Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm Gladwell’

“The vigor of life”

January 14, 2013

We went to see Bill Murray’s FDR over the weekend, not really expecting to buy him in that role.  But I found myself almost entirely forgetting the old SNL lounge lizard, the ghostbuster, Phil Connors et al as Murray squinted through his pince-nez, rumbled in his roadster, and flashed his Hyde Park grin at the Brits and Laura Linney.


It was a fun escape, as a film should be, with a serious bonus message: physical disability can be overcome with grit and determination and a bit of shared duplicity. Not sure we’d let ourselves be similarly tricked into ignoring a president’s incapacity now, let alone his or her infidelity, for better or (probably) worse. We’ve traded constructive fictions for destructive delusions, in the name of full disclosure. It’s a delusion to think, for instance, that a diverse nation can meet its major challenges without even attempting to bridge partisan differences.

But FDR found a way to project the vigor and confidence the country needed to pull together and pull itself out of depression and turn back the threat of fascism,  without his legs and with the country’s complicit credulity. Leaders can do that, when the people want and need to be led.

The vigor of life” is a phrase FDR’s cousin favored. “Powerful, vigorous men of strong animal development must have some way in which their animal spirits can find vent,” TR wrote. He’d read his “Moral Equivalent of War,” and no doubt would laugh at my (and Malcolm Gladwell’s) objections to violence on the gridiron. He’ be wrong about that, but never mind. [Ban college football]

Well, if my own animal spirits ever lag… if my legs ever go, either figuratively or for real, I’ll revisit the Roosevelts’ vigorous examples of fortitude and grace in the face of stress and storm. Where there’s a will, a vigorous way can be found.


October 13, 2010

Another smorgasbord of bite-sized speculations on the amazing world of tomorrow, in FoL…

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers said talent is mainly the residue of hard work, preparation, circumstance, and “the contributions of lots of different people.”

Howard Gardner (Five Minds for the Future, Multiple Intelligences) says let’s look into that, in a multidisciplinary way, and see if we can’t get to the bottom of what makes creative people tick. But do we really want to know? I’d love to understand more about the psychology of motivation, especially my own. But how much close inspection of genetic profiles and neural signatures can we indulge, without damping the spark of our own spontaneity and killing the magic? Are we too fragile to gaze into that mirror?

Still thinking about radiotelepathy: what if Wittgenstein was right, and we literally can’t think what we can’t say? Can we, must we, “draw a limit to thought”? (Tractatus) Maybe we’d better keep things strictly verbal, lest we lose our facility for stringing sequential thoughts entirely.

And doesn’t the language-thought equation also subvert the possibility of significant cross-species telepathy? Conversely, would that possibility subvert Wittgensteinian linguistics?

Radiotelepathy: too weird. Bring back “good old-fashioned nanotech,” like it was back when Eric Drexler (“The Incredible Shrinking Man“) was cool. I want my replicator, so I can order up my tea (“Earl Grey, hot”) and my replacement parts for whatever breaks. Let the “magical molecular assemblers” work their wonders. Would they really leave us with nothing to do but stagnate? That didn’t seem to be a problem on the Enterprise.

And if that’s not weird enough: “honey, I shrank the planet.” Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s pulling our legs, right?

Marc Hauser’s in hot water over questionable research practices, and we’d all be in it if we really answered his invitation to “let your imagination run wild” and went crazy with genetic manipulation experiments. Einstein plus Bach? What?

Same for Lewis Wolpert’s proposal to program fertilized human eggs “to develop into any shape we desire.”

Juan Enriquez seems excited about our new ability to store everything digitally, but much of everything is highly forgettable. We don’t need to archive everything. Why do some of us want to? I’m still not interested in tweeting my breakfast menu.

Stuart Kauffman says the world’s wide open and we don’t know what can happen. “We do not know the space of possibilities.” Has he read his Pluralistic Universe?

Gregory Benford notes those 5,000 year old Bristlecone pines, so symbolic to the Long Now crowd but whose decline was lately noted. Hope that’s not a harbinger.

Is it just me, or are Marcelo Gleiser‘s thoughts on cloning and storage strange even from an edge perspective? Anyway, don’t we already know how to “migrate to a new copy of ourselves when the current one gets old and rusty”? The self-help shelves are full of instructions on how to do it.

Less out there, but no less unsettling: Smith & Calvin on climate change. Strange how we got to the point of really needing to make contingency plans in case the world– the world— gets flooded.

100 monkeys

December 22, 2009

You know the ubiquitous legend (not sure it’s particularly urban) about the hundredth monkey who tips the critical mass and creates a shared attribute of consciousness for all monkeys ever-after? Or something like that. Weird, as I learned in logic class years ago.

The implication is that a collective consciousness can be created by a cadre of initiates who transform their myth into our reality simply by believing. Reality is just that up for grabs, supposedly, for all us primates. This is another of Carl Sagan’s “demons,” and an invitation to philosophical skepticism. Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping points” may be real enough, but they’re incrementally viral– not magical.

But beware, holiday revelers. You can get in big trouble for calling the emperor out and naming this as the nonsense that it is. Better to let people at Christmas parties have their tipping, typing, believing, reality-manifesting monkeys and save the critical thinking for class. Alas.

Will I ever learn? Probably not. But if I do, I want personal credit for my educability. I’m already catching the blame.