Thursday, January 19, 2017

Choosing Your Personal Time-Style

Choosing Your Own Personal Time-Style


This blog, now in its fifth year, has been about the human experience of time. And there is nothing more personal or, I would suggest, more important than crafting you own individual relationship to time. 

This particular blog-post is about finding your own 'time-style'. It is also about making you more aware of time demands that the society and family put on you. Plus it is about making you more aware of your own feelings. If you can take  control of how you function in relation to time, you will feel better about your life.

This modern digital display of time (left) reinforces the notion of linear time, time always going forward, unlike this circular clock with hands (right) that emphasizes the repeating and cyclical nature of time.

Each society thinks its understanding of time is correct and absolute. But this is not true. Although each culture must live with time as a fact of life, there are many different ways of both thinking about and relating to time, i.e., time-styles. See the AFTERWORD part of this blog-post for descriptions of how other cultures deal with time.


From the time we are born, we are indoctrinated with and held accountable to an understanding of time. 

In the United States, for example, we are expected to 'be on time,' to 'save time' for important things, to not 'waste time', to manage our time wisely -- time, after all, is money. Time is considered something you own: if you have 'got time' you might go to a party, for example. Virtually everyone from parents to teachers to coaches to bosses to co-workers will express this same understanding of time. Everyone assumes this is simply the reality of time -- and like it or loath it, that is how time operates. 

A traditional time card system for employees to log in 
and log out of work by punching a time card.

However, this is not true. Different societies have quite different concepts of time and different ways of functioning. 

Nevertheless once you realize that your own society's concept of time is not written in stone, you will still need to meet people's expectations about scheduling. If you have a job, you should be on time and not be surprised if you are reprimanded for being late. But work is 40 hours a week, so 72 hours a week (after 8 hours sleep a night) is yours to do as you please. 
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs 
Your relation to time has a lot to do with how you feel about your life. It will affect your marriage, your work, your sense of worth and your sense of who you are. If you feel rushed and over burdened, then you may have a negative view. If you can do things at a comfortable pace, you will feel more at ease. While there are many things you cannot control, there are many things you can. 

I believe there is a simple relationship between your sense of self and time: how you spend your time, which includes time spent in your thoughts, is who you are.

"I know for sure what we dwell on is who we become."
Oprah Winfrey
 In the United States and other industrialized countries, people are encouraged to go, go, go -- or "live life to the fullest by doing more." Energy drinks, such as the one pictured here, encourage people to keep going non-stop.


Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I mean about time-styles, is to give you specific examples from my life. 

I realized that if I could live inexpensively I would not have to earn as much money and I would have more time for my marriage and my art work -- the two things that were most important to me. The more I could do by myself such as car repair and heating with wood, the more money I could save and the more independent I could be. Also when I did my own work I avoided taxes -- because instead of earning money that I paid taxes on and then hiring someone or paying the oil company, I simply did the work myself. In a sense I was paying myself.

Knowing how to save money gave me more independence as well, because the time I spent buying used items or comparison shopping or doing repairs was time I did not need to spend at a job. Car repair is a good example. Not only did I save money, but also time as I did not have to wait at a repair shop or find a second car while my car was being fixed. And if my car broke down on the road, I could often figure out how to get it back running. Since I was living far out in the country at the time, this made a lot of sense. 

As for earning a living, I started a business as a freelance photographer and I also taught independent photography classes at night. I made a point of being prompt and prepared for all my work but freelancing gave me the flexibility to decide which classes I would teach and which jobs I would accept.

➜Short Overview Of My Own 'Time-style'
  • Live cheap -- e.g. buy things used, learn a number of diy skills, comparison shop 
  • Teach independent photography classes at night
  • Take freelance jobs and conform to the time demands of any job, which would be short term so it would not be too disruptive
  • Never promise to do a job that I could not fulfill as agreed -- be reliable, on budget and on time
  • Work on my art during the times I was not earning a living
  • Have time for activities with my wife
My method for saving money was so complete, I co-authored a book entitled Cheaper published by Random House about my methods:
Cheaper: Insiders' Tips for Saving on Everything 


One of the successful people interviewed on the program RoadTrip Nation that airs on PBS made the following point: When you work hard to achieve a goal and you succeed, there can be a kind of let-down because what do you do now, what do you do next? His point was that when you achieve something, don't immediately rush into doing the next thing but instead relish the moment of success. He further added that learning to relax and enjoy that moment was a discipline in itself.

I found this quite interesting as I have always tried to take a day off when I got a job I wanted, won a prize, got a book published, got my degree in college, had an art exhibit etc. And I highly valued that moment of success in and of itself. It was like hitting a peak note in a song or a central chord in a symphony. "Aha," I would think, "I did it. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but for now I can say I have reached a place I wanted to reach." 

Relaxing in a hammock by the sea.

Learning To Put Aside Your 'Checklist Clock'

Whether we realize it or not, each of us in the developed world carries around what might be called a 'checklist clock'. We are constantly referring to this checklist from minute to minute and as a result checking off what we just did, concentrating on what we planned to do at that moment or will do later -- often living a distracted life that seems a bit empty. 
While this is necessary for the time you are 'on duty', learn to turn that clock off when you are 'off duty' and learn to experience the now moment, that wonderful sense of time we all had when we were children. While planning and scheduling and doing your work are important, it is also important to regularly be 'in the moment' to lead a fulfilling life.

"Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." 
William Faulkner


I have a friend who says he has two time-styles: fast and slow. When he is working, he is all business; when he takes time off, he relaxes completely and there is no schedule. He is comfortable with this and it seems to fit his personality.

I have another friend who likes to work hard and play hard -- which seems to fit her personality. 

However, I have other friends who always seemed rushed, out of time and with more things on their list than they can possibly do. They complain a lot and feel they are under too many demands.

It is up to you to find your own time-style -- and while there will always be things that you must do that you would prefer not to do, you can learn to gradually shape your life so that it roughly matches your particular time-style.

Understanding your time-style can become a guideline for your life. It is a goal you can aim for -- but often outside demands will take over. Nevertheless, you can learn to navigate the demands in your life so that they begin to be in-tune with your own personal time-style.


➜The Myth Of 'Having It All' In The United States

In the United States we are often told the myth that we can 'have it all': a good marriage, a healthy family, an exciting career and enough money. But this is a myth. Barbara Walters once said that everyone wants a marriage, children and a career but you only get two out of the three. Not a simple choice -- but probably realistic. And even if you do achieve 'having it all' you will probably be too tired and stressed to enjoy it. 

Timers like this 5 second counter make us intensely, 
if not uncomfortably, aware of the passage of time.

➜Your Expectations

Be aware of your expectations. They are powerful and set the tone for how you view your life and your path in life. If you set them too high, you will always be disappointed. If you set them too low, you may not be able to achieve what is possible. Try to be realistic and flexible. As you gain more experience, reset your expectations accordingly.

➜Your Time-style May Change As You Age

I think that an individual's time-style can and will change during different periods in their life. When I was in college I loved being around lots of people both in class and late at night in coffee shops, along with working in a group on a class project -- and all the various time demands these required. Now that I am much older, I usually prefer to work alone and do not like being interrupted. 


The tens of thousands of ads we see in the United States each year (and I assume in other countries) have one overall message: buy something better, do something better, never be satisfied. The Lowe's hardware and building supply store has the slogan: "Never Stop Improving." In other words the message is you should never be content but always striving toward the future and always be a bit dissatisfied with the present. So the 'now moment' is devalued, as is your enjoyment of it. This is a perfect example of linear time in a culture (see more about linear time in the Afterword).


When I was at boarding school, I had no control over my schedule and I rarely got enough sleep. I had to be in chapel every morning at 8 o'clock. The first class was at 8:30 AM and I never did well in a class scheduled for that hour. When I went to college, I learned how to pick classes that met at later times. I never took a course before 10 AM and I made sure I got at least eight hours sleep at night. My grades improved and I was on the Dean's list the entire time. 

Listen to your body. It will tell you if you are stressed, anxious, comfortable, getting enough sleep, rested, on edge or out of tune with the things you really want in your life. Men in particular are taught to ignore these physical signals -- to 'be a man'. Forget that. Instead learn to listen to the pleasure and the pain of your body as it will guide you. 

New Research Shows High School Students Don't Get Enough Sleep

It turns out that probably none of us got enough sleep when we were in high school. This happened because our culture had fixed ideas about how teenagers should be conditioned. We were expected to go to bed at 10 PM and get up at 6 AM -- eight hours sleep. BUT studies now show that teens need to go to bed at 11 PM and get more than 8 hours of sleep. This means that they should not get up until 8 AM. This is not coddling, this is good sense as it brings the human biological needs in line with the needs of the culture. The culture will benefit because students will pay better attention and be more willing to do work. And it might reduce the well known teenage rebellion tendencies as well.

High school students taking a lunch break between classes.

Findings From Recent Research

These recent studies (cited next) have shown that teenagers operate on a different clock than adults. Teens who are allowed to go to bed later and get up later perform much better in school. So what I did with my college course load -- when I had control -- turned out to be intuitively correct. This is a good example of following your intuitions about your own personal time-style and sleep needs.

Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence -- meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
Teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best. Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights. 

Research shows that teens need eight to nine hours of sleep at night, as compared with eight hours needed for adults. However, they are not getting enough sleep. A recent study at Drexel University of students aged 12 to 18 found that "20 percent of those studied got the recommended eight or more hours of sleep during school nights with the rest getting less than eight hours. The average sleep for U.S. adolescents is seven hours..." A study of Rhode Island teenagers found that "85 percent were chronically sleep-deprived and accumulated a minimum 10-hour sleep deficit during the week. Forty percent went to bed after 11 p.m.; 26 percent said they usually got less than 6.5 hours on school nights." Thus, sleep deprivation in teens is causing a growing concern among researchers, educators and parents. 

Personal Note

This new understanding about teens and their sleep needs is quite personal to me. One of my best friends at boarding school kept oversleeping in his senior year and was eventually kicked out for that reason. A brilliant and thoughtful student, being thrown out of school affected him for the rest of his life.


"New York Minute"
It appears to have originated in Texas around 1967. It is a reference to the frenzied and hectic pace of New Yorkers' lives. A New Yorker does in an instant what a Texan would take a minute to do. 

New Years Eve at Times Square NYC.

"It ain't over 'til it's over."
Yogi Berra 

"Time You Enjoy Wasting is Not Wasted Time"
Don't beat yourself up over activities that are generally not what society considers to be worthwhile. If you're enjoying yourself and if it's making you happy, the time is well spent. 

Steve Jobs holding the iPhone 4.

"And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it."
Steve Jobs

"No one is busy in this world. It's all about priorities." 

"Slow Parenting" (a phrase in the Urban Dictionary)
The movement to raise children with less pressure, more free time to play. Anti helicopter parenting. 

"We need to have two time skills:
one by the clock
the other off the clock"
Rick Doble


Susan Reynolds writes that today in the world 
there are three basic time-styles:
  • Linear: These cultures "view time as a precious commodity to be used, not wasted" -- as in the United States (also Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Scandinavian societies)
  • Flexible: These "cultures...view time as flexible [and] are reluctant to strictly measure or control it." (Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks, Arabs, and Latinos)
  • Cyclical: "In cyclical time cultures, however, time manages life, and humans must adjust to time. In these cultures, time is neither viewed as linear nor as event/person related, but as cyclical, circular, repetitive. " (Asian, African, Native American)
The above is quoted from the following website
Linear, Flexible, and Cyclical Time: Analyzing Time in Cross-Cultural Communication
By Sana Reynolds, PhD 

Relaxing on the beach.

The Sense Of Time In Different Cultures
quoted from The Exactly What Is Time Website
  • Future-orientated cultures: tend to run their lives by the clock, such as the United States
  • Past-orientated cultures: like that of India, for example, are much more laid back
  • Present-orientated: cultures like those in France that see the past as gone and the future unsure
  • No time orientation: The peaceful Hopi tribe of Arizona, USA, as well as some other Native American tribes and other aboriginal peoples around the world, have a language that lacks verb tenses and their language avoids all linear constructions about time. 

Another Definition Of Linear Time Vs. Cyclical Time
  • Time is non-linear, cyclical in nature. Time is measured in cyclical events. The seasons are central to this cyclical concept.
  • Time is usually linearly structured and future orientated. The framework of months, years, days etc. reinforces the linear structure.
The above was quoted from the following website: 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Internet Research Revolution

Big Data for the Little Guy

New Ways To Connect The Dots
Using Your Imagination With The Internet 

 This blog-article is part of a series of 4 lengthy blog-posts 
 about creativity, imagination and intuition in the computer age 
 -- along with the need to shape our future. See the other blog-articles in this series: 
 How To Be Intuitive: Intuition, Imagination and Discovery 
 The Work of the Imagination 
 Living With Rejection: Living the Creative Life 


Scientists are excited about the possibilities with Big Data. Big Data is a new buzz word that refers to the ability of computers to process massive amounts of data that can then lead to new scientific findings and insights. 

Computers and digital information is not only a tool, but it can discover and reveal things that were not possible before. One of the earliest examples was the exploration of fractal structures by Benoit Mandelbrot. His fractal geometry, of "the art of roughness" as he called it, could only be accurately and completely constructed with the help of computers.

Diagram of Big Data and chart of the growth of digital storage.
(Top) Big Data is a tool that is changing science.
(Bottom) Diagram of the huge growth in digital storage.
Big Data is being used today, for example, to construct ancient proto-languages and to also make predictions about the development of language in the future. In this study linguists are trying to construct 600 Asian proto-languages from a massive data base of 140,000 words. See: 
Scientists create automated 'time machine' to reconstruct ancient languages

But this blog-article is about something different. It is about the ability of the individual, the little guy. It is about intuitive people with hunches who can now explore their educated guesses in ways that were not possible just a few years ago. Big Data applies to them because now they have access to huge amounts of information via the Internet -- information that can be searched quickly and is easily available on any computer. Thinkers, writers, researchers with a hunch and imagination can now 'cut to the chase' and quickly zoom in on facts to support or develop an idea, if such evidence exists. 

With the power of the Internet a person's imagination can roam free. By "connecting the dots" in new and different ways, I believe major advances in science, art and technology can be achieved. These resources allow a researcher, inventor or artist to investigate an idea or a theory to its fullest. What follows are a number of personal examples from my own work.


In 1971 I was getting a Masters Degree in Communication. I worked as a research assistant for a professor in my department. He wanted me to find everything available about talk radio with a political slant.

So I spent many hours at the million volume UNC-Chapel Hill Wilson Library -- which was huge at the time -- going through hundreds of books. This was tedious work to say the least. 

The Louis Round Wilson Library is a library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[
Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill. 1 million volumes in 1970 was considered huge.

In the beginning I slogged my way through the card catalogues which were not very helpful. They contained brief descriptions which were often misleading or incomplete. However, I quickly learned a trick to speed things up: I would find one book that I was certain was relevant and then I would get permission to go to the stacks where the actual books were shelved on book cases and look at all the books that were in the same section. This worked because the Dewey Decimal System for libraries put books with similar subjects together.

This short cut meant that I could put my hands on dozens of promising books in an hour, open each one up, check their table of contents and their index and quickly skim one or two chapters to see if I was on the right track. However, I found that this particular topic had not produced much mention in books. It turned out that most information could be found in magazines and periodicals. So when a book referenced an article, I would locate back issues of that particular magazine, rifle through a stack of issues that were usually not in order and then find the article which might or might not be relevant. This often took fifteen minutes just to find one article -- something you could now do with a couple of clicks on the computer.

After a while I learned to follow references in one article that led to another article or look for mentions in articles of a particular author or radio host -- assuming that the Wilson library had a full set of those periodicals. It was a good exercise for me, as I learned to skim articles quickly to see if they had the information I needed -- and only then to read in depth. After a while I got a nose for determining which articles would be more substantial and worth my time. At the end of the semester, I had found plenty for my professor who was quite pleased with my work.


Now -- fast forward to the Internet. 

Today a million volume library sounds like peanuts. Within seconds Google can search tens of thousands of websites that are relevant to just my query and quickly hone in on the most worthwhile ones. And forget about reading descriptions of a book or an article -- I can target specific words and phrases that should appear. \ However, my skills I developed doing research at the Wilson Library years ago have paid off because I now employ a number of short cuts such as knowing which set of words to search for and which set of words to put quotes around. This means I can often find exactly what I want in minutes. And much of the information I want is quite obscure.

Also it does not matter if what I want is in a book or an article or a column or a blog or a PDF file or in a graphic image. All of these are available to me. Of course, with the Internet, I have to check the credibility of the source and that does take a bit of time.

But wait! There is even more -- with Google Maps I can zoom in on specific areas and also find correct names. With Google Translate I can get a crude translation of a page in just about any language. With Google Earth I can almost 'walk through' any place on Earth and grab a picture of it - with Google's permission. In addition Google Books and other such projects such as Gutenberg are putting a huge number of books online. 

"The Google Books initiative has been hailed for its potential to offer unprecedented access to what may become the largest online body of human knowledge and promoting the democratization of knowledge... 
"As of October 2015, the number of scanned book titles was over 25 million, but the scanning process has slowed down in American academic libraries. Google estimated in 2010 that there were about 130 million distinct titles in the world, and stated that it intended to scan all of them."

A principle player in this new power for thinkers, bloggers and researchers is the wonderful free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. While it is not perfect, it does provide overview articles on just about any topic in straight forward easy to understand language, but in a way that is also professional. If there is an issue with a particular entry, the editors flag that at the top of the article. The overview these articles provide are also linked to a number of expert and professional articles as well as links to a full list of references stated in the article. However, as with any good research, crucial facts and definitions of concepts need to be verified with at least two different sources. Using Wikipedia as the only source would be a mistake.

At the same time it is hard to overstate the importance of Wikipedia. Articles which cover much of human knowledge, that are linked and divided into an understandable structure, are at the center of how Western civilization has evolved. In the 1700s in Europe one of the main changes in thought was brought about by the Encyclopedia Movement -- which in large part led to the Enlightenment and the democratic and more open societies we have today in the West. As of this writing Wikipedia now has over 5 million pages in English, with a total of 40 million articles in 293 languages -- making a significant collection of knowledge available to any one who has access to an Internet connection.

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (that is, "Encyclopedia, or a systematic dictionary of the sciences, arts, and crafts")
(Left) This early French encyclopedia, first published in 1751, was crucial to the spread of the Enlightenment and more open ideas in the west.
(Right) A figurative, tree-like diagram, of human knowledge -- not unlike the tree structure that computer hard drives use today to organize information -- was part of the Encyclopedia and known at the tree of Diderot and d'Alembert, editors of the Encyclopedia (left)

In addition to Wikipedia its companion,, contains almost 34 million images, photographs and videos that are free and available for anyone can use. 

With this much information at my finger tips, it means I can do in hours what used to take a week. And even so my work back then would not be nearly as good as that which I can accomplish today.

So the Internet is a game changer. Big time. Not only can I find things quickly, I can copy the text and the necessary crediting info and then quote them quite easily. The tens of millions of public domain images and videos also adds another layer to my research. Often a picture says more precisely and directly what I need or is actual proof of a point I am trying to make. But this is just the start.

While the Internet has streamlined my research, even more importantly it has allowed me to make connections I never would have made when I was a graduate student. Because to me the real advantage is that I can now follow my hunches. In the years before the Internet, it took too much time to trace the development of a scientific idea, for example, that might lead nowhere. Now I can do a detailed search in a matter of hours. 

So today hunches have become a large part of the way I work. I have major hunches such as a hunch for a principal topic that I might write a number of blog-articles about -- and minor hunches such as looking for a telling quote or further documentation. 

The Internet also lets me make tons of notes, bookmark websites, put them in a program that allows me to structure and search them -- and then bring them up in a week or in a year as needed.


Perhaps the best way to explain this is to give you some examples:


One of my major aims for this blog about the human experience of time, DeconstructingTime, was to prove that prehistoric people were just as smart as we are today given the technology they had at the time. 

My first major Internet discovery had to do with the 15,000 year old cave paintings at the Cave of Altamira in Spain. My father had been to that cave in the 1920s before it was closed to the pubic. When I was a child he told me that he had to go into the totally dark cave to see the paintings on the walls and the ceilings.

Because of the Internet I was able to find a large picture of the wall paintings. One image in particular jumped out, a painting of a bison. It was an accurate depiction. Then it struck me: if this was painted inside a dark cave, the painting had to have been done from memory -- and the prehistoric man who did it had to have had an almost photographic memory and also be a skilled artist. He was not some stupid crude stereotypical caveman. 

 Bison paintings in the Cave of Altamira in Spain
Wall of mostly bison paintings in the Cave of Altamira in Spain.

So I researched the Altamira cave to double check the accuracy of what my father had said. But then my intuition kicked in. Could I search the Internet to find a photograph of a bison that looked similar to the painting? I had a hunch I could. And if I could, it would prove that the stone-age painter was a highly accomplished artist able to draw an accurate painting on a cave wall from memory. 

And voila: I not only found exactly what I was looking for but in a similar pose as the painting in the cave. When you look at the two together it is remarkable how accurate that cave drawing is.

Comparison of cave painting of a bison at Altamira and photograph of a modern European bison.
(Top) Cave painting of a bison at Altamira.
(Bottom) Photograph of a modern European bison.

This blog has proved to be one of my most popular posts, with almost 1600 page views in the three year. This was my first article based on this kind of research -- and this early success encouraged me to do more of these.
See my blog-article: 
The Genius of Cavemen


Another idea I wanted to prove was that technology had to be imagined first before it could become a reality. I wondered if I could use the Internet to prove my point.
Apollo 17 Command Module as it orbited the moon.
Apollo 17 Command Module as it orbited the moon.

In the 1960s & 1970s I had closely followed the US space race and moon explorations. Then a few years ago I watched the animated 1902 movie by Méliès entitled A Trip to the Moon on YouTube. Something in that very early sci-fi film struck me but I was not sure what it was. I went back and looked at it again and it hit me: it was the design of the capsule that was being loaded into a large gun to be shot to the moon. On a hunch I still framed a colorized picture at the only point when I could see the entire module and then screen grabbed that picture. 

While I was not sure, I wanted to see how similar this capsule was to the actual command modules that were used by NASA in their the moon missions. When I researched the Internet I found not one but two NASA images that proved exactly what I was trying to say. The fictional capsule and the actual command module were strikingly similar -- which helped prove my point that early fiction and imagination had laid the ground work for the moon landing many years later.

Photo from the 1902 animated movie A Trip to the Moon compared to an early NASA design for the command module that would go to the moon.
(Top) Screen grab from the 1902 animated movie A Trip to the Moon of the moon capsule. 
(Bottom) Early NASA design for the command module that would go to the moon.

See my blog-article: 
The History of the Future


Another hunch: 
As you know this blog is about the human experience of time. In doing my research I began to wonder if someone had gone from an unconscious state to a conscious one -- a person who was intelligent and articulate. My hunch was that their perception of time would be quite different. 

It turned out that the deaf, dumb, blind Helen Keller was such a person who went from not knowing words to suddenly grasping their meaning. It happened when she was almost seven years old, so she had a full memory of the transition when it occurred. When she learned words her sense of time changed completely -- which she stated explicitly.

Helen Keller with her teacher.

(Left) Helen Keller as a child with her teacher.
(Right) Helen Keller as a grown woman who graduated from Radcliffe.

The birth of language for her, mean that time suddenly existed which it had not before.

The following is an edited composite of things she said:
Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness...and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. 
Once I knew only darkness and stillness.
My inner life, then, [ED: before consciousness] was...without past, present, or future.
It was not night—it was not day. . . . . . 
But vacancy absorbing space, 
And fixedness, without a place; 
There were no stars—no earth—no time—

After she understood words and language, time itself opened up for her.

See my blog-article about this: 
Time & Consciousness



When taking the required Western Civilization course as a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, my professor mocked the Earth centric astronomy of Ptolemy, even though it had been fairly accurate and had worked reasonably well for about 1500 years. The sun centered Copernican revolution had pushed this old outdated way of thinking aside, he told us, and in turn ushered in the new age of science and technology. To prove his point, he showed us a diagram of Ptolemy's complicated circles within circles known as epicycles and then the fairly simple modern view of the solar system with planets moving in simple ellipses. 

At the time I thought this was a misunderstanding of the scientific process. It was clear to me that more sophisticated science was built on the science that had come before it. The fact that Ptolemy's calculations were close was a major accomplishment and not something to be ridiculed.

Sometime later, I saw a diagram of clock gears that I found fascinating but was not sure why. Then I realized I was struck by the similarity of the gearing to the diagram of Ptolemy's circles within circles that I had seen in my history class many years earlier.

In 1989, before the Internet, I wrote a series of essays. I put forward the idea that the discredited geocentric theory was not only useful for astronomy but had led to a sophisticated understanding of gearing in complex machines. I knew that early clocks (I had just read a book about time) were basically planetariums -- so I was quite sure that the mechanics of these clocks were based on the gearing of circles as described by Ptolemy. I also knew that clocks were a key machine for the Industrial age. But in the 1980s this was as far as I could go with the idea. 

Comparison of Ptolemy's model of planetary movement around the Earth, Gears inside a clock -- early large clocks also included the movement of the planets, sun and moon, Gearing for an early steam locomotive.

(Left) Simplified diagram of Ptolemy's model of planetary and solar movement around the Earth.
(Middle) Gears inside a clock -- early large clocks also included the movement of the planets, sun and moon.
(Right) Gearing for an early steam locomotive.

However, now because of the Internet and Wikipedia, I was able to follow the geocentric model from its inception with the astronomer Ptolemy to the modern day. To my surprise there was a virtually unbroken trail of ideas, concepts and yes, mechanisms for a period of about 2000 years. Because of the Internet I believe I was able to prove that this discredited idea was, in fact, a major factor in both scientific thinking and critical to the development of clocks in particular and then later to machines. It played a major role in the industrial revolution. So instead of being an outmoded and useless ancient way of thinking, it was a vital component to scientific thought and technology -- right up to today.

See the footnote for what I wrote before the Internet was available.

See my blog-article:
How the Discredited Geocentric Cosmos
Was a Critical Component of the Scientific Revolution



The Ptolemaic universe has become a cliche for bad astronomical ideas. It described the sun, moon, and planets moving around the Earth in perfect circles, and circles within circles called epicycles. This idea was superseded by Copernicus who put the sun at the center of the solar system. His idea was refined by Kepler who described the planet's orbits as ellipses, not circles.

So Ptolemy was discredited. When I studied astronomy, Ptolemy's ideas, when they were mentioned at all, were described in disparaging terms, as foolish ideas that finally got corrected by the modern world.

But first of all, it does look as though the sun and the moon and the planets move around the Earth, so it was not foolish to assume this. Secondly his system was fairly accurate. It described the movements of the heavenly bodies reasonably well and was useful for the buildup of knowledge, the accurate observations, the necessary data so essential to astronomy or any science. The fact that his system was accurate gave astronomy a basis for Copernicus to work with. Now Copernicus's system of putting the sun at the center also used perfect circles, and epicycles, about as many as Ptolemy. So Copernicus did not totally refute Ptolemy, in fact he used a number of his ideas. Thus it really took a third genius, Kepler, to make the final discovery, that the heavenly bodies moved in ellipses, not circles.

But I have discovered through my own independent research that there is more to this story. Ptolemy's system was so precise, machines could be made which would accurately imitate the movement of the planets, sun, and moon. Some people referred to these as astronomical clocks. They were created based on Ptolemy's understanding of epicycles. These machines became an essential component for the creation of clocks. And clocks became the "key machine of the modern industrial age" according to the book A History of the Machine by Strandh.

Twenty years before he discovered his theories, Kepler was driven by the desire to prove that the solar system ran like a clock, the very clock that might not have existed without Ptolemy.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How To Be Intuitive: Intuition, Imagination and Discovery

Intuition, Imagination and Discovery

 This is part of a series of blogs about creativity, imagination, 
 and the need to shape our future. See these previous blogs:

There comes a point where the mind takes a leap 
— call it intuition or what you will — 
and comes out upon a higher plane of knowledge, 
but can never prove how it got there. 
All great discoveries have involved such a leap.
Albert Einstein

Intuition is often both a clear thought and a strong feeling at the same time -- it is a thought that literally *hits* you with its importance and often comes unexpectedly, out of the blue. 

Archimedes getting into his bath just before the Eureka moment

The most famous intuition story is about Archimedes and his Eureka moment. Eureka roughly translated means 'I've found it'. Archimedes was trying to figure out whether a crown was made of pure gold or contained some silver as well. So he needed to determine the density of the irregular shape of the crown. After struggling with the problem, he put it aside for a while. Then later sitting in his bathtub -- all at once in a flash -- he understood how to measure the volume of the crown by the water that was displaced, the key information he needed to make his calculation. He realized that the volume of water that rose when he got into the bath was equal to the volume of his body and therefore he could measure the volume of an object no matter how intricate. The story goes that he screamed, "Eureka" and was so excited he jumped out of his bath and ran naked though the streets of his city.

In our logical number driven world, intuition is frequently dismissed as not fitting with our modern rational outlook, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Einstein's great insights and Newton's as well -- two key thinkers whose ideas were/are critical for the creation of our modern world -- were originally flashes of intuition that then took years to work out, years to understand how to do the math on paper.

In his early twenties Newton saw an apple fall and suddenly in a flash connected the force that caused it to fall to the Earth with the force that affected the orbit of the moon -- a story that appears to be mostly true. Nevertheless his central work that described the necessary calculations and formulas, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), would not be published for another 20 years -- as  it took him that long to come up with the correct math.

A page from Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)
in which he gave a detailed explanation of the forces of gravity.

One unique aspect of intuition is that while it feels true, how you arrived at that idea or any obvious proof of its truth is often missing. And finding that rational logical proof can be a lengthy process. 

As a teenager Einstein fantasized about riding a beam of light. He invented what came to be known as 'mind experiments'. For example, if he were traveling at the speed of light and looked into a mirror, would he see his reflection? Yet it would be ten years before he could work out the math for his Special Theory of Relativity.

“Imagination is the highest form of research.” 
“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking” 
Albert Einstein

I believe that intuition needs to be and can be developed just as becoming skilled at math is learned. As I said about imagination -- there are ways to markedly increase your ability to imagine and the same is true for intuition.

Yet intuitions can often be wrong. So how do you know when a feeling is something you should explore or ignore?

Like much of human thought, intuition can be tested. I follow my intuitions often, but at the same time test them to see if my thought process plays out the way I think it should in the real world. Over time I have learned when to trust things and when not to -- and also to become more aware of the things that were triggering my educated guesses.

I think of myself as having a 'tool box' for my creative and imaginative thinking. Sometimes my approach is simply information gathering, sometimes logical, sometimes intuitive, sometimes I imagine several scenarios and pick the one that seems to have the best chance of succeeding. Being able to fully imagine several outcomes is often quite helpful when I need to make a decision. In hindsight my method really combines all of these -- as I use each tool when the situation requires it. And when one tool does not work, I change to another.

Perhaps one of the oddest aspects of intuition is that it is both active and passive. On the one hand you are looking for something (active) on the other hand intuition requires that you be receptive to thoughts that come into your mind (passive), as though from somewhere else. This is a key part of intuition -- to both move and be moved, to search and to be found. Again this is a bit at odds with out modern mindset, but this is how it works.

(Left) By chance as he walked near a blacksmith's shop, the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras heard a musical harmony when different sized blacksmith hammers hit an anvil. 
(Right) This sudden insight led to his understanding of the mathematical relationship between notes and became the basis for Pythagorean tuning.

The normal workday requires focus and attention while tuning out distracting elements. Intuition requires a more receptive and listening frame of mind. Neither approach is right or wrong -- they are simply tools in your tool box that give you the flexibility to try different approaches.

Intuition did not come naturally to me. I was brought up in a quite strict rational, logical, left brain environment. I had to teach myself to be intuitive but then test my intuitions against reality -- as intuition must pass the reality test just as logic does. 

Intuition is the supra-logic that cuts out all the routine processes of thought 
and leaps straight from the problem to the answer.
Robert Graves

Here are some examples of my intuitive thinking.

One of my first successes happened when I was sixteen. During summer vacation I went to New York City convinced I could find a sublet apartment for little money. This was just a guess on my part and everyone said it was impossible. After staying with friends and spending a week searching, it looked like I was wrong. Then I decided to go to every laundromat in the area and look at their bulletin boards. And guess what? I found a small hand written note for a summer sublet, a very tiny apartment that today would be about $400 a month, that I then rented for two months.

Here is another example:

I knew at an early age that I wanted to write and had worked on my writing up through my years in college. But when I had almost completed my bachelors degree in English and was enrolled in the Honors Program for Creative Writing, I also knew that I wanted to do something more. So I made a deliberate effort to find another art form to compliment my writing. I wanted to do something quite different -- something that required less thought, something that I could do with my hands. 

A principle goal during that time was to discover a visual way of working -- as I felt that reading and writing were not enough. However, I had been told by my father and others that I was not visual. Yet my intuition was that they were wrong.

But where to start? 

I could not draw -- it was just not something I could do as I had tried many times. But I liked working with my hands. For example, in eighth grade in a shop class, I had designed and built a simple tray out of plywood and molding. The tray not only worked well but was almost indestructible -- as I continued to use it for the rest of my life.  

Then I remembered constructing a model of the Wright Brother's first airplane, known as the Wright Flyer -- out of balsa wood and tissue paper -- for a history project in grade school. I built it with balsa strips to frame the wings and then stretched and glued tissue paper over the frame. There were no plans, so in addition I had to draw a design best as I could from old photographs. But perhaps more importantly, I remembered a feeling of extreme satisfaction when I had completed the model.

Then having just seen the Calder retrospective in New York -- the man who invented mobile sculpture -- I decided to make some simple mobiles out of balsa and tissue paper. In a sense I was picking up where I had left off nine years before when I had made the Wright Brother's plane. And voila! Making these mobiles was exactly what I had been looking for. I found that I enjoyed working with my hands as it put me in a different frame of mind -- quite different from reading, writing and doing research.

(Left)The Wright Brothers first airplane, the Wright Flyer
(Right) An example of a mobile (not by me) based on Calder's work

Now flash forward a couple of years: After I made the initial mobiles, one hands-on creation led to another. Then all of a sudden I had a camera in my hands and it was like a revelation -- it was what I had been looking for. Composition, positioning myself for a shot, and darkroom developing gave me the tactile visual art form I needed. So I have been working with photography ever since. 

(Left) One of my first successful photographs on film -- of water and reflections in a pool near my house. I developed the negative and made the print.
(Right) 30 years later: a digital photograph taken from a van while moving in the rain in traffic -- in which I used all my photographic skills (depth of field, camera movement, close-up focus, long exposure).

That is just one story about using my intuition but I could tell you many more. Because of my intuitions I found the house that I now live in 30 years ago, I met my wife, I developed my particular type of photography that I in part invented called time-flow photography and I started working with computers in 1983 -- when no one thought they were that important for individuals. And today as I work with my art photography, my intuitions guide me every step of the way. 


I do believe intuitive thoughts and ideas will come about in different ways for different people and different disciplines. But I think the following general approach would apply to many. 

When you are tackling a problem gather as much information as you can, have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, imagine a number of scenarios, brain storm a bit and come up with some possible solutions -- but then put everything aside and go do something else for a while. It is often when you let go that the unconscious process of problem solving occurs and that out of the blue the correct solution comes to you -- like a flash. 

The Eureka Moment is also known as the Aha Moment 
Years ago I was friends with a scientist whose specialty was the 'Aha Moment'. She emphasized that her studies showed intuition was not a logical process that cranked out an answer, but rather one that required struggling with a problem and then letting go for a while. As this next link explains, intuition often requires immersion followed by incubation before the Aha Moment can occur.
Here is a recent study about how the brain comes up with an Aha solution.
This article goes into detail about how your off-time is often the best time for intuitive solutions.

To go back to Archimedes, I am quite sure he had been wrestling with the problem of how to determine the density of an irregular object when he finally gave up. While I do not know for sure, I imagine that sometime later while thinking about something else he took a bath. Then in a relaxed state he saw the water rising as he got into the bathtub and BANG, it came to him. He realized the volume of the water that rose was equal to the total volume of his body. And that with an irregular object if he factored in its weight in relation to the volume it displaced, that would give him the density. Eureka!

There are no rules here -- we're trying to accomplish something.
Thomas Edison


Reason and Intuition:
Reason and intuition are often seen as opposites. But, as a philosophy teacher pointed out, when used to their fullest extent they can almost be the same. The mistake is to equate reason with logic. Logic is mechanical and rigid -- reason is flexible. The teacher suggested, for example, that when considering a problem you fully imagine the problem and walk yourself through it in your mind. Out of that imagining would emerge the solution. And this process could be thought of as reasoning or as being intuitive. 

What that man creates by means of reason 
will pale before the art of inspired beings. 

Inspiration is closely related to intuition -- as an idea that encourages you to act can come out of the blue, for no reason. Again, I feel it is important to pay attention to such ideas and to do something when they occur no matter whether you are at work or at the beach. I have carried a notebook with me since I was 20 years old; I find the simple act of writing an idea or making a drawing on paper gives such ideas a reality. Later when I have time, I go over my notes in my notebook and decide which ideas I want to work on. Otherwise, like a dream, these thoughts can vanish and if you do not pay attention to them, they will stop coming to you -- a variation on 'use it or lose it'. As a creative person you want to encourage ideas; finding a way to pay attention and to record them will help keep your ideas flowing.