Have a Crisis-Induced Personal Renaissance, sans the Crisis
Annotations on Sustained Focus

Something usually considered bad happened to me, but it carved out a space in my life whereby I could find my muse again. I say muse as a language-nut, but my proclivity for English really only accounts for the term, not what I mean by it. Or at least what it could mean for anyone who has found their interest in life.

Roger Penrose, as interpreted through my limited understanding of my recollection of his interview with Lex Fridman, basically says that the current edge of science can't explain human consciousness. That a new version of science may be necessary to describe it. There came a time when Newtonian physics were found deficient. Einstein's theory of relativity solved the issues. Ground breaking scientists, then, found relativity deficient at the quantum level. So, quantum mechanics emerged and people like Richard Feynman equipped scientists with tools to describe that, too. I mention him because I just love listening to his old lectures, so he stands prominent to me, though there are many, many other scientists who even Feynman himself had to sort of chase through their work prior to making his own discoveries. I mention Einstein because I'm like everybody and everybody knows of him. The Nobel Prize winners for quantum theory were Niels Bohr and Max Planck, who I don't know much about, and I've already digressed.

Right, Penrose. In my mind, what Penrose was saying is that we probably need a new science if we're to have a chance at explaining human consciousness. He mentions the concept out there of trying to develop a unified theory of physics, that finds the avenue whereby relativity and the quantum level can be explained together. A conjoined twins picture, perhaps? But that idea doesn't much appeal to Penrose for reasons I can't understand. There's also talk about microtubules. Perhaps all I can offer is my intuitive hunch in support of Penrose's credibility on such matters.


I did pass a course called electromagnetic waves but there was one day I made an excuse to the professor about having broken up with my girlfriend. But I passed. I wanna say with a B+, not an A or anything. One of about a third of electrical engineers at my college, then, who passed. I wanna say I did quadradic equations just fine. I have such embarrassing moments to remember about my relationship with first year roommate, also an engineering student, who was far more cool to me than I was to him. Sorry. In the second year, though, midway through differential equations the earth widened beneath me and swallowed. I remember seeing my former roommate a few times after that and I was nicer and he never expressed any hard feelings. So that's nice.

But these legit scientists Penrose summarizes in the interview, it's like they suspect figuring out human consciousness is the final step before knowing everything, because that well could be what it requires to even begin unifying physics. How do they know it's not just another thing that gets explained by a specialized branch that amounts to just another broadening of the series (not to disparage these monumental achievements). And, if it is the last step to knowing everything, then consciousness may well never be understood in our lives here in the universe we live in, not that I would discourage the attempt or doubt the outcome if there were a breakthrough. The scientific breakthroughs of the past have had far reaching benefits and another breakthrough may well do the same, perhaps even on a whole other order.

Even right now the easy but powerful generalization important to take from the search to understand human consciousness is the realization that human consciousness, is important and knowing about it will help us to live better. And as Dr. Nutt can confirm, the brain is also very important as the controller of the mind. This means we need some familiarity with neuroscience, too, in order to psychologically and emotionally navigate so many options in our lives in how we use our time and resources.

 

Yes, consciousness is like other words and their ideas about their referents (the actual whatever a word refers to), consciousness shows up as a Wikipedia page. It could need need drastic expansion in related pages if humans knew it's full scientific description. Consciousness is special. It is to be cherished.

Human consciousness is not a solid thing, perhaps, and if it is, then perhaps there's something else called existence or soul or spirit or . . .. There are great unknowns about the brain, the mind, and the human self.

 

Nonetheless, a great deal is know and it's very useful, practical knowledge. I recently wrote a blog post about the value and benefits of sustained focus. That post draws substantial from a few texts I have my nose in, which I'll to annotate below for anyone interested. If you made it all the way down here, though, you're my champion. And so I beg your pardon that this is a work in progress. I'm going to sort of rough this in and then I may update again here in a days or weeks.

Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, Part 1

It's a modern addendum to Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. What I remember most from Postman, Hari also says. That the medium of communication shapes the message. Hari has a neat section where you describes the message inherent in various mediums, for example. A Tweet, for example, he would say, sends the message that something worth saying can be said in X number of characters. His analysis is only a beginning on that particular venture, but the more powerful premise behind Hari's book is that the rate at which we too frequently shift what we're thinking about and focused on. And we pay a huge price for that. I'm not a self-help reader, but I am on my own terms and I think this book fits that perfectly. I have layers of thoughts about this.

 

So, briefly, just one of the things that seems central is to recognize the dichotomy. On one side of the coin, a person is unkind to themselves if they think they're treating stress when they're addicted to unnecessarily juggling texts, conversations, books, TV, etc.. On on the other side of the coin, those who do that most may well be those in the upper poor though the middle-middle socioeconomic class. If held on a global scale and taken as a general principle, money affords ease and practical implementation of a wider and wider range of choices the more money a person has.

Put the simplest way: It costs money to make the monkey dance, the monkey a person pays to distract them from themselves in some cases. But, then, I was listening to particular celebrity. This person has a lot of fame, money, money, clout, cultural capital, love from throngs of people, probably political connections, the pro side (of the pro/con list of being a celebrity) goes on. I don't have to tell you those are merely my presumptions as a non-famous person. Yet, it seemed clear to me by the celebrity's mannerisms, their speaking, that they were all present at that interview.

 

If money makes people multi-task faster, then why wasn't that celebrity jumping out of his seat doing 15,000 things like our dear, dear pal who experienced the other side of the celebrity spectrum during his Violent Torpedo of Truth tour. Now I'm spit-balling there, but I think that makes sense to say that money provides choices between taking in a rapid stream and frequently changing the channel, so to speak in our mind. Or a wealthy person can go away to a private island and sit with needs cared for only when called.

Nor am I writing to the person in intense danger, wherever they are and from any class.

So, no, I'm not imagining I have any advice for the unfortunate who wish to distract themselves but cannot afford or access such distraction. That's not my target audience. But anyone else who will listen among those who are utilizing their wealth to purchase a constant stream of distraction and willing indulge in it to excess and their own detriment.

I'm writing to someone more in a broad middle, I imagine, like me, about the sorts of choices necessary. Bottom line, Hari says we have to find some space and time in life where we can really focus on one thing and not multi-task. I talk more about his process in the blog post and I'm planning to come back with more on this book when I can.

 

Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, and How to Win at College by Cal Newport

I heard in an interview with the author his description of deep work, and it sounds like what Johann Hari--and perhaps those he sought the knowledge of on the matter--call a flow state. And what makes it possible, among other things, is periods, when possible, of sustained focus on one train of thought and theatre or context. But, I'll add here that Hari says we also need time where rampant input is unlikely, like a walk on a beach with few others in sight, and during those times, to let our minds wander. That there needs to be time for both of those to self-actualize, create, lead, see.

Rewire Your Brain by John, B. Arden, Ph. D.

Which connects, I think, to Dr. Nutt's work. I also got Nutt Uncut. And that's the really, possibly, the most fascinating area here, in some ways. According to him, in interviews with him, the ultimate understanding one takes is that the brain isn't our mind. Rather—and Aldous Huxley said something like this—the brain controls the mind. It's an operation center, but our mind is either an aspect of the brain unknown, as of yet, to science. Or, the mind is something altogether different than the brain.

And there are more books I'm aiming to read in two other spots. Right behind me, there's about a foot of shelf space of other books on a range of topics I'm interested in.

On the kitchen table there's a three volume history that picks up, I think after the Prophet, peace on him, died or sometime in that period. And there's a five volume tafseer (explanation of al-Quran). When I'm done with the seerah, The Sealed Nectar by, Sheikh Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarkpuri, I'll switch to those. Or maybe I'll try to get this in quick, first: When the Moon Split by the same author--or give that a first cruise for now before I go forward in history. I like some things about The Sealed Nectar, but some things not as much. The style of the translation in English, at least, seems to unnecessarily use language to glorify Muslims rather than just reporting the facts of what the author and/or translator found to be apparently glory-worthy actions. Catching the style of the other seerah might even teach me something about both books and/or the author and translators.

I've also got a short story collection I started, more for leisure reading, but they're thoughtful stories. Empathy, I think Hari says: Fiction has the ability to impart empathy upon a person's mentality and perhaps even their heart. I'm sure it can do devilish things as well.

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane

I anticipate it's most salient points will be about AI's effect on our world or culture or thinking, etc. as humans. We'll see!

A Bright Future by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist

I almost wish to omit this from this list because it's not absolutely central to my agenda, which underlies the topic of this book. Why I'm keeping it here, though, is because one of the main things that needs people to think deeply all across the earth is how we release energy. I'm hesitant to even bring that up here, because this whole list is not about reiterating or diatribes and the power over energy supply is substantially centralized and hardly democratic. I'm aware a person can't apply the ideas talked about in the other books and things on this page and then properly expect the result will be absolute, global resolution of energy issues. Hardly even one, tiny energy issue for must of us, and then there's Mark Rober. Yeah, I think, probably, right? I mean I feel like I have to pick a few people in popular media who I don't 100% distrust. Call me a romantic. 

Anyway, I've briefly overviewed the book. I think it's mainly doing three things: quantifying or describing global energy needs and consequences, while also examining various ways to address any shortages. And, then, thirdly, advocating, and this is the tricky part for me, nuclear energy. I don't have the impression they've been overly coy about hiding where the book goes, but that aspect isn't mentioned on the cover. I'm most skeptical about the agenda of this book, though I am open minded enough to give it an honest look, especially the earlier, background portion.