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CHAPTER 2: SEVEN
I want to write for the straight and the gay, the old and the young, the male and the female, the active and the passive, the happy and the sad, the black and the white, the giver and the taker, the lover and the hater of the things I love.
I do not want to write for those who believe ignorance is bliss. I don't know how to appeal to these people, even if they may have found the secret of happiness.
I need to break rules, to write about what I do not know. Perhaps I need to do the impossible,but I believe the key is empathy – being able to walk in the other guy's shoes. I need to feel what it would be like to be someone different than me growing up in the world I experienced. I need to imagine the challenges facing the different as they grow up today.
Appealing to and writing for those who are different is a subject we may pursue, but I feel it is more important to discuss why I want to do this. The answer involves fairness and the internet.
. . . .
When I was young, I loved science, more specifically, biology. More specifically still, insects.
You could say I was a bug boy. I would spend hours studying bugs and was very curious about social insects. Wasps are social insects. Cats, curiosity, lives. If I were a cat, I would have had seven lives.
I would watch my wasps on their paper nests, tending their young. Even when they were quiet, they would continuously tap one foot gently on the paper, as if they had restless leg syndrome – or would it be restless foot syndrome?
The wasps built their nests under exposed boards in our chicken-less chicken coop on my mother's farm. I had to capture these nests. In the early spring, I would approach a nest, slowly and carefully, holding a glass mason jar. The nest was small and there was only one wasp. Slipping the mouth of the jar over the nest, I would move the jar, breaking loose the nest which fell to the bottom of the jar. The wasp, also trapped, would soon settle on the fallen nest. After slipping the lid, with air holes previously punched, over the top of the jar, I would take my prize home.
As Spring turned into Summer, I captured more nests, each larger than the last. First two, then three, then four wasps. As I approached, each wasp would turn and follow me. Hugging the nest with four legs, it would point at me with the other two, the tip of one beating the air slowly, in its restless foot syndrome way.
Safely outside my mason jars, I watched new wasps being born. I saw them dry their wings and gain the ability to fly. I captured a five wasp nest. I captured a six wasp nest. Then I tried for seven.
Approaching slowly, seven sets of compound eyes followed me. Before I could cover the nest, one wasp took flight, stinging me on the forehead, right between my eyes. Instantly there was a knot, red and half the size of a golf ball. I ran home, screaming, to my mother.
My mother was different, but I knew she would be there when I needed her. She held my head in her lap and gently applied wet baking soda to the sting to “draw out the poison”. She would use the same technique on another occasion when I crossed paths with a bumblebee. The home remedy worked and the pain gradually receded.
Maybe if I had continued, I could have captured an eight wasp nest. Maybe if I had been lucky, I could have succeeded with nine wasps. Actually, I never captured another nest. I decided that seven is the magic number.
This bug boy learned other lessons. I had devoured numerous articles about wasps. Nowhere had I seen any mention of the restless foot syndrome. No expert ever mentioned that when I stared at wasps with curiosity, they stared back with fear and anger. I learned that wasps could think. I learned that experts could not.
. . . .
If we live an average lifespan, we will spend a third of our lives learning, a third making money, and the last third fighting to remain healthy, relevant, intelligent, and important.
I am obsessed with telling you things that others do not tell you. I have an opportunity to do this because I spent my second third studying how computers and the internet has changed traditional sales and marketing. I am also obsessed with creating what may be an impossible book – a book that appeals to many members in each third.
If you are in sales and marketing, time is important to you. Time is also important to your prospects. In fact,no matter who you are or what you do or what age you are, time is significant.
Everything we know, everything we see, everything we think, is entangled in time. Yet, although they may talk for hours if asked, the bottom line is our scientists have no idea what time is. Although a major thrust of this book is to address the question of time in detail, let us start at more general levels.
In economics, there is something called "the marginal utility of money". To me, someone who has had only one economics course, this means that a millionaire will quickly spend a thousand dollars for something he wants; a poor man will consider this expenditure for a long time.
Whether or not someone has used this phrase before, I think there is also a "marginal utility of time".
If you are in the first third of your life, you are rich in time. There is plenty of time to do everything: study, date, work, have fun. The consultant that talks about the value of being persistent may awaken new valuable thoughts and you have plenty of time to follow through.
You will be stereotyped. No matter how smart you are, some will see you as too young and inexperienced. Your worldview may be more influenced by how you want things to be rather than true reality. However, I need to be very careful here because I want to argue that all worldviews are equal and reality is, at least, nebulous. Maybe it is safe to say that as you get older, things will change.
In your second third, you will probably be concerned with work and family. You will have less time but won't think about it. New pressures can change your worldview. Are these changes slow or rapid? I suspect that the more drastic the emotional pressures are (something really bad happens), the more rapid the changes can be. But what is the mechanism of change?
The second greatest understatement you can make is "Life is Complex". This applies whether you are talking about cellular processes or just getting along in the world. One greater understatement may be "Reality is Complex". Time seems to be not only involved in our lives, but in these larger subjects.
As you enter the last third, time becomes more and more valuable. You realize this on a logical, not emotional, level. When you wake up on Thursday morning you know you have less time left, but the world doesn't seem any different than it did on Wednesday morning. Then something happens and you suddenly see time differently.
Now, in our culture, you are stereotyped as too old. However, this may not matter as much to you.
Maybe your worldview can be changed by happy events as well as sad. I do know that my worldview changed and I became a different person on both the day my son was born and on September 11, 2001. I do know that I remember more about these two days than I remember about what I was doing last week. I wonder if this is true for people with other worldviews?
If you are in your second third, you are probably very impatient when you are told things that are self-evident or worthless. If you are reading a book about the stock market, for example, the advice “buy low, sell high” may be irritating to you. People in the final third will not disagree with you.
As you age, time seems to move faster and faster. I have experienced this and have heard others say the same. Perhaps this is a phenomenon true for all worldviews? Time also seems to move faster when you are having fun, slower when you are not. Just thinking about time slows it down.
Conventional wisdom is that all our thoughts and perceptions, including that of time, are "in our heads", more particularly in the nerve cells, or neurons, in our brains.
Perhaps your perception of time is simply based on the activity of your neurons. As you age, your neurons become less and less active and you see time as going faster and faster. This would be true if aging slowed down processes within the individual neuron and/or communications between neurons.
This concept may seem unclear or even contradictory to what you would expect. You may be able to better understand if you envision an old man and a child, both with an unusual ability to not become bored. They both want to concentrate on a clock, for one hour, watching as the second hand makes sixty revolutions.
Both old man and child are also aware of the minute hand – their strange task will be complete when it has revolved once.
When the child “sees” the clock, every cell in his eyes, optic nerve, and brain, is vigorous and active. The child is easily aware of the positions of both the minute and second hand.
The old man feels he is seeing the clock the same as the child. His old cells, however, are collecting and processing less information. Some of his cells are not even there, having died off as the years have passed. Concentrating on the second hand means ignoring information about the minute hand's position. It may well be that while he is concentrating on the second hand, the minute hand moves from, for example, minute 21 to minute 24. The old man knows that time is continuous – he imagines the missing minute hand information and thinks he was aware of minute 22 and 23.
At the end of the hour, the child has processed much more visual information than the old man. The child feels that it must have taken a long time to process so much. Time has crawled by.
The old man has processed less information. He feels this processing must have taken less time. The hour seems to have passed more quickly.
If I believe that part of your perception of time is based on the activity level of neurons, I can find more proof of this. When we sleep, time passes faster. In this case, the total activity level of neurons is down. Or, to take a more extreme case, all brain activity may stop - for example, after a near drowning in frigid water. Brain activity may not resume for days. Yet when the victim wakes up, he will feel as if no time has passed. If we ever reach the point where we can flash freeze someone and revive them a decade later, they will probably think the procedure has failed and it is only a few seconds later.
The above situation can also illustrate the difficulty of proving one worldview is true and another false. By some definitions, we are dead if we have no brain activity. In fact, no brain activity has caused many "plugs to be pulled".
Some people who have been close to death or even experienced brain inactivity have later reported near death experiences - looking down on their own body, talking to a dead relative, moving toward a bright light, and so on. If your worldview has a strong spiritual component, these reports help support your beliefs. If your worldview is more secular, it is only proof of neurons under stress shortly before or after they became inactive. I don't think there is a way to prove which worldview is correct.
I once talked to an older man, a millionaire who had started a local business many year before. Over the years he had grown the business from just him to almost one hundred employees. I wanted to sell him a specialized computer system. At the time, computer prices were dropping rapidly and more and more people were introducing automation to their businesses.
He told me, in what I considered a rude manner, that he didn't want a computer. He was a millionaire, he'd never used a computer, and never would. At the time I thought he was stupid and arrogant. Today I just think his worldview was different than mine (although I still think he was arrogant).
Was his worldview wrong? He lived another five years. He didn't have to learn anything about computers, in which he had no interest. His company may have been less efficient, but he never knew it and died still a millionaire. His sons inherited the business. Although they may not have had their father's ability to build a business from nothing, they had the common sense needed to recognize the value of automation. And by then they could computerize the business for much less money. Five years later, their success was continuing and they were growing faster than their competitors. The millionaire's worldview was, apparently, just as valid as mine.
Are there things that are true across all worldviews, things that most of us view the same, things that can draw us together, things that make us better when we sell and more comfortable when we buy?
This is a question that many in the second third of their lives should want to explore. The internet has opened up unique ways to connect with others.
Before attempting to explore “truth across worldviews”, let me make a personal observation or two. Or three or four.
A lot of people wish to live in a digital world where everything can be assigned a digit; one equals true, zero equals false. Everything is simple, either right or wrong, true or false, good or evil. Moral codes are simple, for example: If they tell the truth they are good, if they lie, they are bad. There is no discussion of what "good" is, there is no discussion of what "bad" is. Good is good and bad is bad. Some of these people seem to actually believe they live in such a world. They are hard to deal with.
If you are one of the people who believe we live in a digit world, consider two famous pieces of advice that business consultants often quote, although never at the same time. The first is "Look before you leap". This quote is the basis of due diligence. Be sure to take the time to consider as much as possible before taking action. The second quote is "He who hesitates is lost". The meaning is simple and valid. If you wait to act, someone else may seize the opportunity and you will be left out in the cold.
The millionaire mentioned above could hesitate until he died with no problems. A small businessman, making the same decision, at the same time, might suffer greatly if he hesitated long before jumping to automation.
A lot of people think they live in an analog world. There are shades of gray. Some people are very smart, some just smart, some average, some dumb, some are, unfortunately, very dumb.
People who believe in an analog world rarely ask, “what is smart?” or “does 'smart' exist?”.
We could live in a quantum world - then things get weird.
If you are in your second third and you want to sell something, you may want to use the internet to find “good prospects”. Depending on financial and other factors, you will either try to do it yourself or find an expert you trust. The goal is to use commercial search engines, like Google, to find information about people likely to buy from you. Who you are, your worldview, your total being, can also affect who will buy from you. This personal information can be designed in and be a part of internet searches – it rarely is.
A member of the second third thinks that he is rational, that he thinks about things and draws logical conclusions. He remembers that even when he was younger, living in the first third of his life, he was a rational being. Any incorrect conclusions, back then, were caused, not by faulty logic, but bad initial assumptions – assumptions based on lack of experience. He is, and always has been, a rational creature. He cannot say the same for others.
Commercial search engines are complex, and are becoming more complex every day. They are not as complex as Reality. Quantum physics attempts to understand Reality. Time, which is so important in our world, may also be the key to understanding Reality. Progress, however, is slow. Mankind is like a seven year old boy digging a hole. After a short time, he announces he's digging to China. If we have to dig to China to understand Reality, we won't learn much by examining the boy's next shovel full of dirt.
Applying time to life may be more productive. What is thought, at least in more advanced animals? How do you explain how people behave? I can take a shot at these and other questions. Success would be revolutionary. Understanding could also help people in the second third of their lives make better use of search engines.
One thing I have noticed is faith and religion seem to promote the significance of man. Science, on the other hand, makes us face our insignificance. For example, in a few hundred years, science has moved us from the center of the universe to a remote part of one of a billion galaxies. You may not want to continue reading if this is something you hate about science.
Let us start with Physics and ignore the details. There are many more people who find Physics interesting than there are people who write about Physics. There are many more people who write about Physics than there are Professional Physicists. If you want to write about Physics so that most people, who find it interesting, will understand it, you have to simplify things, for example, throw out the Math.
Again, leaving out the confusing details of how they know, Physicists tell us the Universe is about 14 Billion Years Old and Life has existed on Earth for about 1.5 Billion or 1500 Million Years. I am interested in the Life Part.
In order to help people visualize how long life has been around, science writers sometime relate time to distance. Suppose you drive a metal pole into the ground in New York City and you have a friend fly 3000 miles to Los Angeles and drive a similar pole into the ground there. If you designate your pole "beginning of life" 1500 million years ago, and your friend's pole "today", you can begin walking west toward the future.
If you are in the second third of your life, you may well ask “What does this have to do with making money?”. If I were in my second third, I would point out that “patience is a virtue.” (we will get to that). Being past my second third, I have to ask “is making money really that important?”.
When you start your journey, life is simple, one cell organisms. It will eventually develop into multi-cellular organisms and then progress on until it becomes life as we know it today. After you've moved west a mile on your imaginary journey, you see life as it is after a half a millions years. Still single cells. One hundred miles later, you are tired. Life has been around for 50 million years and still all you see are single cells. It is not until you are almost to St. Louis, 500 millions years, one third of the way to the present, that you see the first multi-cellular beings.
What was life doing the first 500 million years - twiddling its thumbs? Maybe we should take a closer look at this period.
My current worldview is, like everyone's worldview, unique. The Internet has changed things. Or at least in my worldview, it has changed things. Or I feel the Internet has changed things. Or I want to believe it has changed things. Or maybe I would feel better if the Internet had bent the rules of reality a little.
Science, as time has passed, has made us feel more and more insignificant. Copernicus, a Polish Astronomer, helped start this trend almost 500 years ago when he wrote that the earth revolved around the sun. Copernicus was a member of what today we might call "the Establishment". The upside was he got credit for a major discovery. The downside was he could have been burned at the stake.
I am not saying that Copernicus did not discover that the earth revolves around the sun. I am saying I can imagine that 5000 years ago a Chinese peasant named Wong liked to study the stars. He told his friends the earth revolves around the sun. They laughed and called him "Crazy Wong". He was soon forgotten.
Today, Copernicus would still be Establishment, one of the Leaders. Wong would be laughed at, but more people would know his views. Someone might even be offended and there would be a remote chance of violence. But the Internet has bent the rules. If Wong turned out to be right, Copernicus could not steal his idea - the Internet never forgets.
Copernicus could still try to steal the idea, saying Wong hadn't provided the "proper mathematical equations" needed for proof.
For some, the term “crazy” is hurtful. Wong is one of the most common Chinese names. My reference to “Crazy Wong” does not imply any negativity toward the Chinese and I hope I have not lost any readers.
How do we take a closer look at Life's early years? The first 500 million years of Life took place more than a billion years ago. The simple life that existed then left few, if any, traces - certainly not any that survive today. I do not think we can ever get detailed information about this period. Nevertheless, I remember that conventional scientific wisdom once was we can never know the distance to stars - something we can now easily determine.
Successful members of the second third, people who make more money than average, usually have some understanding of how others think. They can improve this understanding by considering how thinking developed over eons. They can then be more successful during their microscopic period of existence.
There is another way to look at life's early existence.
I would like to creatively visualize how different people, each with their own worldview, might see Life's early years, the questions they might ask, and how it might explain Life today. Based on my background, I will choose a few scientists.
Suppose you are a biologist examining early life. You would obviously need a powerful microscope.
Early Life was single cell. Genetic Material or DNA could be roaming free inside the cell or it could be within the cell nucleus. It is assumed that DNA moved into the nucleus where it could be better protected. You would expect that the longer life had existed, the less DNA would be free as more had moved into the nucleus. What if a Biologist studying Early Life found this was not true? Would this strange results have any effect we could observe today?
Part of DNA codes our genetic makeup. Life gets complex when a Biologist studies the processes that lead from this code to your blue eyes or my brown eyes. A Biologist might wonder what DNA coded for when Life was young. And did this change as life moved across 500 million years.
And then there is junk DNA, which doesn't seem to code for anything. Its purpose is unknown, although there are some theories. Did junk DNA exist in early life? Could a Biologist or other Scientist, as they contemplate the first half billion years, devise another theory about Junk DNA?
Suppose you are a biologist examining early life. You would obviously need a powerful microscope. Didn't I just say that?
Maybe it would be a Biologist examining early life. Or maybe it would be a Classical Physicist. And he would need a powerful microscope. And then he would have an Eureka moment and there would a paradigm shift in how he viewed Life.
When the first cell of life came into existence, it already contained many smaller units: electrons, atoms, small molecules, amino acids, and so on. These were working together to exhibit the traits we call life. If you took the diameter (not the length) of a human hair which you can barely see and magnified it to the height of the Empire State Building, the diameter of a DNA molecule would be smaller than a little dog standing in the lobby. In fact, it would be about the size of one of the dog's toenails. There is plenty of room within each cell for these units of life to work together to produce their magic.
I seem to have strayed from talking about time to talking about a dog's toenail. We can, nevertheless, agree that no matter which third of life we are in, we only have a limited amount of time. This means that when you are saying one thing, you are not saying something else (it also means that when you are doing one thing, you are not doing something else). Deciding what to say and how to say it is an Art. Conventional Wisdom advises those of you who are in the second third of their lives to listen intently to show care and empathy - and to gain time to decide how to respond.
If this works, it is good advice. But I always question Conventional Wisdom. A possible alternative plan is to ask if you might mention a couple of things "before we start". If, for example, you are in sales, you might offer to talk first - so that your potential customer can save time by quickly determining if you might help him, and if he is unsure, can ask the questions that are most important. If you are facing an angry spouse, you might start with an apology, but might add you've been thinking long and hard about how to make it up to him or her (be sure to have in mind an appealing idea that will make your offense seem less bad).
. . . .
This book is the story of Eureka moments that, based on logic, could have occurred. And, if everything is connected, these moments must be connected to everything else: history, science, psychology, sociology, economics, whatever.
I have said I need to write for those those who are different – not like me in some or many ways. The reasons I need to do this involves fairness, which is important to me, the internet which I know something about, and experts. I don't like experts.
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