Prior Quotes of the Week

First Quarter, 1999

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Quote of the Week (1999.03.28)
The Context-Age

Context has become absolutely essential to grasping what is taking place in society, no matter what the area of examination. Seeing the whole range of actions in a set pattern . . . is essential to understanding the specifics of what needs to be done. . .

Data, information and knowledge are levels of awareness along a continuous scale. Data are facts in isolation - the specific number of this, or the particular color of that. In common language, "Do you have the data?" means do you have specific, unconnected facts. Information emerges when data are combined to make a point about a topic. Again in common language, "information retrevial" mans to acquire data within a specific category, or to piece together data in one category. Knowledge is information in context. In common language, "she's knowledgeable" means she has accumulated information within a larger context of theory or experience and has that learning at her disposal. All of this differ from wisdom, which would be knowledge in perspective.

Kenneth R. Hey and Peter D. Moore, The Caterpillar Doesn't Know : How Personal Change is Creating Organizational Change, pp. 247. A Free Press Book, 1998.

Quote of the Week (1999.03.21)

I have an appointment with spring. She comes to the window to wake me, and I go forth an hour or two earlier than usual. Though as yet the trill of the chip-bird is not heard — added — like the sparkling bead which bursts on bottled cider or ale. When we wake indeed, with a double awakening — not only from our ordinary nocturnal slumbers, but from our diurnal—we burst through the thallus of our ordinary life with a proper exciple, we wake with emphasis.

Henry David Thoreau, On Man & Nature, a compilation by Arthur G. Volkman, pp. 7. The Peter Pauper Press, Inc. 1960. (Out of Print)

Quote of the Week (1999.03.14)
Once Upon a New Economy ...

After prayers, the next thing to be mass-printed on paper was money. The very oldest paper money, however, was neither mass-printed nor used as currency. Produced from the first year after Ts'ai Lun's discovery, and solely symbolic, it was called spirit money. Spirit money and spirit paper—which came also to be block-printed to represent all sorts of worldly goods; hats, shoes, horses, carts, treasure chests with little silver paper locks—were burned in effigy at Chinese funerals as a way of ensuring that the departing spirits would bring happiness and riches with them into the next world.

Printed paper money as we know it appeared in China at the turn of the ninth century. It was called flying money. Certainly it flowed more freely than did metal coins, or pigs or rice or cloth; it hovered oddly free from any palpable tether to the goods it represented. In 1298 Marco Polo, trading in the Orient, wrote of this phenomenon, this feat of abstraction: money was the first printed paper ever seen by a European traveler. It was perhaps some time, however, before paper currency got quite wholly assimilated into the realm of the abstract. A story about Emperor Hung Wu, who ruled China from 1368 to 1398, tells that he wanted to create suitably ceremonious paper for the printing of money; he also wanted it to be difficult to counterfeit. One of his advisors came up with the suggestion of blending the hearts of great literary men into the standard mulberry bark pulp. Luckily, the empress declared that the heart of a true literary man could be found in his writings; therefore, only their manuscripts and not their organs were appropiated for the mixture.

Leah Hager Cohen, Glass, Paper, Beans : Revelations on the Nature and Value of Ordinary Things, pp. 78 - 79. A Doubleday/Currency Book, 1997.

Quote of the Week (1999.03.07)
A heirarchy of embedded frames: "For more information, see below."

My chief problem is what to study. Something empirical, something hard. My prospect of success depends on where in the hierarchy I attach myself. I start with top magnification, fix my lens on cosmology. If that level remains abstract, I could drop to the step below, stop down an order of magnitude, make due with astronomy. A working knowledge of galaxies must be of some use in naming the place where I'm left.

But the light-year is too long for me to get my bearing. I must reduce the magnification another exponent, start my study with the earth under my lens. A geologist, I suppose, or oceanographer. But the explanations of this critical niche are still too large. I am after not earth science but its underwriting specific. Down another order. The search for a starting point begins to resemble that painful process of elimination from freshman year, spent in the university clinic, a knot accross my abdomen from having to choose which million disciplines I would exclude myself from forever.

This time I narrow ruthlessly. I sharpen my focus to the raw component populations inhabiting this planet. Zoologist, anthropologist? Neither would yet clamp down on the why I'm after. I go a finer gauge, assuming that understanding can be best arrived at by isolating terms. That means downshifting again to the vocabulary of political science. The first limb of the heirarchy that speaks human dialect: what do we need, and how best to get it? The question is powerful, but as I zoom in on the increasingly precise concern, explainations recede, grow fuzzy and qualified. A faction of me secedes, insists that political science can be understood only in terms of constituent economics. But the study of goods, services, and distribution produces more problems than prescriptions.

Herds, it seems, are hundreds of individuals. Feeling no edge, I scale myself down into psychology. Here my lens reaches that cusp magnification: one-to-one. But a complete explanation of behavior requires somatic cause. Focal ratio flips, increases again, now in the microscopic direction. Psych shades over the bio threshold. The gradients, the gauges are continuous. Fields of study, like spectral bands, differ only in wavelength. No discrete moment when red ends and orange begins. Yet every constituent bent from white has its precise and particular name.

The final gloss hovers always one frame beneath. Physiology. Biophysics. Biochemistry. More light. Molecular biology, the transitional rung where Dr. Ressler hung. Downwards toward delineation, I consider studying chemistry. Unsatisfied, I pass another strangeness barrier, into quantum physics, beyond conceptual modeling. A push for terminal detail takes me into the statistics of perhaps. Here, in the domain of sub-subatomics, whre I expect to butt up at last against fundamental phenomena, I find, instead, a field veering startingly philosophical: eleven dimensions, superstrings, the eightfold way. Like a Klein bottle, insides twisting seamlessly onto out, small-scale physics drops off the edge of formal knowledge back into cosmology.

Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations, pp. 88 - 89. A HarperPerennial Book, 1991.

Quote of the Week (1999.02.28)
Conjuring Abstract Ideas

The organization has formed ideas about its world, the entities that make it up, and its relationships to other organizations. However, the ideas it has formed about itself are at different levels of abstraction. If the organization were to think of itself as a complex adaptive system, it would recognize that it needs to understand that it lives with the ideas of complexity just as much as it lives with a lot of other factors in its environment. Within the organization, we have to find some way of utilizing the ideas that facilitate adaption and recognize those that don't. We must then focus our attention on those that do, prioritizing them while seeing the patterns of their relatedness to each other. Some ideas shape other ideas and provide access and entrèe to those shaped ideas, because we can understand them as representations and formulations, in terms of yet more encompassing formulations and abstractions.

The more abstract the idea or formulation is, the greater the number of other ideas it can include. We can then select from those ideas those which can be used most effectively for successful adaptation. This adaptation, then, derives directly from the power of the abstract idea to generate a broad range of ideas and behaviors.

What we are suggesting is that a business look at the most abstract ideas it can conjure up about what it does. We have already seen how one abstract idea - providing service to customers - can lead to different behaviors than an abstract idea which holds financial gain on each transaction is more important than service. This is the business's essence stated most simply. These larger ideas shape some of the smaller ideas. In looking at the pragmatic value of an idea, let us start with a simple idea (the more abstact an idea is, the simpler it is): that a business is a complex adaptive system. That is a very abstract statement about the way a business thinks of itself and subsequently behaves, one that shapes and forms everything that flows from it. We can refer other ideas back to it and ask whether fit or don't fit. We can look to that idea for clarification or enlightenment. This idea, by giving shape to other ideas, allows us to make distinctions between ideas that are relevant or important and those that are not.

Howard Sherman and Ron Schultz, Open Boundaries : Creating Business Innovation Through Complexity, pp. 148 - 149. A Perseus Book, 1998.

Quote of the Week (1999.02.21)
High Capability Means Higher Challenge

To devolve demands going against all the best qualities of an organization all at once. The organic world offers a number of lessons in this regard. Biotechnology is built on the knowledge that most genes don't code for anything themselves. Most genes regulate - turn off and on - other genes. The genetic apparatus of a cell, then, is a dense network of hyperlinked interactions. Any gene is indirectly controlled by many other genes.

Thus, most attributes in a biological organism usually travel in the genome as loosely coupled associations. Blue eyes and freckles, say. Or red hair and a hot temper. Two important consequences follow from this. First, to get rid of the redhead's feisty temperament by evolution may also mean - at least at first - getting rid of the red hair. . . .

Companies work the same way. The interlocking guild of competencies, which gives them their advantages, becomes a drawback during change. The increased interlinkage of the network economy heightens this dilemma. In the network economy, the skills of individual employees are more tightly connected, the activities of different departments more highly coordinated, the goals of various firms more independent. The net brings the influence of formerly unrelated forces to bear upon each potential move

The more succesfully integrated a firm's capabilities are, the harder it is to shift its expertise by changing just a little. . . .

Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy; 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World, pp. 88. A Viking Book, 1998.

Quote of the Week (1999.02.14)
Spontaneous Co-creation
with the Invisible Forces

Healing, ritual, and community - the goods that the indigenous world can offer to the West are the very things that the modern world is struggling with. Ritual in the indigenous world is aimed at producing healing, and the loss of such healing in the modern world might be responsible for the loss of community that we see. The problems experienced in the West, from the pain of isolation to the stress of hyperactivity, are brought on by the loss of community.

The problems that come from the loss of ritual are less clear, but it is the absence of ritual that the West is struggling with, the loss of connection with the unseen aspects of the natural world that have the ability to bring the needed healing. The West is also struggling with a confusing notion of ritual, the word usually refers to some sort of dark, pagan, and archaic practice that has no place in modern society. The only accepted rituals are ceremonial practices with clearly predictable content and outcome, such as what can be seen in the Sunday church service of one of the organized religions. When we talk of ritual here we are talking about something much deeper. We are talking about the weaving of individual persons and gifts into a community that interacts with the forces of the natural world. We are talking about a gathering of people with a clear healing vision and a trusting intent toward the forces of the invisible world.

What villagers bring to a ritual are trust that the invisible forces will heal and the knowledge of what needs healing. These are the only things they know ahead of time; the rest, the shape and outcome of the ritual, is put in the hands of the Great Ones. The road from the felt need for healing to the healing itself is paved with gestures, touch, sound, melody, and cadence, and most of these are spontaneous activities, unpredictable in their outcomes. When villagers act together on their need for healing and engage in such spontaneous gestures, they are requesting the presence of the invisible forces and are participating with those forces in creating a harmony or symbiosis. This partnership replentishes each person by restoring his or her relationship to nature . . . Ritual is an art, an art that weaves and dances with symbols, and helping to create that art rejuvenates participants. Everyone comes away from a ritual feeling deeply transformed. This restoration is the healing that ritual is meant to provide.

Malidoma Patrice Somè, The Healing Wisdom of Africa - Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community, pp. 22 - 23. A Tarcher/Putnam Book, 1998.

Quote of the Week (1999.02.07)
The Feelings of Heart Work

Feelings are quite literally energy in motion (e-motion). Positive feelings create coherent heart rhythms; negative feelings produce incoherence in the heart's electromagnetic waves, thus depleting energy. Therefore, we energize or deplete our mind-body systems with each perceptual choice we make. As Goswami (1993) suggests, Descartes' famous words cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) could, perhaps, more accurately be stated as opto, ergo sum (I choose, therefore I am). Choosing to see the positve aspects of all the events in our lives changes our minds as well as our hearts. As the heart's rhythmic beating patterns become coherent, the brain's electromagnetic waves (EEG) entrain accordingly. In this state of heart-brain syncronicity, we not only feel more vital and alive, we experience greater clarity of thinking and we generate more creative ideas.

Charlotte Shelton, Quantum Leaps: 7 Skills for Workplace ReCreation, pp. 62,
A Butterworth Heinemann Book, 1999.

Quote of the Week (1999.01.31)
Creative Chaos Means Each of Us

The Romantics pictured the creator as genius and hero, but this first lesson of chaos is that creativity is available to everyone. We can all access an ability to let ego die for a while and touch the chaotic ground from which forms and orders are constantly bubbling up. Creativity is not just about what takes place in traditionally recognized creative fields. It's what happens in our small and large moments of empathy and transformation, the moments when we contact our authentically individual and therefore universal experience of truth. The British psychologist N. K. Humphrey claims that our greatest use of the human creative intellect is not in art or science but in the day-to-day spontaneous acts by which we hold our society together.

In spite of this, many of us don't feel creative and persistently block the action of creativity in much of our lives. We lose it in our obsessions with control and power; in our fear of mistakes; in the constricted grip of our egos; in our fetish with remaining within comfort zones; in our continuous persuit of repetitive or merely stimulating pleasure; in our restricting our lives to the containers of what other people think; in our adherence to the apparent safety of closed orders; and in our deep-seated belief that the individual exists in an irreducible opposition to others and the world "outside" of the self.

Chaos theory teaches that when our psychological perspective shifts - through moments of amplification and bifurcation - our degrees of freedom expand and we experience being and truth. We are then creative. And our true self lies there.

 John Briggs and F. David Peat, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Timeless Wisdom from the Science of Change, pp. 28 - 29, A HarperCollins Book, 1999.

Quote of the Week (1999.01.24)
Celebrating the Seeds of Knowledge:
Ignorance and Curiosity

Knowledge is at the heart of a dynamic civilization - but so is surprise. A dynamic civilization maximizes the production and use of knowledge by accepting widespread ignorance. At the simplest level, only people who know they do not know everything will be curious enough to find things out. To celebrate the pursuit of knowledge, we must confess our ignorance; both the celebration and that confession are central to dynamic culture. Dynamism gives individuals both the freedom to learn and the incentives to share what they discover. It not only permits but encourages decentralized experiments and competitive trail and error - the infinite series by which new knowledge is created. And, just as important, a dynamic civilization allows its members to gain from the things they themselves do no know but other people do. Its systems and institutions evolve to let people develop, extend, and act on their particular knowledge without asking permission of a higher, but less informed, authority.  A dynamic civilization appreciates, protects, and nurtures specialized, dispersed, and often unarticulated knowledge.

 Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress , pp. 88, A Free Press Book, 1998

Quote of the Week (1999.01.17)
Coming to Knowing Potential:
Testing the Limits of Skill and Commitment

 A limitless commitment to learning was less important than knowing the limits we had and what they were. Our training was a matter of defining our limits to ourselves as well as a way of sharpening our skills. Stalking Wolf taught us the basic principles of survival. The essential question anyone needs to ask to survive is "What do I most need and how can I get it?" Built into that question is the idea of knowing how much each thing is needed and how much each thing is worth. We learned those limits by testing, by experimentation. . . .

 We learned two things from our tests, the limits of our power and the limits of our will. One was a measurement of our skill and the other was the measurement of our personality. If we were in the woods and without food, we knew how long that fact would make us uncomfortable and how long before it would affect what we could do. We always knew how long before we would have to think in survival terms and that thinking allowed us to function normally in what would have seemed like life-or-death situations to anyone else. Most people underestimate their abilities because they have never had a chance to test their limits.

Tom Brown, Jr. as told to William Jon Watkins, The Tracker,
p. 116, Berkeley Books, 1979.

Quote of the Week (1999.01.10)
Unconscious Knowledge

 ... It is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that unconscious thought is 95 percent of all thought - and that may be a serious underestimate. Moreover, the 95 percent below the surface of conscious awareness shapes and structures all conscious thought. If the cognitive unconscious were not there doing this shaping, there could be no conscious thought.

 The cognitive unconscious is vast and intricately structured. It includes not only all our automatic cognitive operations, but also all our implicit knowledge. All of our knowledge and beliefs are framed in terms of a conceptual system that resides mostly in the cognitive unconscious.

 Our unconscious conceptual system functions like a "hidden hand" that shapes how we conceptualize all aspects of our experience. This hidden hand gives form to the metaphysics that is built into our ordinary conceptual systems. It creates the entities that inhabit the cognitive unconscious - abstract entities like friendships, bargains, failures, and lies - that we use in ordinary unconscious reasoning. It thus shapes how we automatically and unconsciously comprehend what we experience. It constitutes our unreflective common sense.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosohy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, p. 13, Basic Books, 1999.

Quote of the Week (1999.01.03)
The fusion of movement, thought and feeling

 A major turning point in my thinking about the hand came as a result of a presentation I made to a group of musicians about a particularly difficult and puzzling problem called musician's cramp. I had brought along a video clip to show during the talk. It was a brief clinical-musical medley of hands that had either been injured or had mysteriously lost their former skill; formerly graceful, lithe, dazzlingly fast hands could barely limp through the notes they sought to draw out of pianos, guitars, flutes, and violins. Just a few minutes after the film began, a guitarist in the audience fainted. I was amazed. This was not the sort of grotesque display one sometimes sees in medical movies; these were just musicians unable to play their instruments. When the same thing happened at subsequent presentations - a second and then a third time - I was genuinely puzzled. I decided I must have missed subtleties or hidden meaning in these films apparent only to very few viewers. It was not until much later that I came to understand the real message these fainting musicians were expressing.

 I now understand that I had failed to appreciate how the commitment to a career in music differs from even the most serious amateur interest. Although I had worked very hard as a beginning piano student, took the work seriously and spent a great deal of time at it, it was not my life. Consequently I did not anticipate the profound empathy for the injured musicians that would be felt by some viewers of these films. Moreover - and this is a lesson I learned, one person at a time, as I conducted interviews with nonmusicians for this book - when personal desire prompts anyone to learn to do something well with the hands, an extremely complicated process is initiated that endows the work with a powerful emotional charge. People are changed, significantly and irreversibly it seems, when movement, thought, and feeling fuse during the active, long-term persuit of personal goals.

 Serious musicians are emotional about their work not simply because they are committed to it, nor because their work demands the public expression of emotion. The musicans' concern for their hands is a by-product of the intense striving through which they turn them into the essential physical instrument for realization of their own ideas or the comunication of closely held feelings. The same is true of sculptors, woodcarvers, jewelers, jugglers, and surgeons when they are fully immersed in their work. It is more than simple satisfaction or contentedness: musicians, for example, love to work and are miserable when they cannot; they rarely welcome an unscheduled vacation unless it is very brief. How peculiar it is that people who normally permit themselves so little rest from an extreme and, by some standards, unrewarding discipline cannot bear to be disengaged from it. The musician in full flight is an ecstatic creature, and the same person with wings clipped is unexploded dynamite with the fuse lit. The word "passion" describes attachments that are this strong. As I came to learn how such attachments are generated, it became the mission of this book to expose the hidden physical roots of the unique human capacity for passionate and creative work. It is now abundantly clear to me that these roots are more than deep and more than merely ancient. They reach down, and backward in time, past the dawn of human history to the beginning of primate life on this planet.

Frank R. Wilson,The Hand; How its use shapes the brain, language, and human culture, pp. 5 - 6, A Random House Book, 1998

Other Prior Quotes:

October 3, 1998 through December 27, 1998

July 5, 1998 through September 27, 1998

April 5, 1998 through June 28, 1998

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