Prior Quotes of the Week

Second Quarter, 2000

(Titles that are linked may be ordered online.)

Quote of the Week #182 (2000.06.26)

The Enterprise of Water

Water is a combination of two of the most common elements in the world. It is the simplest and most abundant of all chemical compounds, good ol H2O, but there isn't a scientist anywhere who can tell you exactly how it works.

Water breaks all the rules.

The laws of physics require that substances become more dense as their temperature falls and they shift from gas to liquid and finally to their solid state. Most do so, but water behaves in the expected manner only until its temperature reaches 4ūC. Then something weird happens. Instead of shrinking further, water suddenly starts to expand, until at 0ūC–the traditional freezing point–it has grown in volume by as much as 10 percent. Which is why rocks split, pavements buckle, and pipes burst on cold winter nights. And why there is still any life left anywhere on earth at all.

. . . It is one of the few known substances that can behave both as an acid and as a base, so that under certain conditions it is capable of reacting chemically with itself.

Water is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It is gentle enough to support an array of delicate living things, but it is at the same time tough enough to corrode the hardest metal. Which is why almost every chemical reaction we know of takes place in aqueous solution, and why there is no such thing as perfectly pure water. There isn't a container strong enough to hold it.

. . . The secrets behind all this strange behavior lie locked in the structure of the water molecule. The combination of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen is a powerful one, difficult to break but also inherently unstable. For water to exist at all, it has to be intricately laced. It is in fact held together by so many hydrogen bonds that it becomes an almost continuous structure. A glass of water is, in effect, one gigantic molecule with all its parts interconnected. And this gives it both extraordinary strength and astonishing flexibility. . . .

The strength of hydrogen bonds in water is most evident at its surface, where molecules cling together to form an invisible and highly flexible coat of liquid chain mail. The margins of any body of water, even one as small as a single raindrop, are extraordinarily elastic, giving it a strange and wonderful integrity, holding it in the form of smooth curves, waves, and spheres that have many of the properties of living things. Including an ability to act against the natural tendency of inanimate matter to seek an easy way out, to flow mindlessly toward equilibrium. A lot of the time water goes its own way, traveling uphill in direct contravention of entropy and the force of gravity.

Water molecules not only have a tendency to cling to each other, but they become attached almost as easily to other surfaces. They grasp at the edges of particles in porous solid and hold tight even to smooth walls of veins and arteries and the mirror surfaces of glass tubes. The hydrogen molecules at the edge of any water surface reach out in all directions, grasping at any free oxygen to be found there and, once attached, use such anchor points to haul the rest of their substance along like boats warping against wind and current. . . .

Given the fact that water is so strange and unruly, one might expect it be be rare. In universal terms, it probably is. Free water is hard to find in the cosmos, but on earth it abounds. There are 8 million cubic kilometers of it rising slowly up through the soil; 1.2 billion cubic kilometers sloshing about, covering almost 75 percent of the earth's surface; and 12,000 cubic kilometers drifting about in the atmosphere as water vapor. . . On average, we each contain about 38 liters of water and need to replace at least 2 of these every day. We can live without food for more than two months, but without water we die in less than a week. Water is unquestionably the world's busiest substance. Everything depends on it.

. . . In most natural systems, such as that which exists around a winter lake or pool, water commonly exists in all three states–solid, liquid, and gas–simultaneously. It covers all the options, flowing from one to another with the flux of energy, responding even to the most subtle changes in the environment; perhaps even recording them, filing the patterns away for future use in the same way that water remembers being ice and flows about muttering the secret formula to itself.

It may be a while before we are capable of consciously cracking the code in which such information is stored. But we are so liquid ourselves it seems likely that, unconsciously at least, we are already getting the gist of the message. It is something to wonder about.

Lyall Watson , The Dreams of Dragons: An Exploration and Celebration of the Mysteries of Nature, pp. 111 - 114, 120 - 121, A Destiny Book, 1987.

Quote of the Week #181 (2000.06.15)

Seeking Depth

Much that the man of today inherits from generations of the past is called in question by his present life. Hence the numerous "problems of the house" and "demands of the age." How many of these are occupying the attention of the world—the Social Question, the Women's Question, the various educational questions, hygienic questions, questions of human rights, and so forth! By the most varied means, men are endeavoring to grapple with these problems. The number of those who come on the scene with this or that remedy or programme for the solution—or at any rate for the partial solution—of one or other of them, is indeed past counting. In the process, all manner of opinions and shades of opinion make themselves felt-Radicalism, which carries itself with a revolutionary air; the Moderate attitude full of respect for existing things, yet endeavoring to evolve out of them something new; Conservatism, which is up in arms whenever any of the old institutions are tampered with. Beside these main tendencies of thought and feeling there is every kind of intermediate position.

Looking at all these things of life with deeper vision, one cannot but feel—indeed the impression forces itself upon one—that the men of our age are in the position of trying to meet the demands involved in modern life with means which are utterly inadequate. Many are setting about to reform life, without really knowing life in its foundations. But he who would make proposals as to the future must not content himself with a knowledge of life that merely touches life's surface. He must investigate its depths.

Life in its entirety is like a plant. The plant contains not only what it offers to external life; it also holds a future state within its hidden depths. One who has before him a plant only just in leaf, knows very well that after some time there will be flowers and fruit also on the leaf-bearing stem. In its hidden depths the plant already contains the flowers and fruit in embryo; yet by mere investigation of what the plant now offers to external vision, how should one ever tell what these new organs will look like? This can only be told by one who has learnt to know the very nature and being of the plant.

So, too, the whole of human life contains within it the germs of its own future; but if we are to tell anything about this future, we must first penetrate into the hidden nature of the human being. And this our age is little inclined to do. It concerns itself with the things that appear on the surface, and thinks it is treading on unsafe ground if called upon to penetrate to what escapes external observation.

Rudolph Steiner, The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy, 1909. (Currently Out of Print)

Quote of the Week #180 (2000.06.02)

The Reader & the Writer: A Meeting of Minds

The likelihood of a meeting of minds through language depends on the willingness of both reader and writer to work together. Just as teaching will not avail unless there is a reciprocal activity of being taught, so no author, regardless of skill in writing, can achieve communication without a reciprocal skill on the part of readers. If that were note so, the diverse skills of writing and reading would not bring minds together, however much effort was expended, anymore that men who tunnel through from the opposite sides of a mountain would ever meet unless they made their calculations according to the same principles of engineering.

Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book, Revised and Updated Edition, A Touchstone Book, 1972.

Quote of the Week #179 (2000.05.22)

Paradox All Around Us

A man made a long pilgrimage to a holy city. As he neared the city he saw, looming above the lower, irregular shapes of other structures, the walls and roof of the great temple that was the object of his journey. Yet again and again, as he searched through dark narrow alleys and small marketplaces, he failed to find the entrance. As best he could in a language not his own, he made inquiries of the townspeople, but all of them, taught in a newer religion, seemed neither to know nor to care. After much frustration, he was directed at last to a priest of the old faith, who told him that the great temple had in fact long ceased to posses a formal entrance but rather could be entered in many ways, through any of the narrow houses and tiny shops that surrounded it. Yet in the end this revelation gave the pilgrim no help at all. Each house and shop he entered was so dark and squalid, its furniture so alien, its occupants so forbidding, that it seemed manifestly incapable of opening into the grandeur and freedom of the temple vault. The man left the city in bitterness and sought an easier truth.

The image of the temple and the pilgrim has haunted me ever since it first appeared to me years ago. It speaks to me of a vivid paradox: of the complete immediacy of spiritual truth and its utter remoteness. It reminds me that I cannot have access to essential experience (the temple vault) unless I am fully conversant with trivial experience (the many little doorways); that I cannot apprehend Unity without having embraced Multiplicity; that I cannot hear a whisper of the eternal while turning a deaf ear to the everyday. And it suggests, finally, that this paradoxical interdependency of One and Many applies not only to the truth of the spirit but to any kind of truth at all.

Robert Grudin, On Dialogue: an essay in free thought, pp. 180 - 181, Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Quote of the Week #178 (2000.05.15)

The Difference That Makes A Difference

If End of Time's thesis, that civilized man's powers were attributable to laughter, failed to strike Switters as unduly outlandish, it was probably because it was not so far removed from a favorite idea of Maestra's: her theory of the missing link.

"What is it," Maestra had asked quite rhetorically, "that seperates human beings from the so-called lower animals? Well, as I see it, it's exactly one half-dozen significant things: Humor, Imagination, Eroticism—as opposed to the mindless, instinctive mating of glow worms or raccoons—Sprituality, Rebelliousness, and Aesthetics, an appreciation of beauty for its own sake.

"Now," she'd gone on to say,"since those are the features that define a human being, it follows that the extent to which someone is lacking those qualities is the extent to which he or she is less than human. Capisce? And in those cases where the defining qualities are virtually nonexistent, well, what we have there are entities that are north of the animal kingdom but south of humanity, they fall somewhere in between, they're the missing links."

". . . of the six qualities that distinguished the human from the subhuman, both grandmother and grandson agreed that Imagination and Humor were probably the most crucial."

Tom Robbins , Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, pp. 100 - 101, Bantam Books, 2000.

Quote of the Week #177 (2000.05.09)

IP Strategies for New Economy R&D

There are three key components of any effective patent strategy for developing high-margin, category-leading products:

Protect Your Core Technology Advantage: Use patent mapping to select products that can be buttressed with competitor-blocking patents, then patent the core technologies embodied in these products that deliver the greatest performance advantage over rival products in the market.

Reinforce the Product's Differentiating Features: Reinforce those core patents with a patent wall of IP protection covering the key differentiating features that reinforce and communicate the product's brand positioning and key performance advantages.

Control the Process Choke Points: Patent the key methods and processes—whether these are manufacturing, distribution, or even business methods—that are absolutely essential to the building, marketing, or selling of the product.

Kevin G. Rivette & David Kline, Rembrandts in the Attic: Unlocking the Hidden Value of Patents, pp. 106 - 107, Harvard Business School Press, 2000.

Quote of the Week #176 (2000.05.03)

Point of View & Perspective:
The Primitive, the Child, and Western Tradition

Primitive art differs from art of the Western academic tradition chiefly in that the tribal artist does not seek to "match" reality so much as to "make" it. This distinction, as elaborated by Ernste Gombrich, proposes that primitive artists create works that conform to internal visions more than they do external appearance. By doing so, primitive artists directly contradict both Plato and Aristotle, who believed that mimesis, mimicking nature, was an innate impulse of the human personality.

Like the worldview of the child, the worldview of the primitive differs radically from Newton's. For instance, primitivism does not separate the proper time and "real" space of the objective world from the artist's inner mythopoetic vision. . . .

(Anthropologist Edmund Snow) Carpenter tells a story that highlights the clash of Western and Aivilik conceptions of space. The Eskimos had pasted to the domes of their igloos photographs torn from magazines to prevent dripping. They puzzled over Western visitors' attempts to look at these pictures "right side up." The Eskimos watched with amusement while the "white man" craned his neck while turning in tight circles in order to see the pictures from the "correct perspective." For the primitive, who had not learned that there was a "correct" way to see things, this behavior was inexplicable. This multidirectional spatial orientation encourages an Eskimo who may start drawing or carving on one side of a board to continue right over the edge to the other side. Without an acknowledgment of the idea of a privileged place for a viewer to stand, the tribal artists would never invent perspective.

Leonard Shlain , Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time & Light, pp. 150 - 151, A Quill Book, 1991.

Quote of the Week #175 (2000.04.24)

'The Dynamics of Knowledge Landscapes'

The constant change in today's business environment is making 'unique' knowledge more generic, and eroding formerly solid knowledge peaks. Knowledge landscapes today are like primeval vistas, fluctuating in a constant state of change with rising seas and new peaks constantly being pushed up or eroded into the sea due to earthquakes and avalanches. To stay afloat, we need to constantly make new distinctions and develop new knowledge. We also have to be aware of the fact that parts of our landscapes change faster than others. For example, knowledge peaks in more dynamic regions have to be climbed quickly, otherwise they will shrink away before we can reach their summits.

. . . When we make a decision to travel along one trail, we commit ourselves to following one general direction of knowledge development, leaving other possible trails unexplored. Because we develop knowledge incrementally, we cannot simply hop from peak to peak in our landscapes. We can only reach the summit of a peak after a long climb, during which time we have to focus our limited attention on the climb. By shifting our attention away from other peaks in order to do this, we end up sliding down other knowledge peaks by letting some of our knowledge trails fade away. Our daily lives in knowledge landscapes are filled with such trade-offs. Often, in order to make a decision on whether or not to begin to climb a new knowledge peak, we have to travel back down our knowledge path a little way to better understand our core values. Although this sometimes means we have to climb down under water temporarily, we cannot discover attractive knowledge peaks unless we explore this way. This process can be very difficult, involving digging down through values to the core assumptions that underlie all our decision making. The failure of so many two-day management retreats to refocus others' knowledge development process shows just how difficult it can be to convince people to climb down before starting to climb up new knowledge peaks.

David Oliver and Johan Roos, Striking a Balance: Complexity and Knowledge Landscapes, pp. 39 -40, McGraw Hill, 2000

Quote of the Week #174 (2000.04.10)

Interact, Iterate, Interact . . .

Models and the human actions and conversations that go on around them cannot be arbitrarily divorced. There is an ecological relationship between interaction and iteration: new interactions lead to new iterations, and new iterations lead in turn to new interactions. Models turn out to be more about mediating interactions between people than mediating interaction between information. They have a greater impact on interpersonal interactions than individual cognition. . . .

The challenge for organizations is to productively manage both the iterations of the model that change interactions and the interactions around the model that change iterations. That's how value gets created and managed within the firm. Managing the economics of spreadsheet interaction and iteration has become a core competence . . .

Michael Schrage , Serious Play: How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate, pp. 56 - 57, Harvard Business School Press, 2000.

Other Prior Quotes:

First Quarter, 2000

Fourth Quarter, 1999

Third Quarter, 1999

Second Quarter, 1999

First Quarter, 1999

Fourth Quarter, 1998

Third Quarter, 1998

Second Quarter, 1998

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