"To be human is to be finite. Because of this, the good life warrants an ongoing struggle to be clear about what’s important, and to seek it with luci"To be human is to be finite. Because of this, the good life warrants an ongoing struggle to be clear about what’s important, and to seek it with lucidity and passion; not be distracted by false ambitions or waylaid by dissipated consciousness.
Distraction is ultimately a question of value. ‘Value’ comes from the Latin valere, meaning ‘be strong’, or ‘be worthy’, ‘be valiant’. To obtain what’s valuable is to acquire power, in the finest sense of the word: capacity, capability, energy and enthusiasm. What’s valuable is what gives us the potency to cultivate the best life we can within the circumstances we’ve inherited or created. It enables independence, freedom from coercion and a check against self-deception and delusion. What’s valuable is what enhances our liberty.
to be diverted isn’t simply to have too many stimuli but to be confused about what to attend to and why. Distraction is the very opposite of emancipation: failing to see what is worthwhile in life and lacking the wherewithal to seek it.
As Heidegger suggested, we often spend our daily lives avoiding existential responsibility: speaking in clichés and entertaining ourselves with ‘idle talk’. We frequently defer to this anonymous ‘they’ instead of living our own lives. Distractions are often our way to elude the existential burden: deciding what we are and what to be.
For many of us, the site of the most frustrating diversions and interruptions is work. The result can be an inability to properly perceive, think and imagine; a dissolution of consciousness, which affects health, peace of mind and close relationships.
We often seek distraction. One reason for this urge is Heidegger’s ‘fallenness’: the preoccupation affords a reprieve from the anxieties of life, which confront us in moments of repose. “We are afraid that when we are alone and quiet’, wrote Nietzsche, ‘something will be whispered into our ear’. This something is our own conscience and awareness; the lingering, nagging realisation that there are realities to be confronted, choices to be made; the knowledge that opportunities are diminishing with our days. The compulsion to seek respite is as ancient as humanity itself, and it stems from our understandable unwillingness to look our own lives squarely in the face.
‘How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life’ wrote Nietzsche in his Untimely Meditations, ‘because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself’. If we lament the speed and fracturing of life, we can also welcome these as a refuge from the burden of the self; from the responsibility to live. In this state, it’s difficult to identify what’s valuable, and almost impossible to seek it with lucidity and determination. The result is diminished opportunity for liberty.
With sufficient presence of mind, we can use work as it uses us. While it takes our hours and energies, it also serves as a redemption for many of our idiosyncrasies and proclivities. Even if we’re drawn to work because of loneliness, guilt or a longing for respect, it can provide a site for the commitment of the unruly psyche to something constructive. It’s a crucible in which our passions are transformed into tangible rewards. Work is not a distraction from our finest aspirations but a way of strengthening and deepening our capacity to achieve them.
Automated technologies have afforded a great many time savings, but they also create an atmosphere of urgency and immediate outputs, instead of patient, engaged attention. They transform the workplace into a site for the harried production of tomorrow’s profit, rather than for today’s professional competency and completion. The pleasure of challenging work for its own sake is deferred and rarely achieved.
We have to work, often for bosses and businesses we don’t hold in high esteem, … we have mouths and mortgages to feed. What this calls for is not desperation or recrimination but judicious compromise – we need to make the best of the limitation the world provides. Sometimes this means working in jobs that are menial or uncreative, but making the best use of our free time as something genuinely free.
We are free when we are authoritatively being ourselves and not deferring to the demands or expectations of someone else. Liberty requires a robust and self-sufficient character. We can’t be free until we’ve cultivated an ‘I’ that can resist the demands of others, one that has its own modus operandi. (To Spinoza,) liberty wasn’t something that other individuals or institutions could provide-it was up to the wise man, and him alone to properly cultivate himself. His ideal of freedom was a life without distraction.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote of the ‘three metamorphoses of the spirit’. The spirit becomes a camel, the camel a lion and the lion a child. In the modern workplace, these three metamorphoses remain a challenge for us all: the endure busywork and its distractions, to fiercely say No to subjugation, and to claim the leisurely freedom of the child.
Henry James’ solitary impulse was perfectly, consolingly human. And his struggles against indifference or flight involved the very same stakes we confront today: the achievement of a tangible, worldly freedom, through enduring sympathetic attention to others.
A distracted mind is a clumsy, fumbling guide. The disappointment this breeds can compel us to flee more zealously, to seek asylum in false consolation, delusion or ubiquitous noise. The opposite of distraction is a life of liberty – one spent not in seeking refuge from ourselves and the world but in sincerely taking up the challenge of existence; of ‘being’ something rather than anything. This endeavour requires an honest, sometimes courageous recognition of what is life-affirming or inspiring, and the vigilance to safeguard this vision from corruption or misunderstanding. An undistracted life requires gratitude, not to a patron or a saviour but for the simple fact of existence itself. If we cannot choose our birth, or vault the impermeable barriers of place and time, we can still warm to the existential endeavour; we can smile at the opportunity to live, instead of flinching or closing our eyes. Of course this will entail pain and loss, sacrifice and compromise. And there will be time for games and idleness. But at its most profound, this is a simple primal “Yes” to the attempt, the aspiration, the lurch towards freedom. To seek emancipation from distraction is to accept this ambivalent liberty – an unspoken, unrepentant “Thank you” for the adventure of being. " ...more
When I picked up this book, I thought I'd be totally traumatized by it (who doesn't know a many-body problem turns you into a many-problem body? raiseWhen I picked up this book, I thought I'd be totally traumatized by it (who doesn't know a many-body problem turns you into a many-problem body? raise your hands) oh but who could have thought that such a topic can be written in such an intuitive and interesting and funny way like Mattuck's? A nice introduction into Feynman diagram method with lots of clear and witty explanations, funny how he always desperately tries to convince you how awesome Feynman diagrams are by constantly saying things like "oh I know this looks stupid and takes too much effort compared to old methods, but it's actually very cool".
I'm not going to inflict any of that stuff on you but at least, I'm tempted to show you how entertaining a physics book can be: "on second thought, when we realize that it has taken us three pages to do by diagrams what we did directly in lines, there appears to be little cause for celebration. We seem to have built an elephant cannon to shoot a horse-fly. if this commonplace textbook result is regarded as the end product of the elaborate vacuum amplitude approach, we might justifiably conclude that a rocket launcher has been built to fire a spitball. second quantization may sound as useful as a pair of trousers with five legs. Prof Schrieffer has called the spectral density function the policeman who tells you when you are doing something wrong in a calculation with propagators. a glance at the literature reveals almost more policemen than propagators, so it is worth while at least learning to recognize the uniform." ...more
This book tells a story of an American mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, who got lost in his attempt to climb the second tallest mountain in the world andThis book tells a story of an American mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, who got lost in his attempt to climb the second tallest mountain in the world and was saved by a village called Korphe. Seeing the girls trying to learn by using sticks to draw in the dirt in the cold, he made a promise to come back to Korphe to build a school for them. Greg Mortenson went on to expand his project in many villages in the mountainous areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His philosophy can be summarized by a single sentence: "You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won't change.” This is a very simple and important truth that Greg has helped to promote through his work better than many others.
Recently, some doubts have been raised about the way Greg Mortenson runs his charity, how much he personally benefits from it and how much actually goes into building *useful* schools in Pakistan. Given that the issue hasn’t been settled, I won’t comment on this. However, I don’t think we can dismiss the good he’s done to that part of the world and the truth and value of his cause. Mortenson is probably one of the most effective promoters of the importance of education and literacy for girls worldwide. This book has done a good job at exposing how futile it is to combat terrorism by violence, instead of addressing the grass root problem of poverty and lack of education.
Despite my respect for the man and his work, the book is very shabbily written and contains far too many irrelevant silly facts readers don’t care about. It is also really odd in the way that it’s co-written by Greg Mortenson but it describes him in a third person narrative. In the book he is elevated to almost a saint, who sacrifices much of his personal life and money for the cause. Actually the way Greg Mortenson is depicted in the book, almost too perfect to be human, kind of annoys me and makes me skeptical of its authenticity/objectivity even before I read about his fraud scandals. But if his book has really helped raising millions that actually go into helping these people, who cares if it’s from a badly-written book? ...more
Krishner reminds me of my much-detested lab reports that contain about 10 pages of first-rate data and graphs that look like entangled spaghetti and 1Krishner reminds me of my much-detested lab reports that contain about 10 pages of first-rate data and graphs that look like entangled spaghetti and 10 lines of extremely theoretically rigorous analysis. And like human beings who love to think they’re the center of the universe, Krishner loves to think he’s the center of this book. One way or another, he’d wander off track and start rambling about himself or his group. I don’t care how you got there, i don’t care you went to observatory A to see B in group C working on project D at university E and then you presented it in conference F before G,H,I and your PhD student K improved it. I really don’t care, just tell me exactly how you did it, what result you got, interpret it and explain the theories for me. But he doesn’t do it, damn. He loves talking about all the trivialities and then forgets what he was talking about before so he starts repeating it again and again in an incomprehensible chronological order. I flicked through the last 50 pages, not seeing any data and already bored out of my skull, I gave up. At least, now I’ve learnt how I feel towards my teachers who mark my lab reports. Genuine sympathy. ...more
Oh I'm so annoyed by Lederman that I must trash this book before letting it quietly sneak in my book shelf. Ok, so firstly, I was deceived by the pretOh I'm so annoyed by Lederman that I must trash this book before letting it quietly sneak in my book shelf. Ok, so firstly, I was deceived by the pretty cover (ok, I do judge books by their covers) and secondly, Amazon says Lederman's "the most engaging physicist since the much-missed Feynman." Comparing Lederman with Feynman in terms of wit and idiosyncrasy? Rubbish. Lederman wrote this book as if he really didn't care about what he was writing (sort of like the person writing this review). My expectation value of the quality of the book fluctuated in the first 100 pages, then exponentially decayed in the next 100, and where are we? ,Is light a particle or a wave? (ugh), then it dropped down to negative infinity. he jumps from one topic to the next, struggling to find (and often comes up with stupid) analogies for simple principles like conservation of momentum, energy. And then chucks in random stories about some scientific giants who have little to do with the story flow. The entropy of the book follows closely with the second law of thermodynamics: only goes up. or maybe Lederman wants to use the incomprehensible structure of the book to demonstrate the state of nuclear physics before Gell-Mann: messy, random, and basically no one knows what the heck is going on. and i bet he must crack his brain too hard to be funny. But hah, he manages to make me laugh once when he talks about the husband-wife paradox, when the wife comes back on a spaceship: "when they meet upon her return, indeed he has aged 20 years, and she two weeks. Like wine, however, this did not dampen the enthusiasm, even though it slightly diminished the performance". But that's not very physicsy is it? honestly, i felt like i wasted time reading the first 200 pages without really learning anything new, and bam when it hits the mostprofound concept of the book, gauge symmetry and SUSY, Lederman seems to just drop dead, jumbling words in a few pages and moved on to a new (but boring) topic. this book stands as empirical evidence that great scientists can write absolutely whacky books....more