Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's Your Road

It's your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.    
  ~ Buddha

Oliver Sacks' Ted Talk on the Anniversary of His Passing

A Year Without Oliver Sacks

By Orrin Devinsky , August 18, 2016

A year ago, I lost my best friend, Oliver Sacks. For many years, each week, Oliver and I would cruise north on the West Side bike path at sunrise. Alone, our bicycles a few inches apart, we spoke about everything and anything, but mostly about interesting patients, natural history, and food. His voice was soft, and I struggled to hear his words. But his volume and pedalling cadence always accelerated when the massive TRUMP PLACE buildings appeared to our right. He detested the giant protuberances that unpleasantly punctuated the view from our bike seats, and often cursed them.

Instead, he looked forward to passing by the Seventy-ninth Street Boat Basin, which reminded him of his City Island days. There, he had a housekeeper who, once a week, would make a beef stew for him and divide it into seven daily portions. One day, when the portions began to decline in size, Oliver asked, “Did the price of beef go up? I will give you more.” His housekeeper sheepishly admitted to pilfering some stew; she could not afford it for herself. “Then I will give you money for eight pounds instead of four, and you keep half.”

We would climb the small hill into Riverside Park’s Ninety-first Street garden for a water stop, and Oliver would become absorbed by a crocus, columbine, hyacinth, or tulip. A stray dandelion once launched a discourse on their unfair label as weeds, the potential diuretic effect of their leaves, their definite edibility (he popped it in his mouth, stem and all), the plant’s name (the coarsely toothed leaves resembled lions’ teeth, leading the French to call it dent de lion), and the paradoxical fecundity of these asexual plants. Almost every living eukaryote—organisms with complex cells, from algae and fungi to plants and animals—reproduces sexually, at least some of the time. But certain dandelion species only reproduce asexually. Oliver predicted their “imminent” extinction, at least in geological time, since “only bdelloid rotifers survived tens of million of years living the sexless life.” It was one of the rare times I had something to add. John Maynard Smith, I told him, considered the bdelloid’s successful asexuality “an evolutionary scandal.”

“Very good,” Oliver agreed, with his broad, mischievous smile.

Further north, we came upon the gorgeous wilderness above 140th Street, where a native countryside emerged and we imagined the island before man. “Mastodons roamed Manhattan once,” he reminisced, as if he had seen them as a boy—and then the George Washington Bridge came into sight. Reality returned and we headed home.

Oliver loved movement. He said his best conversations with Robin Williams were on Lake Tahoe, as he swam the backstroke while Robin kayaked alongside. Their eyes never met, but the words flowed. The comfortable silence that friends share rarely lasted long on our bike rides, as Oliver unfurled precious facts and anecdotes. Eating fireflies, he told me, could be lethal, on account of a toxin; although the only confirmed deaths were in lizards, he made me promise never to eat more than two.

As a young boy, Charles Darwin’s son Leonard earnestly asked a friend, “Where does your father do his barnacles?,” thinking that all fathers spent their days peering at barnacles under a microscope. This anecdote delighted Oliver beyond words, partly for the comedy, but mainly because he understood why Darwin would spend eight years with Cirripedia; Oliver was equally obsessed with invertebrates. When he learned how intelligent octopuses were, he gave up eating them, and led others, like me, to do the same. Oliver had little appetite for the political arena and never cast a ballot in an American election. He voted with his pen and his palate.

Oliver’s greatest gift was sensitivity—seeing, feeling, and sketching what the rest of us had never even noticed. I referred many patients to Oliver. He spent two, three, or more hours on the initial visit. Some did not know “who he was,” but, after their consultation, all knew how special he was, all wanted more. His notes overflowed with nuances of their lives; he captured their voices and gained tender and brilliant insights that had escaped me during a decade of care.

He would have been crushed by the rise of Donald Trump and the electoral success of Brexit. Intolerance and fear-mongering, he knew, are rudders that steer societies in dangerous directions. Oliver knew life from the other side: a gay man in a straight society; a doctor who cared for people, not patients; a finder of strength among the infirm. His moral compass pointed to tolerance and kindness. Nearly a decade ago, departing the Havana airport after a swim trip, he was asked if he might donate some clothing for those in need. He told me that he handed over his entire suitcase, and left with his satchel of books, a journal, a magnifying glass, and a few odds and ends, because someone probably needed the rest of his things more than he did.

As he did in Havana, Oliver left us everything he had to give, a treasure of lessons. Care and have empathy for those who are different or less fortunate. Have fun and love often. Find wonder and beauty. Know gratitude.

Orrin Devinsky is the director of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.

A Year Without Oliver Sacks

Monday, August 29, 2016

The 9 Environments that Make Up Your Life

By Srinivas Rao

    Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch is an environment. And those environments are either adding energy or draining energy. — Jim Bunch

The diagram above is from Jim Bunch’s company, The Ultimate Game of Life I was initially introduced to the idea that our life is made up of environments in a conversation I had with Jim on the Unmistakable Creative about designing environments for optimal performance and creativity. When you view everything, not just your physical space, but the people you talk to, the information you consume, the clothes you wear, and the food you eat as environments, you develop both a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to the impact of those environments. You become ruthless about upgrading the quality of those environments.


When most of us think of environments, the first thing we think of is our physical environment. This includes the spaces we live or work in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear and even the devices we use.

Shortly after I learned about the concept of environments from Jim Bunch, I stumbled upon Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What appears on the surface to be a book about getting organized is really a book about upgrading the environments in your life by making space for new things. Marie Kondo’s clients have lost weight, earned more money, etc, etc. Her simple filter for whether or not something should be kept was “does this item spark joy?”

My first stop in tidying up my own life was my bookshelf.
Over the years, I had purchased and received many books. Most of the books that didn’t spark joy were about social media marketing. I got rid of them. Most of the books that were left were published by Penguin. A few days later my editor at Penguin contacted me about writing a book with them. It might just be a bizarre coincidence, but after that, I was sold on the impact of environments on my life.

Another thing I learned from Jim was the power of keeping your car immaculate. Let’s face it. When you sit down in a car that’s clean, you just feel better about everything. That was the end of receipts, wrappers, etc. This isn’t hard to implement. Anytime you stop at a gas station, toss whatever should be trashed.

Just think about how annoying it is when you crack your iPhone screen and use it like that for days. In the work that Jim Bunch does, this is referred to as a toleration. And tolerations drain energy from our physical environment. The value of a nice notebook or a new Macbook isn’t just in the fact that you have something that looks nice. It literally impacts how you feel.

    Make the wallpaper on your laptop a vision board
    Use a tool like HiddenMe to have a clear desktop

The upgrade of my wardrobe has been kind of a work in progress until I heard some things that really convinced me of the virtues of dressing better.

My friend Mike Harrington said “It’s probably best to dress better when you get on a flight. You never know who you’re going to meet at the airport.

In his book The Last Safe Investment, which also is about environments Michael Ellsberg says the following

    When you look better, you feel better about yourself. Feeling better about yourself gives you more confidence, which in turn makes you appear attractive…

    In many tech companies in Silicon Valley, for example, there is casual anything goes attitude toward style and self-presentation at work. However, just because you can show up to work unshaven in a hoodie and shorts doesn’t mean you should. We all have a superficial side, and to imagine that the people who have influence over your career (including your customers, if you’re in business), are not making superficial judgments about you, based on your appearance, is to assume too much.

Last but not least my business partner Brian Koehn talked about how many items in our lives create subconscious associations to our past. I tossed out shirts, shoes, and jeans from a particularly dark chapter of my life and ordered new ones. This doesn’t just apply to clothes.

2. Body

The next environment that we deal with is our physical body. I’m not a nutrition or fitness expert, but if you spend a few straight days going to the gym, you’ll be convinced of the virtues of exercise. Add eating well into that and you’ll be amazed what happens to your productivity and creativity.

For additional information on upgrading this environment, check out any of the following websites.

    Strong Inside Out- A Blog by Amy Clover
    Nerd Fitness- An Amazing Community Founded by Steve Kamb


Our memetic environments consist of the books we read, the podcasts we listen to, the websites we visit, and all of the information we consume. This is why I say you have to treat the information that you consume like the food you eat.

The reason I don’t engage with commenters who hate my work is because doing so would be toxic to my memetic environment. This is also a pattern I’ve observed in other prolific creators. The same energy spent debating somebody who hates my work could be put into creating something for a person who loves it.


I’m not religious. My main issue with religion is that is time-consuming, especially if you’re Indian. If you’ve been to an Indian wedding you know this. And if you’re not Indian but were invited, you should know the ceremony was shortened because of your presence. Keep attending your Indian friends’ weddings.

That being said I am spiritual. I do believe that there is some greater force than ourselves. And I do believe there is value in a strong spiritual environment. My spiritual practice centers around surfing. The ocean is my church.

After years of trying, I finally developed a meditation habit. One of my mentors used to be incredibly reactive. In the time I’ve know him, I’ve witnessed an incredible ability to remain calm in high stakes situations. He attributes this to a daily meditation practice.

Whatever that is for you, whether it’s in the form of religion or philosophy, I think that’s a good thing.A spiritual environment that’s in good condition keeps us grounded.


Your financial environment is exactly what you might imagine it to be. Your bank accounts, your investments, etc. etc. Even though I spend quite a bit of time thinking about the financial environment in my life, I’m not qualified to tell you how to upgrade yours. Below I’ve listed resources that I’ve been exposed to from my friends.

    The Last Safe Investment by Michael Ellsberg
    Winning the Game of Money by John Assaraf
    The Secret Language of Money by David Krueger

Often this is the environment we want to improve the most. If there’s one thing Jim Bunch taught me it was to work on the environments that you could immediately make upgrades to.


    The people you surround yourself with can either be the rise or fall of your career — Dr. Dre

The people that we spend our time with, our friends, our relatives, and our co-workers have a profound impact on our lives.

    If they’re toxic and constantly negative, they will hold us back.
    If they’re resentful, envious, or jealous they will hold us back
    If they’re condescending, they will hold us back

I have friends who unfollow anybody who is constantly negative on social media. In some cases, they go so far as to banish them completely. Be the Soup Nazi of positive energy when it comes to your relationships.

Sometimes these people are the ones closest to us. So we can’t exactly cut them off with no explanation. Fortunately, there’s a way to deal with them. In her book Broadcasting Happiness, Michelle Gielan dedicates an entire chapter to this. One example is what she describes as a strategic retreat

    A retreat may be cowardly, but a strategic retreat is courageous and can help creation conditions for a better relationship later on. Strategic retreats have long been used to win battles. In this sense, can use it to defeat the ill effects of someone else’s toxicity. A strategic retreat allows you the chance to regroup and reenter the fray stronger than ever. — Michelle Gielan

When you remove toxic people from your life, you’ll be amazed at how much energy you gain. It’s like lifting the weight of the world off your shoulders.

As my friend Benjamin P. Hardy says “Leaving the safety and comfort of your previous shell can be terrifying. But holding on to behaviors, beliefs, and even relationships that no longer make sense halts your personal evolution.”

7. Network

I view my network as an extension of the relationship environment. Every single day we are immersed in various environments known as networks, communities, and tribes.

    Medium is a network of writers and readers
    Facebook is a network
    Twitter is a network
    You and your co-workers are a network

All of the networks you participate in online are a digital environment. With the internet, we have more ability than any other time in history to shape our network. Make a list of all the interesting and influential people you’d like to learn from and follow them on twitter. You’ll learn what they’re working on, who they’re connected to, and what books they’re reading.

For example, I followed Chris Sacca after his appearance on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Then he retweeted the reading list of John Collison at Stripe. As a result I’ve been exposed to the ideas of two smart people without knowing them personally.

8. Nature

Nature is an environment we interact and deal with on a daily basis. When we spend our days going to work when it’s still dark, breathing recycled air, and then leaving when it’s dark, it’s terrible for us. Immersing yourself in nature in some way or another on a daily basis is essential for your physical, mental and emotional health.

Consider taking up an outdoor hobby like surfing, snowboarding or hiking. It beats the hell out of being someone who stays out drinking until 2am. I can tell you that from experience.

When you have meetings, consider doing a walking meeting. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and many others conduct walking meetings. In his post about why successful people spend 10 hours a week just thinking Brian Scudamore even talked about walking in nature.

If you live in a location where the weather doesn’t permit you to be outside too much, consider taking a short walk. Just get up from your desk and breath some fresh air.

9. Self

The self environment is your personality, your strengths, your weakness and everything that makes up who you are as a person. There are several ways that you can begin to make upgrades of your self environment.

    See a therapist: For a long time, I thought therapy was only for crazy people. But the more I heard people like Jerry Colonna, friends of mine and several others talk about it, the more convinced I was of its value.
    Work with a coach: If you haven’t seen the show Billions I can’t recommend it enough. At first, I thought it was weird that a hedge fund would have a performance psychologist on their staff. Then my business partner Brian said, “when you’re dealing with that much money just think of the difference a two percent improvement in performance could make.”

There are also a number of different personality assessments that you can take:

    The Behavioral Resource Group
    Strengths Finder

All The Environments are Interrelated

    You can’t upgrade one environment and not it have it affect the others. If you upgrade one environment it will send a ripple through all the others. — Jim Bunch

When you read through all of those environments above two things will probably run through your mind

    I need to upgrade every environment now
    Holy shit that’s a lot to digest

Much like changing habits, your best bet is to attempt this one at a time.

For example, if you start exercising regular, and lose weight, you start to feel better, and your self environment gets upgraded because of the body environment upgrade. In their book The Last Safe Investment Michael Ellsberg and Bryan Franklin make a similar argument

    Take any component of the system, and by improving it, you positively impact all of the other components.

A few months ago I bought a pair of Beats Headphones for 99 bucks. On the surface what seemed like conspicuous consumption was one of the best investments I’ve made in my productivity. Given that I am a writer who works from coffee shops on occasions, they were more of an investment than an impulse purchase.

There are many things that might appear to be conspicuous consumption but might actually be an investment in your success.

    When there is a premium on peak performance, such as toward the end of an important project; right before a big meeting, pitch or public talk; or in the midst of a big deadline; investing in massage, private yoga sessions, acupuncture, or a trip to the spa can yield very large systemic returns. These are what we would call high-leverage periods of time, where performance increases of 5 to 10 percent can yield a huge difference in the outcome of your earnings or performance that year.- Michael Ellsberg

As Tim Ferriss said in this animated short below, what makes someone truly wealth is not just money, but holistically having the life you want.
Listen to Jim Bunch on the Unmistakable Creative

I’ll leave you with these final words that Jim shared with me.

    If you get fanatical about designing environments, the environments will do the work for you. You no longer have to depend on willpower.

The 9 Environments that Make Up Your Life

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Evening Walk

Book Review

A Tale of Two Cities + Great Expectations: 2 Unabridged ClassicsA Tale of Two Cities + Great Expectations: 2 Unabridged Classics by Charles Dickens

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A dear friend mentioned A Tale of Two Cities is her boyfriend's favorite book but she was having a hard time getting through it and asked if I'd read it. I sort of overwhelmed her with my passionate, enthusiastic response that, yes, a couple of times, it's one of my favorites.

After reassuring her that since we're not in school using SparkNotes isn't cheating, we started reading the plot summary there, discussing what she'd read so far and what I remembered. I downloaded the e-version and dug out my hardback edition to read at home. We going to have a Tale of Two Cities book club every Saturday when we work together.


the supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body of the same or a different species.

"A mere beast of the chase flying from hunters, he was still in his metempsychosis no other than the same Monseigneur, the preparation of whose chocolate for whose lips had once occupied three strong men besides the cook in question."

I loved this book even more upon a second reading to the point that I'm quite sad it's done. I also really enjoyed reading SparkNotes analysis as I went along. Their pointing out plot devices, symbolisms, and writing techniques gave me more appreciation for the author's art. Even though almost all of the characters are archetypes in this plot driven story, in Dickens' hands, that have crafted so many excellent character driven tales, they have three dimensions and seem like people you know.

" Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind."

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Evening Walk

Walked by this in my neighborhood last night. Gee, that's not creepy at all!

Viva Mariachi!

Sunday night's Symphony Bayside Summer Nights featured mariachi music and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Man are those guys good! Incredible virtuoso playing and singing with exciting rhythms and melodies. And the entire audience knew the music and had a great time. A great night!

Monday, August 22, 2016




the supposed transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body of the same or a different species.

"A mere beast of the chase flying from hunters, he was still in his metempsychosis no other than the same Monseigneur, the preparation of whose chocolate for whose lips had once occupied three strong men besides the cook in question." - Charles Dickens  A Tale of Two Cities

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

Rainy Day

Happy birthday to the French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte.

Rationalization is Stronger than Observation

The Benjamin Franklin Effect

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

By Maria Popova

“We are what we pretend to be,” Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote, “so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” But given how much our minds mislead us, what if we don’t realize when we’re pretending — who are we then? That’s precisely what David McRaney explores in You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself (public library) — a “book about self-delusion, but also a celebration of it,” a fascinating and pleasantly uncomfortable-making look at why “self-delusion is as much a part of the human condition as fingers and toes,” and the follow-up to McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart, one of the best psychology books of 2011. McRaney, with his signature fusion of intelligent irreverence and irreverent intelligence, writes in the introduction:

    "The human mind is obviously vaster and more powerful than any other animal mind, and that’s something people throughout all human history couldn’t help but notice. You probably considered this the last time you visited the zoo or watched a dog battle its own hind legs. Your kind seems the absolute pinnacle of what evolution can produce, maybe even the apex and final beautiful result of the universe unfolding itself. It is a delectable idea to entertain. Even before we had roller skates and Salvador Dalí, it was a conviction in which great thinkers liked to wallow. Of course, as soon as you settle into that thought, you’ll accidentally send an e-mail to your boss meant for your proctologist, or you’ll read a news story about how hot dog-stuffed pizza is now the most popular food in the country. It’s always true that whenever you look at the human condition and get a case of the smugs, a nice heaping helping of ridiculousness plops in your lap and remedies the matter."

This tendency of ours is known as “naïve realism” — the assertion that we see the world as it actually is and our impression of it is an objective, accurate representation of “reality” — a concept that comes from ancient philosophy and has since been amply debunked by modern science. McRaney writes:

    "The last one hundred years of research suggest that you, and everyone else, still believe in a form of naïve realism. You still believe that although your inputs may not be perfect, once you get to thinking and feeling, those thoughts and feelings are reliable and predictable. We now know that there is no way you can ever know an “objective” reality, and we know that you can never know how much of subjective reality is a fabrication, because you never experience anything other than the output of your mind. Everything that’s ever happened to you has happened inside your skull."

In sum, we are excellent at deluding ourselves, and terrible in recognizing when our own perceptions, attitudes, impressions, and opinions about the external world are altered from within. And one of the most remarkable of manifestations of this is the Benjamin Franklin Effect, which McRaney examines in the third chapter. The self-delusion in question is that we do nice things to people we like and bad things to those we dislike. But what the psychology behind the effect reveals is quite the opposite, a reverse-engineering of attitudes that takes place as we grow to like people for whom we do nice things and dislike those to whom we are unkind.

This curious effect is named after a specific incident early in the Founding Father’s political career. Franklin, born one of seventeen children to poor parents, entered this world — despite his parents’ and society’s priorities in his favor relative to his siblings — with very low odds of becoming an educated scientist, gentleman, scholar, entrepreneur, and, perhaps most of all, a man of significant political power. To compensate for his unfavorable givens, he quickly learned formidable people skills and became “a master of the game of personal politics.” McRaney writes:

    "Like many people full of drive and intelligence born into a low station, Franklin developed strong people skills and social powers. All else denied, the analytical mind will pick apart behavior, and Franklin became adroit at human relations. From an early age, he was a talker and a schemer, a man capable of guile, cunning, and persuasive charm. He stockpiled a cache of secret weapons, one of which was the Benjamin Franklin effect, a tool as useful today as it was in the 1730s and still just as counterintuitive."


    "At age twenty-one, he formed a “club of mutual improvement” called the Junto. It was a grand scheme to gobble up knowledge. He invited working-class polymaths like him to have the chance to pool together their books and trade thoughts and knowledge of the world on a regular basis. They wrote and recited essays, held debates, and devised ways to acquire currency. Franklin used the Junto as a private consulting firm, a think tank, and he bounced ideas off the other members so he could write and print better pamphlets. Franklin eventually founded the first subscription library in America, writing that it would make “the common tradesman and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries,” not to mention give him access to whatever books he wanted to buy."

This is where his eponymous effect comes into play: When Franklin ran for his second term as a clerk, a peer whose name he never mentions in his autobiography delivered a long election speech censuring Franklin and tarnishing his reputation. Although Franklin won, he was furious with his opponent and, observing that this was “a gentleman of fortune and education” who might one day come to hold great power in government, rather concerned about future frictions with him.

The troll had to be tamed, and tamed shrewdly. McRaney writes:

    "Franklin set out to turn his hater into a fan, but he wanted to do it without “paying any servile respect to him.” Franklin’s reputation as a book collector and library founder gave him a standing as a man of discerning literary tastes, so Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a specific selection from his library, one that was a “very scarce and curious book.” The rival, flattered, sent it right away. Franklin sent it back a week later with a thank-you note. Mission accomplished. The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin and spoke to him in person for the first time. Franklin said the man “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”

Instant pause-giver: In what universe does inducing an opponent to do you a favor magically turn him into a supporter? This, it turns out, shares a psychological basis with the reason why the art of asking is the art of cultivating community — and, McRaney explains, it has a lot to do with the psychology of attitudes, those clusters of convictions about and emotional impressions of a person or a situation:

    For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.

Indeed, this is what Gandhi touched on when he observed that our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our character, our character becomes our destiny, and it’s also the foundation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which aims to change how we think by first changing what we do, until we internalize a set of beliefs about how those actions define who we are. McRaney explains how this works:

    "At the lowest level, behavior-into-attitude conversion begins with impression management theory, which says you present to your peers the person you wish to be. You engage in something economists call signaling by buying and displaying to your peers the sorts of things that give you social capital… Whatever are the easiest-to-obtain, loudest forms of the ideals you aspire to portray become the things you own, such as bumper stickers signaling to the world you are in one group and not another. These things then influence you to become the sort of person who owns them."


    "Anxiety over being ostracized, over being an outsider, has driven the behavior of billions for millions of years. Impression management theory says you are always thinking about how you appear to others, even when there are no others around. In the absence of onlookers, deep in your mind a mirror reflects back that which you have done, and when you see a person who has behaved in a way that could get you booted from your in-group, the anxiety drives you to seek a realignment."

This brings us to the chicken-or-the-egg question of whether the belief or the display came first. According to self-perception theory, we are both observers and narrators of our own experience — we see ourselves do something and, unable to pin down our motive, we try to make sense of it by constructing a plausible story. We then form beliefs about ourselves based on observing our actions, as narrated by that story, which of course is based on our existing beliefs in the first place. This is what happened to Franklin’s nemesis: He observed himself performing an act of kindness toward Franklin, which he explained to himself by constructing the most plausible story — that he did so willfully, because he liked Franklin after all.

This, as we’ve previously seen in the way we rationalize our dishonesty, is an example of cognitive dissonance, a mental affliction that befalls us all as we struggle to reconcile conflicting ideas about ourselves, others, or a situation. McRaney points to the empirical evidence:

    "You can see the proof in an MRI scan of someone presented with political opinions that conflict with her own. The brain scans of a person shown statements that oppose her political stance show that the highest areas of the cortex, the portions responsible for providing rational thought, get less blood until another statement is presented that confirms her beliefs. Your brain literally begins to shut down when you feel your ideology is threatened."

One of the most vivid examples of this process in action comes from a Stanford study:

    Students … signed up for a two-hour experiment called “Measures of Performance” as a requirement to pass a class. Researchers divided them into two groups. One was told they would receive $1 (about $8 in today’s money). The other group was told they would receive $20 (about $150 in today’s money). The scientists then explained that the students would be helping improve the research department by evaluating a new experiment. They were then led into a room where they had to use one hand to place wooden spools into a tray and remove them over and over again. A half hour later, the task changed to turning square pegs clockwise on a flat board one-quarter spin at a time for half an hour. All the while, an experimenter watched and scribbled. It was one hour of torturous tedium, with a guy watching and taking notes. After the hour was up, the researcher asked the student if he could do the school a favor on his way out by telling the next student scheduled to perform the tasks, who was waiting outside, that the experiment was fun and interesting. Finally, after lying, people in both groups — one with one dollar in their pocket and one with twenty dollars — filled out a survey in which they were asked their true feelings about the study.

Something extraordinary and baffling had happened: The students who were paid $20 lied to their peers but reported in the survey, as expected, that they’d just endured two hours of mind-numbing tedium. But those who were only paid a dollar completely internalized the lie, reporting even in the survey that they found the task stimulating. The first group, the researchers concluded, were able to justify both the tedium and the lie with the dollar amount of their compensation, but the second group, having been paid hardly anything, had no external justification and instead had to assuage their mental unease by convincing themselves that it was all inherently worth it. McRaney extends the insight to the broader question of volunteerism:

    "This is why volunteering feels good and unpaid interns work so hard. Without an obvious outside reward you create an internal one. That’s the cycle of cognitive dissonance; a painful confusion about who you are gets resolved by seeing the world in a more satisfying way."

This dynamic plays out in reverse as well — as the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, being induced to perform unkind behaviors makes us develop unkind attitudes. It all brings us back to Franklin’s foe-turned-friend:

    "When you feel anxiety over your actions, you will seek to lower the anxiety by creating a fantasy world in which your anxiety can’t exist, and then you come to believe the fantasy is reality, just as Benjamin Franklin’s rival did. He couldn’t possibly have lent a rare book to a guy he didn’t like, so he must actually like him. Problem solved."


    "The Benjamin Franklin effect is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted. If you are like most people, you have high self-esteem and tend to believe you are above average in just about every way. It keeps you going, keeps your head above water, so when the source of your own behavior is mysterious you will confabulate a story that paints you in a positive light. If you are on the other end of the self-esteem spectrum and tend to see yourself as undeserving and unworthy [and] will rewrite nebulous behavior as the result of attitudes consistent with the persona of an incompetent person, deviant, or whatever flavor of loser you believe yourself to be. Successes will make you uncomfortable, so you will dismiss them as flukes. If people are nice to you, you will assume they have ulterior motives or are mistaken. Whether you love or hate your persona, you protect the self with which you’ve become comfortable. When you observe your own behavior, or feel the gaze of an outsider, you manipulate the facts so they match your expectations."

Indeed, Franklin noted in his autobiography: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” McRaney leaves us with some grounding advice:

    "Pay attention to when the cart is getting before the horse. Notice when a painful initiation leads to irrational devotion, or when unsatisfying jobs start to seem worthwhile. Remind yourself pledges and promises have power, as do uniforms and parades. Remember in the absence of extrinsic rewards you will seek out or create intrinsic ones. Take into account [that] the higher the price you pay for your decisions the more you value them. See that ambivalence becomes certainty with time. Realize that lukewarm feelings become stronger once you commit to a group, club, or product. Be wary of the roles you play and the acts you put on, because you tend to fulfill the labels you accept. Above all, remember the more harm you cause, the more hate you feel. The more kindness you express, the more you come to love those you help."

So Milton Glaser was right after all when he observed, “If you perceive the universe as being a universe of abundance, then it will be. If you think of the universe as one of scarcity, then it will be.”

You Are Now Less Dumb is excellent in its entirety, exploring such facets of our self-delusion as why we see patterns where there aren’t any, how we often confuse the origin of our emotional states, and more. Complement it with its prequel, then treat yourself to McRaney’s excellent podcast.

The Benjamin Franklin Effect


Best Spiritual Teachers

If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding. ~ Dalai Lama

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Rich Heart

" Without a rich heart, wealth is an ugly beggar. "
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book Review

My Mortal EnemyMy Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My first venture into reading Willa Cather and it was excellent. Her writing, though seemingly spare, paints a complete three dimensional portrait of the people, place, and time. The characters are interesting and real. And something about her writing kept the pages turning. A couple of friends just finished My Antonia! I'm looking forward to reading more.

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Notes from Underground

Complete Works of Fyodor DostoyevskyComplete Works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded this ebook to read Notes From Underground on my phone when away from home while reading it in the anthology Sixteen Short Novels. There's little to excite any sympathy or empathy, but as perhaps the first existential novel it's intellectually interesting as an example of what a novel can do and for it's influence on writers that came after. I used Sparknotes liberally to help me weed through the narrators ramblings and make sense of what the author is trying to say.

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Ward No. 6

Anton Chekhov: The Collected Novellas and Short Stories in Multiple Translations (Unabridged): Over 200 Stories From the Renowned Russian Playwright and ... No. 6 , The Lady with the Dog and OthersAnton Chekhov: The Collected Novellas and Short Stories in Multiple Translations (Unabridged): Over 200 Stories From the Renowned Russian Playwright and ... No. 6 , The Lady with the Dog and Others by Anton Chekhov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading the large volume Sixteen Short Novels, when I came to Chekhov's Ward No. 6 I downloaded this ebook to read while out and about so I wouldn't have to lug around the thick hardback. At 99 cents for all of his short stories and novellas its ridiculously cheap. I love holding and reading a good hardback, but I do enjoy highlighting passages that especially stand out and looking up references and words I'm unfamiliar with, turning every ebook into the ultimate annotated edition.

Though written in and about a very different time and place, Chekhov's characters seem like someone I might meet and enjoy talking to. Ward No. 6 is part of Chekhov's transition from physician and part-time short-story writer to full-time author of plays. A psychological horror story, it paves the way for existential writers Dostoevsky and Camus.

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The Way Appears

Monday, August 15, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Seth MacFarlane

Last night I ushered for the Symphony Bayside Summer Nights for the second time. Seth MacFarlane was the guest soloist. He sang classics from the '30s and '40s, but not the same ones everyone else has done. It was a beautiful night. The other ushers and the patrons were all really nice. I had a great time. I was especially impressed by his ability to sing while through the fireworks. What a great night!

Seek Love

Your task is not to seek love but to find the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

~ Rumi

Rust on the Razor

“If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.” - Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Book Review

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson/Those Extraordinary TwinsThe Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson/Those Extraordinary Twins by Mark Twain

" our illustrious guests be at once elected, by complimentary acclamation, to membership in our ever- glorious organization, the paradise of the free and the perdition of the slave."

(in Christian theology) a state of eternal punishment and damnation into which a sinful and unpenitent person passes after death.
synonyms:damnation, eternal punishment;

A tale of a small town in pre-Civil War Missouri and its European-Americans who love their freedom but see no hypocrisy in treating African-Americans as property. It's full of Twain's light humor, but also has a dark cynism. Difficult to read at times but it's important to know the brutal truth.

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Monday, August 08, 2016


The Cure for the Pain

The cure for the pain is in the pain.

~ Rumi

image: Filippo Rizzi

There are Days...


A Midsummer Night's Concert

Tonight I ushered for the San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights. It was fun and beautiful with the lights of downtown on one side and the sun setting over the bay on the other side and the gorgeous sounds of the Symphony playing Mendelssohn and Holst. Plus, I saw Phil, Scott, and Mary who came to see the concert. A thrilling evening.


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Book Review

Creating Affluence: The A-to-Z Steps to a Richer LifeCreating Affluence: The A-to-Z Steps to a Richer Life by Deepak Chopra

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"...the right response comes...to every situation as it occurs."

Dictionary.com defines affluence as: "abundance of money, property, and other material goods; riches; wealth." But it's also "an abundant supply, as of thoughts or words; a profusion," and "a flowing toward; afflux."

While the title sounds like the worst kind of "think and grow rich" new age schlock, Deepak Chopra takes the idea of wealth beyond a bank account to mean a rich, meaningful life. He points out that even with millions in the bank, if you're worried about every penny that's still poverty. He identifies and defines the different aspects to wealth, abundance, and affluence and how to identify what's already present in our lives and expand from there. A short, sweet read well worth the time.

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