Slow philosophy. [Weekly Head Voices #64]

I’ve spent days writing this post in my head, and now it’s taken more than two weeks to get done. It’s not that I have something complicated or difficult to tell you, it’s just that I was privy to three absolutely awesome weeks of vacation in an undisclosed location to the very far south of my current coordinates, during which I attained ultimate levels of relaxation that caused my brain to shut-down large parts of itself. The only parts that managed to remain online were those dedicated to slow living, appreciation of people and surroundings and, finally, deep thought. My brain is currently taking its sweet time to come fully online again.

Oh well.

I did bring you a photo of Disa Uniflora, a special little orchid that likes living close to little waterfalls, for example just like the one that can be found on your hike up Leopard’s Kloof. Look:

Pretty Disa in Leopard's Kloof.

As is usual for sunny vacations during which we transition into a new year, a number of realizations and resolutions slowly bubbled up to the surface from some usually submerged part of my consciousness. I’d like to share some of them with you:

Life goals are bad. Let’s stop doing them. The problem is that humans are awesome at adaptation. Unfortunately this means that two days after having celebrated your latest epic life achievement, you’re bored with it. Some people even get bored with their lives in general, and then buy a leather jacket and a motorbike because they think that that’ll somehow solve the problem, only to get bored with their new image soon after. Fortunately, there is a way to sidestep the problem quite elegantly. Don’t set life goals, but rather set life directions. Instead of defining the point that you want to go towards, define your preferred direction. If you do it right, you’ll pass those points as you go along in any case, except you won’t land in the depressing goal vacuum right after reaching the point that you’ve been moving towards for so long, because you’re motoring along in a direction, and that’s what’s important. To those more mathematically inclined, ignore the life function, rather design its derivatives. This is a practical way of applying the well-known addage that life is about the journey, and not the destination.

Disconnecting is good. I do love the internet. I also think it’s one of the most awesome achievements of the whole of humankind ever, and it really empowers humans everywhere. I’m more or less addicted to being constantly connected, having constant access to the sum total of human knowledge and in principle to a large percentage of my fellow humans. However, there is a fine line between having constant access and being constantly interrupted by too many not necessarily valuable packets of data. We’re very vulnerable to this latter situation, due to our brain chemistry being optimized by all of evolution for novelty, and for foraging, so we keep on clicking on “refresh”, and our ears perk up whenever a phone goes “ping”. However, when not being interrupted, human thought gets the room it needs to grow and deepen, into importance and into impact.

I’ve also been thinking about consumption. I’d like to do much less of that, and when I do, I’d prefer to consume quality. In my thoughts, it was primarily about information, but it applies to many other things. It’s an ongoing process.

I’m adding all of these to my growing list of little life tips. As regular readers of this blog, you know some of these by now: Keep on  striving for balance and harmony, focus on the now, create value, study your manual, and, most importantly, drink lots of coffee. One day I’m going to combine them all nicely into the Unified Dogma of  Me (UDM) and then I’ll start a sect. Seriously though, it’s quite challenging keeping these and the other ones in the front of my mind all the time. The UDM would definitely help. And I could start a sect.

One more thing before you go: I came across this recent PNAS article via the science pages of my newspaper. William Ratcliff and colleagues at the Michigan State University showed with a terribly simple experiment that single-celled yeast cells can evolve into multi-cellularity quite quickly. Pouring yeast from one test tube into another about 60 times, an action that favours, or selects, yeast cells that clump together, resulted into a multi-celled organism: The clumped together yeast cells started showing internal specialization. Pretty awesome results, especially considering the fact that you could probably reproduce this experiment in your kitchen.

That’s all for this week kids. Have fun evolving!

4 thoughts on “Slow philosophy. [Weekly Head Voices #64]”

  1. Woah. Three decades in the jungle of life and finally I find an eloquent summary of the secret to happiness. Here’s to derivatives! And to noticing the trees instead of searching for the forest.

  2. “The problem is that humans are awesome at adaptation”…..

    This line really caught my attention…especially as it has been something that I have thought about a lot. These past 2 years I have been fortunate enough to travel several countries. What an amazing journey it has been! My mind has been opened to the vast number of diverse cultures, perceptions and ways of living and thinking. And all this thanks to the amazing people I met along the way who were willing to share a part of their soul (and food).

    So what is my problem then? Well Charl, as you so aptly point out…..humans adapt so quickly, transforming the once extra-ordinary into the ordinary, the mondane, the mere average. And before you know it, the people and places that once fascinated you, now struggles to retain your interest. In some ways I believe my many travels have been a curse. I often, as is the case after returning from my latest journey, struggle to find excitement in everyday life. I crave for the stimulating conversations with strangers, the exotic food, the breath-taking sights and the unfamiliar sounds of foreign languages buzzing around me.

    It’s a catch 22 really, because, if given the chance to do it all over again, I would not change a single thing. On the other hand, I look to the people around me and I see that they are content. And I wonder how it must feel to find delight in empty days.

    Then your mind turns to find a solution….and you realise the problem is ‘yOu’ and the focus on the ‘self’. So what better solution is there then, than to change your life direction more TOWARDS others, and less towards yourself. . Touring is all about enriching YOUR own life with ‘kodak’ moments and experiences. And it is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but the thrill is short lived. As Charl quoted Neil deGrasse Tyson in another post:

    “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”

    Thank you Charl for this thought provoking post. It is always so rewarding when some else’s ideas sets you off on a journey of your own. Not only did I learn from your ‘backyard philosophy’, but I also discovered a little bit more of myself tonight.

    Thanks and regards!

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