Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Quotes from the Dune series by Frank Herbert

The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.
  • Paul Atreides to the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam
"What is the meaning of life?" People spend a lot of time and energy trying to answer that question. However, as Paul says, perhaps we're asking the wrong question. The outlook promulgated by the quote is similar to the Buddhist outlook, which emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment. Apparently, Eckhart Tolle's book "The Power of Now" promotes a similar worldview.

Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It's shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson.
  • from The Humanity of Muad'Dib by the Princess Irulan
I think a large part of the willingness to learn is the willingness to examine yourself - to evaluate one's own abilities, see where they can be improved, and take every available opportunity to do so. Perhaps those who do not believe they can learn are unwilling to truly see themselves and judge their strengths and weaknesses.

The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called "spannungsbogen" — which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.
  • from The Wisdom of Muad'Dib by the Princess Irulan
Good government never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. The most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing leaders.
  • Law and Governance The Spacing Guild Manual
The same could be said of any organization - but the one that is most relevant to me is business. The corollary to the above statement could be that the next most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing the people to carry out the wishes of the leaders.

The difference between a good administrator and a bad one is about five heartbeats. Good administrators make immediate choices ... [that] usually can be made to work. A bad administrator, on the other hand, hesitates, diddles around, asks for committees, for research and reports. Eventually, he acts in ways which create serious problems ... A bad administrator is more concerned with reports than with decisions. He wants the hard record which he can display as an excuse for his errors ... [Good administrators] depend on verbal orders. They never lie about what they've done if their verbal orders cause problems, and they surround themselves with people able to act wisely on the basis of verbal orders. Often, the most important piece of information is that something has gone wrong. Bad administrators hide their mistakes until it's too late to make corrections ... One of the hardest things to find is people who actually make decisions.
  • God Emperor of Dune
There was a man who sat each day looking out through a narrow vertical opening where a single board had been removed from a wooden fence. Each day a wild ass of the desert passed outside the fence and across the narrow opening — first the nose, then the head, the forelegs, the long brown back, the hindlegs, and lastly the tail. One day the man leaped to his feet with a light of discovery in his eyes and he shouted for all who could hear him: "It is obvious! The nose causes the tail!"
  • Stories of the Hidden Wisdom from the Oral History of Rakis, Heretics of Dune
There is a great deal of emphasis on causality - if we see the effect B, what was the cause A that led to B? However, as the quote says, many causal relationships can be much better understood from a holistic sense as being part of the same event.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Skepticism, from Ender and Bean

Although Orson Scott Card's novels have raised some controversy, they contain some passages that have stuck with me and affected my own thinking.
Believed, but the seed of doubt was there, and it stayed, and every now and then sent out a little root. It changed everything to have that seed growing. It made Ender listen more carefully to what people meant, instead of what they said. It made him wise.
- Ender's Game, p. 111
The criminal misuse of time was pointing out the mistakes. Catching them - noticing them - that was essential. If you did not in your own mind distinguish between useful and erroneous information, then you were not learning at all, you were merely replacing ignorance with false belief, which was no improvement.
- Ender's Shadow, p. 87-88
Both quotes deal with the idea of critical thinking - examining information for its value before incorporating it into your own corpus of knowledge. I fear that critical thinking is increasingly devalued in our current society, and even those who wish to understand issues and ideas more deeply are overwhelmed by the glut of information that is available to us nowadays through television, radio, books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and (lest we forget) the people we talk to.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Efficiency of Fun: Skiing and Surfing

Skiing and surfing have been on my mind recently - along with the topic of efficiency. I'm more experienced with skiing, so I'll cover that first. Skiing is a lot of waiting, followed by a few minutes of fun, followed by a lot of waiting, etc. etc. The wait for the ski lift at your typical ski resort can be anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes, depending on how crowded the resort is. The ride up typically takes another 5-10 minutes. The run down, however, typically takes just a few minutes. From an efficiency point of view, this is not the greatest use of time. The "fun" to "waiting" ratio is relatively low. This analysis doesn't even take into account the time taken to drive or fly to and from the resort in question, gear up, and actually start skiing.

When looked at from this point of view, surfing is even worse. There is a lot of effort involved in finding a good surf spot, getting to the location, donning the wetsuit, and paddling out to the desired starting area. Once there, you try to stave off hypothermia and the nagging doubt that some form of aquatic life is going to sample portions of your anatomy while waiting for a good "set" of waves, then catch a wave and get a good 10-30 seconds of surfing, followed by the paddle back to the starting area. Depending on the locale, sets can last somewhere around 10 minutes, with approximately 30 minutes in between. Again, the "fun" to "waiting" ratio is relatively low.

However, some may say that the "waiting" isn't actually not "fun". If you're in line waiting for the ski lift with your ski partner(s) or riding the ski lift, it is a great opportunity to chat with them. Likewise, when you're sitting on your board waiting for the next set to roll in, a good conversation will help you keep your mind off the increasing number of extremities that you can't feel. Now that I think about it, the same goes for skiing, especially as the day wears on and the temperature starts to drop.