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Showing posts from October, 2013

The Invention of Money

Coursera: A Brief History of Humankind  by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
Personal Lecture Notes from Lesson #8: The Direction of History 
(These are personal summaries and paraphrasings of some of the major points of the lectures that I felt to be important. They are not meant to be comprehensive records nor intended to be reproductions of copyright materials. I encourage you to participate in the course for better understanding. All ideas and examples are by Dr. Harari.)
If we see the over-all trend in human history, we can see that it has been heading in the direction of global unification. The prospects of such unification emerge for the first time in the first millennium BC with 3 potentially universal orders:
1) Economic order 2) Political (Imperial) order 3) Religious order
This lecture is about the emergence of the economic order, or the invention of money.
In hunter-gatherer societies and agricultural societies, humans lived in economically self-contained units with some barter exhange …

Nameless Fears

"... you can provide the relief that comes from giving a name to nameless fears."

Abraham Nussbaum, The Pocket Guide to the DSM 5 Diagnostic Exam

The Eyes of Van Gogh

The eyes of Vincent van Gogh: Self Portraits, 1886 - 1889.

Religion Without God: Dworkin on religious atheists, cosmic beauty, religious freedom and immortality

Ronald Dworkin was a professor of law and philosophy at New York University. I happened to read Religion Without God last week, his short, stimulating book, based on his 2011 Einstein lectures, and one which I can relate to in many ways. Dworkin's central task is disengaging the religious attitude from theistic attitude and linking it instead to the domain of objective values, making it possible for atheists to have a religious attitude as well. This is how Dworkin describes the religious atheists:
"The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like and just as profound as those that believers count as religious. They say that though they do not believe in a “personal” god, they nevertheless believe in a “force” in the universe “greater than we are.” They feel an inescapable responsibility to live their lives well, with due respect for the liv…

The Tired Sunsets

"the tired sunsets and the tired
people -
it takes a lifetime to die and
no time at
all."

Charles Bukowski

Art and Life

"Why is art beautiful? Because it's useless. Why is life ugly? Because it's all ends and purposes and intentions."
Fernando PessoaThe Book of Disquiet

Separation

"Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color."

W. S. Merwin, Separation

(via Proustitute)

Understanding Wisdom

"Wisdom is different from intelligence. Intelligence seeks knowledge and seeks to eliminate ambiguity. Wisdom on the other hand, resists automatic thinking, seeks to understand ambiguity better, to grasp the deeper meaning of what is known and to understand the limits of knowledge. (Sternberg). Monika Ardelt is a modern wisdom researcher who has put all of these into a 3 dimensional model of wisdom: cognitive, reflective and affective. The cognitive dimension includes the desire to deeply know and understand things, including the limits of our knowing. The reflective dimension represents the capacity for self-reflection, and the capacity to see things from many perspectives. The affective dimension of wisdom is empathy and compassion. So, a wise person is one who desires to deeply understand things, who is humble and aware of the limitations of knowing, who can see things from many perspectives and avoids black and white thinking, and who radiates compassion. [...]
If no one can…

The Imagists and WCW

In week 3 of Modern & Contemporary American Poetry by Al Filreis, we discuss the poetic movement of Imagism and William Carlos Williams. 
Imagism was the first organized movement in modern American poetry and it advocated the use of sharp, clear language to vividly depict an image, much like a painter or a sculptor. It aimed to render language like a clear glass through which a precise visual image can be conveyed without distortion. Especially, it stressed to use ‘the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word’ and to ‘render particulars exactly’. Here is a brief description, along with principles from Imagist manifesto.
The quintessential imagist poem is Ezra Pound's In a Station of the Metro. He tried to capture a moment he experienced in the underground metro station; the original poem he wrote had 30 lines, which he eventually condensed into a final poem of merely 14 words:
In a Station of the Metro

The apparition       of these faces       in the cr…

Imagined Hierarchies

In  Lesson #7: There is No Justice in History of the course A Brief History of Humankind, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari discusses how imagined realities create hierarchies that are unfair. 
Hierarchies serve an important social function: they make it possible for a person to know how to treat a complete stranger without expending any time and energy that is needed to become personally acquainted.
All societies have imagined hierarchies of some sort, but they are different in different societies. For instance, traditional Hindu society had a hierarchy based on caste system while in modern American society the hierarchy is based on race and wealth. On analysis it turns out that it is mere accidental historical circumstances that underlie why a particular society develops a particular hierarchy. For example, the Indian caste system was created after Central Asians invaded India and divided the society into castes to maintain their own privilege (and convinced everyone that it reflected some kin…