Hyperbolic Discounting: When is now more important than the future?

I’m reading Carrots and Sticks by Ian Ayres. The book discusses hyperbolic discounting, which is the natural tendency to discount the future value of something in favor for having it now.

The book cites a study of kids placed in a room with a marshmallow. They were told that if they could wait until the examiner returned they could get a second marshmallow. Years later, a follow up found that the kids who waited the longest scored the highest on their SATs.

The initial reaction might be, “Thats great! We need to train or kids to have more patience. If we teach them patience, they’ll score higher on their tests!”

I probably fell into the category of the patient kid. I used to stash my halloween candy and even forgot where I hid it once, discovering it months later. Recently, I’ve concluded that I have a tendency to put too much emphasis on future value. I’ve spent a good portion of my life “waiting” and being patient. I have a tendency to overanalyze so much that I fail to act when the time is right. I think often times my intelligence lures me into thinking that I know more about the future than I really do.

My point is not that we should always be impulsive. Neither should we always be patient. We need to have the capacity to do both and apply whatever is most appropriate to the situation. I currently strive for impulsiveness because I havent mastered it to the same degree as patience.

Is this flawed thinking? Am I crazy for thinking that high SAT scores really aren’t that important? Is patience always a good thing?

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Contrast: Balancing Balance

Balance is good. We end up disliking those who are passive as much as those who are aggressive. In all reality, we need to be able to balance all of our personality traits.

But what balances balance? Balance in itself is boring, but contrast makes it interesting. One could sit in the middle of a teeter-totter for the rest of eternity but the fun doesn’t start until it starts to totter back and forth.

In essence, developed personality, art, or lifestyle has not only found balance but has spiced it with a little variety.

What areas of your life are balanced? Could those areas use a little contrast? What areas of your life aren’t balanced? What trait do you need to learn to balance it? When is contrast and/or balance unwanted?

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Ego vs Self Esteem

After reading You Can Read Anyone by David Lieberman I was inspired to make the following graphic.

 

  • Small Ego and Low Self Esteem
    • Referred to in the book as LED or Low Esteem Doormat, this person gets run on by others because
    • Because “self-esteem is defined by how much a person “likes” himself and how worthy he feels of receiving good things in life.” someone with low self-esteem doesn’t think they deserve good things
    • This person treats themselves poorly and lets themselves be poorly treated.
  • Large Ego and No Self Esteem
    •  ”the ego wants to do what looks good.” Someone with a large ego will do what they think is going to make those around them happy, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.
    • Ego is born out of fear. It is a protection mechanism.
    • Low self esteem results in attention whoring.
    • This person treats others poorly.
  • Large Ego and High Self Esteem
    • This case is not possible.
  • Low Ego and High Self Esteem
    • Someone who has high self esteem will sacrifice public image if it means achieving meaningful results.
    • Self-Esteem is easily confused with confidence. “Confidence is how effective a person feels within a specific area or situation, while self-esteem is defined by how much a person “likes” himself and how worthy he feels of receiving good things in life.”
    • Self-Esteem is substance, while ego is a façade.
    • Persons with high self-esteem treat themselves and others well. Often times treating others well might not be being “nice”

My initial reaction is to think I’m low ego and somewhere between low and high self esteem. However, I can’t help but wonder if someone with a big ego would be able to admit it to themselves.

Lieberman argue that the difference between these three types is more of a spectrum than cut and dried as I have drawn it. To identify  where someone is, you evaluate how they treat themselves and others. Once you have identified how much ego and self esteem a person has, then you can better judge how they might act.

Does all this make sense? In my research I seem to keep coming across places that suggest ego and self-esteem can coexist. Is my graphic congruent with the book?

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How to Read

I have been trying to read more (as in consume more material) and am impressed with the amount you read. How do you do it? Is it your reading rate, as in words per minute, or do you power read past material that is less meaningful?

I asked that same question sometime ago. “I must read!” I said, “Because there is so much to know and so little time.” I was provoked by the intimidating stacks of library books and all those pages of wisdom that make you feel so detestably ignorant. I love and hate libraries. There rise the shelves of infinite knowledge and you, with an infinitesimal and dying mind, helplessly stand in the shadow of the unlearned. No matter how many shelves you climb, you will never see the light. It is always blotted out by another book to read.

But the light of understanding is not how much you know, but the brilliance of what you know. Socrates, the ancient sage of western philosophy, claimed that despite his teachings, he knew only one thing: that he knows nothing. Our speck of enlightenment, made from the boundless envelope of life, implies naught but a crumb of our imagined self-importance. We are, as Carl Sagan reflected when he saw a photograph of Earth some six billion kilometers away, no more “than a mote of dust, suspended in a light beam.”

Reading is not an appraisal of the mankind at large or the means to judge the ignorance of others. We read to live. It is the climb to touch the hem of mental elegance, and while it is often steep and forbidding, we cannot grow content by validating how far we come, but continue to climb because of how much farther we have to go.

We all recognize the importance of good books, and suggest to one another that we should all read more. And now there is this enamor with the ability to read fast; to consume as much information as possible; turning the pages quicker than your mind can keep pace with your eyes. What good purpose this serves I do not know. “Speed reading” dilutes the ideal of learning – finish one book and move on to another without a moment of introspection or inquiry. We do not read to stack books on the living room bookshelf as a monument of self-indulged intelligence. Where is the benefit in pointing at your personal library and saying “Look how much I have read!”? Instead, we should look at ourselves and ask “how much have I learned?”

I read in a painstakingly slow fashion. I etch and doodle in the margins, underlining and bracketing the text. More often then not, I take notes on a folded sheet of notebook paper and find myself lucky to get through ten pages within the hour. I doubt I read faster than 200 words per minute – what academics consider barely “average.” This “average” distinction, by modern standards, entails a sense of incredulity, because if we stop to think on what the author is saying, we may hurt ourselves. God forbid we disagree with what is found in our books.

How then do you finish a book before the cows come home? Read when you have at least a bare moment of time. Our quotidian routine is full of stops and go’s: standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for water to boil for pasta, starring at the computer to restart, waiting for the stop light to turn green, etc. The later I will suggest an urgency of caution, but my drift is that a few sentences here and a half a page there slowly accumulate. Reading in bursts affords the reader an opportunity to stop and digest the words, giving attention to the arguments or critical thought to a peculiar metaphor. Reading without thinking is like eating without chewing. We need to enjoy the words, and masticate what the author is telling us, and then think for ourselves if it even worth to swallow. Sometimes the book is worth sitting down to again and again, like a favorite meal that never grows old. Now we slurp down only the first sentence of each paragraph, brag about how fast we forked through chapter one, and without a modicum of understanding of what was just consumed, rush on to chapter two.

I have read a handful of clinical studies and other similar works describing the “phonological working memory” and “automated cognitive capacity” that are necessary to develop “memory traces” and “mechanical and semantic reading skills.” I have no idea what those convoluted words even mean, and I will wager the scientist has but the scarcest clue either. Contrary to popular common belief even among the educated, we are beguiled by the notion of a good reader, who is defined as the fast reader, and therefore, the reader has accomplished the “art of reading.” Reading in and of itself is as much as an art form as the layman having a bowel movement. The art is not is not in the act of reading per se, but in our capacity to think about what is read. It is this very notion of thought where society has fallen short in interpreting the written word - trivializing quality for the sake of quantity. When we contemplate what is in our books, we foster what Aristotle said is ”the highest form of activity because the intellect is the highest part of our nature, and the things apprehended by it are the highest form of knowledge.”

A book is the attempt to make permanent a conversation with great minds of the past. My advice is to actually participate in that conversation; no matter how long and drawn out you must make it. I would like to cull up the elegant words from Neil Postman, who vigorously defends the merit of reading:

“The reader must come armed, in a serious state of intellectual readiness. This is not easy because he comes to the text alone. In reading, one’s responses are isolated, one’s intellect thrown back on its own resources. To be confronted by the cold abstractions of printed sentences is to look upon language bare, without the assistance of either beauty or community. Thus, reading is by its nature a serious business. It is also, of course, an essentially rational activity.”

Let us not be thoughtless and turn the page for the sake of finishing the book. Let us turn the page to read the book.

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A Brief Inquiry into the Philosophical Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

To avoid the possibility that my brief analysis will be interpreted as standard-brand theological whimpering – a kind of snobbish verdict – I confess what I have so-called inquired here may be torn from context, butchered, and delivered in such an amateurish manner that my essay is erroneous. But as the subtitle of this blog reveals: My ignorance is essential. I do not write what I know but what I need to know.

It seems to me that there is a historical figure much overlooked by the modern philosophical academia. That person is Jesus. When we hear the name “Jesus,” we think of salivation and he who “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Our insight tends to stop there and we inadvertently shift attention to expound on other Biblical themes, such as faith, love, or hope. It is my prudence here, however, to narrowly interpret Jesus as a thinker and not just our saving grace.

Jesus’ moral teachings are certainly dissected, studied, then lobbied to the public’s mind, but what I have laid out in the following paragraphs is a more secular perspective. I do not mean to liken Jesus with worldly notions that would castigate him as a heretic, nor do I write as a “Gnostic Christian.” I mean to sheer off the metaphysical dress imposing Jesus as a deity and Messiah, and instead, examine the parochial status of Jesus’ moral teachings.

In 1993, a group of 150 critical scholars and theologians convened at the University of Berkeley to publically submit a reconstruction of the teachings and sayings of Jesus.  By placing burdens of proof from Bible and elsewhere, The Jesus Seminar weeded through his many attributed sayings in effort to decipher his most empirical dictums and deeds from those, who as Thomas Jefferson condemned, as engrafting “the mysticisms of a Grecian sophist [Paul], frittering them into subtleties, and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor.”

Much of what is written in the New Testament are accretions of Jesus’ original work, recorded down by other people on his behalf. This is evident in the wide differences between the gospels themselves, and if one takes into account the apocryphal gospels (of which there are twenty) we can see how widely Jesus’ teachings have been interpreted.

Notwithstanding the extraneous instruction of Jesus’, his sayings, particularly those best attributed to him from The Jesus Seminar, have a better chance of being original than his life. About his life, we do not know much. Jesus was a wandering teacher traveling throughout Palestine in the first third of the first century, then fell fowl to the temple authorities in Jerusalem and crucified.

All the messy doctrinal disputes and conceptions preoccupied with his heavenly status are secondary to what Jesus taught. Jesus never endorsed the Law of Moses and never outspokenly claimed to be the Son of God.* His accepted standing as the Son of God was not greatly emphasized until about twenty years after his crucifixion.

What Jesus did teach were repeated themes of “turn the other cheek,” go the “second mile,” and “love your enemies.” Jesus demanded a sense of excessive generosity and nonviolence that was not based on law, but your heart.

Conversely, many point to where the Bible demands equivalent retaliation: an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21). Such measures are drawn, as I have annotated, from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and were not teachings of Jesus.

What particularly concerns Jesus, unlike before any religion, sage, or political decree, is our human relationships. He wants to know why we are so often envious, suspicion, hostile, and jealous with one another. To use Rodney King’s famous plea: “Why can’t we all get along?”  These Christian grounds, as I will argue next, mark Jesus as the hinge of history.

To be Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, one must live according to a divine law. The Qur’an, for example commands the Prophet Mohammad to carry out the law of Allah, or Shari’ah:

“Thou set thy face in the right direction to receive the Primordial Religion, the Law of Allah, that Religion which is inherited innately for people to follow” (HQ 30:30).

Buddhism subscribes to the one law of Karma and the principles Tao and Dharma befit the property of Hindus.

What Jesus taught broke the religious trend. The basis of his ideas breaks with law morality, which balances rights and duties, and puts forth a course which flows from the heart. The crux of this is best elucidated in Matthew 5:38 – 40 (at least to the best of my limited knowledge):

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

His greatest concern is human relationships or how we treat one another. I would venture to say this is the consequence of loving one another as Jesus demanded we internalize morality. This means he is implicitly a radical humanist, much more modern than at first appears.

Take, for instance, how Jesus says not to be concerned with the ritual pollutions of the world. “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew  15:11).

Throughout the Old Testament, the ancient Jews dreamed about a better society in the future: the Kingdom of God on Earth. It is identifiable with the good society that Karl Marx and Jeremy Bentham were asking for centuries later, and yet the Torah has not worked. It has not made people righteous.

Instead, God’s spirit will need to be accepted in people’s hearts and their moral code internalized. Humanity requires confidence to trust the flow of feelings that go beyond living by conventional and subjective expectations, and show, even by counter intuition, exceptional generosity toward your enemies.

This sort of generosity was practiced by Ghandi in using nonviolence as means to oppose a violet state. Later examples include Martin Luther King, and more recently Nelson Mandela during the upheaval of the apartheid system. Jesus says to break with the morality of violence and try a morality of love.

References to internalizing morality can be noted when he denounces how keen we are to judge one another. He extends his idea by encouraging self-awareness. We must “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Just as Socrates finds almost 2400 years ago, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” It would behoove us to examine our own heart before we marshal in the judgment of others.

I believe what Jesus reveals is what pioneer of the Second Great Awakening Charles Finney advocated as “Christian Perfectionism.” That is, by the second works of grace, total love for others is wrought by the nexus of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus asked us to elicit, or at least make our feeble human attempts, to spread the same grace that he did; to extend love and forgiveness to those who we deem undeserving and even unwilling to accept your kinship. For we are undeserving creatures in our own right, and thus (paradoxically perhaps?) must “judge” others as the same: a tangled mesh of nerves, blood, and bone. In the opening paragraphs of this essay, I baselessly declared we inadvertently shift our thinking to love, hope, and faith. However, one cannot speak of Jesus’ moral teachings without such aforementioned qualifiers. These supposed qualifiers are, in fact, the definition of Jesus and the philosophy he taught. These are the ideals of a humanist.

I think what Jesus taught was that we are all created equal, both in faults and fortitudes, and if we adopt a morality from the heart, we arrive at what secularists call The Golden Rule. I think little else needs to be explained on this axiom.

*I think it important to note that though in the Bible Jesus never directly says “I am the Son of God,” there are passages that certainly speak to him as such. In Luke 22:70, he is asked “Are you the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.” Other passages, like in John 10:24-30, record when the Jews gathered around him and asked “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” My point is that Jesus never masqueraded around on a high horse to blatantly spoon feed his divinity to the hoi poi.

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The Crisis of Education

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. – Virgil
Happy is the man who can understand the causes of things.

Foreword:

I was not until near completion of my undergraduate studies that I discovered what education truly entailed. I now regret I chose a field as vocational as “systems engineering management.” When I first showed interest in philosophy, English, or history, I would receive gibing answers of “what are you going to do with that degree?!” And so I chose my major based on the shallow appraisal of how much money I would earn. I lament, as I have learned what I have not learned.

My intent is to make clear the curious affair of the university and how education is a curriculum based on experience and the empirical – to be “cultured,” in the original sense. I believe that the students’ mind should not be made up for themselves. Their attitude should be “looking away from first things, principles, ‘categories,’ supposed necessities; and looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts” (James 29). Moreover, I think it prudent to recognize this essay, with sufficient leisure, ought to be a much larger work. The following pages, I confess, do not give the matter adequate attention but enough, I hope, to provoke the reader. I write as a student, not a scholar, and so have scant right to pronounce verdict on education or part company with great minds of the past. Nothing original was brought to the task, other than what some may call a discombobulated reconciliation of competing ideas, but to my own defense this work is for my own betterment. Lastly, I am somewhat dogmatic in my criminal brevity, and I can only beg the reader’s pardon.

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is education.”– Albert Einstein

Poor education creeps up on us. We have grown accustomed to the stale originality of education, taking little urgency to fix the problem. Instead of continually moving our minds toward the zenith of self-examination, we have, in fact, fallen toward the nadir of self-validation. Nowadays students graduate without so much as touching the hem of mental elegance, merely yawning at the senseless drudgery and checking the box. Education has impoverished our culture and, parenthetically, tarnished our politics. Politicians wield the word with certain verve and proffer laddish promises of “No Child Left Behind” and agendas like “Race to the Top.” When compared with the rest of the world, American students’ rank 48th in math and science and near the bottom of industrialized countries for reading (Klein 1). More than 38% of American students say they dislike school, ranking second in the world for finding school boring (OECD). Indeed, statistics confirm our intellectual ditch. The populace hears the word education, and unfortunately thinks what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote almost 150 years ago: “this word Education has so cold, so hopeless a sound. A treatise on education, a convention on education, affects us with slight paralysis and a certain yawning of the jaw” (“Emerson on Education”). We ought not to cast a caustic eye and mindlessly grasp technical standards as a measure of ourselves. For education “is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means” (James 7).

Education once entailed rigorous instruction of the Greek and Latin languages; classical immersion in the magistrates of ancient Athens, the emperors of Rome, memorization of Greek and Roman poetry, then learning about the English royal dynasty, about Chaucer and Shakespeare. I do not believe a classical education is a necessity or perhaps the only one worth having – I do believe education is a curriculum of ideals for creating the better citizen. We learn to become better. The Roman Emperor Vespasian styled the best educators as those who “train the souls of the young to gentleness and civic virtue” (Winter 23). Or, metaphorically speaking, education builds the furniture of our mind rather than leaving empty convictions unaware of the world beyond our superficial experiences. Knowledge, in and of itself was not of primary importance of the classics but liberal education sought to polish and refine. This, I believe, is the fundamental purpose. Instead, we find education – the ambiguous and formal word for what goes on in our schools – as a trinket for social planners and snake oil peddled by the half-educated and over-degreed intelligentsia.

In the early 1850s, Henry D. Thoreau set out on a social experiment of self-reliance. Alone in the woods for over two years, Thoreau lived and wrote on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. In his memoir, Walden, Thoreau takes to criticizing the university much like it is today. “The mode of founding a college is, commonly, to get up a subscription of dollars and cents, and then follow blindly the principles of a division of labor to its extreme” (50). Even now, the dollar-signs have not left their eyes. In the past 30 years, tuition has increased more than six fold under the guise of technology, government regulation, and tenured professors (Archibald 1). Professors are concerned with their own specialties, advancing their own fields where rewards are on the side of professional distinction. Students are left to navigate among teachers emancipated from the original intent of the university, pushed towards careerism as the fruitful centerpiece. The undecided student laments, as American philosopher Allan Bloom observed: “I am a whole human being. Help me to form myself in my wholeness and let me develop my real potential” (339).  Colleges turn a blind eye and prescribe a cafeteria style curriculum tailored to ease and a one-size-fits-all approach. Despite finely sifted experiences teachers claim to impart, profit trumps the rigorous courses of study worth knowing. Technical know-how has replaced imagination and critical thinking; the university now is a visage of careerism.

T.S. Elliot, poet and passionate critic of education, said the university is now “licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of  getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy” (Frohnen  279). Our schooling, as Elliot pointed out, is vocational training. Said differently, learning how to do, make, and change things is not education. It does not form the mind or instruct the intellect itself. Creativity is lost when we idly memorize which levers to pull and buttons to push. In 1931, philosopher Albert Jay Nock delivered a series of lectures on education at the University of Virginia, quaintly appropriate given Jefferson’s strong resentment to the vacuity of the public mind. Nock’s task was to light a path “clear through” the debacle of our school system and to reestablish the age-old difference between education and training (Simmons 152).  The formal qualification of an educator, for example, is no more than a ticket bought and paid for:

A candidate is certificated — is he not? — merely as having been exposed satisfactorily to a certain kind of instruction for a certain length of time, and therefore he is assumed eligible to a position which we all agree that only an educated person should fill. Yet he may not be at all an educated person, but only an instructed person. We have seen many such, and five minutes’ talk with one of them is quite enough to show that the understanding of instruction as synonymous with education is erroneous. They are by no means the same thing (Nock).

Modern education allows us to recline and feel good about ourselves, earning a posh certificate to validate our fledgling efforts. Rather, our efforts should quicken us out of the sense of our “innate unfitness and incompleteness, to climb above what we are and rise which we might become” (Simmons 154). The question, now, is how?

Classic philosopher Allan Bloom, in his radioactive book The Closing of the American Mind, posits the only solution to the modern university’s founder is the “good old Great Books approach” (344). Reading the classics, says Bloom, and letting the student dictate what questions and methods to approaching the invulnerabilities of Achilles or the categorical imperative is boundless (344). Though great books may foster “a good program of liberal education that feeds the student’s love of truth and passion to live a good life,” I say it is not the sole solution to ascribe intellectual virtue (Bloom 345). I do not doubt reading classics is of great benefit to the mind, but the ancient past is not the only fragment of history to share articulated brilliance. “[W]hy should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also” (Emerson, Nature).

Thoreau, during his time away by Walden Pond, provoked a stab at some lost common sense: “Which would have advanced the most of the end of the month, – the boy who made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this, -or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers’ penknife from this father?” (51). Even agreed upon by ancient and most modern teachers alike, experience marks on the indispensable wisdom of life’s most valuable lessons. They say life does not need to be learned the “hard way.” It is better for the student “to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or what a vagabond he is a satellite himself” (Thoreau 51). That is not to say a complete reversion to the likes of the Montessori Method, but the current university does not have enough material to justify keeping students tied down for four years. Their focus is preparatory training, and the most difficult natural sciences require specialty training less than that of a modern undergraduate degree. “The rest is just wasted time or a period of ripening until the students are old enough for graduate studies” (Bloom 340). Filling the vacuum with decorative packaging with programs like international exchange, cultural immersion, study abroad, etc., shades the school as shameless profit driven institution, when instead the student should be sent out to experience the real world. Knowledge is not the exclusivity of gnostic matter in the sterile classroom, but the sum of contemplated experiences. “[B]ut the conclusion is not to educate apart from the environment, but to provide an environment in which native powers will be put to better uses” (Dewey 261). I can think of no better environment for a student to apply his “native powers,” than the real world.

Identified as the epitome of liberal reformers, John Dewey was perhaps the last influential academic in education. He sought to establish education as the intertwining relationship between nature, men, and things – education as a constant and cooperative manifold. Our disposition towards nature, men, and things cannot be independent of one another. Dewey’s progressive attitude and idea of reform could not, however, be at greater odds with the traditionalism of Allan Bloom. Dewey championed the student’s nature; their “waxing and waning of preferences and interests” as the pedestal of education (260). Conversely, Bloom harked on corrupt human desires and a prescription of the great texts of philosophy would cure the wandering mind and distinctive temperament. Both were criticized in their own right, but each put forward, in the words of Sir Richard Livingston, “an intellectual attitude to life” (C.B.).

Education, by its own difference among individuals, cannot be measured by any tangible method. Any conceived benchmark is likely to be rotten with misconception, and if such subjective numbers are applied to the student’s capacity, then the entire aim of education has gone adrift. Measuring a student’s educational worth – the deviation in our educational compass – “destroys the special bent and leaves a dull uniformity” (Dewey 260). ‘Teaching to the test,’ as said in the vernacular, treats students with an equal ability and conditions them without thought to what is even written on the paper. Students are left without imagination. As a professor, Dewey formed a strong distaste towards the fashionable “standardized testing” that has become rampant in the modern school system. He, instead, advocated the individual broadening of human interests. Teachers subjecting equality is not the intent of education. To put it in Dewey’s words: “what is sometimes called a benevolent interests in others may be but an unwitting mask for an attempt to dictate to them what their good shall be, instead of an endeavor to free them so that they may seek and find the good of their own choice” (261).

If we are to reconcile vocational training and the determinants of education, we first must turn to social efficacy and culture as aims to education. Dewey believes that education consists of cultured temperament and social efficacy as the purpose of individual function. Since “capacities bud and bloom irregularly; there is no even four-abreast development;” education cannot be subjected equally across the public mind for students inherently progress at different rates. The intricate web of society cannot be severed from the “diversity of goods which life may afford to different persons” (Dewey 262). Educating the individual, however bright or hollow they may be, fashions an organic social union, for if the social factor is removed the student is left only with an abstraction. Dewey writes:

To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently (Dewey 230).

Technical training and the social implications, as important as it to civilized humanity, is all that is emphasized anymore. “What can I do with that degree?” is the question so commonly asked. Students are concerned with demands of the industry instead of the needs of their minds. The “eye and ear and hand,” may be well equipped in whatever flavorless career the student turns to, but the mind, the greatest faculty, is left unattended. Social efficacy must correspond to culture of the mind, as well as the hands, if the student is to be advanced. We may recognize the value of education, but the definition of cultivation has fled us. Cultivation, or the essence of education, requires those civilized extras and – and not information alone. Emerson, once again, said “Let us not forget that the adoption of the test ‘what is it good for’ would abolish the rose and exalt in triumph the cabbage” (West 47).  And man cannot live by cabbage alone.

Culture. What is meant by this mushy word? Merriam-Webster defines it as a particular society, or tastes in art/manners, or acculturation. The definition appears a bit sterile. The meaning, if any, has cracked like an egg: culture and counter culture, ethnic culture, and then further into an assortment of subcultures. Culture is now ubiquitous – everyone has culture: African-American culture, Chinese culture, corporate culture, organizational culture – where does it end? Let us first shave off its high-flown commentary and delve down to its etymological roots. Around 45 B.C. Cicero first spoke of cultura, “to speak of the cultivation of the mind.” Later, in the seventeenth century, Samuel Pufendorf said the Ciceronian notion of cultura animi is by which humans “overcome their original barbarism and, through artifice, become fully human” (Velkley 15). Culture is of higher achievement. Dewey said culture is “something cultivated, something ripened; it is opposed to the raw and crude” (262). When we read a book or watch a movie, pose a question to a friend, or write a blog, we do not only entertain ourselves, we ripen ourselves to our own betterment. It’s about cultivation of our minds; about refinement; about what makes one thought or act of expression better than another. In all modes of belief and behavior, culture is not conceived of one dimension, but “the implication is that the raw substance of the creature has been turned over, plowed, and seeded with good germs” (Barzun).

The aim of education is both culture and social efficacy – as Dewey said – but the dualism cannot be weighed down by one or the other. A fine balance between the conservatism of Allan Bloom and the progressivism of John Dewey is needed to strike the major chord of education. The university furnishes a diminished harmony of culture and social efficacy, augmenting the social piece as the lone criterion. Solidified truth is thought to be taught in schools, even in the face of experience, and to change our truths or opinions would be socially obnoxious. To “flip-flop” means to lose your ground; to not stand for what you believe. On the contrary! Any change in idea “upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily working securely, simplifying, saving labor; is true for just so much true in so far forth, true instrumentally” (James 30). We are afraid to change. We grow content with rigid hierarchy of fixed ends, and look not to our own experiences but to the absolutism and inflexibility of the university. I admit that the fervent entreaties of the earliest philosophers are not thinner, less taxing ideas in the present day, inasmuch as classics still can buffer us from the squalid tendencies of the public. I do not mean to eschew the brilliance of Plato and believe he should be heaved out the window to be replaced with the wishy-washy, unexamined mind. Rather, I submit we keep a malleable mentality that marries the ideas of the past to the meaning of our present experiences. Then, can we conscientiously lift ourselves from savagery and progress the mind.

If modern education is claimed as such an artifice, why is the United States the leading country in research and technological development? In 2008, the United States and European Union – both roughly the same size in GDP – accounted for about the same share of journal articles published worldwide in science and engineering (28.1% and 33.1%, respectively). But the United States takes the lion’s share by 51.6% of most highly cited and thus path breaking articles, while Europe accounts for a measly 29.6% (Rajan 92). It may appear that the governance and design of our research institutions are the construct of a sound educational scheme, and perhaps the “production of knowledge,” as christened by academics, is not broken. The apparent discrepancy; however, does not void my argument. Michael Barone, in his book Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future, asks why it is that American twenty-year-olds are so inept compared to many of their foreign counterparts, while American thirty-year-olds are far superior workers than their foreign counterparts of the same age. His argument is that America, for all its public educational failures, has a competitive market economy that is not afraid to let people stand or fall based on their own efforts (Zimmermann). Laziness is not rewarded. While the educational requite of capitalism is beyond the scope of this essay, no less than a hat tip should be given to the misunderstanding of intellectual output and the educational system. The triumph of our nation’s success cannot be credited by our diluted academic requirements; schools are bastions of downy when the hard, real world of competition forges greater thinking.

My conclusion, as sterile as conclusions often are, is to leave the reader knowing that nothing worth having comes without hard work. Education is the laborious climb to the “good life,” as Plato would prefer, and while the climb is steep and often forbidding with few reaching the summit, it is the climbing that counts. Yes, “we must say that those taken with an ardor of scientific and technological knowledge and achievement must be allowed to go their own way,” and they are called to do so. “The world needs them” (Simmons 238). The greatest fault we make in the university is wasting the student’s time and mental energy. Let the student climb.

Works Cited

Archibald and, Robert B., and David H. Feldman. “Why Does College Cost So Much?” Forbes.com. 8 Nov. 2010. Web. 06 April 2012. <http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/01/rising-cost-education-opinions-best-colleges-10-feldman-archibald.html>.

Barone, Michael. Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future. New York: Crown Forum, 2004. Print.

Barzun, Jacques, and Arthur Krystal. “Culture High and Dry.” The Culture We Deserve. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1989. Print

Bloom, Allan David. The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987. Print.

C.B. “Education, Planning, and Spiritual Leadership.” The Sydney Morning Herald 17 July 1943, 32935th ed.: 6. Print.

Dewey, John, Larry A. Hickman, and Thomas M. Alexander. The Essential Dewey. Volume 1. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998. Print.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Emerson on Education.” American Transcendentalism Web. Virginia Commonwealth University. Web. 30 March. 2012. http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/education.html

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” Oregon State University, 1836. Web. 30 March. 2012. <http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/emerson/nature-emerson-a.html>.

Frohnen, Bruce P. “Christianity, Culture, and the Problem of Establishment.” Diss. Ohio Northern University College of Law, 2001. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Web. 06 April. 2012. <http://www.mmisi.org/pr/37_01/frohnen.pdf>.

James, William, and Giles B. Gunn. Pragmatism and Other Writings. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.

Klein, Joel. “The Failure of American Schools.” The Atlantic. June 2011. Web. 05 April. 2012. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/the-failure-of-american-schools/8497/2/>.

Livingstone, Richard Winn. Education for a World Adrift. Cambridge [Eng.: University, 1943. Print.

Merriam-Webster. “Definition of Culture.” Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture>.

Nock, Albert Jay. “The Theory of Education in the United States – Albert Jay Nock – Mises Daily.” Ludwig Von Mises Institute University of Virginia (1931). Page-Barbour Lectures. Web. 04 April. 2012. <http://mises.org/daily/2765#I>.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2011 Statistics on Education. Publication. National Center for Educational Statistics. Web. 01 April.2012 <http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012007.pdf>.

Rajan, Raghuram. Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2010. Print.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Digest of Education Statistics, 2010 (NCES 2011-015), Table 188 and Chapter 2 .

Velkley, Richard L. “The Tension in the Beautiful.” Being after Rousseau: Philosophy and Culture in Question. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002. Print.

West, Andrew Fleming. Value of the Classics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1917. Print.

Winter, Bruce W. Philo and Paul among the Sophists. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Zimmermann, Jason. Lt Col. “Economics, Political Science, & Natural Law.” Message from the author. 24 May 2011. E-mail.

 

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0.052 – The Driller’s magic number

Today I was doing some well control calculations and couldn’t remember the units for 0.052. Everyone in the industry knows this number but it never fails to amaze me how few people know its units. Everyone just keeps a list of 50  or so formulas and they plug the conversion factor in along with the rest of the numbers. This makes the process easy and quick if you have the list of formulas.

However, after getting a degree in mechanical engineering, it kills me to just plug the numbers in without making sure the units work. I found that after memorizing the units for 0.052 there was absolutely no reason to have all the formulas memorized. All I’ve got to do is just make the units work. The following is the derivation for and units of that magic well control number.
2

I’ve been to both the Randy Smith and Murchison drilling schools for both IADC and IWCF and they have never given me the units for 0.052. I understand that most of the people taking IADC and IWCF well control don’t have the extensive math background I do, but you’d think they’d at least give you the units to this conversion factor.

Relevant Links

0.052 conversion factor and 0.052 units 0.052 as a fraction .052 as a fraction
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Challenging Authority

I recently revisited the rig that I “broke out” in the oilfield on. I was there to supervise the rig move as a requirement to get my OIM license. There has been a lot of personnel turnover and relocation since then and so there were many people to meet. As I was introducing myself to the drill crew there was a roughneck that ignored my outstretched hand and said what three times as I repeated my name. He finally accepted after which I ignored him. The following day when I ran into him on the deck he asked me what the current operation was, challenging my knowledge in the way a supervisor would. I gave him a curt reply and walked away, ignoring him as he said “You’re just going to walk away? Is that any way for a supervisor to act?”

It was hostile treatment but I think the roughneck, who was about my age, was challenging my authority as a supervisor or future leader in the company. In fact it really reminded me of the way I used to challenge my teachers’ authority by menacing them in a variety of ways.

My reaction was a little anger and contempt, both negative emotions. I wanted him to just automatically respect my title like the men around him did. I managed not to show it during both interactions by simply ignoring him as a roughneck, too low on the food chain for me to care about.

But I did care. I think that a better reaction might have been to meet the challenge head on both times, showing him that I was indeed worthy of his respect. After he ignored my handshake I should have withdrawn my hand showing everyone else watching that my handshake is something that you aren’t going to get after that kind of disrespect. During the second interaction I should have stopped, given him a vague obvious answer and questioned him with something that he wouldn’t know, showing that I am indeed better educated and worthy of being his superior.

By meeting his challenges I would have showed him my value as a supervisor and established the fact that I do indeed belong above him on the food chain. I wonder if he will make a good supervisor like the OIM I previously blogged about. If the supervisor he works for is deemed unworthy, there will be constant disagreement between the two.

For me, the challenge is to be prepared for such treatment and meet it head on when it happens. I think that having people working for you that are challenging you and everyone else is healthy so long as you handle them correctly and let them know that while challenging authority is good, it is unacceptable to disrespect authority.

  • Good blog entry by a CEO on challenging authority within an organization. There is an interesting comment by Joel Albizo that suggests the best policy is to just eliminate those that challenge authority from the organization.
  • Excellent leadership advice for such situations. Hard to believe this advice is free.
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The South can poop because they eat okra and tomatoes

Running some Google correlation on “cant poop” returns some interesting results. Notice below how the Midwest is a nice belt of struggling poopers. Great lakes region seems to be struggling as well with West Virginia coming in as with the most searches.

Also interesting to note that search term correlated with Call of Duty waw. Perhaps gaming makes it hard to poop?

One might notice that the south (sans old farts in Florida) does not have problems pooping (or maybe they just don’t know how to search for it on the internet). I think its because they have been eating okra and tomatoes.

As for Nevada and Arizona, I have no idea why they have such woes. Any ideas anybody?

 

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About Inflation, Part III

Part III: Measuring Inflation

The CPI is the most common barometer of inflation, measuring “the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services” (U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics (BLS)). Before we indulge ourselves in the exhilarating realm of economic scrutiny, it is important to comment on the indicator’s lag. That is, the CPI is a backwards looking indicator; a confirmation of long term trends but unable to predict or confirm future expectations. We often hear of the “today’s rising prices,” but what is reported now is yesterday’s loss of purchasing power adjusting for last month’s price change.

The problem is “consumer prices themselves transmit all sorts of information unrelated to currency strength or debasement.” Sales tax, for instance, has no relation to the value of the dollar, but the change in price is still reflected as inflation in the CPI. Taxes are simple shifts of demand, equally rising and lowering prices across different goods. If taxes artificially raise the price on a particular good, then demand will fall, and consumers will purchase a substitute. The price for the substituted good, often unaccounted in the CPI, will increase in price, offsetting the fall in price for the original item. The broad impact of prices is a zero-sum policy, but to the extent the CPI is skewed remains unknown. In fact, the BLS attempts to account for substitution, effectively capturing the tax effect in a round-about-way:

“The new methodology takes into account changes in the quality of goods and substitution. Substitution, the change in purchases by consumers in response to price changes, changes the relative weighting of the goods in the basket. The overall result tends to be a lower CPI.”

However, demand is often inelastic and prices are “sticky” and will not be immediately accounted. The lag of reported inflation is only exuberated from the subjective reliance on hedonics and interpretation.

Pundits further argue how to “increase the cost of a good without increasing the nominal price of that same good.” The quantity of food has shrunk while prices have levitated. According to a NBC report, “two containers of ice cream looked exactly the same at a supermarket in Evansville, Ind, […] but the old package was 1¾ quarts, while the new package was just 1½ quarts” (Ushery). Simply put, less bang for more buck. The Consumer Price Index does not account for quantity, again skewing the inflation to an unknown degree and investors observed real returns.

Sources:

Tamny, John. “Inflation Always Steals the Benefits of Devaluation.” Real Clear Markets. 8 Feb. 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2011. <http://www.realclearkmarkets.com/articles/2011/02/08/why_inflation_steals_the_benefits_of_devaluation.html>.

Tamny, John. “”Low” U.S. Inflation Is a Function of Clever Calculation.” Real Clear Markets. 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 29 Apr. 2011. <http://www.realclearkmarkets.com/articles/2011/02/low_us_inflation_is_a_function_of_clever_claculation.html>.

Tamny, John. “The CPI Understates Inflation.” Real Clear Markets. 15 July 2008. Web. 24 Apr. 2011.<http://www.realclearkmarkets.com/articles/2008/07/the_cpi_undestates_inflation.html>

U.S. BLS. “Consumer Price Index – Frequently Asked Questions.” Office of Prices and Living Conditions. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Department of Labor, 28 June 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. <http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpifaq.html>.

 

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