Friday, October 29, 2010

Weekly Summary 10/22/10 to 10/28/10

Yet another bad week in regards to productivity, especially studying, but with the very happy bright side of my having learned a lot, identifying essential questions and realizing I made some errors. This will probably be my easiest weekly summary to construct since I did so little in the way of tackling my formal list: I completed one chapter of The Journals of Ayn Rand. I also sunk my teeth into The Logical Leap, but had somewhat a difficult time both in concentrating and progressing smoothly, but I did hold an interest in the subject. In all honesty I'm not all that sure what I did this week; I'm so used to having everything tracked out formally on my lists that my constant neglect has made my activities forgettable, though I did not idle; I just did something I didn't write down.

The bright side is that I've been very intensely contemplative this week and got some good thinking done. Not only did I make some good advancement on some intellectual issues, but I also learned that I hadn't truly retrogressed in my ability to concentrate as I originally thought, as previously indicated by my seeming inability to concentrate on my studies. I notice that when I'm writing, especially writing long pieces privately to others about my Project, I'm able to sustain my concentration rock solid with a minimum of daydreaming. Also, when I tried to engage in one of my study subjects this week I noticed that I got absorbed in thought for nearly two hours straight. Granted, I wasn't doing thinking about my study subject, but I wasn't really dwelling on the Circumstance or daydreaming either: I had come upon a contemplative mood that initiated a state of effortless concentration in me. I practically stared at the wall for that two hours.

What this tells me is that there's something wrong with the nature of my pursuits rather than there being a retrogression in my ability to concentrate. I mentioned a little while ago that I thought that my distaste for my studying was a result of my detaching abstractions from the material portions of my life, and I think my decline in productivity this week can be explained by that growing distaste. Since no true solution has been found such pursuits continue to be viewed by my subconscious as empty mental strain, and I am accordingly inwardly encouraged to do something else.

It could also be the case that my subconscious has integrated my hierarchy of goals, and since it sees the Circumstance as hindering or making impossible the rest of my hierarchy I am encouraged to pull out the weed before moving on. It may sound odd, but it seems like the harder I work to continue on with my life while still dealing with the Circumstance, the bigger a concern the Circumstance becomes to me. In other words, the harder I work to pursue my values the more aware I become as to how the Circumstance interferes with achieving those values. Let's use an metaphor. Let's say -- and this is fantasy mind you -- that the back bumper on your car has partially fallen off and is dragging along the road. It is impossible in your context to call and have your car towed, so you have to make the effort yourself to travel to the repair shop, and, worse yet, you have to make several stops before you get there. Can you imagine as to how maddeningly annoying that screeching scraping against the road would be as you tried to live your life dealing with it for the moment? And what would happen if you tried traveling to your destinations at a faster pace? The screeching would only get worse! The only remedy is the repair shop, which is unfortunately in this metaphor miles away and must come at the end of a series of other stops.

I can't really tell you in what specific ways the Circumstance interferes with my life lest I reveal the Project, but I can give my studying as an example. Although mild, the Circumstance does in a way physically interfere with my studies. It has done so much so in that past that I have been trained like Pavlov's dogs to expect it. Worse yet, the harder I try to study the more I fear being interrupted. Even worse, the harder I study the more aware I become as to how the Circumstance interferes with my learning in general. It's like my subconscious is telling me "Now this studying is important, but let's get that cumbersome Circumstance out of the way and then we'll worry about induction." Such would be positively logical instructions to follow if it weren't for the fact that I'm in the waiting period of my Project.

Now that I think about it, I realize that my sense of life was much better right when my Project started, despite the fact I was still dealing with the Circumstance in the worst ways. The difference between then and now is that I was doing something physically in regards to dealing with the Circumstance permanently. My consciousness was filled to the brim with thoughts about how wonderful the results of my Project will be, not how terrible the Circumstance currently is. Such physical activity, in one way or another, lasted for a few good months until I had finally advanced forward in my Project enough that I now have little else to do except wait for the final phase -- and deal with the Circumstance in the meanwhile. Consequently, I think I'm stuck in the conundrum where my subconscious keeps encouraging me to do something about the Circumstance but I keep realizing consciously that there's nothing that can be done at the moment. Hindersome!

But that's no excuse, just an obstacle to be overcome. The question is: How can I arrange my pursuits to be directed in the most productive way while at the same time avoiding awareness as to how the Circumstance interferes? Or should I just struggle and endure the frustration in the meanwhile? I don't have an answer right now, and I think perhaps this week should be dedicated towards finding that answer. Thus I am somewhat loosely dedicating myself, again, to completing one section of each study subject, and that's in addition to the current section I'm on in TLL since I've advanced so far in the current chapter. Also, I'm discarding my math practices since it currently has no material relevance to my life right now and because I get way too horribly fidgety when trying to do them, probably due to their being detached abstractions.

I really don't know what other kind of goals I should make in addition. Should I perhaps emphasize my creative writing here? As noted above, I've had no trouble maintaining my concentration and motivation in keeping up with my writing, whereas I am in my reading. I'll dedicate myself to my normal pace, though perhaps I'll direct myself towards some introspective posts regarding what I've learned about my emotions in dealing with the Circumstance and the nature of healthy relationships. But still that doesn't constitute living a *full* week, so perhaps I should write more? Add yet another goal? More thinking needs to be done. What I'd most like to accomplish is to get back to trusting my to-do lists again and consulting them for activities.

God this all frustrating. It seems that since I'm unable to satisfy the fundamental need that the Circumstance has caused to arise it is consequently causing other negative behaviors to result. Luckily there haven't been any long-term consequences, but among the behaviors are constantly thinking about the Circumstance, anxiously overeating, anxiously over-hydrating, and anxiety-induced breathing problems. To my knowledge, they have only surfaced one at a time, never concurrently. It's like the conquering of one behavior merely leads to another one to surface, like how pressing out bubbles in an automobile's body can cause it to merely transfer to another location. Throughout all the fundamental cause is untouched.

Although this is all difficult, I think the solution lies in going back to my fundamental considerations and going from there, like how I'm arranging my life around the Circumstance. I will persevere.

Chocolate Review: Theo's 70% Orange

For those of you who have expressed concern over such a matter, Theo's 70% dark chocolate with orange marks the first of the chocolates I have reviewed that is explicitly free of soy. That ingredient is just entirely omitted with nothing else to take its place, so hopefully this bar is more palatable to my more strictly health-conscious readers.

After interacting with a fruit and chocolate loving friend of mine I have lately been seized by a craving for oranges. It's one of those fruits I could typically live without, but am amazed by its flavor whenever I do choose to partake. Somewhere along my craving I remembered one Christmas where I tried this odd dark chocolate, probably with no cacao percentage listed, that came in the shape of a sphere and broke into orange-shaped wedges when smashed against the table. It was one of the best chocolates I had ever tried, as it had the perfect balance of orange in comparison to chocolate. Unfortunately, I haven't eaten it again since my childhood and don't remember the brand name, so I went out to see what other orange chocolates could be offered. In comes Theo's orange.

Now for a spontaneous change I would like to make my reviews more logical in their transition. I think it violates the natural hierarchy of chocolate eating to comment on the flavor and mouthfeel of a chocolate before its packaging aesthetics since one will obviously encounter them in the reverse order. Also, since the mouthfeel and flavor are the absolutely most important considerations of a chocolate it would make more sense to leave it for slightly later in the article since it can serve as a sort of build-up to a climax, no? Unless persuaded otherwise, I'll start conducting my reviews in accordance to the natural order of a chocolate eating experience.

As far as packaging aesthetics go, I have to say this is the most disappointing bar to date. The wrapping paper itself is nice enough what with the orange halves floating around, but overall it leaves the impression in me of bad wallpaper in an ugly house. It's barely acceptable, but upon unwrapping I saw the bar itself was atrocious. There is no attempt at artistic design whatsoever: It's just plain rectangles. No shapes, no lines, no brand name, no anything! I appreciate it when a company at least tries, but I cannot give Theo any credit, especially when cheaper varieties still manage to make their bars look beautiful, like Lindt. Worse yet, the bar lacks any gloss and seems to be covered in its own chocolaty dust, which almost makes it look old. The very least I can give it is that it doesn't look gross or unappetizing, so it shouldn't be a deterrent to eating, but they could have tried better to go the extra mile.

The eating, however, is a whole other world. This bar is somewhat noticeably pressed thinner, which makes the bar much easier to break off from. From a functional standpoint that makes this bar nearly fragile, warranting caution in handling, but the peril of its fragility is negated by the mouthfeel value. Its brittleness comes as a plus when biting off, as it practically breaks off like a piece of glass and starts to melt amazingly fast, perhaps even competing with the meltiness of Lindt's 90%. The flavor makes me forget all about its terrible aesthetics, for it replicates my childhood memory of that other classic chocolate perfectly. The chocolate is not too sweet and shows no signs of bitterness, and the orange note integrates into the experience rather than being distinct and is of the perfect intensity. The chocolate is certainly the major player, but it doesn't mute or cover the orange at all. I usually only allow myself to eat half of a chocolate bar per day if I choose chocolate as my daily sugar indulgence, even if the chocolate is fantastic, but this bar was so delicious that I was practically compelled to eat the whole thing in one sitting, something unusual to me. This bar is ugly, but it's flavor is at the height of beauty.

The only potential problem I could see would be with one of personal preference. If you're looking for a very intense citrus experience then this isn't your bar, as the orange still plays somewhat of a background singer to the chocolate. It is of perfect intensity to please me however, so for now I'll consider this my orange chocolate of choice. 

I am so pleased with this bar that I'm going to include it on my list of favorite chocolates, period. The next time I go chocolate shopping I'm going to buy several of these bars to ensure a consistent supply on hand, woe to me otherwise. But of course I am not blind to the competition. I have been notified that Endangered Species offers its own orange bar. It will certainly be the subject of a future tasting.

In summary, this bar offers the worst aesthetics I have ever seen and an almost dangerous fragility in its thinness, but it more than makes makes up for it in its ease of eating, fantastic mouthfeel, and perfect ratio of orange-to-chocolate. If you like oranges and if you like chocolate, I greatly recommend trying this bar.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Conclusion about Chocolate Standards and Ratings

Building directly on my previous post, I report that I have reached a conclusion about whether to employ a numerical rating system and to relax my chocolate eating standards. I have decided against both of them since I view them as unnecessary and too far off the path of paleo nutrition for my liking.

The numerical rating system I think is too cliche' and ultimately unneeded. There's really only four conclusions I can generally come up with for each bar of chocolate: That I regret ever eating it, that I was fine eating it once, but will never again; that I enjoyed it enough to be willing to continue eating it, and that I enjoyed it immensely and would like to include it often. There's no problem in expressing these conclusions verbally. A number rating system, aside from being unneeded, would perhaps also make my reviews just all that much more cliche'. I'll stick to being entirely descriptive and allow my readers to sum up my conclusions in their own way.

The relaxing of my chocolate standards, on the other hand, is too far off paleo than I'd like to be and would probably be useless anyhow since I'd probably rarely, if ever, partake in any chocolate sweeter than 70% cacao. I'd like my readers to expect a certain consistency from me, and given my reviews are about dark chocolate I think we can agree that darker is better. However, I think I will add an exception which will allow me to fudge my standards just a slight bit. As mentioned in my other post, there is a mint bar (you'll have to scroll down to the bar with green packaging) that is but three percentage points below my standards, and I love mint so much that I'm willing to make it an exception to the rules. As such, I'll add an "exceptions clause" to my stated rules that will allow me to, on rare occasion, allow me to lower my standards to as low as 65% cacao if the bar is truly special and worth considering. I will be absolute in this, which means I won't make arbitrary exceptions for bars that are even 64.9% cacao.

To summarize my standards again, I'll review good dark chocolates anywhere between 65% and 100% cacao, but I have a hierarchy established to indicate why I would seek certain intensities. For chocolates between 70% and 75% -- and down to 65% on rare occasion -- I necessitate that it must have some special attribute, like flavor infusions (fruit, single-origin) or special manufacturing processes, for me to consider such a "light" dark chocolate. For dark chocolates 75% and higher just about anything goes since that high of a cacao percentage is likely to leave little room for objectionable ingredients. I'll remain strict on these standards so my readers know what they can turn to me for, and if I ever consume anything that conflicts with these standards, like a milk chocolate bar, I'm not going to review it except for maybe a brief mention on Twitter or Facebook.

That's it then. Be sure to come back Friday, since I've found yet another chocolate of such high value that I'd like to turn it into a regular staple.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chocolate Considerations: Number Rating System and Sweeter Varieties?

I've been doing some thinking about the nature of my chocolate reviews and am considering altering slightly the way I do them, plus perhaps include some different products. As mentioned previously, I'm going to start taking my chocolate tastings more seriously, which means I'll take notes during my tastings and draw out my eatings in order to study the bars more thoroughly. So far I do notice that it has made my reviews more thorough and even makes the tastings more enjoyable, though perhaps things could be taken further.

I was wondering: What would you, if you consistently follow my chocolate reviews, think of me adding in a number rating system? My purpose in including such an addition would be to, on top of my verbal summary, sum up in numbers how I feel about a certain variety. When I used to watch X-Play years ago I have always been fond that they used a five-star rating system instead of four, which is the first review source of any kind that I've seen use this system. I like it precisely for its virtue of allowing for clear whole numbers to be used and for "3" to be the absolute median. If you're using whole numbers, what's the median in the four star rating system? And if you're not using whole numbers, what's the justification for rating something "two and a half stars" or the like? In my personal opinion, a five star rating system is as clear and precise as it can get in summing things up in numbers. If I employ a rating system I would employ this, though I'd like to hear the thoughts of my readers first. Would you like me to sum up my reviews into a rating system like this, or do you find my verbal descriptions clear and compelling enough?

Additionally, I've been thinking about perhaps branching out to other, sweeter chocolates. As of right now I'm dedicated exclusively to dark chocolates with an explicitly listed cacao percentage. For plain chocolate I aim for 80% or higher (up to 100%), but if the bar is either infused with other flavors (like fruit), is single-origin (like Godiva), or has some other special attribute (like Rapunzel) I'm willing to dip down to 70%. So far that has been the consistent standard of my reviews. However, I've been considering perhaps relaxing my standards a little bit to include sweet chocolates, milk varieties and the like. I'd like to have explicitly stated standards so that my readers can know what to expect of me, so my considered change is to dedicate myself to bars with explicitly listed cacao percentages (without exception) and a "clean" array of ingredients. This Dagoba bar with lavender and blueberries intrigues me, for instance. Its only objectionable ingredients I can find are soy and the probably high sugar, which I could perhaps make an exception for on a limited basis. I would not accept, however, bars that include conglomerates of unpronounceable chemicals, no matter how good it may touted to be.

However, on this second point I am experiencing internal resistance to. Aside from the health benefits I've received, the reason why it's so easy for me to be so strict in my paleo diet is because I've really developed a taste for the foods that make up my consistent nutritional regiment. Technically my dark chocolate eating is a paleo cheat, but I love it so much that I eat it virtually everyday, though I do watch my sugar consumption and trade out particular items if I'm to have another. (For instance, if I want some fruit, I'll usually forgo the dark chocolate. It's an either-or thing with me. For my upcoming birthday I anticipate eating a sundae, so I'll probably fast on my sugar consumption a few days before and probably after.) I worry about both the possible facts that chocolate below 70% cacao could be too sweet and sugary for me, and mostly the latter. I have fond memories of my very first taste of mint chocolate, Green & Black's mint, but even as early as it was in my adjustment to the paleo diet I remember it being sickeningly sweet. Despite my interest it may be the case that my taste buds simply won't tolerate that much sweetness. At the very worst I'm considering tasting Equal Exchange dark mint chocolate (you'll have to scroll down to see it), which comes in at 67% cacao and is but three percentage points below my stated standards. You know I love mint.

I'm still thinking about these inclusions but am open to other opinions. Right now my leaning is rather indeterminant on the rating system -- it sounds both cliche' and very helpful at the same time -- and in relaxing my chocolate standards only a little bit to allow for exceptions like that Equal Exchange bar which is only slightly below my standards and has a flavor attribute I love. Most importantly I think it is necessary that I have explicit reviewing standards. I'll let you know what my ultimate conclusion is.   

Friday, October 22, 2010

Weekly Summary 10/15/10 to 10/21/10

(Just to let you know, I'm switching the title of these posts to "Weekly Summary" since I noticed that it isn't accurate to say study summary since the writing consists of more than that.)

Generally I had a nice week, but man was it a failure for studying! I only completed one math practice and chapter eleven of Good Calories, Bad Calories, completing four conceptual exercises; and didn't get anywhere near finished with Journals of Ayn Rand or The Logical Leap. I even failed to construct the appropriate amount of blog posts before the deadline, though I excuse that on the basis of a spontaneous work shift, a higher value to me. I did not entirely neglect Journals or TLL, for I did crack them open and attempt to complete my assignments, it's just that my concentration was so weak that I progressed at an atrociously slow rate. As of writing I have only completed twenty pages of the chapter of Journals, and it took me nearly all day to advance that far. It's the worst kind of daydreaming that is haunting my efforts: The kind that happens without you being aware of it, persists for several moments before you become cognizant of it, and promptly happens again even after reestablishing concentration. While reading Journals I kept dazing off over and over again, and the things that made me aware of it was acknowledging that either irrelevant thoughts were popping into my head while thinking or noticing that I had been staring at the same paragraph for quite some time. (I have the habit of stopping reading or moving my eyes over the same sentences over and over again if I lose my comprehension of what I'm reading. I seldom ever have the problem of merely verbalizing the words of the reading in my head without mentally paying attention.)

Worse yet, rubberducking had very little impact and was unable to clear my mind, or else it's merely helping me concentrate in different contexts. One day I tried clearing my head with nearly forty minutes of straight rubberducking about the Circumstance and it still didn't work, so I gave up, ate dinner, and wasn't able to reestablish mental control until I did some extended writing. What I mean about rubberducking working in different contexts is that it seems that rubberducking is working to clear my mind in other areas. I've never been performing better cognitively at work before. I don't have much time to rubberduck while driving to work, but I do make do with what time I have, and it seems to work to the extent that I am unbothered by thoughts of the Circumstance my entire shift. It has drastically improved my productivity, my mood and its consistency, and my dealings with my coworkers. If a thought about the Circumstance were to come up, I have been able to brush the thought away as easily as popping a bubble. Rubberducking has been so helpful with work, in fact, that I haven't been needing my Mental Calvinball games, conceptual exercises, or thinking lists to keep my mind occupied. Sure, I may not be making the most productive use of my mental faculties, but the point is that while I'm letting my mind stray, it's not straying to unpleasant thoughts as it has in the past.

When I'm anywhere else, however, thoughts about the Circumstance suddenly become lead bubbles: heavy and near indestructible. Regardless of whatever mood I'm in I seem nearly unable to quit thinking about it; it's like some addictive intellectual puzzle. Even more strange is that it seems to randomly come and go. In the incident mentioned above, I had been plagued by thoughts about the Circumstance so heavily that it ground my attempts at reading to a halt, and even the longest rubberducking session to date was unable to defeat it, but when I gave up and did a draft for a chocolate review suddenly my mind was clear. What in the world?

At the very least it's great that rubberducking is helping my work productivity to such an extent since my career is one of my highest values, but that isn't nearly sufficient. I still want to be able to engage in my studies, because I think I'm wasting time otherwise. There is but one life to live. How shall I, then, work to reestablish my concentration? I have no new strategies; I think it's all just a matter of reemploying the techniques that worked in the past in combination with raw discipline. No excuses on my part.

So what of this weekly period, then? I say take another shot and complete one section of each study subject. I know it may seem logical to add on an additional assignment for Journals and TLL since I've already finished part of them, but I haven't gotten very far into those sections and they're way longer than I anticipated. The vast amount to read before me, I think, will be sufficient on its own. In the personal realm, I have to admit I'm slightly stumped. Continue trying to strengthen concentration and rubberduck? Sounds good, but what else? How about I complete some more significant blog posts than usual, and also take it upon myself to tackle my to-do lists? The latter is especially important due to its continued neglect. Alright, that sounds good. Lastly, I'll strive to complete three math exercises.

As a brief update on my Project, things are still pretty much the same, though there have been some positive developments and a minor, nearly insignificant setback. After noticing an error I made I realized that I'm actually more than 56% of the way to my goal, which is much better than the 49% I originally thought. I can't tell you what those developments are or what those numbers stand for, but at the very least I'd like to let you know that some small progress is being made, and in the right direction.

Well then, onwards to another week of pursuing life and to the hope that success is soon at hand.

Chocolate Review: Lindt's 90%

A long time ago I promised that I would do a review for Lindt's 90% Cocoa dark chocolate, but unfortunately I could only get my hands on a bar of Lindt's 85%. Fortunately, it does turn out that some local Walgreens continues to carry the 90% variety, as I was gifted a bar and can now do a review of it. Even better, I still had some of Lindt's 85% leftover in my fridge, so I was able to sit down and taste them side-by-side. Given how close they are in cacao percentages one may think there's not enough of a difference to consider one over the other, but delicate attention will expose the subtle differences.

The biggest differences I noticed were in flavor and texture. Here I think the 90% has the upper hand, though again it's to be left up to your own personal preference. The higher fat and cacao content makes the 90% a more creamy, meltier bar while the 85% is a little more prone to firmness and breaking up before melting. Oh, they'll both melt in your mouth fairly quickly, but I noticed that the 90% one was quicker to do so. Better yet, the vanilla seems to be more integrated into the 90% version and heightens the chocolate experience while smoothing out the bitterness, whereas in the 85% it tends to be more of a distinct note that plays alongside the chocolate rather than with it. Oddly enough, the 85% comes off as more bitter, and I attribute that to the better vanilla integration in the 90%.

In considering which bar to purchase, the flavor profile is more important than the texture. Both of them are fast-melting, and the difference between them in that area is so subtle as to be insignificant. However, the bitter notes and the vanilla integration are noticeably different between these two. In the 90% bar the vanilla works as a helper to boost the chocolate and integrate itself into the overall experience, resulting in a complete bar that offers an incredibly dark experience with almost no detectable bitterness (that applies, of course, only if your cacao threshold is up to this level), but the vanilla seems to be more distinct in the 85% version, so the result there is a tri-fold experience of vanilla, chocolate, and bitterness all strongly related, but not perfectly combined. I am now of opinion that the 90% bar is my plain dark chocolate bar of choice, but I may continue buying the 85% variety if I can't justify traveling to that particular Walgreens.

And what of nutrition? After a commenter on one of my reviews on Modern Paleo pointed out that the overall carbohydrate count is higher in the 90% version than in the 85% version I investigated and confirmed it was true. The 85% version has a higher sugar total, whereas the 90% has a higher overall carb count. For me, personally, I worry the most about the sugar content in my diet distinct from carbohydrate consumption, so if I had to make a choice on the basis of nutrition I'd still stick with the 90% version. However, if you're trying to utilize a low-carb diet to lose weight, then you might want to choose the 85% bar.

But let us not forget there are competitors. Remember Endangered Species' 88% dark chocolate? (Here's my initial review, and my recent reassessment of it.) In comparing this to both of Lindt's varieties, I still say Lindt comes out on top. The thicker ES bar makes for a crunchier experience that I do not like, and the chocolate is particularly resistant to melting even as you let your body heat try to overwhelm it. The vanilla is also weaker, so weak that I couldn't detect it, so its purpose is either ineffectual or technical and does not contribute to the aesthetics. Oh I do love ES' mint, but when I'm looking for plain chocolate this is the kind of experience I detest! If you like to gobble and crunch your bars then go ahead and choose this brand, but I'm on the lookout for a more delicate experience. 

So my take-home conclusion is that Lindt 90% is my plain dark chocolate of choice, as it offers the creamiest mouthfeel I have ever come across, the most integrated experience, the most intense chocolate with the least bitterness, and the best vanilla note. To boot, it's one of the most affordable dark chocolates out there, so that it's such a price makes it great that such a value is so obtainable.

This does not, however, end my hunt for other plain chocolates. There's still the Lindt 99% to save up for, and I'm also eying Green and Black's 85% dark chocolate. The latter brand will result in a strange full-circle, for it was either the 85% or 70% variety of Green and Black's that got me into dark chocolate to begin with.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Obama on Mythbusters?

From various Twitter updates from the likes of Adam Savage and whatnot I have learned that Obama is going to be on an upcoming episode of Mythbusters. I do not know yet for what his purpose is for being on that show, but I have to admit that already I am disappointed.

Mythbusters is a show I've only gotten into particularly recently, like in the last year or so, because I disliked it as a kid. What intrigues me so much about it is the demonstration of how theoretical science is to be applied to actual, concrete reality. Formal education today usually makes the horrendous error of teaching abstractions detached from physical reality, which prevents objective learning since abstractions can only be derived from physical reality at its root, and Mythbusters has done well to remedy that by not only teaching concepts but also showing what they amount to in physical demonstration. I do admit to having some qualms with the show -- I don't like how the newer episodes tend to concentrate on physical results in neglect of explaining theory, and I sometimes get a dizzying sense of ADD when they keep switching back and forth between myths without completing one fully before moving on -- but the appearance of Obama has got to be the biggest disappointment to date. Sure, it's likely not to be the case that Obama will say anything objectionable even though I oppose his politics, but my main peeve is that he's appearing on the show period.

Looking at it from the broadest possible perspective, it's the juxtaposition that's detestable: A man of mystical, dictatorial philosophical premises is to appear on a show that, at base, holds a good, rational epistemology regarding how man should explore the world. Contradictory. Obama's philosophical premises are in conflict with the kind of philosophy a show like Mythbusters would presuppose, and in addition with his statist politics I think it's rather insulting that they would allow air time for such a man.

Probably the worst aspect of this matter is how children might interpret Obama's appearance separate from whatever he says or does. While it would be consistent for Obama's behavior, I have to confess that I don't expect him to say anything political on the show, but it could still lead to children drawing political conclusions. It is obvious that the show will introduce Obama as the President of the United States, and children could perhaps integrate the premise that it's alright for politicians to be involved with formal education institutions. Adam Savage has advocated such a position several months ago on his Twitter profile when he explicitly expressed approval of a political initiative of Obama regarding federal funding of science education. It's possible that someone may explicitly express such on that particular episode and thereby make more transparent the political implication.

It couldn't be further from the truth that it's appropriate for politicians to be involved in educational matters, except for the protection of individual rights. When politicians get involved any further than that, it involves the violation of property rights via regulations as to how the owners "may" and must use their property, and could even involve theft if the educational endeavor is funded by taxation, by which funds are expropriated from individuals and given to others. At worst, a politician's involvement could even corrupt the very curriculum. This last point is the most important epistemologically.

Simply put, if a person is going to involve himself and fund a particular endeavor, he's logically going to ensure that he approves of its specifics, right? No one, except for maybe unprincipled Peter Keatings, would involve themselves with something they explicitly oppose. If a politician is going to involve himself in funding and directing educational endeavors, especially if he holds statist premises, he's logically going to want to have at least some influence over the educational process. To expect otherwise is foolish, as it would be equivalent to a man supporting an endeavor he believes is destructive to his values: While many people today may be acting towards their own destruction on bad philosophical premises, if a person were to reach the explicit conclusion that something is destructive to his values, then he's logically going to alter his actions accordingly. Take, for example, the ongoing controversy of whether or not evolution should be taught in schools. That should be completely demonstrative of the essential flaw of funding education with taxes. The people who believe the theory of evolution is false logically don't want it to be taught, while the people who believe it's true do. Politicians with views on this issue have undertaken to force their beliefs to be taught. Some have even been successful in integrating their religious doctrine into school curricula. In short, if you elect a bunch of religious politicians to head educational endeavors, then don't be surprised when curricula start becoming religious.

Since Obama blatantly holds statist premises, then it's obvious he's going to want to dictate to some extent any educational endeavor he funds with tax money. At root, what right does he have to decide what may or may not be taught? It's irrelevant whether or not what he endorses is actually the truth. He has no right to be taking the property of others via taxation, to be deciding what it's used for, and therefore how educational institutes must use those funds. Besides, the fundamental problem with today's educational institutes is a matter of epistemology, not of funding, so throwing more money at the problem and intensifying the problematic methodology is only going to exacerbate the problem. (For a good discussion on proper educational methods, consider reading Lisa VanDamme's articles over at The Objective Standard, especially the one about hierarchy.)

I may be reading too much into this since Obama is merely a guest on this show and will likely not say anything objectionable, but there is the potential that bad philosophical premises could be disseminated. Most importantly, I simply don't like the juxtaposition of something I value with a man I view as a huge source of anti-values. However, it's also possible that any potential bad influence could be rendered inert by the fact Obama is facing continuously declining popularity. The episode was probably filmed during a time of greater popularity.

Mythbusters may be somewhat of a mixed show, but I'll continue watching it with the optimism that they'll strive to improve themselves. The recent new episodes seem to have recaptured somewhat the value of the old shows, where they would concentrate significantly on theory applied to practice and stay on one myth longer without frequently switching to another. It is nonetheless disappointing that the Mythbusters would invite the President on like this, as it seems to be nothing more than a second-handed banking on the popularity among youth of a celebrity president.        

Update: It's funny that mtnrunner2 below suggested that they might be testing the infamous Xylophone weapon from Atlas Shrugged, because according to this article the President did actually request a weapon-related myth to be tested.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Material Life

Building on my last study summary, I've been doing more thinking about that chapter in Journals, The Mind on Strike, and think I may understand why now that I've been shifting my interest away from the spiritual (intellectual) realm and towards the material realm. In that chapter, Rand makes the identification that since people with parasitical psychological tendencies are unable to obtain any sort of spiritual satisfaction they have to switch to the material realm, and since their spiritual needs go unmet they develop exaggerated material greed. Examining the various referents I have in mind, I see that this is true: The people I've seen most dedicated to their philosophy of life are also, oddly enough, the most materialistic people I've observed. Rand further elaborates that since the material can only be of value in satisfying spiritual needs, such as using a hard-earned paycheck to buy a luxury good, any material wealth obtained will fail to satisfy the parasite. For our purposes, only the first portion of this identification needs to be concentrated on, the portion in which Rand identified that a bankrupt spiritual life leads to an overemphasis on material.

While I'm no parasite, I think this explains why I've been concerned with my material wealth lately. The Circumstance I'm dealing with right now is preventing me from satisfying a very tremendously important spiritual need right now, literally the most important, and I have no way of satisfying it except through means of my Project. Consequently, my inability to satisfy my deepest spiritual needs has made me become more concerned with what needs I can satisfy right now, my lesser, material needs. Unlike spiritual parasites, I am able to derive satisfaction from material goods since they do have a connection with my spiritual needs. Take, for instance, my cooking up a delicious new dish or eating a new chocolate bar and its connection to my culinary aspirations. In my case it's not that I'm switching to the material realm in complete neglect of the spiritual realm, but rather that I'm moving further down my hierarchy of spiritual needs because some of the most important ones are in the process of being satisfied and I am in search of what I can satisfy myself with now.

This perhaps explains how my lazy unproductivity last week provoked no guilt within me: Since I haven't developed a feasible reward system for or way to materialize my intellectual endeavors, it's been nothing more than unrewarded strain, so my mind was in need of rest from such a strain. During such procrastination and putting off work I felt actual pleasure and relaxation.

The questions now are how can I satisfy my more materialistic needs while I am in wait for progress on the deeper ones, and how can I make my studying more rewarding or at least result in something tangible? Answers to these questions should yield an ongoing source of motivation and enhancement for my life.

The first part of the question is a matter of spending money. Essentially, by what effort could I increase my available spending money for luxury goods? The Project has made me rather frugal, and with another recent setback to my Project my finances are getting tighter than ever. To deprive myself of some luxury goods, I think, would leave me extremely frustrated since the Circumstance is leaving unable to fulfill some of my other needs. My first thought is to invest more effort into this blog, since, as detailed on my disclosures page, I do participate in two programs which can result in payment for the content I create. If I play my cards right I could increase my monetary rewards. Don't worry: It's not like I plan on turning this blog into an advertisement gig. The only kind of advertisements I plan on doing are the ones I'm already doing: my chocolate reviews. My thoughts now are to simply exert more effort into making the content of my blog of more valuable to my readers and to increase my readership by advertising more often in blog carnivals. Given the aim of this blog and the type of readership I bring in such payments would be modest, but sufficient in spending money. If I write a good review of a chocolate I like and convince another person to purchase it, that's money to buy even more chocolate to review. If I do well enough, perhaps I could spur my motivation even more by limiting my spending money to my blog income, thereby encouraging me to exert myself even more at writing on the basis of the profit motive. To experiment, I'll continue my blogging pace and work to construct more valuable writing. In addition, I'll start taking my chocolate tasting and reviews much more seriously to increase the value in that realm as well, going so far as to take notes while tasting. I'll try this, I think, for a month or so and see where it takes me.

My studies, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult. The consideration there isn't necessarily about how I'll get rewarded for my efforts, but rather how such efforts can amount to tangible results. For example, if I were an engineer learning how batteries work, it would make sense to actually engage in the construction of batteries during that study, no? What I'm trying to get at is: How can I make my studies affect my mode of action? How can I walk away from my studies with something physically tangible that can manifest the results of what I've done? The three books I'm engaging in right now -- Journals of Ayn Rand, Good Calories Bad Calories, and The Logical Leap --complicate matters in that they all seem to be isolated to the intellectual realm. Not a bad thing overall, but perhaps a little bit too much for what I need right now.

TLL is probably the easiest concern to answer: Since it's a work on epistemology, the better question would be when it doesn't affect my mode of action. One's psycho-epistemology is present all the time, so any mental habits I adopt and adapt from this book will influence every part of my life. GCBC will do more to affect my thinking in nutrition, my dietary choices, and my ability to argue for my beliefs. Material-wise, this isn't much. It's not like it'll instruct me on how to engage a cooking practice differently or the like. Journals is the most difficult of all to tackle since it's a collection of a variety of different things, so I don't even know where to start for that. On all three, the only material things I can be certain of are the consequent book reviews. (Haven't forgotten about that, have you?)

In regards to my own psychology, I find questionable the practice of using as an incentive material objects I already have. For example, motivating myself to study by rewarding myself two squares of chocolate for every section completed. It's just too easy to simply walk to the fridge and break off what I want, whereas profiting on my writing depends entirely on convincing other people of the value of my content. It might be something worth trying, but I am hesitant and resistant.

Maybe for now I could just concentrate on making my writing more valuable. According to my assignments sheet it won't be long before I'll be finished with Journals, and that means I'll soon be constructing a book review and be in need of a new study subject. During that selection process I will be careful to balance out my studies by selecting a book that will have immediate material consequences, to balance out my abstract thinking. The Professional Chef sounds like it would be of such value, as it would alter my grocery shopping and cooking practices, and satisfy my need for culinary engagement all in one. That, at the very least, should serve as an incentive to stick it through with Journals.

I do admit that I'm worried that all this may be making me too materialistic -- that is, detaching my material satisfaction from the spiritual realm -- but I must recognize that my spiritual hierarchy can only be satisfied in part right now, so it is only logical that I concentrate on the materialistic portion of the hierarchy while the more spiritual aspects are temporarily in limbo. Satisfying some of my needs, however lesser, is the least I can do.

After my Project is complete I anticipate a rather significant change in my psychology, and I'm generalizing on the basis of the changes that occurred to me after I conquered other significant problems in my life. Of course, I won't tell you what those other problems were until after I complete my Project, so that is to be reserved for the big blog post I promise for after the Project. When things are all said and done, I expect to be able to become a much more spiritual person, since the truly only major obstacle in my life will have been overcome -- and I will be unhindered.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Study Summary 10/8/10 - 10/14/10

This week was generally unproductive as I predicted it would be, but not as badly as I thought. I did manage to complete a good amount of my weekly goals, so the major neglect went towards the lesser items on my to-do lists. Oddly enough I don't feel guilty or uncomfortable with my slothfulness, so perhaps I needed a bit of restoration or period of reflection, though I think I should be wary of that line of reasoning lest I use it as an excuse for the future.

I only managed to complete one chapter each of Good Calories, Bad Calories and The Logical Leap, completing three conceptual exercises for the former (I couldn't ground some concepts, so I didn't count them towards my total) and ten for the latter (!). I also managed to complete one pure reading of The Journals of Ayn Rand.

In addition to my conceptual exercises, I also did a little dabbling with the whole looking for percepts of concepts online thing. While it does make my conceptual exercise take a little longer to perform, I found that it did make it more enjoyable and easier to do. For instance, I tried doing a conceptual exercise on the concept "hormone," and through my search of images on the internet I managed to correct an error in my thinking: I thought it was a primary entity, but it turns out that it's a category that classifies a group of entities and that it requires an understanding of atomic and molecular theory, and, consequently, some concepts of chemistry. I don't think I would have been able to reach those conclusions as quickly as I did simply fiddling around with Google images. (However, since "atom" and "molecule" aren't fully grounded to me and since I don't know where they lie in the conceptual chain I could not ground the concept hormone.) I'm definitely going to continue this practice in the future. It's fun, it makes things easier, and it makes my thinking go faster.

I don't have much to say about GCBC this time around since this particular chapter appeared redundant given previous learning I have done, but man was TLL interesting! I filled up about three or five pages on the first chapter alone. It's an intensely interesting book that will require particularly intense reading on my part to understand it fully. While I was reading David Harriman's articles in order to judge whether or not this book was worth having I was having a hard time comprehending the information since I didn't intend to write at that time; now that's not the problem. I have a lot of thinking to do on this subject, and I think it will be a very enjoyable task.

As for Journals, I think my patience has been rewarded. I mentioned previously that I found this book to be of mixed value since it covers such a varied amount of subjects, thereby making me demote it from study subject to a book to purely read, but that I was going to stick with it in case of eventually coming upon valuable material. I found The Mind on Strike to be the chapter worth waiting for. It offered incredible insight on the nature of people, especially those in my life right now, and has given me great assistance in giving me the right words to perhaps identify the problem of my current unproductivity right now. Page 448 offers this Newton's apple of a sentence:

"So now he performs another reversal: instead of realizing that man's material activity and production is the result of his spiritual entity (his thinking, his desires, his purposes) and that the material is meaningless except as the form given to the satisfaction of a primarily spiritual need -- he decides that his spritual happiness will proceed from the material, that the material will give him a spritual entity." [My bold.]

For the past few days that's the wording I've been groping at to express the disconnect of my abstract life from my physical life: The root of my dissatisfaction could be that my spiritual work isn't resulting in material consequences. Without a material manifestation to serve as a result for my intellectual work, it could be the case that my spiritual needs are merely accumulating without my taking any effort to satisfy them materialistically, and my current temptation (and lack of guilt) to laziness could be me having burnt out a fuse. It could also be the case that, along with thoughts about the Circumstance, that these spiritual needs were among those things I was suppressing and were among the basketballs that rushed to the surface when I couldn't keep them submerged any longer. That's definitely a difficult aspect of suppression: when you try to suppress multiple things at once.

Recently I had buttermilk fried chicken (with coconut flour, lard, and full-fat buttermilk) along with vegetables and a can of coconut juice, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Perhaps such an enjoyment can be indicative of a inner need other than hunger being satisfied, given that my culinary aspirations pin a spiritual aspect to food. Essentially, maybe it's the case that I don't reward myself enough for my intellectual work that I had temporarily run out of fuel. It would not only explain my recent proneness to slacking off but also my disdain for continuing my efforts: My subconscious knows I'm not doing well to turn the products of my mind into physical consequences and that I won't be materialistically rewarded (the form undefined for now) and so evaluates the practice as empty strain. I don't blame my mind for such an evaluation.

This week I'm going to concentrate more on improving my emotional health and securing the sustainability of good habits rather than accomplishing study goals. For studying I will be modest: One chapter for every study subject. For my emotional health, I think I'll try to take a more serious approach to my rubberducking by constructing a list of topics to speak about and then talking about them whenever I can. I think I've been limiting myself to rubberducking in the car too much, as the amount I can speak is limited by the distance of my traveling and the concentration needed for, well, driving. In securing the sustainability of good habits, I think I'll work to learn how to establish better writing practices and to consider the ways in which I can make my abstract studies result in material consequences as soon as possible, like making new culinary knowledge immediately impact my cooking, and also contemplate what other spiritual needs I may have. I think I could also come up with a way to make more spending money, which would allow me to have more incentive for my general efforts, to enjoy my life more, and to save more money for my Project since I would be securing my necessities through my main income.

I'm not sure if I can figure out sure-fire solutions in such an amount of time, but I certainly think it's very worthwhile. Emotional health and the ability to sustain consistent efforts are the key concentrations this week, and if I'm successful I'll not only be making myself a better, more able person, but will also be able to deal with the Circumstance much better than I am right now. I'm confident.   

Chocolate Review: Dagoba's Beaucoup Berries (74% Cacao)

At long last I have restocked my fridge with new chocolates to try and can restart my stream of chocolate reviews. This time, however, I think I'll leave you in the dark as to what's in my fridge so you'll be nicely surprised when the reviews come. I've got some nice ones for this round, including a variety I promised previously to review and two soy-free bars.

This time Dagoba's 74% cacao Beaucoup Berries will be taken into consideration, which is a mixture of cranberries, cherries, and vanilla. Someone recommended this brand to me on Twitter, and I have to admit that I'm pleased enough to try the line.

Overall, I am satisfied. Unlike other bars with fruit integrations I've had this bar has done well to ensure everything is thoroughly integrated, so you won't run into the problem of getting different flavor impressions in each bite; every section delivers on its fruity promise. However, the cherries and the cranberries tend to combine in a way that their flavors fuse together and offer their own combination, so I couldn't distinguish them. This is alright since they do leave a nice fruity impression, so I guess it might be a bit irrational to want to dissect the flavors in such a fashion. Unfortunately, the vanilla appears to either be very weak or muted by the other flavors, so I couldn't detect it at all, though it could be the case that it was merely utilized to round off any bitterness of the cacao. Still, I would like to see it made more intense, but it seems like Lindt is still the brand to depend on for that level of vanilla-intensity.

I'm totally satisfied with the texture. The bar is nicely thin to allow you to work with your incisors, melts nicely in the mouth, and is overall easy to deal with. The berries themselves add the addition of a nice squishy, gooey bite every now and then, which is a pleasant contrast to the solidity of the chocolate itself. How it can be the case that the berries can be uneven in texture but fully integrated in flavor I do not know, but it is a very nice paradox.

Aesthetically, I'd rate the totality of this bar to be well above average, though not exemplary. The package itself, combined with its dark pink colors and design of cacao plants, leaves a good impression of cheerfulness, romance, and femininity all at once while delivering a bar suitable to those emotional evaluations. The bar itself isn't very artistically designed, but I do give them full credit for what they did accomplish. Instead of being dividable by squares the bar is divided up into rectangles along the width, and on each rectangle the Dagoba brand is spelled fully out. The rectangle method of division is new to me so this bar takes on a unique individuality, and while the writing out of the brand may sound unimaginative, it's better than putting nothing or, worse, putting some lame bizarre design of arbitrary shapes, like lines and dots. I forgot to investigate more closely while I was eating, but I believe the brand is also written in the same font as the one on the wrapper, which further emphasizes the name as more of a signature rather than a mere printing or advertisement. The only downside I can find is that this bar is divided too finely -- into about ten or so sections for a 56 gram bar -- so despite my careful efforts I kept breaking the bar into shards rather than its individual sections. However, I won't subtract credit since I think I could have been more careful, and the division does make for a nice way to break things into bite sized pieces or pieces for sharing (since one those tiny rectangles it probably all you'd want to share). You could possibly even save money by breaking these bars up for tasting parties rather than buying actual tasting squares.

On price, I'd have to say it's a bit on the high side for a 56 gram bar. I paid $1.26 per ounce, whereas I paid .90 cents per ounce and lower for brands like Endangered Species and Lindt. That means it can be quite out of reach, similar to the New Tree line though bigger and slightly cheaper. Still, I have to admit that I've softened my view on how much I'd be willing to spend on chocolate, so I won't consider this too much of a deterrent for trying this brand out in the future. Additionally, the Lucky Vitamin shop carries, I believe, the whole Dagoba line and can offer a more justifiable source of this chocolate since you can buy it in conjunction with other products and pay an acceptable shipping cost. The shipping cost for New Tree's chocolates from the manufacturer is positively outrageous ($10 base!) at my income level, so I'll continue to abstain from that brand until I've otherwise saved up a significant amount or can find a more palatable source.

In summation, I like this bar and believe it to be above average, though I'm not impressed enough to include it into my list of favorite chocolates. Sure, I'd certainly be willing to pay for it again, but since it's beaten out by other favorite chocolates in my hierarchy I'm not sure when exactly I'd buy it again. Its virtues consist of nice aesthetics, thorough flavor integration, and a pleasantly inconsistent texture. On the vice side, the vanilla extract is too mild for it to be worthy of advertisement, the division might be a little too fine, and it's a bit on the pricey side, though somewhat still fair. I'd recommend this bar, and I will continue to give consideration to other varieties of this brand in the future.    

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Adrift Again

It is strange, but it seems as if my rubberducking therapy method has done some sort of psychological reset with me. On one hand, I am dealing with the Circumstance much better than I have before previously; on the other, I'm having a hard time concentrating and being productive again, almost as if my goodly established habits disappeared over night. I speculate that it may be the case that since I was dealing with the Circumstance on the basis of suppression my good habits of concentration and productivity were being built on that same base as well, so when my suppression collapsed and I became obsessed with the Circumstance again, my good habits collapsed in conjunction.

Though let us not interpret that in a too negative light. In relieving my suppression, my emotion consistency and health has been much better lately. I've been at peace while at home and have been able to maintain my concentration at work, as well as be able to control any potential mood swings, if not prevent them altogether. I also seem to be sleeping more peacefully, thinking of pleasant and comforting thoughts right up until drifting off. Best of all, I've been able to control my thinking about the Circumstance much more easily: Eliminating those thoughts now is more like popping a soap bubble rather forcing a basketball underwater (or, god forbid, a beach ball).

Truth be told, however, I don't think I'll know the true benefits of the self-therapy I'm doing until about a month or so has passed. I've been able to suppress my thoughts for over a week or two before it would finally collapse, during which I would be able to lead a temporarily productive life. A month, I think, would be a good amount of time to wait before drawing definitive conclusions because I've never been able to maintain a suppression anywhere near that length of time.

My main concern here is the corollary effects either the self-therapy or the collapse of the suppression has caused: The retrogression of my ability to concentrate and a lesser ability to be productive. Despite the fact that I employ the helpful Getting Things Done methodology for productivity, I've been looking at my to-do lists with a sense of disdain and haven't been engaging them much. That's not to say that I've been neglecting my to-do lists entirely again -- I am keeping an eye on and am acting towards achieving my weekly goals -- it's just that I haven't been doing as much as I could be. Instead I'm procrastinating or engaging in some recreational activity. However, I do experience pleasure instead of guilt in engaging in those recreational activities, so maybe that's a sign I haven't been engaging in productive rest often enough, or that I've been neglecting some psychological needs. For instance, I've been casually reading Good Eats 2: The Middle Years here and there, and since I'm not doing much in the way of innovative cooking it could be an indication that I've been neglecting engagement in my culinary-oriented central purpose in life.

Additionally, I've also been looking at my study subjects with an aura of disdain, and have been refusing to engage in any thinking regarding my entrepreneurial pursuits. While I think these may be related to my general lack of productivity, I think they may have an essential difference in that my disdain in this area could be due to engaging too much in abstractions detached from my life. I don't mean to say that they involve abstractions detached from reality, but rather that I'm not doing well to modify my modes of acting in order to make what I'm learning immediately applicable to my life. For example, I feel psychological resistance to doing my mathematical practices (where I solve problems in an online equation generator), and I think the resistance may be due to the fact that, as of current, math doesn't play an active or intricate role in my life. I'm solving equations -- for what? While I know what these particular mathematical operations correspond to in reality, I'm not doing well to ensure that they correspond to my own little section of reality, my life. My subconscious knows I'm engaging in a practice that isn't entirely relevant right now, and so sends me psychological impediments to encourage me to stop such a practice since I have no use for it at the time.

My entrepreneurial concerns are similar. I have lots of learning to do and steps to take, but right now I really can't bring my entrepreneurial ideas into existence in the short-term. The one idea I spoke vaguely of previously I have decided to shelve since I can easily delegate its construction to other people while I work on research and thinking, so I don't want to detract from my real interests by trying to accomplish by myself something that would keep me from my deepest interests. Beyond that, all my other entrepreneurial ideas are documented in such a way that would remind me of their entirety even though they aren't exhaustively detailed, so I think the reason why I'm disinterested in thinking about my entrepreneurial aspirations now is because I've sketched out the skeletons and have satisfied my subconscious' desire for written documentation (for memorization), so my mind has been cleared of such ideas and now I need to start the learning and take the concrete steps needed.

Aside from the specific concerns in my studies and entrepreneurial pursuits, the general solution is to simply retry the strategies that got me to establish my good habits to begin with. I need to struggle with my reading to test my concentration like a muscle, to read out loud to avoid daydreaming, to work to mental exhaustion, and so on. Those methods, I think, worked the first time and are not to be considered fallacious due to my retrogression. For all I know it may be the case that I didn't retrogress as much as I thought and can get back on track in a few days. As for my studies and entrepreneurial pursuits, different strategies are needed. For my studies I need to figure out some way to make what I'm learning as immediately applicable to my life as soon as possible, so that I can train my subconscious to know that I'm not engaging in pursuits detached from my life. I haven't thought this out, but one possibility could be to construct homework assignments that challenge me to immediately apply something I just learned, like seeking out a real-life example of a fallacy for a logic course or to immediately employ a cooking technique I learned. More thinking needs to be done. As for my entrepreneurial pursuits, I simply need to keep at my studies and take the physical steps towards my goals, such as studying and practicing cooking. Given that I have a general outline of where I'd like to go, I think my actions will correspond logically with the hierarchy of things I need to do since I know the general order things need to be accomplished in.

However set back I am in my practical mental ability, I am glad that emotional healing appears to be taking place, at least. I'm also undertaking to rubberduck about other aspects in my life, to see if this method could perhaps carry me further in my psychological improvement, much like how it's contributing to my goal of forming a more lovable self. I hope my combined efforts to relieve suppressions and to reestablish good mental habits will allow me to make major headway on achieving my idealized self.

And maybe I should get a plush for nighttime rubberducking.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rubberducking Therapy Update

I really wish that I would have thought to use rubberducking as a mode of therapy much sooner than this, as it's done well to relieve stress that's been pent up for over the past year. To illustrate its power: Recently I went to work and I did neither my Mental Calvinball game nor my conceptual or thinking exercises, so I allowed my mind to freely wander. Previously this would have been a recipe for extreme frustration in that I would inevitably start contemplating the Circumstance and become depressed, but that night it didn't happen. While I was mentally unproductive, I was still able to easily keep my mind from dwelling on the Circumstance for more than a few seconds, which led to a very pleasant work shift in which I was able to stay entirely consistent in my mood. Rubberducking, it seems, has been successful to the point that I've satisfied the urge to dwell on the Circumstance and so am able to clear my mind of it. The long-term still has yet to become apparent, but I'm pleased by the results so far.

I think I may understand my fluctuations now: In the past when I undertook to cure my dwelling on the Circumstance, I merely used suppression as the remedy. This is the equivalent of trying to keep submerged by hand a basketball in the deep end of a pool. For a while -- a week or so -- I would be able to "successfully" suppress my thoughts on the Circumstance, but inevitably the basketball would come bursting forth and I would suddenly find myself obsessed with the Circumstance. Turning things into a vicious circle, I would then try to suppress those thoughts too, leading to another lapse in the future.

I'm still not sure if this rubberducking method is entirely sound for the long-term -- I certainly still need to complete my Project to cure what ails me -- but it is by far the most effective method I've tried so far. On the first day when I told my Bowser statue my ailments my brain felt physically pleasured. It felt as if a gland was emptying itself of a fluid it had been achingly filled to the brim with, and after I finished talking there was a pleasant burning, electrical ache throughout my entire head, and a complete silencing of my thoughts. Peace at last! As I continue to do such talking, I find myself almost involuntarily taking deep, coldly relaxing breaths and more silencing of my thoughts.

I've taken to doing most of my rubberducking in the car when I'm traveling to some place. With my windows rolled up nobody will hear me and will just assume I'm using some hands-free phone device, and I find it helps defeat the boredom inherent in driving that even music can't seem to defeat. A most wonderful use of my time, I think.

Additionally, I've noticed that there are other difficulties I need to solve as well. Apparently I seem to have a very mild, almost imperceptible anxiety problem, as my breathing tends to be shallow by habit, causing me to become short of breath when I talk. When I become cognizant of it I tend to feel like I'm not getting enough oxygen, as I'll inhale deeply but won't feel like I'm inflating my lungs fully. I got tested at my doctor, so I know I don't have any medical conditions in that regard. The remedy -- which I've tried and succeeded with -- is to take as many deep breaths as I need to in order to establish normalcy. It's strange to think of this as a problem spawning from my emotions since I'll believe I'm indifferent at the times I experience the breathing difficulty, so I guess the anxiety is so mild I really can't detect it except for in my behavior. Noticing how I breathed while talking to the statue has brought this back to my attention, so now I can work on it again. Don't want to suffocate, you know.

I'm still having trouble with my concentration however. While I may not be dwelling on the Circumstance, it seems that daydreaming and procrastination has become a problem again. It doesn't seem to be linked to any other problem other than lazy habits from the past. I was only slothful for about three or four days last week when I became obsessed with the Circumstance again; could I have really set myself back that far in so short a time? However behind I've become, it's time to catch pace again.

For those of you who have your own problems to deal with, at the moment I'd give a hearty recommendation to using rubberducking as a mode of therapy. Use a teddy bear, a plastic toy, or, heck, even a washing machine. However absurd a practice may appear, nothing should be outside your standards to help you achieve your happiness. If you're really embarrassed, use a small object you can carry around with you, like a plastic soldier toy, and talk silently to it whenever you feel secure with your privacy. No matter how bad or frustrating things get, one must keep moving forward.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Study Summary 10/1/10 -10/7/10

As some of you might be able to predict from my earlier post, this week has been horrible. Not only were my to-do lists largely neglected, but I also failed to achieve the majority of my goals this week. I only managed to complete one chapter of Good Calories, Bad Calories and The Journals of Ayn Rand, and only about half of the first chapter of The Logical Leap; I also completed the requisite number of posts for this blog and succeeded in keeping my discipline about my logging into Facebook and Twitter. All other goals, about three or four, have gone uncompleted. The greatest shame, however, is how I kept adding to my to-do lists while decreasing my level of activity.

Though as harsh as this may sound upon myself, I feel no active guilt. Building on today's earlier post, the problem is psychological: I'm having difficulty dealing with repressions that I think may be inevitable of the situation I'm in. I'm fully aware of the problem, am taking responsibility for it, and am actively working to solve it. I may have been largely neglecting other portions of my life, but mental health is primary, so I shouldn't (and don't) feel guilt about dedicating most of my time to this issue rather than to other pursuits. My other pursuits would probably be useless and unfruitful anyhow since I would be so distracted. First I'll tackle the essential problems in my life and then work on the lesser essentials.

The only positive productive benefit I've seen this week is how my attitude towards writing has changed since I decided to reduce my posting schedule from five-six posts to four. Not only does writing seem less like a burden -- a burden since I am trying to become a cook, not a writer -- but I am also more relaxed in editing the posts I write. Previously I was absolutely paranoid about being a perfectionist in my editing, which was discomforting, but I've relaxed to the point where I can get my editing done in just a couple readings and be okay with the product I end up with. I shouldn't have been so worried previously: This is just a blog. Certainly you won't hang me over a typo, won't you? I definitely try to do the best I can, but to be so strict was stressful and time-consuming. I like how blogging less has relaxed me and put me more at ease with my writing, so I think I'll continue this practice next week as well. Of course, I won't bar myself from constructing additional posts beyond what I promise, but I'm simply dedicating myself to fewer.

Next week I'm going to put the emphasis on "self therapy" rather than on my other pursuits. The other pursuits will be there of course, but I'd like to make the pursuit of my mental health more primary for the time being. Mental health, in my context, means being more relaxed and at peace in the rather frustrating, anti-valuable situation I'm currently in. The self therapy, for now, will consist solely of my rubberducking with my Bowser bobblehead statue. I tried a few more times to talk to it about what's bothering me about the Circumstance and it's making my mind absurdly clear. So clear, in fact, that for the first time in years I've been able to enjoy small periods having no mental activity whatsoever. Why is this so effective? However it works, I want to keep using it. I think I'll make it a practice to carry the statue with me in the car to talk to while I drive, particularly to and from work. You'll be kept posted.

As for my other goals, I'll mainly employ the same as last week since I largely failed to complete them, with one change: I'll let the Facebook/Twitter habits be a given. I'm not having any problems, so I think I can just let my promise be subconscious now. Explicitly, my study goals are to complete two chapters of GCBC, one of Journals, and one of Logical Leap. As for everything else, I'll also strive to complete two entries for my specialized entrepreneur journal, maintain the writing pace here, and some other goals I'd like to keep secret for now due to their relation to the Project.

This week may have been a pathetic letdown, but there's always time to get back on the horse again, and I am. I hope to have my psychological issues licked soon since it's interfering with my other goals, especially that of developing a more lovable personality (my coworkers definitely noticed a change in my behavior during my last shift), so if I fail to accomplish all my other goals, I hope to at least direct that energy towards rubberducking. It's all hard work, but there's a life to be gained on the other side.


It's happening again: I'm getting so distracted with thoughts about the Circumstance that I've been unable to concentrate on little else. This week I've been largely unproductive due to such distractions and have been neglecting my to-do lists big time. It's like a replay of what paralyzed me originally and prevented me from moving any further in my studies, which inspired me to take up the Project to begin with. Why is this happening again? More importantly, why do I fluctuate in my ability to control my thought processes? One day I'm able to maintain focus on my goals perfectly fine, and then the next day I might be absolutely obsessed with what's bothering me about the Circumstance, thereby preventing me from having thoughts about little else.

A long time ago I've realized that this has to do with my repressing my emotions. This Circumstance cannot be dealt with successfully except through the Project I'm currently engaged in, and my Project is stuck in one position right now since I don't have sufficient monetary funds to get it through the final stage, so in the meanwhile I have to continue dealing with the Circumstance. I can't truly acknowledge the Circumstance since it might make it worse, and I'm sorry about being super vague about that but it's necessary since anything more specific might reveal the nature of my Project to the people I don't want knowing about it, so I'll have to ask for your faith just this once. Additionally, I've been dealing with this Circumstance all my life and am absolutely savage with anticipation to squashing it once and for all and finally being able to pursue my fullest happiness. Since I only have one fool-proof method for dealing with the Circumstance permanently, I don't know how to best cope with it in the meanwhile, so I end up repressing my emotions even though I know it's bad and that I shouldn't do it. It seems like it's almost unavoidable.

I think my premises as an Objectivist are coming to surface in this issue. I believe Ayn Rand has once stated that Objectivism is the most dangerous philosophy to follow. This is because of the impact on one's psychology Objectivism will have after having accepted it: Once you believe Objectivism is true, or at least portions of it, it will cause great psychological discomfort/pain to act within contradiction to those beliefs. To use a practically universal analogy, try and project how you'd feel if you were to commit a murder. If, like most people, you believe that murder is one of the greatest evils you can possibly commit, then you can understand how it would be psychologically catastrophic to commit such a horrible act while still holding onto that moral evaluation. Degrees and contexts of difference are important here, but the principle is that acting in contradiction to one's truly held beliefs -- to be distinguished from mere "professed" beliefs -- will cause psychological damage. In my case, I know that repression is a very unhealthy thing to do and thus should not be done, but given the situation I'm seemingly unable to avoid doing it, so I'm having this fight with my premises in which my beliefs encourage me to simply relieve the emotional pressure and the situation encourages me to contain it. A vicious circle.

I've been struggling with this for months and months and months. I just don't seem to be able to make any headway on completely curing my problem of dwelling on the Circumstance while it's still in my life. This is probably the only self-improvement venture I've so far been unable to succeed in despite consistent effort. This is the crux of my emotional discontent right now. I'm absolutely open to solutions in this regards, but I've tried what I could.

One thing that I haven't tried, however, is rubberducking in this regard. As you can recall, I've incorporated into my studies the practice of rubberducking, which is the practice of talking to an inanimate object in order to assist with the thinking process. I've undertaken to talking to my Bowser bobblehead statue, and it's been working wonders with my thought processes.

On a whim I tried telling it my problems with the Circumstance. On that particular day I had been thinking about the Circumstance for hours and hours and hours, seemingly unable to get rid of those particular thoughts. My studies slowed to a stop. Just fifteen or so minutes, however, of telling this statue of what ails me proceeded to clear my mind entirely and allow me to continue with my day. It made me feel entirely at peace. I don't know why it worked so well, but it did; perhaps the act of talking is sufficient for relieving the pressure of repressions? I hope so.

To see if rubberducking can truly be used to help in this fashion, I'll be making it a goal to do this type of talking regularly. I know I've already thrown a seemingly countless number of self-improvement goals out there, but mental health is primary. I can think of no better goal to pursue at this moment other than my Project; it entails the deepest depth of my well-being while I'm still impacted by the Circumstance. We'll see how it goes.

No matter what my troubles are or how set back I am, I'm determined to see things through.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Appeal to Self-Authority?

The fallacy of the appeal to authority entails that one tries to support an argument with an authority's words and expect the listener to accept it solely on the basis that an authority has stated such. It's an error of logic since it doesn't matter who says something, but rather what they say. An authority can add weight to an argument, but cannot make it conclusively true since it's ultimately the content of the authority's words that matters, not that he, as an authority, has said them. But is it possible for there to be an error in which one refers to oneself as that authority?

Here and there I've noticed that there are some people who are terribly sensitive to challenges towards their ideas, and, while their hostility may not extend beyond this point, I've seen on occasion some people respond to my claims by pointing out their "credentials," as if somehow that were to give their words the definitive weight of truth. In the cases I've observed, they'll either point out a college degree they've obtained or a job they worked at and treat it as if such experience has given them enough knowledge to become an unquestionable authority on the subject.

It bothers me that people can be so sensitive to challenge towards their ideas that they resort to such tactics as a way of trying to end debate. What happened to challenging your premises in order to ensure fidelity to truth? I think debates should be entertaining, if not fun, since the healthy epistemological attitude is to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and all the difficulties it brings, whether from the learning itself or the contrary assertions from others. In a debate, profit is guaranteed: If your position is right, you're given the opportunity to learn it a little better and perhaps convince other people of its truth, and if it's wrong you'll have the opportunity to set yourself right. It's only emotionally uncomfortable during the start of the practice, so that so many people abstain from gaining such a desensitization is a real shame since they're depriving themselves of a great benefit. To observe someone go into old age and still maintain such a sensitivity is reprehensible sign of weakness.

I think it's ultimately a lack of confidence in individual judgment that drives people to depend on such fallacies as the appeal to authority, or to even establish themselves as an authority after other authorities have "certified" them into authorityhood (e.g. getting a college degree). At root, such dependence is absurd. By which means do these people go about establishing who is a trustworthy authority and who is not? Given that these particular people are depending on authorities as a way to not think, we can only assume popularity. After going through the motions in which popular beliefs have determined that one will become knowledgeable about something, they then think themselves the equivalent status of the popular authorities they follow, and so use that "title" in order to swat away questions or challenges to their assertions.

I also wonder whether this is a tactic popular authorities themselves are prone to. Have you ever noticed how some books will list college degrees and whatnot by a person's name and others won't? Take, for example, Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff. Before his retirement he was a *professional* philosopher with the appropriate college degrees. Properly he could have listed his name on his books as "Dr. Leonard Peikoff," and yet he hasn't. Many Objectivist scholars don't. Ayn Rand herself studied history while in college, which is a fantastic credential for her philosophical observations, and yet it's hardly ever mentioned; you practically have to seek out that information. The authors here merely post their names and let the arguments do the talking. I've never been one to really pay attention to the listing of credentials on books, but strangely enough it strikes me to observe that these particular scholars often abstain from doing so, which makes me wonder about the nature of the people who are prone to advertising their Ph.D on the front cover.

As a culture, things will never get better unless people learn how to be comfortable with ideas that are in contradiction to theirs, and to question them and see how they stand up to their own. As Aristotle has been attributed: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Just question your beliefs and the comfort will soon follow naturally. The longer a person avoids this process the more emotional barriers will be set up to prevent any such attempt.

Do yourself a favor: Depend on your own judgment. In a way, it's like a muscle that grows stronger and becomes easier to utilize with use. Avoid such effort and it will not only atrophy but also be overwhelmingly emotionally negative to utilize after reaching such a decayed state. Accept no authorities in substitution of your own mind, and don't let other people's claim to authority deter you.