Philosophy

David Bowie’s Station To Station and Art as Literature

David Bowie had an immense and long-lasting impact on me and I’ve been revisiting his music (even more than usual) lately as it has been 5 years since his passing on.

I first dove into Bowie because of Nirvana (I know, I know). Nirvana was the first band that I discovered early for myself, and that music has also shaped much of my own aesthetic. Their cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” on their Unplugged album immediately caught my fascination. I had known about Bowie and knew of him from “Let’s Dance” and his role as the Goblin King in Labyrinth, of course.

But as a child in the ’80s and then a pre-teen and eventual teen in the ’90s, Bowie’s 80’s music was reminiscent of what I felt we were all pushing against. His ’70s material was almost off-limits in the same way KISS or Black Sabbath was to me… there was something secretive and occultist and just weird to my Southern conservative Baptist straight-laced white boy type. Nirvana was almost a bridge too far (indeed, a high school teacher spent a number of days having us analyze why Nirvana’s music was so terrible and destructive to “Western Culture” … turns out that turned us all on).

When I started doing a deep dive on Bowie because of Nirvana’s (masterful) cover in 1994, the persona had been reinvented again and he was associating with Trent Reznor and moving away from his 80’s MTV friendliness into industrial rock. I was just beginning to explore this area myself and Nine Inch Nails played a big part in that (I bought one of their t-shirts around this time having never heard them, but figured I should give them a listen). That led to me first experiencing Bowie through Earthling, which is a weird way to hop into Bowie.

Eventually, I explored his 70’s material (and then his 60’s works) and was blown away. Where had Low and the Berlin Trilogy been all my life? Ziggy is an amazing piece of work, of course. Hunky Dory is still one of my favorites. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) comes just before Let’s Dance and hints at what would become industrial rock in the ’90s. It was all a revelation.

Station To Station was in there, plodding along with its otherworldliness. It took me some time to even listen all the way through in one sitting. It was only after I also earnestly began studying religion (modern and especially ancient versions) that I was finally brave (?) enough to hop in and attempt Station To Station.

I try to “read” music as literature. Now Station To Station is one of my favorite Bowie albums and this write-up from 10 years ago is one of the most effective descriptions of this piece of art…

Bowie constructs the most grandiose of love songs, the most overblown, epic ballads, mouthing hollow romantic clichés as if, by saying the lines with enough simulated passion, he will actually come to feel them. And yet, of course, all of this is just a construct, too- he knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s not a cynical act, because the desire to feel remains genuine- in its way, this is as stark and troubled a record as anything from Neil Young’s contemporaneous ditch trilogy, the musical polish and role-play only thinly veiling a soul on the edge, battling with addiction and paranoia and with what he, at least, genuinely believed were dark mystical forces just waiting to drag him forever into the abyss. “It’s the nearest album to a magical treatise that I’ve written,” Bowie has said, though perhaps a ritual spell of protection would be a more accurate description.

Source: The Quietus | Features | Anniversary | Exploring Notions Of Decadence: Bowie’s Station To Station, 45 Years On

“Persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false…”

Must read here. I won’t summarize the article as you need to read the entire piece for yourself, but the implications for things I care about very deeply (such as marketing, politics, technology, religion, and education) are serious.

Take some time and read:

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

Source: Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds | The New Yorker

Marketing to Your Own Beliefs

I get these sorts of questions frequently from new clients:

“Why aren’t my Facebook Page posts getting more likes?”

“Why isn’t my website getting more views?”

“How can I let more people know I’ve written / made / created / offer the best service / product in my area?”

“When will people start responding to the emails I’m sending them about our product / church service / nonprofit fundraising?”

“What is the best way to market this because what I’ve done hasn’t worked so far?”

After being in the marketing world for almost 20 years now, these are among the most common questions I get from people just beginning to take marketing seriously (and have hired me to help them realize that vision).

We’ve all asked ourselves similar questions after the initial excitement of an idea has faded away due to the lack of engagement from everyone else who didn’t respond the way we wanted.

But that’s the beauty of marketing… it’s a system of nuance and subtleness and not a blunt tool. It’s not meant to “convert” (that’s sales) as much as “persuade” … and that takes extra effort and thinking outside of our own heads. Some do that with data. Some do that with incredible gut instincts.

Nonetheless, don’t fall into the trap of letting your own perspectives dictate all of your marketing efforts…

The dilemma for my boss, for me and for you – as humans – is that it’s very difficult to admit that you were wrong, or even stupid. It’s is the last thing someone will admit. The alternative is, instead of believing the evidence, you double down on your initial belief – belief perseverance – and say it’s the other person who’s wrong.

Source: Cognitive dissonance, conmen and cults: The ways marketers delude themselves

Spaying and Neutering Dogs

Well this is an eye-opening piece that has caused me to reconsider lots of presuppositions…

In other words, to solve the problem of our unwillingness to keep track of our dogs, we do not address our own unwillingness. To address the overpopulation of unwanted dogs, we do not address the overpopulation. Instead, we non sequitur: we take brand-new dogs and introduce them into our homes by first putting them through a surgery at six, four, or even three months of age. The professed solution, in the United States, is to spay or neuter all the new ones.

Source: Opinion | Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience – The New York Times

I Almost Forgot How to Tie a Bowtie

My oldest daughter made a comment about how I resemble The Librarian in my mannerisms and philosophy on things, except that I didn’t wear bowties anymore.

That was good enough inspiration for me to open up my dusty drawer of memory-imbued bowties I have collected, bought, been given by students, and gifted by friends over the years. During my time as a Middle School teacher, the bowtie became my talisman and an important part of my costume that I would put on every morning (and squirrels… but that’s a different blog post). My students would voice their disappointment when they showed up to class and I had on a “regular” tie. I started receiving handmade bowties made out of duct tape, squirrel-themed bowties, and everything in between. My official portrait done by the 8th graders in art class included the bowtie as well. I taught numerous young people (of all gender identifications) how to tie a bowtie. High schoolers would come by my graduation before picture day or a school dance or graduation to have me help them tie their bowties.

So I was incredibly sad and then frustrated this morning when I went to tie one of my favorite bowties and realized the muscle memory was gone. It was as if I’d been a concert pianist for years and then I sat down to play Fur Elise and had no idea where to move my hands.

I stopped myself, looked myself in the mirror, and resolved then to never forget how to tie a bowtie. The muscle memory slowly came back, and I made a pretty good knot.

It’s time for me to get back to where I once belonged and not forget the power of the bowtie.

A Week Without Twitter (or Facebook)

I made the decision last week to attempt what I previously thought was relatively undoable for my business and/or personal life and pull out of the Twitter stream and Facebook world, and Instagram performance art gallery. Some of that was due to this liturgical season of Lent and some of that was my constant need to try on new “thought technologies” that helps me explore more of this life.

After a week, I can say a few things that have struck me as personal revelations.

First, I am more focused and “get things done” work-wise in a more deliberate and intentional way. It’s not that I was skipping over things a year or a month ago, but the silence that comes from not having a constant TweetDeck tab open in my browser window (or on the large screen that was dedicated just to TweetDeck) has made a marked difference in my workflow as evidenced by my time sheets and my client ticketing system.

Second, I find myself reaching for my phone fewer times during the morning, day, and night. I would constantly be scanning Instagram or Twitter when I had a few spare moments or minutes during the course of a day. Now that I don’t have those time sinks, I find myself scanning Feedly for news or longer form articles or just doodling on paper for 30 seconds.

Third, I’m blogging here more. I feel more “creative” in general to be honest. Being away from the constant stream of short takes on the latest political scandal or presidential tweet or funny meme has made me recognize how much I’ve pushed down my own voice inside of my head (as much as it is an unreliable narrator sometimes!). But I feel like we’re picking back up the conversation after a long 12 years on Twitter and as a heavy user of all things social. I feel more creative and less anxious in general.

Most importantly, I have space to be more mindful about my place here. I already feel a change in my outlook on issues and things I need to give or pay attention to. I’ve found myself turning off notifications on my phone from Slack and Email (heaven forbid!) and even our ticket support system. Could I make do with a flip phone? Who knows. But that mindfulness and a better sense of presence does feel different than it has the last few years.

Coincidence is not causation, so we’ll see how this happens as I keep up with this thought technology of being mindfully and spiritually situated in specific places and times rather than floating through the matrix of performative attention.

Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay “As We May Think” on information overload, curation, and open-access science.

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.

— Read on www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/10/11/vannevar_bush_s_1945_essay_as_we_may_think_on_information_overload_curation.html

Stitching together reality

The reason why we experience reality as a movie when it’s only a collection of pictures can be at least partially explained by our rhythms of attention. About four times every second, the brain stops taking snapshots of individual points of focus — like your friend on the corner in Times Square — and collects background information about the environment. Without you knowing it, the brain absorbs the sound of the crowd, the feeling of the freezing December air — which it later uses to stitch together a narrative of the complete Times Square Experience.

— Read on www.inverse.com/article/48300-why-is-it-hard-to-focus-research-humans

urgency trumps understanding

There’s some sort of metaphor in the story of these two photos of the Earth from the moon’s surface; one low-resolution and one high-resolution, one broadcast at the moment and the other only decoded by volunteers some forty years after the fact. It’s hard to see and transmit what’s happening right now clearly, no matter what kind of equipment we’re using; urgency trumps understanding.

Source: 👀 Noticing: The Big Picture. 06/22/2018

Noticing is a great newsletter that you should subscribe to put together by Jason Kottke who has run one of my favorite sites/blogs for 20 years.

Roko’s Basilisk: The Most Dangerous Thought?

You have to be really clever to come up with a genuinely dangerous thought. I am disheartened that people can be clever enough to do that and not clever enough to do the obvious thing and KEEP THEIR IDIOT MOUTHS SHUT about it, because it is much more important to sound intelligent when talking to your friends.This post was STUPID.

Source: Roko’s Basilisk: The most terrifying thought experiment of all time.

What is real? Forking universes, equalities, and religion

When scientists search for meaning in quantum physics, they may be straying into a no-man’s-land between philosophy and religion. But they can’t help themselves. They’re only human. “If you were to watch me by day, you would see me sitting at my desk solving Schrödinger’s equation…exactly like my colleagues,” says Sir Anthony Leggett, a Nobel Prize winner and pioneer in superfluidity. “But occasionally at night, when the full moon is bright, I do what in the physics community is the intellectual equivalent of turning into a werewolf: I question whether quantum mechanics is the complete and ultimate truth about the physical universe.”

— Read on www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/books/review/adam-becker-what-is-real.html

The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

CGP Grey has produced a thought-provoking adaptation of Nick Bostrom’s 2005 paper (available here  Journal of Medical Ethics, 2005, Vol. 31, No. 5, pp 273-277). There are themes and ideas presented here that are deeper than they first appear, especially in regards to concepts such as ethics and mortality.

Working Through Fears

Whether you’re starting your own business or non-profit or trying to make an existing one feasible as a “job,” the fear that you encounter at 4am as you do the week’s invoicing and receipts in your head can be staggering. I know, I’ve definitely been there in the low tides of “working for yourself.”

Our mind tries to trick us into being more cautious and avoiding the risk associated with such endeavors (often for good reasons). But if you can step outside of your own mind and observe the fears associated with “starting up,” you can make powerful realizations about your own abilities and potential.

Good read:

We can limit and hold ourselves back with our beliefs. In my case, I really believed I would be judged for what I was doing. For a while, I operated almost entirely on referrals. While I did excellent work, I didn’t have an active lead generation plan in place because that would mean showing up on social media and letting my friends and family know what I was up to. I convinced myself that people would make fun of me and my business, and I allowed that fear to hold me back to the point that while I was home for Thanksgiving last year, I even considered taking a family friend’s advice to leave Bali and “get a real job.”

Thank goodness I found a way to work through my fears and stick to my guns! There will always be haters, but at the end of the day, the people who matter will support you: between my social media and email list, I now have over 10,000 business owners following my work.

via How This 23-Year-Old Makes Six Figures From Her Online Business – And Helps Others Do The Same

Being Creative

Why does creativity generally tend to decline as we age? One reason may be that as we grow older, we know more. That’s mostly an advantage, of course. But it also may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. We become too set in our ways to change.

What Happens to Creativity As We Age? – New York Times

Creativity is something I often think about as I get older. Even David Bowie did the same on his shrinking album “Low” (my favorite, by the way) at the apex of his ongoing fights with identity, depression, and addiction:

Don’t you wonder sometimes about Sound and Vision? Pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to do, nothing to say… I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of Sound and Vision. And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision. Drifting into my solitude, over my head.

It’s comforting, in a way, to realize that even Bowie had crippling moments of doubt about his ability to channel his inner voices and creativity, right?

The Times article above hits on something that causes me much consternation throughout the day whether I’m interacting with my children or I’m solving a problem for a client (or trying to hook up a new Chromecast to our home network but having issues like I did at midnight last night). I often wonder, as I encounter problems or things to be solved, if it takes me “longer” to solve problems that would have come with easy solutions just a few years ago. I wonder if I’m being too cautious with client solutions because of what I know and the experience I have.

I wonder if I’ve lost the “sound and vision” of creativity that made me who I was when I was younger.

Have I lost it? Or, is “it” still there buried under experience and accumulated knowledge and necessary caution?

Where is / are the line / lines between being creative and being responsible?

I imagine those are definitely common old-man questions that many people share if they are being completely honest with themselves.

I was often frustrated with John Lennon and Paul McCartney as a teen (even more so with Kurt Cobain who killed himself at the height of what I thought was his period of creativity). I loved the Beatles and knew every lyric and melody and bass lick by heart by the time I went off to College. But why did they stop with Abbey Road, whose B-Side is arguably one of their most creative endeavors. How could they explode from “Love Me Do” into “Strawberry Fields Forever” in just five years and then the White Album and the audacious Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be and Abbey Road and then break up the band? McCartney and Lennon would go on to solo projects and bands like Wings but they could never outshine what they accomplished in their 20’s in The Beatles.

Are we all doomed to similar fates? Do our complex internal algorithms of choices and perceived responsibilities and knowledge push that creative spark into a corner to be locked up while we go about the business of doing “adult stuff”?

As I watch my almost 10 year old and 7 year old and 21 month old children learn to function and operate as unique individuals in the world, I’m often sensitive to the notion that I’m here as a guide but not a dictator. Parenthood makes you obsess over details like the radius of a hotdog section and the weight limits of a swim float to the point that it’s easy to miss the every day mystery of a child realizing a new concept, especially when they can’t fully communicate with language yet.

Our monkey brains are fantastic specimens that have pushed us to conquer the world and build iPhones. We haven’t solved climate change and cancer and hunger yet, but I imagine we will. What we won’t conquer is our own insecurities, especially as we age. That’s on display in our current President, for instance. It’s something I’ve encountered all of my life when dealing with teachers, professors, pastors, bosses and clients… “Woah woah woah! Slow down there, Sam. We can’t move too fast on this. Just step back and let’s let time be a part of this process.”

There’s comfort and security in owning the time table of a process. But perhaps that’s where creativity dies.

I need to be more creative with my professional work. I need to be more creative with my children. I need to be more creative with my partner. I need to be more creative within my own palace of the mind … you get the point.

39

white_light_corona

I wrote this back in 2008 as I was turning 30:

However, turning 30 still scares the hell out of me because I don’t want to loose my idealism which is tied so close to my own identity.

via 29 – Sam Harrelson

Today I turn 39. I feel like I’ve changed so much in the last 9 years. I feel like the world itself has changed so much in the last 9 years. But, I look back on my writings and notebooks from this period and realize that the core of me is still there. It’s developing but it feels and seems familiar.

Our conceptions of time and age and landmarks in our own personal histories remind me of the signposts of life that Merianna frequently talks and preaches about. We all like to erect little monuments of memory so that whenever we pass by the same spot, we’ll recollect either the joy or pain or astonishment or fear that marked that particular point in our journey.

We mark years by orbits of our planets around our solar system’s star. Yesterday, I was able to experience the totality of a solar eclipse in the backyard with my wife, our young son and two daughters. I couldn’t have predicted that in 2008. The 30’s have been a mix of the greatest of pains and the greatest of joys. Birth, death, divorce, marriage, moves, career change(s), personal realizations… all those experiences are signposts that I often revisit through reflections as in a mirror, dimly.

Whatever happens in the next 10 years before I turn 50 will also come as a surprise to me when I look back on the paths that were trodden and those not trodden. But future Sam who is reading this in 2027 and turning 49 with eyes that vainly crave the light, of the empty and useless years of the rest with me intertwined in the new signposts that I currently can’t see just yet, keep the question and the Answer close by. Let’s contribute a verse.

Out of the blackstar comes new creativity and new expressions of light and new ways of looking at the world. A perfect black to put distance between ourselves and our assumptions and then a perfect white to answer the question of whether we still belong in a previous existence.

Last Night on Earth

I’m an only child. I realized rather early in life that being an only child and one of the few kids in our rather small family would have an impact on a number of aspects of my life from playing sports to how I held my shoulders at school.

I was consciously aware of myself rather early in life. I’m not sure if others go through this period of inner awareness and I wonder how that development affects us as we grow into adulthood. I have a vivid memory (for what that’s worth) of spending what felt like days and days on a working hierarchy of my mind. I laid out what I thought were all the potential body systems and thought processes I could have. Everything from “standing up” to “writing in cursive” to “reading a book.” The purpose was (I think) to be able to understand the how as well as the why of me. I wish I still had that notebook from when I was 9 or 10. As a senior in high school I used the topic of “Ego” for my year long thesis project. I explored the Id and Superego with Freud and Jung and Catherine of Siena and Hesse and Lennon and Margery Kempe. I was reading Doyle’s Sherlock stories at the time and the concept of a brain attic immediately appealed to me as I explored these new thought technologies. That was especially true as a shy and socially awkward only child growing up in a culture where I didn’t feel like I “fit in” (what teenager ever does?). I didn’t realize it at the time, but that project and those explorations have profound effects today on my views of spirituality, politics, sex, relationships, and identity.

I left that exploration behind and put the project in a neat jar in the corner of my brain attic. Sometimes, I’m tempted to go open the pithos but I worry that it will only unleash more turmoil and I’ll close the lid before elpis has a chance to escape. Other times, I meander past it and know that I should just break it and send to the trash fire where other items taking up space go.

I look at my 9 year old now, and marvel at how much she is rapidly changing but also wish I could tell her even more blatantly that it’s ok to explore the inner self. It’s an amazing journey. I hope she doesn’t put her pithos in the corner to collect neuron dust but keeps up the struggle and joy of inner discovery.

Last night, the person I freely call “my brother” messaged me a video at 2 AM from a bar where one of our favorite songs was being covered. I didn’t see the message until this morning, but the thought and intentionality that led to him sending me that at that moment in time and space made me smile. He could have shared that via Facebook or Instagram and tagged me or included me in an @ message in a sort of public shout-out meant to display our affinity for that song or each other. But the private nature of the message was intimate and special and meaningful.

Another one of my great friends that I also call a brother is fond of letter writing still. It’s hipster and chic and trendy to reflect back on lost practices like letter writing, but that doesn’t negate the impact. He’s had major life changes recently. I’ve been meaning to write him a letter with some of the thoughts and items from my brain attic that might give him some additional insights. We’ve exchanged messages and phone calls, but I’ve not taken the time to follow through with intimate sharing via the medium that I know would impact us both the most. Is that because I’m afraid of that pithos in the corner?

This week’s Roderick on the Line podcast covers this notion of sharing and online personas and what we communicate to the public about our own brain-processed visions of the world when we use Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. It’s worth your time to listen.

Connecting with other humans via social media on a broadcast level is comforting to this only child. I don’t have to really let you know who I am or what I’m necessarily seeing or thinking because I can control the message and the filter. I can bend my reality and share it with all of you in a way that helps negate intimacy. You get to see what I self-diagnose as my interesting self, but you aren’t privy to the artifacts and boxes and souvenirs in my brain attic. And that pithos.