Prior Quotes of the Week

Second Quarter, 1999

(Titles that are linked may be ordered online.)

Quote of the Week #137 (1999.06.27)
Swift Strategies

Once a Challenge is executed, if triumph is prolonged,
The Strategy becomes dull and the vigor dampened.
If a Fortified Area is attacked,
One's strength is compromised.
If the Force's operations in the field are prolonged,
The support of the organization will be insufficient.

When Strategy is dull and vigor dampened,
When strength is compromised and resources depleted,
Other leaders will rise up
To seize the opportunity of this impairment.

Even those who are very clever
Cannot remedy the consequences!

Crude yet quick Strategies have been known,
But skill has yet to be observed in prolonged operations.
A prolonged Strategy has yet to bring advantage to an organization.

Therefore, those who are not entirely aware
Of Strategies that are disadvantageous,
Cannot be entirely aware
Of Strategies that are advantageous.

R.L. Wing, The Art of Strategy: A New Translation of Sun Tzu's Classic The Art of War, pp. 35, A Main Street Book, 1988

Quote of the Week #136 (1999.06.20)
The Brain's Time Machine

You bring out another electrode from your pocket. "Now I want to show you that the brain has its own time machine. Constantia, come here." She looks at the electrode in your hand. "You're not going to stick me with that thing," she says. You throw the electrode on the floor. "Of course not." She comes closer. "Okay," she says. You touch her on the leg. "Don't worry, Constantia. This isn't a clumsy attempt on my part to initiate a relationship with you. When I touch you, your brain needs half a second for computation of the sensory signals. However, you do not percieve the touch half a second later. You immediately experience having been touched. This means that your brain antedated the experience by half a second. Think of your brain as a post office that assigns a date to a letter earlier than the actual date of the letter." Constantia looks at her leg. "Sir, you mean that my brain knows when the sensory signal arrived, and it compensates for its computation time? It creates the illusion of simultaneity?" "Correct. Lesson 3: In order to perceive stimuli coming from the outside world in the correct order, we shift the perception backward in perceived time to the moment the stimulation actually had taken place. I call this the brain's time machine." Constantia looks at you. "Sir, you may remove your hand from my leg."

Clifford A. Pickover, Time : A Traveler's Guide, pp. 49 - 50, An Oxford University Press Book, 1998

Quote of the Week #135 (1999.06.13)
Thresholds of Visibility

It is a matter of the greatest moment in the arts of design and workman-ship that every formal element has a maximum and mimimum effective range. It can only be 'read'–perceived for what it is–by an observer stationed within those limits. The slight deviations from regularity in the profile of our column will have become imperceptible, probably, by the time your eye is four feet away from it; but the cylindrical designed form of it will still be clearly perceptible at several hundred yards. Yet again, if we look at the column through a magnifying glass, its cylindrical form will be imperceptible because we are viewing it at less than the minimum effective range for that element... In nature, and in all good design, the diversity in scale of formal elements is such that at any range, in any light, some elements are on or very near the threshold of visibility: or one should say, more exactly, of distinguishability as elements. As the observer approaches the object, new elements, previously indistinguishable, successively appear and come into play aesthetically. Equally, and inevitably, the larger elements drop out and become ineffective as you approach. But new incidents appear at every step until finally your eye gets too close to be focused. The elements that at any given range, long or short, are just at the threshold, that we can just begin to read, though indistinctly, are of great importance aesthetically. They are perhaps analogous to the overtones of notes. They are a vitalizing element in the visible scene. They are indeed found in every natural scene except for those which most depress us, like a white wall of fog, or an evenly overcast whitey-grey sky. But they are not always found in the environment man has made for himself, though formerly they always were. That explains the blankness we often find, now, in the expression of a product or a building when we get close up to it. Down to a certain distance everything about them looks well. As you close range after that point nothing new appears. There are no further incidents. As soon as you get towards the minimum effective range of the larger, designed elements, the whole thing goes empty... For most of your life the parts of your environment which you are looking at are likely to be at close ranges of that sort; not a hilltop, or in the distance, or as seen in the photographs in architectural magazines. It is for this reason that the art of workmanship is so evidently important. It takes over where design stops: and design begins to fail to control the appearance of the environment at just those ranges as which the environment most impinges on us. A thing properly designed and made, continually reaveals new complexes of newly perceived formal elements the nearer you get to it...

David Pye, The Nature and Art of Workmanship, pp. 61 - 63, A Cambium Press Book, 1968

Quote of the Week #133 & #134 (1999.06.06)
Our Place in History

If we look at the events of our era politically, we are left thrashing about between inadequate alternatives, like our politicians. If we look at our era personally, with reference only to ourselves, we feel dwarfed. And if we deny our urges to act "in our time," we feel useless, because we are built to act. How can we relate ourselves to history in such a way that action is conceivable within a personally sane framework? And what do we act in when we act in history? One obvious answer is that no matter what we do we act historically. History is not a spectator sport. There is not you and history. There is you, in which history lives. And there is history, in which you live. If you are concerned about Nicaragua, that produces history; if you are unconcerned, that produces history. There is no way you can be ineffectual. Yet virtually everyone feels ineffectual. Media reproduces "world-class" events magnified in scope and compressed in time, distorted out of human scale. People feel distant from the events when they are actually feeling distant from the distortion. So instead of feeling our integral connection with events and through events, we feel a tremendous anxiety at being surrounded by distortions. The anxiety has become our connective tissue. We are connected neither by a shared worldview nor common goals, but by a common and thorough anxiety... Within any hour we can be enmeshed in a nineteenth-century idea of the family, a first-century belief in a divinity, a prehistoric instinct for danger, and a twenty-first-century technological skill. We are subject to, and expressive of, many histories at once because we are composed of many selves at once and are constantly trying to decide between various dominants among those histories and selves... What is plain, when you come to the end of this train of thought, is that we do not know where the human individual ends and the human race begins. We have never known. Democracy, fascism, monarchy, and socialism are four models of how it might be, and they are all inadequate. And if tribal life had been enough, it would have stayed enough. We remain confused about the relationship of the one to the whole. But it is plain that in the way that individuals organize their lives into projects—career, marriage, raising children, hobbies, what-all—the race as a whole takes on what could be called "historical projects" as if by mutual consent.

Michael Ventura, Shadow Dancing in the USA, pp. 212 - 214, A Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Book, 1985. (Out of Print)

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span, The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multitasking. All are on the increase, Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed—some mechanism or myth that encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where "the long term" is measured at least in centuries. What we propose is both a mechanism and a myth. It began with an observation and idea by computer designer Baniel Hillis, who wrote in 1993:

When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. Now, thirty years later, they still talk about what will happen by the year 2000. The future has been shrinking by one year per year my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of the Millennium. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.

Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well engineered, would embody deep time for people. It would be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.

Stewart Brand, The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility, pp. :02 - :03, Basic Books, 1999.

Quote of the Week #132 (1999.05.30)
Rates of Change, Scales of Time

In civilizations with long nows, says Brian Eno, "you feel a very strong but flexible structure . . . built to absorb shocks and in fact incorporate them." Once can imagine how such a process evolves: All civilizations suffer shocks, yet only those that absorb the shocks survive. This still does not explain the mechanism however. In recent years a few scientists (such as R.V. O'Neill and C.S. Holling) have been probing a similar issue in ecological systems: How do they manage change, and how do they absorb and incorporate shocks? The answer appears to lie in the relationship between components in a system that have different change rates and different scales of size. Instead of breaking under stress like something brittle these systems yield as if they were malleable. Some parts respond quickly to the shock, allowing slower parts to ignore the shock and maintain their steady duties of system continuity. The combination of fast and slow components makes the system resilient, along with the way the differently paced parts affect each other. Fast learns, slow remembers. Fast proposes, slow disposes. Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous. Fast and small instructs slow and big by accrued innovation and occasional revolution. Slow and big controls small and fast by consrtraint and constancy. Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power. All durable dynamic systems have this sort of structure; it is what makes them adaptable and robust.

Stewart Brand, The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility, pp. :34, Basic Books, 1999.

(For those intrigued by the above passage, you may find it interesting to check out the Appropriate Response model, of which this passage reminded me. Also, turn to Chapter 11 "The World's Slowest Computer" in "the Long Now" for 5 very interesting design principles. - the editor)

Quote of the Week #130 & #131 (1999.05.23)
Time Enough to Learn

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your ony love, you may see the world about your devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Lean why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn — pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics — why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start out again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough.

T.H. White, The Once & Future King, Ace Books Reissue, 1996.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight gallantly. . . . specialization is for insects."

Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love, Ace Books Reissue, 1994.

Quote of the Week #129 (1999.05.16)
The Possibilities are Stupendous

Father grinned mischeivously. "Do you really think so, Vanya?" he asked. "I mean, is this really the turning point? I thought it might be, but it's hard to be quite sure. Certainly a turning point in the ascent of man, but is it the?" Father wrinkled up his eyes in a look of humorous disperation that was characteristic of him at certain moments. "I don't know whether it's a turning point or the turning point," said Uncle Vanya. "I don't profess to know what you think you are doing, Edward. Getting above yourself, yes. I'm telling you that this is the most perverse and unnatural—" "It is unnatural, isn't it?" said Father, eagerly breaking in. "But then, Vanya, there has been an element of the artificial in subhuman life since we took to stone tools. Perhaps, you know, that was the decisive step, and this is simply elaboration; but then you use flints and so—" "We've had that out before," said Uncle Vanya. "Within reason tools and artifacts do not transgress nature. The spiders take their prey by net; the birds can build better nests than we can; and many's the time you have had a coconut thrown at your thick head by a monkey, as you well know; perhaps that is what has deranged your wits. Only a few weeks ago I saw a troop of gorillas beat up a couple of elephants—elephants, mark you!—with sticks. I am prepared to accept simple trimmed pebbles as in the way of nature, provided one does not become too dependent on them, and no attempt is made to refine them unduly. I am not illiberal, Edward, and I will go as far as that. But this! This is quite another matter. This could end anywhere. It affects everybody. Even me. You might burn the forest down with it. Then where would I be?" "Oh, I don't think it will come to that, Vanya," said Father. "Won't it, indeed! May I ask, Edward, are you in control of the thing at all?" "Er—more or less. More or less, you know." "What do you mean, more or less? Either you are, or you are not. Don't prevaricate. Can you put it out, for example?" "If you don't feed it, it goes out by itself," said Father defensively. "Edward," said Uncle Vanya, "I warn you. You have started something that you may not be able to stop. So you think it will go out if you don't feed it! Have you thought that it might decide to feed itself, sometime? Then where would you be?" "It hasn't happened yet," said Father crossly. "It takes me all my time to keep it going, as a matter of fact, especially on wet nights." "Then my most earnest advice to you is not to keep it going any longer," said Uncle Vanya, "before you get a chain reaction started. How long have you been playing with fire?" "Oh, I found out about it months ago," said Father. "And, you know, Vanya, it is the most fascinating stuff. The possibilities are stupendous. I mean, there is so much you can do with it. Far beyond mere central heating, you know, though that's a big step forward in itself. I have hardly begun to work out the applications yet. But just take the smoke alone: believe it or not, it smothers the flies and keeps down the mosquitoes. Of course, fire is tricky stuff. Hard to carry about, for instance. Then it's got a voracious appetite; eats like a horse. Apt to be spiteful, got a nasty sting, if you're not careful. And it really is new; opens up a positive vista of—" But suddenly there was a loud shriek from Uncle Vanya and he began hopping about on one foot. I had observed with great interest that for some time he had been standing on a red-hot ember. He had been too excited in his argument with Father to notice it, or the hissing noise and peculiar smell which followed. But now the ember had bitten right through the hide of his instep. "Yah!" roared Uncle Vanya. "You damned fool, Edward! It's bitten me! That's what your infernal bag of tricks has done! Yah! What did I tell you? It'll end by eating the whole lot of you! Sitting on a live volcano, that's what you're doing! I've finished with you, Edward! You'll be extinct, the whole pack of you, in no time, You've had it. Yah! I'm going back to the trees! You've overstepped the mark this time, Edward! That's what the brontosaurus did, too!" He soon hobbled out of sight, but his howls could be heard for another fifteen minutes at least. "All the same, I guess it was Vanya who overstepped the mark," said Father to Mother, as with a leafy branch he carefully swept the hearth.

Roy Lewis, The Evolution Man; Or, How I Ate My Father, pp. 9 - 12. A Vintage Contemporaries Book, 1960.

Quote of the Week #128 (1999.05.09)
Project Management: Organizing for Success

Conventional critical path conceptioning is linear and self-under-informative. Only spherically expanding and contracting, spinning, polarly involuting and evoluting orbital system feedbacks are both comprehensively and incisively informative. Spherical orbital critical feedback circuits are pulsative, tidal, importing and exporting. Critical path elements are not overlapping linear modules in a plane: they are systematically interspiraling complexes of omni-interrelevant re-generative feedback circuits.

R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path, St. Martin's Press, 1981

Quote of the Week #127 (1999.05.02)
Working in Color

Our concern is the interaction of color, that is, seeing what happens between colors. We are able to hear a single tone, but we almost never (that is, without special devices) see a single color unconnected and unrelated to other colors. Colors present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbors and changing conditions. As a consequence, this proves for the reading of color what Kandinsky often demanded for the reading of art: what counts is not the what but the how.

Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, 1963, Revised edition November 1987 (pictured), Yale University Press.

Quote of the Week #126 (1999.04.25)
Innovation & Unintended Consequence

In a remote forest in Europe, dropouts from a repressive, book-burning regime wander among the birches, repeating to themselves banned literary masterpieces that they've memorized. It's a haunting image in Ray Bradbury's futuristic novel Farenheit 451, especially for anyone who was ever challenged in school to memorize a whole poem, or story word for word. On the whole, our formal education discourages such memorization and trains us to rely instead on a wide range of external memory aids, such as notes, outlines, tapes and reference books. These aids greatly expand the amount of "recallable" data we have at our disposal, but they also encourage us to become lazy-brained. We don't keep adequate mental records of our daily schedules or errand lists because we have them written down. We don't bother remembering what we're reading because we know we posess a permanent text. We put off thinking about important projects until we're sitting at our desks, surrounded by such reassuring and seemingly all-important memory props as a paper and pencil, folder and file, hardware and software. From the time of the muse-worshipping Greeks until shortly after the invention of the printing press, people placed a high value on memorization; and predigious feats of memory were commonplace, Otherwise, entire epics, histories, genealogies, religious philosophies, and scientific protocols would have been lost to the ages. In the post-printing-press era, human memory powers have been sadly undervalued and neglected. The famous American psychologist William James, concerned in the early 1900's about whether he was capable of meeting the type of memory challenge that many people met prior to the 1500s, set himself the task of memorizing all of John Milton's twelve-book poetic saga Paradise Lost. It took him a month; and the result was, in his words, "supremely inspirational."

Jack Maguire, Care and Feeding of the Brain; A Guide to Your Gray Matter, p. 74, A DoubleDay Book, 1990.

Quote of the Week (1999.04.18)

Within the plane of the eternal and the inevitable, there are events that can happen that are not destined to happen. We can call this the noninevitable. You can create events that are not inevitable. You can make choices that are true choices–they are independent of destiny. For me, the true gift and blessing of life is choice. The inevitable will take care of itself, the eternal will always be there, but the noninevitable is the real plane of the human spirit. . . . One way to spend a lifetime is to give birth to noninevitable occurrences. We can create what doesn't have to be created. To create what you must is not a matter of choice, but to create what doesn't have to be created is truly precious.

Robert Fritz, Creating: A guide to the creative process, pp. 163, A Fawcett Columbine Book, 1991.

Our free and undetermined moral choices and the worlds that they coauthor are like an electron's virtual transitions. They are experiments in reality creation. But we, unlike electrons, have a memory and can learn from our experience, so our experiments can have an aggregate effect. Some will succeed and go forward as lasting contributions to the next and better world; others will be lost to that process. It is this capacity of the quantum self to pluck reality from multiple possibilities–the capacity to make experimental worlds, some of which will be improvements on the last, and our ability to articulate (through self-reflection) what made them so–that essentially links our freedom to our creativity. The value of discovering the meanings that attach to my choices is that this discovery (this articulation) takes me back to the moment of freedom in which I made my first choice, the moment of decision that led to a chain of choices that became part of my life-style and of what I value–my world. In going back to that moment, I go back to the possibility of making some other choice, some other self and world... It is our essential freedom, the fact that each choice we have made is only one of several possible choices we might have made, which allows this rebirthing and which gives each individual a crucial role to play in the gradual evolution of consciousness–the gradual increase of ordered relational holism as manifested in the worlds that we make.

Danah Zohar, Quantum Self: Human Nature and Consciousness Defined by the New Physics, pp. 201 - 202, A Quill/William Morrow Book, 1990.

Quote of the Week (1999.04.11)
Virtues of Patience

We find ourselves in a culture which has lost sight (not the least in its education system) of some fundamental distinctions, like those between being wise, being clever, having your 'wits' about you, and in being merely well informed. We have been inadvertantly trapped in a single mode of mind that is characterised by information-gathering, intellect and impatience, one that requires you to be explicit, articulate, purposeful and to show your reasoning. We are thus committed (and restricted) to those ways of knowing that can function in such a high-speed mental climate: predominantly those that use language (or other symbol systems) as a medium and deliberation as a method. As a culture we are, in consequence, very good at solving analytic and technological problems. The trouble is that we tend, increasingly, to treat all human predicaments as if they were of this type, including those for which such mental tools are inappropriate. We meet with cleverness, focus and deliberation those challenges that can only properly be handled with patience, intuition and relaxation.

To tap into the leisurely ways of knowing, one must dare to wait. Knowing emerges from, and is a response to, not-knowing. Learning - the process of coming to know - emerges from uncertainty. Ambivalently, learning seeks to reduce uncertainty, by transmuting the strange into the familiar, but it also needs to tolerate uncertainty, as the seedbed in which ideas germinate and responses form. If either one of these two aspects of learning predominates, then the balance of the mind is disturbed. If the passive acceptance of not-knowing overwhelms the active search for meaning and control, then one may fall into fatalism and dependency. While if the need for certainty becomes intemperate, undermining the ability to tolerate confusion, then one may develop a vulnerability to demagoguery and dogma, liable to cling to opinions and beliefs that may not fit the bill, but which do assuage the anxiety.

Guy Claxton, Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind - How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, pp.6. The Ecco Press, 1999.

Quote of the Week (1999.04.04)
Composing a Life

What Do You Do For A Living, Dad?

If any of my kids ever asked me that question, the answer would have to be: "What I do is composition." I just happen to use material other than notes for the pieces.

Composition is a process of organization, very much like architecture. As long as you can conceptualize what that organizational process is, you can be a "composer" - in any medium you want.

You can be a "video composer," a "film composer," a "choreography composer," a "social engineering composer" — whatever. Just give me some stuff, and I'll organize it for you. That's what I do.

Project/Object is a term I have used to describe the overall concept of my work in various mediums. Each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no "technical name."

Think of connecting material in the Project/Object this way: A novelist invents a character. If the character is a good one, he takes on a life of his own. Why should he get to go to only one party? He could pop up anytime in a future novel.

Or: Rembrandt got his "look" by mixing just a little brown into every other color - he didn't do "red" unless it had brown in it. The brown itself wasn't especially fascinating, but the result of its obsessive inclusion was that "look."

...A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians.

Want to be a composer? You don't even have to be able to write it down. The stuff that gets written down is only a recipe, remember? ... If you can think design, you can execute design — it's only a bunch of air molecules, who's gonna check up on you?

Just Follow These Simple Instructions:

1. Declare your intention to create a "composition."

2. Start a piece at some time.

3. Cause something to happen over a period of time (it doesn't matter what happens in your "time hole" — we have critics to tell us whether it's any good or not, so we won't worry about that part).

4. End the piece at some time (or keep it going, telling the audience it is a "work in progress").

5. Get a part-time job so you can continue to do stuff like this.

Frank Zappa, "All About Music," an essay taken from Creators on Creating : Awakening and Cultivating the Imaginative Mind, edited by Frank Barron, Alfonso Montuori, and Anthea Barron, pp.195 - 197. A Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam Book, 1997.

Other Prior Quotes:

January 3, 1999 through March 28, 1999

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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