India is now the world’s 5th largest economy, leapfrogging France and the UK | World Economic Forum


via India is now the world’s 5th largest economy, leapfrogging France and the UK | World Economic Forum

Wisdom Quotes


The way you affect those around you is perhaps the most important question in life.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Old is whatever’s a decade older than I am.
I will never be an old man. To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am. (Francis Bacon)

Random Books Everyone Should Read


Random Books Everyone Should Read

  1. The Five People You Meet in Heaven
    by Mitch Albom
  2. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
    by Christopher Hitchens
  3. The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)
    by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

2020’s Political Heavyweight Match – Daily Pnut Newsletter


FEBRUARY 20, 2020

The Nevada Democratic debate in less than 4 minutes (A Washington Post YouTube Video)

We don’t support Mike Bloomberg for many reasons (too out of touch with the average American, stop & frisk, and he chooses political parties out of convenience).

We are not impressed by Pete Buttigieg: lack of experience and he’s way too chummy with the techopolies. We think that his only appeal is that he’s a fresh face and is so much younger than the other candidates.

It’ll be fascinating to see who ends up running against President Trump. Trump currently has tremendous advantages (being an incumbent, fundraising, the economy, the lack of social media regulations, and the electoral college structure) going into 2020. As a result the 2020 Presidential election is a political heavyweight fight that is his to lose. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Trump and his presidency it is that nothing is predictable.

via 2020’s Political Heavyweight Match – Daily Pnut

10 Things I Learned From Seth Godin – The Ascent


via 10 Things I Learned From Seth Godin – The Ascent

#1. Everyone is an artist

We have no other option.

Seth Godin is the author of more than 15 best-sellers. His books were translated into more than 35 languages. I’ve read many, but not all of them.

‘Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?’ is my favorite one. In the book, he describes the world in which we live today through an unusual lens — everyone is an artist. If you’re not, well, robots will replace you eventually.

In his definition:

Art — is a gift that changes the recipient.

Whether you’re working at a Starbucks, writing a blog post, or building a business, you can be an artist. You can do the hard work of emotional labor. You can connect. You can make an impact, even if it’s on one person only.

You don’t have any other choice.

#2. Quantify as little as possible in your life

There’s a trend to calculate everything in your life: how much money you’ve spent, how many hours you’ve slept, how many steps you’ve walked, and how many calories you’ve burned.

I get it.

But every time I did that, I felt like my life turned into an ongoing spreadsheet. And I HATE spreadsheets (but for some reason, I am good at them).

Seth Godin said in his interview with Tim Ferriss that he “calculates almost nothing in his life.” That made me feel better.

It’s OK to let go.

#3. Authenticity is overrated

There’s a tendency, especially among writers on this platform, to be vulnerable. But not being vulnerable as a way to connect with readers, but rather being vulnerable for the sake of being vulnerable. As a tactic.

I always felt that it was like an emotional strip club: you get undressed, and you get paid.

In an interview with The Futur, Seth Godin said:

Authenticity is overrated. Stories [that you tell] need to be useful, they need to make the point clear. Stories need to connect with the reader, not just make you feel good about yourself.

Don’t be a stripper.

#4. Just do your job

Imagine your sink is broken. You hire a plumber to fix it, and half-way through he stops and says:

Hey, I don’t really feel like doing this today…I think I am not inspired to fix your broken sink. Sorry, dude.

Boom! He’s fired.

A plumber has a job to do. So does an electrician. And so do you, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a writer, a blogger, or a designer.

Don’t overthink it. Just do your job.

(Here’s a clip where Seth Godin talks about a creative block being a myth)

#5. There’s no such thing as a writer’s block

When people say they have a ‘writer’s block,’ they’re afraid. The key here is to understand what they’re scared of.

I write like I talk and I’ve never seen anybody have a talker’s block. You don’t wake up and go like, “mmmm!” — as if you couldn’t talk.

What people are terrified, according to Seth, is not of writing — but of writing perfectly.

“Ok then,” he says, “Write poorly then. The question is not whether you have good ideas, but do you have bad ideas? Do you have any ideas?”

Because when you have an ongoing stream of ideas (even the awful ones), the good ones started to emerge. I’ve noticed this in my writing, and it helped me a lot.

#6. Know when to quit

Another great book I’ve read by Seth is called The Dip. The idea is simple:

  • You’ll hit ‘the Dip’ in everything you start.
  • Sometimes quitting is good, sometimes quitting is bad.
  • Know the difference.

Whenever you commit to anything (i.e., start a blog, a podcast, a business), the first few weeks are exciting. You’re onto something new, yay! But once that first reaction wears off, you start to get bored. Difficulties begin to arise.

You hit what’s called, ‘the dip.’

If you quit when it hits you — i.e., when it gets hard — that’s bad. The point of starting anything is to finish, and you’ve just sabotaged everything you’ve built so far.

But if the project or a venture you’re undertaking has led to a dead-end (know as cul-de-sac), and you see that it’s going nowhere — you should quit.

But not when it gets hard.

The realization for me in this lesson was how much wrong quitting I’ve done. I would start something new, and once the passion and the drive for a new thing went away, I would quit. That way, I couldn’t get anything done.

The antidote here is to stay for at least six months (I talk more about it here). Don’t quit, don’t look at results, and don’t waver. Then wake up in 6 months and see what happens.

#7. Blogging is about building trust

I’ve recently been to a big social media marketing conference in London. And most attendees were casually throwing in the term “attention economy,” and everyone else was quietly nodding as if it was code for something.

Ok, I get it. Attention is scarce, and some people (me) think we’ll get to the point when we can use attention as currency. That would be cool.

But when marketers ask each other to create something that would capture attention — all I hear is that I am going to be interrupted more by commercials.

Seth Godin wrote Permission Marketing in 1999, and the idea is this: to be heard, you’ve got to earn trust.

You’ve got to earn permission to send your message. And in today’s world, all commercial breaks are optional. I can pay YouTube and see none at all.

And to me, that’s what blogging is all about. You show up regularly with something valuable to say; you build trust. You show up the way you want others to show up for you. You don’t run around capturing attention.

Seth talks more about this in his interview with Marie Forleo.

#8. Ship

Advice is cheap. The person who gives advice doesn’t have as much ‘skin in the game’ as you do.

Whenever I have someone I look up to — somebody I learn from — I like to see what they do, not listen to what he says. Even in the interviews, I try to understand what he or she did (and why), rather than listen to advice.

And the thing I’ve noticed about Seth — is that he always puts his work where his mouth is.

He ships. He delivers. He creates.

He blogs everyday. He wrote 18 books. He is constantly creating new projects and businesses (the latest is AltMBAcheck it out).

You can listen to advise, think and strategize all day long, but at the end of the day — have you shipped anything?

That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned from him.

#9. Don’t search for passion

There’s a lot of talk about finding your passion.

Seth Godin has an interesting take on this:

Don’t look for passion. Instead, become passionate about what you’re already doing. That way, you’re more flexible.

If Elon Musk was born 200 years ago, he would have found something to do. If Shakespeare lived today, he would blog. There are passionate people — not passionate things.

I like the way Seth motivates people just to pick something and do:

You stand by the carousel. And the horses are spinning. You’ve already missed one or two spins. Any horse is just as good as the other — pick one and go!

#10. Give away gifts

Back to lesson #1, — everyone is an artist.

And if art is a gift that changes the recipient, you — the artist — is a gift-giver.

“What can I give as a gift?” you ask. I don’t know. What do you have?

  • An insightful blog post
  • A great business idea
  • A book
  • etc., etc., etc

Seth wrote Unleashing The Ideavirus and gave it away for free as a PDF. That book made him famous. That was his gift to the world.

What’s yours?

P.S. This post was my gift to you.


10 Things I Learned From Seth Godin – The Ascent


via 10 Things I Learned From Seth Godin – The Ascent

#1. Everyone is an artist

We have no other option.

Seth Godin is the author of more than 15 best-sellers. His books were translated into more than 35 languages. I’ve read many, but not all of them.

‘Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?’ is my favorite one. In the book, he describes the world in which we live today through an unusual lens — everyone is an artist. If you’re not, well, robots will replace you eventually.

In his definition:

Art — is a gift that changes the recipient.

Whether you’re working at a Starbucks, writing a blog post, or building a business, you can be an artist. You can do the hard work of emotional labor. You can connect. You can make an impact, even if it’s on one person only.

You don’t have any other choice.

#2. Quantify as little as possible in your life

There’s a trend to calculate everything in your life: how much money you’ve spent, how many hours you’ve slept, how many steps you’ve walked, and how many calories you’ve burned.

I get it.

But every time I did that, I felt like my life turned into an ongoing spreadsheet. And I HATE spreadsheets (but for some reason, I am good at them).

Seth Godin said in his interview with Tim Ferriss that he “calculates almost nothing in his life.” That made me feel better.

It’s OK to let go.

#3. Authenticity is overrated

There’s a tendency, especially among writers on this platform, to be vulnerable. But not being vulnerable as a way to connect with readers, but rather being vulnerable for the sake of being vulnerable. As a tactic.

I always felt that it was like an emotional strip club: you get undressed, and you get paid.

In an interview with The Futur, Seth Godin said:

Authenticity is overrated. Stories [that you tell] need to be useful, they need to make the point clear. Stories need to connect with the reader, not just make you feel good about yourself.

Don’t be a stripper.

#4. Just do your job

Imagine your sink is broken. You hire a plumber to fix it, and half-way through he stops and says:

Hey, I don’t really feel like doing this today…I think I am not inspired to fix your broken sink. Sorry, dude.

Boom! He’s fired.

A plumber has a job to do. So does an electrician. And so do you, whether you’re an entrepreneur, a writer, a blogger, or a designer.

Don’t overthink it. Just do your job.

(Here’s a clip where Seth Godin talks about a creative block being a myth)

#5. There’s no such thing as a writer’s block

When people say they have a ‘writer’s block,’ they’re afraid. The key here is to understand what they’re scared of.

I write like I talk and I’ve never seen anybody have a talker’s block. You don’t wake up and go like, “mmmm!” — as if you couldn’t talk.

What people are terrified, according to Seth, is not of writing — but of writing perfectly.

“Ok then,” he says, “Write poorly then. The question is not whether you have good ideas, but do you have bad ideas? Do you have any ideas?”

Because when you have an ongoing stream of ideas (even the awful ones), the good ones started to emerge. I’ve noticed this in my writing, and it helped me a lot.

#6. Know when to quit

Another great book I’ve read by Seth is called The Dip. The idea is simple:

  • You’ll hit ‘the Dip’ in everything you start.
  • Sometimes quitting is good, sometimes quitting is bad.
  • Know the difference.

Whenever you commit to anything (i.e., start a blog, a podcast, a business), the first few weeks are exciting. You’re onto something new, yay! But once that first reaction wears off, you start to get bored. Difficulties begin to arise.

You hit what’s called, ‘the dip.’

If you quit when it hits you — i.e., when it gets hard — that’s bad. The point of starting anything is to finish, and you’ve just sabotaged everything you’ve built so far.

But if the project or a venture you’re undertaking has led to a dead-end (know as cul-de-sac), and you see that it’s going nowhere — you should quit.

But not when it gets hard.

The realization for me in this lesson was how much wrong quitting I’ve done. I would start something new, and once the passion and the drive for a new thing went away, I would quit. That way, I couldn’t get anything done.

The antidote here is to stay for at least six months (I talk more about it here). Don’t quit, don’t look at results, and don’t waver. Then wake up in 6 months and see what happens.

#7. Blogging is about building trust

I’ve recently been to a big social media marketing conference in London. And most attendees were casually throwing in the term “attention economy,” and everyone else was quietly nodding as if it was code for something.

Ok, I get it. Attention is scarce, and some people (me) think we’ll get to the point when we can use attention as currency. That would be cool.

But when marketers ask each other to create something that would capture attention — all I hear is that I am going to be interrupted more by commercials.

Seth Godin wrote Permission Marketing in 1999, and the idea is this: to be heard, you’ve got to earn trust.

You’ve got to earn permission to send your message. And in today’s world, all commercial breaks are optional. I can pay YouTube and see none at all.

And to me, that’s what blogging is all about. You show up regularly with something valuable to say; you build trust. You show up the way you want others to show up for you. You don’t run around capturing attention.

Seth talks more about this in his interview with Marie Forleo.

#8. Ship

Advice is cheap. The person who gives advice doesn’t have as much ‘skin in the game’ as you do.

Whenever I have someone I look up to — somebody I learn from — I like to see what they do, not listen to what he says. Even in the interviews, I try to understand what he or she did (and why), rather than listen to advice.

And the thing I’ve noticed about Seth — is that he always puts his work where his mouth is.

He ships. He delivers. He creates.

He blogs everyday. He wrote 18 books. He is constantly creating new projects and businesses (the latest is AltMBAcheck it out).

You can listen to advise, think and strategize all day long, but at the end of the day — have you shipped anything?

That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned from him.

#9. Don’t search for passion

There’s a lot of talk about finding your passion.

Seth Godin has an interesting take on this:

Don’t look for passion. Instead, become passionate about what you’re already doing. That way, you’re more flexible.

If Elon Musk was born 200 years ago, he would have found something to do. If Shakespeare lived today, he would blog. There are passionate people — not passionate things.

I like the way Seth motivates people just to pick something and do:

You stand by the carousel. And the horses are spinning. You’ve already missed one or two spins. Any horse is just as good as the other — pick one and go!

#10. Give away gifts

Back to lesson #1, — everyone is an artist.

And if art is a gift that changes the recipient, you — the artist — is a gift-giver.

“What can I give as a gift?” you ask. I don’t know. What do you have?

  • An insightful blog post
  • A great business idea
  • A book
  • etc., etc., etc

Seth wrote Unleashing The Ideavirus and gave it away for free as a PDF. That book made him famous. That was his gift to the world.

What’s yours?

P.S. This post was my gift to you.


India has adroitly dealt with US administration: Gautam Bambawale


via India has adroitly dealt with US administration: Gautam Bambawale

NEW DELHI: Unpredictable as US President Donald Trump may be, India has made the most out of the Trump presidency by adroitly dealing with the administration, says Gautam Bambawale, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan and ex-ambassador to China and Bhutan.

Though the much-speculated trade deal is not happening during the 24-25 February Trump visit, there will be many tangible gains from the trip, including a pact on homeland security that will bolster Indian counter terrorism efforts, Bambawale says. The “Namaste Trump” event is not to be dismissed as mere symbolism since it shows strong civil society support for an expanded India – United States strategic partnership, he adds. Edited excerpts from an interview.

Now that the trade deal is not happening, what in your view, are the tangible deliverables from this visit of US President Donald Trump?

There are several tangible gains from the visit. First, the fact that the US President is coming all the way to India is important. Two, his personal rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi will stand the relationship in good stead. Three, the “Namaste Trump” event at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad will indicate the support of the Indian people to a strong India – US relationship and will be the manifestation of the importance of people-to-people ties in our relations. Counter insurgency and counter terrorism cooperation is set to get a boost. Finally, the purchase of defence equipment from the US is a win-win for both nations. So, there will be many positives from this forthcoming visit.

The centerpiece of the visit seems to be the “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad. How does this help in cementing the relationship for the future? Does symbolism matter?

The “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad is very important since it manifests the strong civil society support for an expanded India – United States strategic partnership. This is a crucial element in our ties. Remember, even when government-to-government ties were not this strong, even then, people-to-people ties between India and the US were rock solid and steady. Now the governments of the two countries have caught up with the strong supportive sentiments amongst the people of India and the United States. The “Namaste Trump” event will once again underline the rock steady civil society support for enhanced India – US relations. So my request would be – please do not underplay its importance.

Why did the trade deal not happen, in your view?

My guess is that the trade deal did not happen due to infirmities and weaknesses in the Indian economy. Subsidies to our agriculture sector for power and fertilizers along with small land holding size and the fact that millions of our farmers are dependent on it for a living, make it uncompetitive. Our industrial sector too has not become sufficiently competitive. These are likely to have been considerations while negotiating a trade deal and may have been reasons for it not happening. The lesson for India is very clear, we need to undertake reforms aimed at enhancing competitiveness of our economy.

What impact will not having the trade deal have on our bilateral strategic partnership?

Ans 4. A strategic partnership includes strong political, economic, military and civil society ties. If one of these aspects is not as strong as the others – in the case of India and the United States, the economic component – then it will prove to be a drag on the relationship. While our economic partnership with the United States is quite good and strong, it needs further bolstering. A trade deal would have done just that. We must continue to work on this aspect of our partnership.

Has the Trump Presidency been good for India?

India has made the most out of the Trump Presidency by adroitly dealing with the United States during the last 3 years. Governments in both India and the United States have steered the relationship from a realistic, as opposed to an idealistic, platform. That has been good for India. It has also been good for the United States. It has been a win-win for both.

What is your view of the other candidates in the presidential election fray? Do you see Trump as a better bet for India despite his unpredictability, his almost singular focus on trade etc?

If the Democratic Party in the US chooses a candidate to run for President, who is very far left of Centre, then they may actually end up just as the Labour Party did in the recent UK elections. However, that is a matter entirely to be decided upon by the people of the United States. India will deal with whoever is chosen as President by the voters in the US.

According to officials, India and the US are to sign an MOU on homeland security. How significant is this, if it comes through?

Given the continuing threat from international terrorism to all open societies, this is a very significant area of cooperation for the two countries. In particular, India stands to gain a great deal if it can obtain equipment, training and resources for counter terrorism operations from the United States. I believe this MoU constitutes an important outcome of the visit and of the ever strengthening partnership between our countries.

Again according to officials, the Indo-Pacific region is expected to find key mention in the joint statement. What kind of reference do you think it will be?

This is an important area of convergence for both sides. So, I will not be surprised to find it mentioned in the joint statement. I believe, it will be an unambiguous paragraph calling for a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, with all nation states being committed to abiding by international rules. There will also be mention of the “inclusive” nature of our cooperation which is not aimed at any one country or entity. Both governments will strongly endorse their enhanced cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

How can India and the US strengthen their bilateral ties to meet the challenge China poses?

The India-US strategic partnership is on a growth path which is clear and consistent. It has been so for the past two decades. We must adhere to this growth curve and not shift away from it. Doing so, will be in the interests of both India as well as the United States. It will also be good for the entire world.

What would be some of the key words/statements/references that you would look for in the joint statement to conclude that ties are being put into a higher trajectory?

Actions speak louder than words. So, I would focus on what is actually done before, during and after the visit. Joint statements are important too since they are the documents which provide the direction to what is aimed at being accomplished in the near future. Phrases such as “shared values”, “two democracies”, “strategic partnership”, “enhanced defense and economic ties”, “strong political relations” are likely to provide the flavor to the statement about how the two sides visualize their relationship.

Seasoned Nuts Quotable


“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

“Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.”

― E.O. Wilson

I like Failories Newsletter. Startup Failure stories from around the world.


👋 Hi Failories! New week, two new pieces of content.

The first one is an interview with the founder of Kolos, a Bulgarian entrepreneur who spent $50,000 and 3 years on an iPad racing wheel nobody wanted.

The second one is an interview with the founder of Branch, a fast-growing startup from NYC that makes $400,000 selling furniture to other startups.

This newsletter is sponsored by Signum & NerdPilots.

$50,000 & 3 years burnt in Kolos, an iPad racing wheel nobody wanted

In 2012, Ivo started a 3-year journey towards building a business that sold iPad racing wheels, which would then meant $50,000 burnt. Neither Kickstarter nor the Buildit accelerator wer.e able to turn his business into a success. Nowadays, the money lost has been re-paid and Ivo runs +$1M crowdfunding campaigns.

Read More +
Kolos

AD: Be in the know on emerging new trends

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive reports on the latest trends in products, markets, companies, and styles.

We constantly analyze over 300,000 blogs, forums, portals and social media accounts to keep track of the emergence of new trends at the earliest stages.

Try it now!
Signum

$400k/mo selling furniture for startups

Branch is an NYC startup that provides other startups with office furniture and the possibility for these to trade-in it as they grow. They launched one year ago, and since then, they’ve grown to +$400k/month under cold outreach and content marketing strategies.

Read More +
Branch

AD: Custom software and SaaS solutions for your business.

Why us? Experienced developers familiar with a wide range of frameworks, guaranteed good communication, fast turnaround and quality results.

Are you ready to develop and/or integrate vertical and horizontal SaaS technology for your business?

Quote your project!
NerdPilots
February is being a crazy month, with a lot of things going on:

  • 9 episodes of the podcast have been recorded. We’re so near the launch!
  • A complete website redesign is being done.
  • We’re moving from Webflow to WordPress and it should be ready in March.
  • We’re working on a boost of our social networks, beginning to try Pinterest and giving Instagram more importance.
  • We’re working on a ton of written content for the blog.
  • We’re getting many new amazing interviews.

That’s all for this week. Hope you enjoy everything 😉

WORD OF THE DAY


WORD OF THE DAY
Effloresce
ef-lə-RESS
Part of speech: verb
Origin: Latin, late 18th century
1

Reach an optimum stage of development; blossom.

2

(of a substance) lose moisture and turn to a fine powder on exposure to air.

Examples of Effloresce in a sentence

“The song starts out slowly, but it will effloresce when you reach the chorus.”

“You must keep the package sealed until you’re ready to use it, because it will effloresce when opened.”

Random Writing Prompts


  • Not Normal What is normal and why are you not?
  • Magic Jewels What are they and what powers do they have?
  • Unrequited Love Someone you love does not love you back.
  • The Greeter A character who spends his day greeting people.
  • What’s My Name Why has the character lost their memory?

Random phrases of the day


  1. What Goes Up Must Come DownMeaning: Things that go up must eventually return to the earth due to gravity.
  2. Long In The ToothMeaning: Old in age. Mainly used when referring to people or horses.
  3. Quick and DirtyMeaning: Things that are fixed with great speed, but as a result, it’s probably not going to work very well.
  4. It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up To BeMeaning: Failing to meet expectations; not being as good as people say.
  5. High And DryMeaning: To be left behind; abandoned. Being in a helpless situation without a way to recover.

Brain Pickings newsletter


This is the weekly Brain Pickings newsletter by Maria Popova. If you missed last week’s edition — inner wholeness, our greatest obstacle to happiness, and the body as the seedbed of a flourishing soul; the enchantment of cacti; the bilingual mind — you can catch up right here; if you missed the annual summary of the best of Brain Pickings 2019, you can find it here. And if you find any value and joy in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation – I spend innumerable hours and tremendous resources on it each week, as I have been for more than thirteen years, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.

Until the End of Time: Physicist Brian Greene on the Poetry of Existence and the Wellspring of Meaning in Our Ephemeral Lives Amid an Impartial Universe

untiltheendoftime_briangreene.jpg?fit=320%2C468

“Praised be the fathomless universe, for life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,” Walt Whitman wrote as he stood discomposed and delirious before a universe filled with “forms, qualities, lives, humanity, language, thoughts, the ones known, and the ones unknown, the ones on the stars, the stars themselves, some shaped, others unshaped.” And yet the central animating force of our species, the wellspring of our joy and curiosity, the restlessness that gave us Whitman and Wheeler, Keats and Curie, is the very fathoming of this fathomless universe — an impulse itself a marvel in light of our own improbability. Somehow, we went from bacteria to Bach; somehow, we learned to make fire and music and mathematics. And here we are now, walking wildernesses of mossy feelings and brambled thoughts beneath an overstory of one hundred trillion synapses, coruscating with the ultimate question: What is all this?

That is what physicist and mathematician Brian Greene explores with great elegance of thought and poetic sensibility in Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (public library). Nearly two centuries after the word scientist was coined for the Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville when her unexampled book On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences brought together the separate disciplinary streams of scientific inquiry into a single river of knowledge, Greene draws on his own field, various other sciences, and no small measure of philosophy and literature to examine what we know about the nature of reality, what we suspect about the nature of knowledge, and how these converge to shine a sidewise gleam on our own nature. With resolute scientific rigor and uncommon sensitivity to the poetic syncopations of physical reality, he takes on the questions that bellow through the bone cave atop our shoulders, the cave against whose walls Plato flickered his timeless thought experiment probing the most abiding puzzle: How are we ever sure of reality? — a question that turns the mind into a Rube Goldberg machine of other questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? How did life emerge? What is consciousness?

Although science is Greene’s raw material in this fathoming — its histories, its theories, its triumphs, its blind spots — he emerges, as one inevitably does in contemplating these colossal questions, a testament to Einstein’s conviction that “every true theorist is a kind of tamed metaphysicist.”

briangreene_whirlpool.jpg?resize=680%2C453

Brian Greene

Looking back on how he first grew enchanted with what he calls “the romance of mathematics” and its seductive promise to unveil the timeless laws of nature, Greene writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngCreativity constrained by logic and a set of axioms dictates how ideas can be manipulated and combined to reveal unshakable truths.

[…]

The appeal of a law of nature might be its timeless quality. But what drives us to seek the timeless, to search for qualities that may last forever? Perhaps it all comes from our singular awareness that we are anything but timeless, that our lives are anything but forever.

[…]

We emerge from laws that, as far as we can tell, are timeless, and yet we exist for the briefest moment of time. We are guided by laws that operate without concern for destination, and yet we constantly ask ourselves where we are headed. We are shaped by laws that seem not to require an underlying rationale, and yet we persistently seek meaning and purpose.

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Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Somewhere along the way of our seeking, at one life-point or another, against one wall or another, we all arrive at what David Foster Wallace, vanquisher of euphemism, called “the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me.” Insisting that from that recognition arises our shimmering capacity for creativity, for beauty, for meaning-making, Greene endeavors to explore “the breathtaking ways in which restless and inventive minds have illuminated and responded to the fundamental transience of everything” — minds ranging from Shakespeare to Wallace, from Sappho to Einstein.

A century after Rachel Carson observed (in a trailblazing essay that pioneered the very genre of poetic science writing in which Greene himself dwells) that “against this cosmic background the lifespan of a particular plant or animal appears, not as drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change,” he writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIn the fullness of time all that lives will die. For more than three billion years, as species simple and complex found their place in earth’s hierarchy, the scythe of death has cast a persistent shadow over the flowering of life. Diversity spread as life crawled from the oceans, strode on land, and took flight in the skies. But wait long enough and the ledger of birth and death, with entries more numerous than stars in the galaxy, will balance with dispassionate precision. The unfolding of any given life is beyond prediction. The final fate of any given life is a foregone conclusion.

Despite how we may distract ourselves from that omnipresent conclusion, we live terrified of our own erasure, but that very terror impels us to more-than-exist — to live, to love, to compose poems and symphonies and equations. With an eye to “the inner life that comes hand in hand with our refined cognitive capacities,” Greene writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe mental faculties that allow us to shape and mold and innovate are the very ones that dispel the myopia that would otherwise keep us narrowly focused on the present. The ability to manipulate the environment thoughtfully provides the capacity to shift our vantage point, to hover above the timeline and contemplate what was and imagine what will be. However much we’d prefer it otherwise, to achieve “I think, therefore I am” is to run headlong into the rejoinder “I am, therefore I will die.”

[…]

Perhaps our creative forays, from the stags at Lascaux to the equations of general relativity, emerge from the brain’s naturally selected but overly active ability to detect and coherently organize patterns. Perhaps these and related pursuits are exquisite but adaptively superfluous by-products of a sufficiently large brain released from full-time focus on securing shelter and sustenance… What lies beyond question is that we imagine and we create and we experience works, from the Pyramids to the Ninth Symphony to quantum mechanics, that are monuments to human ingenuity whose durability, if not whose content, point toward permanence.

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One of Japanese designer Kumagasa Nagai’s vintage posters of animals and scientific phenomena

One aspect of Greene’s argument, however, deserves more nuanced consideration: Historically, every time we humans have assumed that a certain feature or faculty is ours alone in the whole of “Creation” — sentience, tools, language, consciousness — we have been wrong. Greene makes the baseline assumption that we alone are aware of our own finitude. “It is only you and I and the rest of our lot,” he asserts, “that can reflect on the distant past, imagine the future, and grasp the darkness that awaits.” But what of elephants and their capacity for grief, deep and documented? What is grief if not a savaging consciousness of the fact that death severs the arrow of time, that what once was — living, beloved — will never again be, while we are left islanded in the present, shipwrecked by an absence?

Still, unblunted by this marginal error of exclusivity is Greene’s astute insight into the elemental equivalence: we are doomed to decay, and so we cope by creating. He highlights two factors that jointly gave rise to the self-awareness seeding our terror and to our wondrous reach for transcendence: entropy and evolution. Across three hundred pages, he fans out the fabric of our present understanding, deftly untangling then interweaving the science of everything from black holes to quanta to DNA, tracing how matter made mind made imagination, probing the pull of eternity and storytelling and the sublime, and arriving at a final chapter lyrically titled “The Nobility of Being,” in which he contemplates how these processes and phenomena, described and discovered by minds honed by millennia of evolution, converge to illuminate our search for meaning:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngMost of us deal quietly with the need to lift ourselves beyond the everyday. Most of us allow civilization to shield us from the realization that we are part of a world that, when we’re gone, will hum along, barely missing a beat. We focus our energy on what we can control. We build community. We participate. We care. We laugh. We cherish. We comfort. We grieve. We love. We celebrate. We consecrate. We regret. We thrill to achievement, sometimes our own, sometimes of those we respect or idolize.

Through it all, we grow accustomed to looking out to the world to find something to excite or soothe, to hold our attention or whisk us to someplace new. Yet the scientific journey we’ve taken suggests strongly that the universe does not exist to provide an arena for life and mind to flourish. Life and mind are simply a couple of things that happen to happen. Until they don’t. I used to imagine that by studying the universe, by peeling it apart figuratively and literally, we would answer enough of the how questions to catch a glimpse of the answers to the whys. But the more we learn, the more that stance seems to face in the wrong direction.

margaretcook_leavesofgrass17.jpg

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Echoing W.H. Auden’s stunning ode to our unrequited love for the universe, he adds:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngLooking for the universe to hug us, its transient conscious squatters, is understandable, but that’s just not what the universe does.

Even so, to see our moment in context is to realize that our existence is astonishing. Rerun the Big Bang but slightly shift this particle’s position or that field’s value, and for virtually any fiddling the new cosmic unfolding will not include you or me or the human species or planet earth or anything else we value deeply.

[…]

We exist because our specific particulate arrangements won the battle against an astounding assortment of other arrangements all vying to be realized. By the grace of random chance, funneled through nature’s laws, we are here.

In the final pages, Greene both affirms and refutes Borges’s refutation of time, guiding us, perishable miracles that we are, to the wellspring of meaning in an impartial universe and ending the book with the word — a curious word, improbable for a physicist — on which Whitman perched his entire cosmogony:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngWhereas most life, miraculous in its own right, is tethered to the immediate, we can step outside of time. We can think about the past, we can imagine the future. We can take in the universe, we can process it, we can explore it with mind and body, with reason and emotion. From our lonely corner of the cosmos we have used creativity and imagination to shape words and images and structures and sounds to express our longings and frustrations, our confusions and revelations, our failures and triumphs. We have used ingenuity and perseverance to touch the very limits of outer and inner space, determining fundamental laws that govern how stars shine and light travels, how time elapses and space expands — laws that allow us to peer back to the briefest moment after the universe began and then shift our gaze and contemplate its end.

[…]

As we hurtle toward a cold and barren cosmos, we must accept that there is no grand design. Particles are not endowed with purpose. There is no final answer hovering in the depths of space awaiting discovery. Instead, certain special collections of particles can think and feel and reflect, and within these subjective worlds they can create purpose. And so, in our quest to fathom the human condition, the only direction to look is inward. That is the noble direction to look. It is a direction that forgoes ready-made answers and turns to the highly personal journey of constructing our own meaning. It is a direction that leads to the very heart of creative expression and the source of our most resonant narratives. Science is a powerful, exquisite tool for grasping an external reality. But within that rubric, within that understanding, everything else is the human species contemplating itself, grasping what it needs to carry on, and telling a story that reverberates into the darkness, a story carved of sound and etched into silence, a story that, at its best, stirs the soul.

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Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Until the End of Time, a splendid and invigorating read in its entirety, left me with the evolutionary miracle of Shelley on my mind — a fragment from the last poetic work he published before he met his own untimely finitude in the entropic spectacle of a sudden storm on the Italian gulf, long before humanity had fathomed entropy and evolution:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngTalk no more
Of thee and me, the future and the past…
Earth and ocean,
Space, and the isles of life or light that gem
The sapphire floods of interstellar air,
This firmament pavilioned upon chaos…
This whole
Of suns and worlds, and men and beasts, and flowers
With all the violent and tempestuous workings
By which they have been, are, or cease to be,
Is but a vision: all that it inherits
Are motes of a sick eye, bubbles and dreams;
Thought is its cradle and its grave, nor less
The future and the past are idle shadows
Of thought’s eternal flight — they have no being.
Nought is but that it feels itself to be.

FORWARD TO A FRIEND/READ ONLINE/Like https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/02/21/brian-greene-until-the-end-of-time/ on Facebook

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What It Takes to Grow Up, What It Means to Have Grown

bookofdelights_rossgay.jpg?fit=320%2C453

“True adulthood,” Toni Morrison told an orchard of human saplings in her 2004 Wellesley College commencement address, “is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.” Four years later, in her stirring letter to the daughter she never had, Maya Angelou wrote: “I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.”

Perhaps the most difficult beauty and the hardest-won glory of true adulthood is the refusal, vehement and countercultural and proud, to relinquish our inner magnolias as we grow older, declining to sacrifice them at the altar-register of a culture that continually robs us of our self-worth and tries to sell it back to us at the price of the latest product.

That is what poet Ross Gay intimates in the one hundredth “essayette” in The Book of Delights (public library) — the inspired yearlong experiment in willfully expanding the everyday capacity for joy and wonder that he undertook on his forty-second birthday, the record of which became one of the most wonderful and wonder-full books of 2019.

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Ross Gay

In the entry for July 27 (the eve of my own birthday, as it happens), he echoes poet May Sarton’s life-earned observation that “sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination,” and writes under the heading “Grown”:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngI suspect it is simply a feature of being an adult, what I will call being grown, or a grown person, to have endured some variety of thorough emotional turmoil, to have made your way to the brink, and, if you’re lucky, to have stepped back from it — if not permanently, then for some time, or time to time. Then it is, too, a kind of grownness by which I see three squares of light on my wall, the shadow of a tree trembling in two of them, and hear the train going by and feel no panic or despair, feel no sense of condemnation or doom or horrible alignment, but simply observe the signs — light and song — for what they are — light and song. And, knowing what I have felt before, and might feel again, feel a sense of relief, which is cousin to, or rather, water to, delight.

Complement this small fragment of the enormously delightful Book of Delights with Alain de Botton on what existential maturity really means and Mary Oliver’s life-affirming, light- and delight-giving poem “When I Am Among the Trees,” then revisit Bill T. Jones’s stunning Universe in Verse performance of Gay’s “Poem to My Child, If Ever You Shall Be.”

FORWARD TO A FRIEND/READ ONLINE/Like https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/02/17/ross-gay-book-of-delights-grown/ on Facebook

Marcus Aurelius in Love: The Future Stoic Philosopher and Roman Emperor’s Passionate Teenage Love Letters to His Tutor

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“Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love,” a trio of psychologists wrote in their wonderful inquiry into limbic revision and how love rewires the brain. But whom we love equally depends on who we are and who we want to become. Love, like time, is as much a function of us as we are a function of it.

An especially striking illustration of this equivalence, both for its intensity and its unexpectedness, comes from the adolescent love letters the future Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (April 26, 121–March 17, 180) to his teacher, Marcus Cornelius Fronto, collected and translated by Amy Richlin two millennia later in Marcus Aurelius in Love (public library) — a most improbable addition to history’s greatest LGBT love letters.

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Fatherless since childhood, Marcus Aurelius was raised by his wealthy single mother, Domitia Lucilla. In 139, she hired Fronto — an African immigrant to Rome who described himself as “a Libyan of the Libyan nomads,” by then one of the era’s preeminent orators — to teach her eighteen-year-old son the art of rhetoric in preparation for his political career.

Across caste and rank, across twenty-some years of age difference, the two Marcuses fell in love.

For six years, until Marcus Aurelius’s socially necessitated marriage, they lived in close proximity and exchanged letters of devotion and tenderness, laced with intellectual admiration and erotic longing. Although their love was edged with danger under Roman law, it was not its same-sex nature that imperiled them — a grown man charged with seducing an adolescent male could be charged with adultery, the penalty for which was exile or death. But the seduction, if the term applies to their case at all, flowed the other way: Marcus Aurelius inundated Fronto with ardor that at first received only a timorous echo.

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Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print)

In the preface to the collection, Richlin draws on the early Stoic philosophers’ forgotten axioms of sexuality to provide the deeper cultural context beneath the shallow reach of Roman law:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngZeno (335–263 BCE) and his successor, Chrysippus (280–207 BCE), argued that sex between human beings who have learned the proper principles of respect and true friendship is a good thing, and that the ideal society would be one in which sex was enjoyed freely, without propertarian bonds of marriage. In particular, the young person just turning toward philosophy, the prokopton, should be trained by his mentor first through a sexual relationship, which should grow into an understanding of philosophy.

And so it did for Marcus Aurelius and his mentor-turned-paramour.

It was through the portal of intellectual reverence that the young man marched his heart into love. By the end of 139, he had already become besotted with Fronto. After receiving one of his tutor’s essays, he exults:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngShould I not burn with love of you when you’ve written this to me? What should I do? I can’t stop.

Soon, the young man began addressing his beloved as “my Fronto,” unselfconsciously calling him “my number one delight,” “my dearest and most loving,” “my biggest thing under heaven,” “breath of my life.” Fronto, at first, met this ardor with considerable reserve — self-restraint, perhaps — but it was an ambivalent reserve. Aware that Marcus was being courted by another man — not uncommon practice in their time and place — and that this suitor already considered him his “He-Sweetheart,” Fronto writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngYou seem likely, dear Boy, to want to understand… why, pray, I who am not in love strive so eagerly to gain the same Things that Lovers do. So will I tell you first how that may be. By Zeus, that Fellow who is so very a Suitor was not born with a sharper Pair of Eyes than I who am no Lover, yet I in fact am sensible of your Beauty no less than the rest; I might say, more acutely so than your Suitor.

[…]

Me you approach not at your Peril, nor at the Cost of any Harm will you keep Company with me; nay, ’twill do you every Good. Indeed, Beauties are help’d and benefitted more by those who love them not, as green Shoots are help’d by the Waters. For Springs and Rivers love not green Shoots, yet in their going near and their flowing past do they make them to flower and to bloom.

Fronto’s conflicted push-pull message achieved none of the push. With the same stubborn optimism and imperviousness to adversity that would one day make him a great Stoic and a great emperor, Marcus responds:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngGo ahead, as much as you like, threaten me, accuse me… with whole clumps of arguments, but you will never put off your Suitor — I mean me. Nor will I proclaim it any less that I love Fronto, or will I be less in love, because you’ve proven, and with such strange and strong and elegant expressions, that those who love less should be helped out and lavished with more.

Two millennia later, W.H. Auden would echo this sentiment in his stunning poem “The More Loving One.”

Marcus accelerates the propulsion of his undeterred ardor:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngGod, no, I am dying so for love of you, and I’m not scared off by this doctrine of yours, and if you’re going to be more ripe and ready for others who don’t love you, I will still love you as long as I live and breathe.

[…]

Socrates didn’t burn more with desire for Phaedrus than I’ve burned during these days — did I say days? I mean months — for the sight of you. Your letter fixed it so a person wouldn’t have to be Dion to love you so much — if he isn’t immediately seized with love of you.

And then, in a touchingly innocent closing line, he adds:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngMy lady mother says hello.

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Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print)

On Fronto’s birthday, Marcus writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngBecause I love you next to my own self, I want to make a wish for myself on this day.

In an imaginative romp through the intellectual and spiritual epicenters of the ancient world, he gathers a posy of blandishments and beneficences for his beloved:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngI go down to Athens, and on bended knee I beseech and beg Minerva that whatever I may ever learn about letters should above all journey from Fronto’s mouth to my heart.’ Now I return to Rome, and I call on the gods of roads and voyages with wishes that every trip I take may be with you beside me, and that I may not be worn out so frequently by such ferocious longing. In the end I ask all the guardian gods of all the nations, and Jupiter himself, who thunders over the Capitol Hill, to grant us that I should celebrate this day, on which you were born for me, along with you, and a happy, strong you.

Fronto did not remain unresponsive. “With good reason I’ve devoted myself to you,” he eventually writes, “considering your love for me, which I feel so lucky to have.” Whatever the nature and magnitude of his own feelings may have been, he makes no pretense of denying that he loves being so loved:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngGood-bye, Caesar, and love me the most, as you do. I truly love to pieces every little letter of every word you.

Plucked from antiquity when the manuscript was discovered in 1815, and reanimated by Richlin’s painstaking scholarship despite missing pages, illegible handwriting, and untranslatable sentiments, the forty-six letters collected in Marcus Aurelius in Love radiate a testament to an elemental fact I have observed elsewhere: The human heart is an ancient beast that roars and purrs with the same passions, whatever labels we may give them. We are so anxious to classify and categorize, both nature and human nature. It is a beautiful impulse — to contain the infinite in the finite, to wrest order from the chaos, to construct a foothold so we may climb toward higher truth. It is also a limiting one, for in naming things we often come to mistake the names for the things themselves. The labels we give to the loves of which we are capable — varied and vigorously transfigured from one kind into another and back again — cannot begin to contain the complexity of feeling that can flow between two hearts and the bodies that contain them.

For a further testament across time and space, savor Emily Dickinson’s electric love letters to Susan Gilbert and Herman Melville’s passionate epistolary longing for Nathaniel Hawthorne, then revisit the grown Marcus Aurelius, his wisdom having ripened under Fronto’s formative sun, on the key to living with presence and how to begin each day with unassailable serenity.

FORWARD TO A FRIEND/READ ONLINE/Like https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/02/16/marcus-aurelius-in-love-amy-richlin/ on Facebook

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Every week for more than 13 years, I have been pouring tremendous time, thought, love, and resources into Brain Pickings, which remains free and is made possible by patronage. If you find any joy and solace in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation. And if you already donate, from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU. (If you’ve had a change of heart or circumstance and wish to rescind your support, you can do so at this link.)

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You can become a Sustaining Patron with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a Brooklyn lunch.

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Did you know…


Did you know…

… that today is Single Tasking Day? We’ve all heard the pros and cons of multi-tasking. Let’s choose today to focus on getting just one major thing done. Cut off all distractions and accomplish one major task on your ToDo list. It’s been said that single tasking increases engagement and helps reduce errors. Try it!

~~~

Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“Spend eighty percent of your time focusing on the opportunities of tomorrow rather than the problems of yesterday.”

— Brian Tracy