Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Beautiful Passage On The Wish For Immortality By Alan Lightman

This passage is from an essay called "The Temporary Universe" by Alan Lightman which can be found in his wonderful book The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew.

"...In my continual cravings for eternal youth and constancy, I am being sentimental. Perhaps with the proper training of my unruly mind and emotions, I could refrain from wanting things that cannot be. Perhaps I could accept the fact that in a few short years, my atoms will be scattered in wind and soil, my mind and my thoughts gone, my pleasures and joys vanished, my "I-ness" dissolved in an infinite cavern of nothingness. But I cannot accept that fate even though I believe it to be true. I cannot force my mind to go to that dark place. "A man can do what he wants," said Schopenhauer, "but not want what he wants."

"Suppose I ask a different kind of question: If against our wishes and hopes, we are stuck with mortality, does mortality grand a beauty and grandeur all its own? Even though we struggle and howl against the brief flash of our lies, might we find something majestic in that brevity? Could there be a preciousness and value to existence stemming from the very fact of its temporary duration? And I think of the night-blooming cereus, a plant that looks like a leathery weed most of the year. But for one night each summer its flower opens to reveal silky white petals, which encircle yellow lacelike threads, and another whole flower like a tiny sea anemone within the outer flower. By morning the flower has shriveled. One night of the year, as delicate and fleeting as a life in the universe."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

John Updike on "What Is Creativity?"

In the Foreward of Picked-Up Pieces, John Updike shares an answer he once gave to the question, "What Is Creativity?" I loved his response so much, that I wanted to share it here.

"For one thing, creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity; the ditchdigger, dentist, and artist go about their tasks in much the same way, and any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better. Out of my own slim experience, I would venture the opinion that the artistic impulse is a mix, in varying proportions, of childhood habits of fantasizing brought on by not necessarily unhappy periods of solitude; a certain hard wish to perpetuate and propagate the self; a craftsmanly affection for the materials and process; a perhaps superstitious receptivity to the moods of wonder; and a not-often-enough-mentioned ability, within the microcosm of the art, to organize, predict, and preserve."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Before Midnight Clip - Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

I must confess that I was a little disappointed that Before Midnight didn't win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screen Play on Sunday, although I don't doubt that 12 Years a Slave was deserving of it. I haven't seen that film yet so I can't really compare. Anyway, I thought I'd share a clip of Before Midnight, and ask all of you that haven't seen it yet, "What are you waiting for?!" The Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight trilogy is definitely one that I'll be watching over and over again. Such a great concept, great acting, and great writing! It's the perfect mix of light-heartedness and deep thinking. I could go and on and on, but without further ado, here's the clip I promised! 

If you've seen this film, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below! Also, please consider subscribing to my blog via email or following me on Twitter at @KMonterey. Thanks for visiting my blog!

9 Simple Ways To Improve Your Life From "59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot" by Richard Wiseman

Have you heard of the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot? Written by psychologist Richard Wiseman, it offers a variety tips & tricks to improve your life based on fascinating scientific research. Here are 9 of my favorite tips from the book, along with snippets from 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot about why they may work. Some of these may surprise you!

1. To help promote the chances of a successful date, try choosing an activity that gets the heart racing. "The theory is that your date will attribute a racing heart to you rather than to the activity, and so convince themselves that you have that special something." Long-term couples may benefit from going on heart racing dates as well. According to several surveys, "long-term couples who are happy in their relationships are more likely to take part in leisure activities that involve both partners and are relatively unpredictable, exciting, and active rather than passive."

2. Listen to classical music to lower high blood pressure related to stress.
"Sky Chafin at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues at other universities examined which music best reduces blood pressure after a stressful event. Their work involved making people anxious by having  them count down aloud from 2,397 in sets of 13, i.e. 2397, 2384, et cetera. To make matters worse, every thirty seconds the experimenter harassed the participants with negative feedback ("Come on, get a move on') and urged them to speed up. Afterward, some of the participants were left alone to recover in silence, while others were played either classical music, jazz, or pop music. Blood pressure readings revealed that listening to pop or jazz music had the same restorative effect as total silence. In contrast those who had listened to Pachelbel and Vivaldi relaxed much more quickly, and so  their blood pressure dropped back to the normal level in far less time."
3. When naming your child avoid negative initials. "As noted in Quirkology, research by Nicholas Christenfeld and his coworkers at the University of California suggests that a person's initials may become an issue of life or death. After analyzing a huge computerized database containing millions of Californian death certificates, they discovered that men with positive initials (such as A.C.E., H.U.G., and J.O.Y) lived about four and a half years longer than average, whereas those with negative initials (such as P.I.G., B.U.M., and D.I.E) died about three years early. Women with positive initials lived an extra three years, although there was no detrimental effect for those with negative initials."

4. Praise children's effort over their ability. "It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to make children feel good by praising their abilities and talents. However, research shows that such compliments can have a detrimental effect and that it is far better to focus on the children's effort, concentration, and organizational skills."

5. Learn about your five fundamental personality dimensions. Many psychologists now believe that the apparent complexity of human personality is an illusion and that, in reality, people vary on just five fundamental dimensions. These dimensions are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Understanding and recognizing these dimensions in your self and others can allow you gain important insights. There are a variety of questionnaires that psychologists have created to measure people's responses on each of the dimensions. Below are links to a few of them


6. To gain insight into someone's personality try asking about their pets. Wiseman conducted a large-scale online study examining the personality of owners and their pets. The results of the study showed that "Fish owners turned out to be the happiest, dog owners the most fun to be with, cat owners the most dependable and emotionally sensitive, and reptile owners the most independent." In addition Wiseman states,"The findings also revealed significant similarities between the personalities of owners and those of their pet. Interestingly, this similarity increased over time, suggesting that pets may slowly come to adopt their owner's personality or vice versa. For years, owners have insisted that their pets have a unique personality-not only does my research suggest they may be right, but it also reveals that people's pets are a reflection of themselves."

7. If you find yourself driving behind a car with lots of bumper stickers, give them an extra inch or two! I found this advice a bit ironic, because usually I tend to drive closer to cars with bumper stickers so I can read them! However, according to Wiseman this might not be a great idea.
"William Szelemko and colleagues speculated that many people who personalize their car by adding bumper stickers or window stickers may be sending out powerful signals of territoriality, and they were curious to discover if having to share public roads with others could increase the changes of these drivers' experiencing road rage. To investigate, hundreds of participants were asked to report how many bumper and window stickers they had and also to rate their level of aggressive driving. The results revealed that drivers with more stickers admitted to driving more aggressively, including a greater frequency of tailgaiting and ramming."
8. Gain quick insight into whether you to tend to be more right-brained or left-brained. Here's a quick test you can try if you are right handed. "Interlock the fingers of your hands and place one thumb on top of the other. People who place their right thumb on top of their left thumb tend to be left-brain dominant, and are thus more verbal and analytical. Those who place their left thumb on top of their right thumb tend to be right-brain dominant, and excel in visual, creative, and intuitive tasks.

9. Deal with potential liars by asking for an email. According to Wiseman, "people are about 20 percent less likely to lie in an e-mail than in a telephone call, because their words are on record and so are more likely to come back and haunt them."

I hope you enjoyed this article, and learned something new! Did any of these tips surprise you? I'd love to hear your thoughts in comments section below! Please consider subscribing to my blog via email and follow me on Twitter at @KMonterey. Also, if you are interested in learning more great tips from "59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot", I've included the Amazon link below. Among other things, find out why retail therapy doesn't improve your mood and what does, why even thinking about going to the gym can help you stay in in shape, and why putting a pencil between your teeth can boost your mood!

59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman

Other popular books by Richard Wiseman:
The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life
Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there
The Luck Factor: Why Some People Are Luckier Than Others and How You Can Become One of Them

Monday, February 24, 2014

3 Awesome Timelapse Films

I could watch timelapse films for hours! If done well, they can be absolutely mesmerizing. Here are a few of my favorites! Also, if you love watching short films check out http://mustseeshorts.blogspot.com/.

1) Check out this awesome time lapse film of Times Square on New Year's Eve! This film was created by The Timelapse Group and is set to the song "Kings" by Ryan Taubert.

2) Watch this short film for some stunning and beautiful landscape photography of the South Dakota night sky.

Horizons from Randy Halverson on Vimeo.

3) This mesmerizing time lapse film was shot in Dubai over five days and nights.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Some Thoughts Inspired By "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking" by Oliver Burkeman

I just finished reading the book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. In general, I found this book to be very insightful, and would definitely recommend it, especially for those who love the philosophy/psychology genre of literature as much as I do. I agree with author Daniel H. Pink who said, "The Antidote is a gem. Countering a self-help tradition in which 'positive thinking' too often takes the place of actual thinking, Oliver Burkeman returns our attention to several of philosophy's deeper traditions and does so with a light hand and a wry sense of humor. You'll come away from this book enriched-and yes, even a little happier."

That said, here are some of my thoughts on a few of the sections that I found to be the most thought provoking.

Chapter 8, Momento Mori: Death as Way of Life, Burkeman offers some interesting perspectives on the topic of death. This chapter suggests that most of us are extremely terrified at the thought of our own mortality, often to the extent that we choose to live in denial of it all together. I'm not sure that I agree with that. I don't think it's so much that we are in denial of the fact that we'll eventually die, as that we simply choose not focus on it. In fact, one could argue that it's because we accept our final fate so completely, that we are capable of not thinking much about it, for the things we tend to focus on, are the things we hope to change in the future, or wish we had changed in the past, not the things that have always been outside of our control.

So although not all of us are in denial of death, I do agree that most of us find the thought of our own death or the death of our loved ones naturally upsetting. John Updike once wrote, "Every day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?" We all know this is true. The problem is, accepting that all things must change and eventually end, doesn't make the reality of having to say goodbye any less sad. 

 In Momento Mori: Death as Way of Life, Burkeman did provide a perspective that I found to be very comforting, and one that I hadn't considered it before. He brings up a point that the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus once made that has become known as the 'argument of symmetry'. The book reads, "Why do you fear the eternal oblivion of death, he wonders, if you don't look back with horror at the eternal oblivion before you were born - which, as far as you were concerned, was just as eternal, and just as much an oblivion?"

What a great question! But like I said before, many of us are not so much terrified or horrified by the idea of death, it just has a tendency to make us feel very sad. So I rephrased the question to this, "Why does the eternal oblivion of death make you feel so sad, if you aren't saddened at the eternal oblivion before you were born?"

I found that asking myself this question to be incredibly comforting, most likely because it helps to see the bigger picture. I think that this could even be applied not only to the loss of ourselves, but also the loss of the people we love. Perhaps the two best ways to find comfort when saddened by loss, is to allow yourself to see the bigger picture or to live in the moment and not think at all about what you have said goodbye to in the past, or what you must say goodbye to in the future. But living in the moment can be incredibly difficult for must of us, especially in times of grieving, which may make the ability to see the bigger picture that much more important.

I likely took some of the points in this book in a completely different direction than what Burkeman intended, but this book really made me think, and I am thankful for that. Any book that makes me ponder things to the extent that The Antidote did, is certain to deserve a place on my book shelf! In fact, this book earned a place on My Fifty Favorite Books list, which, given how much I read, isn't an easy list to make.

I must confess that my favorite part of the book was actually the Epilogue, Negative Capability, where Burkeman reflected on some wisdom of Keats and the importance of having the ability to not always seek the resolution. He wrote, "Sometimes the most valuable of all talents is to be able not to seek resolution; to notice the craving for completeness or certainty or comfort, and not to feel compelled to follow where it leads." So true! In fact, it reminded me of one of my all time favorite literature passages by Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

There is so much more in this book that I could write about and I'm sure I will read it again and again in the years to come. Definitely check it out if you haven't already and I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Natural Life

The U.S. spends billions and billions of dollars each year to incarcerate a higher share of its population than any country in the world. Non-violent offenders make up over 60% of prison and jail populations. Does this make sense? Check out this powerful short film, "Natural Life", on this important topic.