic. There are, of course, people who do adhere to the same mystical worldview as the woman in that episode, but we can observe that, despite all their beliefs and wishing, that their worldview doesn't actually cause the law of identity to be suspended. In its most consistent form, the law of contradiction would be absolutely unfathomable, and if anyone experienced it with absolute consistency then they'd surely be killed, eliminated from existence, wiped from history, or worse.

It seems to me that people who try to imagine what entails from the existence of the law of contradiction do so only by imagining it affecting a severely localized portion of reality. They speak of leaves that are all green and all red at the same time, but the tree that has the leaves and all of the earth beneath them still has identity and is still acting in accordance to that identity. Even the episode detailed above hardly scratches the surface, as it shows the law of contradiction only affecting movable objects in the woman's home, only briefly showing the woman's face had been affected by the law of contradiction before she is presumably killed. To use an analogy, the consistency of the law of contradiction shown in this episode is like holding a lit match to the sun: the comparison is way off.

In a way this television show can serve as intellectual ammunition. It goes to show just how silly the opponents of the law of identity really are. Do they honestly expect us to believe that such an absurdity as what went on in that woman's house is what happens in everyday life? Literally: Open your eyes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Being Timely

You know what would make this blog much easier to maintain? If I didn't think so fast. Ever since I've read Getting Things Done I've experienced a huge boost to my thinking speed, especially that in the creative realm.

As per the nature of this blog, I like to concentrate on the aspects of my life in which I'm striving to improve myself or achieve values. I like writing on it since I enjoy reading that stuff from other people; it's inspiring and offers great insight on how to live a happy, valuable, productive life. (As noted before, for inspiration I prefer biographies of great men over heroic fiction.) However, in detailing such efforts I often exert myself to be up-to-date and as timely as possible, sometimes hurrying to construct and publish entries in less than twenty-four hours.

Unfortunately, when I write such time-sensitive posts that are directed more towards asking questions rather than making assertions, I find that the posts greatly assist in my introspection and often help me answer my own questions before any commenter input can be given -- thus nullifying the appropriateness of publishing the post.

For the sake of being able to keep consistent content flowing around here, I need to figure out how to make my posts less time-sensitive. Perhaps I could continue the practice of writing time-sensitive posts and discarding them as a sort of "waste basket" thinking method, but that won't help with my publishable writing. The reason why I discard such writing is because I view it as dishonest to publish them since the facts of my life have changed to be other than what the post indicates. For instance, if I answered a question I took two hours to write down, it's no longer honest to ask that question, is it?

Has anyone else encountered this difficulty? Given that this waste-basket thinking does help with productive introspection I'm hesitate to call it fully a problem, but nonetheless it is a slight barrier.

Monday, September 13, 2010

More Thoughts on My Conceptual Exercises

My little project of transforming my conceptual thinking is coming along slowly and difficultly, though a bit poorly, if I say so myself. The biggest challenge seems to be facilitating thinking as if it were spawning naturally (i.e. effortlessly, or emotionally motivated) rather than mechanically (i.e. against one's inclinations, or emotionally demotivated). Thinking about certain culinary and scientific concepts has been fun and beneficial, but some just don't tickle my fancy and have a hard time keeping my mental energy focused on them. There's a few possible remedies, plus the possible dismissal of some useless methods.

From comments of the above linked post, a reader has introduced me to the practice of rubberducking, which I am enthused about. Thinking back, I see I actually used to do this with my dog. And here I thought my thinking method of imagining myself giving lectures was original! Anyhow, I've been practicing this method with my Bowser bobble head statue and have found it helps draw out my thinking and discourages stopping thoughts mid-sentence. With practice, I hope to turn this into a long-term habit. I feel a bit bashful in doing so since the other person that lives with me might think I'm developing schizophrenia, but of what significance is it? The only real problem is that my bobble head fears disagreement, always nodding his head and all that.

In addition to rubberducking, I've also been scrutinizing the practicality of my written conceptual exercises. Given the amount of concepts there are to deal with and how much writing it entails, I've been unable to eliminate my impatience with how long the process takes. In doing my written exercises in conjunction with rubberducking, I've found that I often spoke information in greater quantities than I actually wrote down. As such, I've been thinking about ditching my written exercise altogether in favor of pure thinking, trigger lists (lists of concepts), and rubberducking. As little and as concisely as I've been writing, I don't see how writing in this case could be reinforcing my memory. By forgoing it I might actually find it easier to do the conceptual exercises more often and in the middle of readings, as it wouldn't entail such a significant or cumbersome interruption as it once has. Sure, if a concept is really difficult I might employ the exercise in order to keep track of the conceptual chain it's involved in, but I think mental and verbal methods would be sufficient. I'll give it a shot and see how it goes; I'll keep track of my formal homework exercises by tallying with slashes.

Lastly, I've been concerned about my ability to do conceptual exercises without the aid of a stimulus (e.g. a confusing word in a book or on the internet). One day while not busy at work I tried to engage in my free thinking, but I only dwelled for a short time on two concepts and then switched to more integrated subjects. How can I go about encouraging more conceptual thinking free of the presence of material stimulation? Then again, that could be a silly question on my part. In trying to make my psycho-epistemology more objective, I managed to structure myself so that I would have a hard, if not impossible, time remembering that which isn't objective knowledge. Whenever I come across a piece of arbitrary information in my mind (like something I may have learned as a kid, but forgot how I learned it) I tell myself to simply reject and ignore it since it's not objectively tied to reality. Given this, wouldn't it be silly to expect myself to be able to do a pure contemplation of concepts that aren't objectively rooted in my mind? If they aren't objectively rooted, then odds are I won't remember them. Perhaps I should emphasize my trigger lists.

That's my thinking for now. I'll try carrying a pocket dictionary with me to work.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Study Summary 9/3/10 - 9/9/10

I came near to achieving it, but couldn't. I said last week that I wanted to accomplish a goal this week of completing two reading assignments for The Journals of Ayn Rand and Good Calories, Bad Calories, along with two more of those David Harriman articles over at The Objective Standard, but as of this writing (Thursday night) I have been unable to finish the second Harriman article. After a long day of studying *Journals*, doing conceptual exercises, rubberducking, and other things, I find that my attention is too spent to allow me to productively read another article. I haven't managed to induce physical exhaustion, but my comprehension is shot and I'm fidgeting like hell.

In summary, I managed to take notes and do ten conceptual exercises for chapters three and four for *Calories*, take notes and do nine conceptual exercises for chapters three and four for *Journals*, do a pure reading of Induction and Experimental Method, do a pure reading of approximately half of Isaac Newton: Discoverer of Universal Laws, and greatly increase my writing input here on this blog. Despite not having having achieved my weekly goal I'm quite satisfied with myself. I may not have achieved my aim, but I do know I did exert myself to pursue it. I even managed to eliminate the discomfort I had previously with studying into the late hours of night.

Perhaps most importantly, I'm making significant headway on my patience. As noted before, I once had the problem of wanting to mentally cheat myself and speed through my study assignments so that I could generate faux satisfaction by crossing things off my list. After fighting such an urge for so long it seems to finally be defeated. As testament, yesterday I managed to spend approximately three consecutive hours studying *Calories* without rushing over the content to get it completed. In the act of studying, I've learned, pace means nothing: It's the progress and efforts in your thought that matters anything at all. As a corollary of my efforts to establish patience, I've also been doing well to conquer idle daydreaming and, unexpectedly, guide it towards mores productive outlets. More on that later.

For next week I want to retain this pace: Finish two more assignments for both books, finish the series of Harriman articles, and reach a decision on whether or not to purchase The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics. I also have some writing goals, but I want to keep silent on those for fear of psychologically "jinxing" them. There's also some other things I'd like to talk about, including a entrepreneurial conundrum, but I'll talk about that later due to sheer laziness. I deserve it, you know.

But -- to muse just a little bit further -- perhaps I should restart the practice of keeping an introspection journal, or diary if you want to call it that. Again I find myself somewhat unfulfilled after my studies: It's that old question of what to do to unwind after work. I haven't much funds for recreational expenses, television is largely boring, I hardly enjoy video games, music isn't all that resonate with me, and my cooking/baking is stunted while my most significant project is in effect. I do recognize the need to rest after my studying, but how to rest? Perhaps I'll increase the frequency of my visits to my local nature park, or search for some new values to enjoy.

Anyhow, with practice I hope my productive output soon becomes equalized by my productive aspirations. Armed with the right methods and thinking, I've just got to push push push.

CR: Hershey's 100% Cacao Baking Bar

Hershey's 100% cacao baking bar (the variety in consideration is on the left) makes for the third variety of unsweetened chocolate I have given consideration to. Previously I considered Ghirardelli's 100% Cacao, and that review considered in conjunction another brand, Baker's. While some may think "chocolate is chocolate," there are some subtle differences to take into account. I don't use this type of chocolate for magnesium supplementation anymore -- I've been able to treat my muscle cramps successfully with pickles and pickle juice -- but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the taste of it!

Immediately noticeable was how incredibly less intense the bitterness was. It's very, very mild in this one, making Ghirardelli's and Baker's variety seem to offer a punch in comparison. Now how one interprets bitterness will vary from individual to individual in accordance to one's taste buds, but I personally find that bitterness can be both an on-and-off pleasure: some days I might want it, others not. If you have been intimidated by the prospect of advancing your dark chocolate eating to full cacao, then Hershey's might be somewhat of a good start.

Nutritionally, some questions are raised. When I looked at the nutritional info on my bar I noticed it had two ingredients: chocolate and cocoa. Cocoa is a product of chocolate after going through certain processing, so that may explain why this bar is less bitter despite being 100% cacao: It's all chocolate, but it doesn't contain all the parts of chocolate. If my memory serves correctly, Ghirardelli and Baker's is nothing but chocolate, no cocoa, so there may be some nutritional differences to take into account. Unfortunately I could not find nutritional info on either Ghirardelli's or Kraft's website, so I cannot confirm it. If I am correct, then I hypothesize one may derive greater health benefits by eating Ghirardelli or Baker's since you'd be eating cacao and its complete parts; the difference in bitterness does indicate something is different.

As for the flavor profile, it isn't all that great. It just tastes mildly of chocolate. Ghirardelli and Baker's pretty much tastes the same except for the higher bitterness. Perhaps that Godiva bar has ruined me; wherever these guys are getting their cacao, it ain't all that special. That isn't to say I'm disappointed, however. It's just that after having more enjoyable and complex experiences with other, sweetened varieties these unsweetened varieties seem lackluster in comparison. Nonetheless, they do make for some excellent pairings with some other foods. I, for instance, like pairing something sweet with it, like sweetened almond butter. Wonderful contrast! Though Godiva does prompt an interesting thought for me as to whether it would be nice to try unsweetened chocolate imported from different geographical areas. That would certainly be something to look forward to in the future.

But since Hershey's variety is so similar to Ghirardelli's and Baker's minus the bitterness, the most important thing to consider would be price and how easy it is to eat. If you recall, I detested Baker's variety since the squares were so huge and thick that I had a hard time breaking them with my hands or cutting them, and drooled all over my face struggling to bite through it. Its cheap price might be good for those with tight finances or for those who want to cook/bake with it, but I avoid it since it's an absolute hassle to eat. Ghirardelli, though more expensive, is pressed thin and is much more easy and enjoyable to eat. Hershey's takes a bit of a middle ground, both being inexpensive and somewhat indeterminate in its "eatability." The squares are thick, but not so much so that I couldn't break them with my hands or bite off of it. You won't be able to bite off it with your incisors, however. I don't think it's so difficult that it takes away from the eating experience, but it is noticeably crunchy, sturdy, and not at all a delicately textured chocolate.

It's a bit confusing for me to say, but I'm tempted to say that Ghirardelli is still my pick. I like the higher bitterness, and its thinness makes for a more enjoyable eating experience, especially if you're a connoisseur. Hershey's is just one of those take-it-or-leave-it brands that leaves me neither impressed nor disappointed. It's less bitter and milder in its chocolatelyness, and it's equal parts easy and difficult to eat.

As such, I'll have to conclude with the verdict that the chocolate you should choose ought to be based on your own preferences. If you want the full punch of chocolate, an easy to handle bar, and something delicate to chew, then I'd go with Ghirardelli. If you want something cheap, then Baker's. Hershey's serves as the middle ground and will please those who want mildness in both bitterness and chocolate, an okay price, and a crunchy, though not frustrating, texture. I choose Ghirardelli, though feel neutral towards Hershey.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Forgo Blog Reading?

One thing that has been bothering me for the last several months is what role other blogs should take in my intellectual life and pursuit of values. How many should I read? How often should I read them? And how intensely should I exert myself to comprehend them? Such are questions I've been having a nearly impossible time answering, resulting in hazy ideas about blog reading that causes interference with my productivity, reading comprehension, and more.

I've tried to cut down before, but that didn't worked. Before choosing to eliminate a blog from my feed I would go through and think about what potential value a blog has to offer me, and then I would proceed to objectively list what I could possibly gain from reading such a blog, thereby preventing me from deleting it. In the end hardly any would be cut out. I've also tried simply trying to forgo daily blog reading, instead opting for once or so a week viewings, but that would lead to such content amassing that I wouldn't know where to start or what pieces to read. Instead, such a method has been motivating me to go to my feed, simply weed out pieces I know I'd never be interested in reading, and then eternally procrastinate on those pieces that did pique my interest, perpetually justifying my delays by stating I'll get to it "later." Inconveniently, later never comes.

As such, I'm switching my attention: Instead of concentrating on which blogs to read and how to read them, I'm asking myself what role blog reading takes in my life at all. Given my educational, culinary, and entrepreneurial aspirations, I'm working to squeeze out any lesser values. Is it possible that perhaps blog reading really does not need to be included in my life?

Here's how I look at it. Blogs are often extremely varied in their subjects, which makes it difficult to maintain an exclusive concentration on a particular thing given the content that's available. There's also the inconsistency of the various lengths of writing, which comes into conflict with my reading desires: Sometimes there's too much to read when I want to quickly fire through something, and not enough when I'm ready and willing to invest the time. Lastly and most important, given the top-bottom presentation of writing posts, it's often difficult for me to gain educational benefits from a particular blog since I'm practically walking right in the middle of things, and after having exerted myself in my other educational endeavors I often lack motivation to exert myself any further at casual blog reading.

In restructuring my life to be as value-oriented as possible -- what with my self-educational goals, central purpose in life, "The Project," and all -- this is a problem worthy of consideration since it entails whether a habit of blog reading is or is not worthy of maintaining. Should I strive to set aside time to do such reading, or eliminate it altogether and fill the gaps with other pursuits? This is a difficult question since I'm contemplating whether or not to maintain something I know I value; in this case, I'm struggling to decide whether I can keep this value or if I should give it up for higher ones. It's a natural inclination of any person to want to keep all his values all the time, but there's only so many resources and so much time; a hierarchy must be established and some values simply won't make the cut.

In contemplating this I have already undertaken to eliminate much of my Google feed. It was difficult given that I do authentically enjoy reading those blogs, but I view it as perhaps necessary. What I'm leaving intact are the blogs that are absolutely the most valuable, especially those that deal with a wide variety of content and often engage in linking. For instance, I could keep track of news through Diana Hsieh's activism summaries, of nutritional issues through the Paleo Rodeo on Modern Paleo, and of Objectivist writings through the Objectivist Roundup hosted on various Objectivist blogs (and always noted on Noodlefood). This type of post -- collecting a bunch of related links into one article -- can serve to direct me to multiple places, just by visiting one source. Instead of cluttering up my feed with all these linked blogs, I could simply keep track of the blogs that compile these links and visit the links as it tickles my fancy.

There is another concern however. How would I best go about getting trusted book reviews? Reading is an essential part of my educational process, and I need to figure out how to judge the methods of the right people to direct me to the best educational resources, rather than just depending on the top results of

Maybe I'm going about this all wrong. Maybe my problems are really just that of methodology, that I'm organizing my reading improperly. What I would like to do, preferably through technological means, is set up a queue that could order specific reading items in a hierarchy that would make me go through them in a specific order so that I couldn't just skip around.

I don't know, but a conclusion needs to be reached in order to be able to live the most valuable life possible. My current thought is to reduce my followed blogs to as few as possible, focusing only on the most valuable, the most varied, and the ones that compile the most links. I'll check out a mailing list I'm a part of, OProducers, for more advice.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Learning Requires Percepts

I'm starting to question the effectiveness of doing scientific learning without the aid of pictures, video, or audio. While some people might think of pictures in a textbook as filler content that inappropriately takes the place of text, used properly I think it's absolutely necessary to employ such means if we are to objectively learn and achieve certainty.

In accordance with Objectivist epistemology, sense experience is the given on which human knowledge depends, thereby setting up a hierarchy in which "perceptual concepts" directly represent groupings and contrasts of perceivable things (actions, physical entities, emotions, etc.) and "abstract concepts" represent groupings and contrasts of lower concepts. In order to be certain of the validity of an abstract concept that's high up in the conceptual hierarchy one must be able to break the concept into its constituent concepts, continuing until one has reached the lowest concepts, the ones that are directly representative of physical reality. (The best illustration I've read is Rand's own about the concept "furniture." Furniture doesn't exist; it's a higher up abstraction to represent objects which do exist: the chairs, tables, and whatnot that constitute the concept furniture.)

Given that, to have objective knowledge, it is required of one to be able to break concepts down into their constituents and ultimately perceivable reality, I think it's necessary to incorporate the appropriate educational methods in order to take into account this fact. I've been thinking, for instance, whether or not I can truly learn everything there is to learn from Good Calories, Bad Calories. Some of the concepts described boil down to perceptuals I have never experienced before, such as cholesterol, and upon flipping through the book I see only but a small handful of pictures, none of which correspond to isolated medical concepts. In order to experience cholesterol with my senses, I would have to see what the substance actually looks like in a vial and how it can be distinguished from other substances in the body, whether right with my unaided eyes or under a microscope or whatever. Since I have no such experience, isn't cholesterol a mere word in my mind?

Unfortunately, given the bad epistemology of our culture I don't think such a problem is going to be remedied any time soon, maybe not even in my lifetime, so I'm going to have to figure out how to alter my studies to counter this problem.