I just wanted to share some excerpts from Waking Up by Sam Harris that I listened to a couple of months ago. It is a great book that covers so many topics: mindfulness, meditation, neuroscience, cognition, emotions and others. It is worth reading in its entirety and I am personally planning to re-read it. So here are some notes:
“Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world.”
“There is now little question that how one uses one’s attention, moment to moment, largely determines what kind of person one becomes. Our minds—and lives—are largely shaped by how we use them.”
“My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again.”
“How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives. Mystics and contemplatives have made this claim for ages—but a growing body of scientific research now bears it out.”
Most likely a majority of readers have already heard about this famous experiment, probably on multiple occasions. Those who have not though might find it both eye-opening and terrifying. Here is the brief summary of what has been done:
Milgram told his forty male volunteer research subjects that they were participating in a study about the effects of punishment on learning. He assigned each of the subjects to the role of teacher. Each subject was told that his task was to help another subject like himself learn a list of word pairs. Each time the learner made a mistake, the teacher was to give the learner an electric shock by flipping a switch. The teacher was told to increase the shock level each time the learner made a mistake, until a dangerous shock level was reached.
Found this bit of wisdom by Marcus Aurelius rather timeless:
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill will, and selfishness– all of them due to the offender’s ignorance of what is good and evil. That people of a certain type should behave as they do is inevitable. To wish it otherwise were to wish the fig-tree would not yield its juice.”
Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points. If you always do just this, said his grandfather, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay.
MBA is not only about studying finance and accounting and solving cases, we also have multiple courses on leadership. One of them was focused on communication aspect. And as part of this course we had to deliver various two-minute speeches in front of the group of 10 people. Then, we received a feedback. Speeches were also recorded for later personal review.
Topic of each speech was different, but I found the first one the most interesting as it provoked certain self-reflection during preparation. So, I thought that you might want to try exercise by yourself. If you do not have a group of people to present in front of, just imagine an audience and record a video with a smartphone and watch it. The first topic was very simple: “Who am I?”
Also, we were given several hints or questions we might consider answering while preparing or delivering a speech:
What forces have shaped you, what real challenges have you faced?
What do you care about in life?
What’s an unexpected characteristic, or interest, or talent?
Who is most important to you?
Where are you vulnerable?
What is a long-term aspiration you hold?
And here is a couple of questions to ponder when watching your video:
Articulate what stands out for you watching your “Who Am I?” video. What are you pleased with? What do you specifically want to improve?
So, this is it. Hope, you find it helpful.
For me personally the most interesting part was to see how differently other nine people approached the same exercise.
Some thoughts I took notes on during last months. Some pictures I took during last years. Some good music.
“When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once.”
“You all laugh at me because I’m different, I laugh at you because you’re all the same.”
– Mikhail Bulgakov
Austian Chapman was born deaf. But recently he got a new a type of hearing aid device which allowed him to listen to music for the first time.
Here is how he describes his experience:
“When Mozart’s Lacrimosa came on, I was blown away by the beauty of it. At one point of the song, it sounded like angels singing and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I was able to appreciate music. Tears rolled down my face and I tried to hide it. But when I looked over I saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the car.”
I wonder how would it feel to listen to music for the first time. Or see for the first time. Or smell for the first time. Or just after a week-long “break”? Probably, it would be 100 times more vivid than what we are used to.
I wonder whether in the future people will incorporate short intermittent “breaks” using technology in order to sharpen these feelings.
Feynman is one of the brightest physicists of the 20th century who also happened to be a talented lecturer and an author of a book which is fun to read. Here are some excerpts from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” that I found interesting:
So I have just one wish for you–the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel heed by a need to maintain your position In the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.
Isn’t it a modern luxury that very few of us can afford?
On pointless communication
When it came time to evaluate the conference at the end, the others told how much they got out of it, how successful it was, and so on. When they asked me, I said, “This conference was worse than a Rorschach test: There’s a meaningless inkblot, and the others ask you what you think you see, but when you tell them, they start arguing with you!
On mindfulness and watching your thoughts become dreams:
I also noticed that as you go to sleep the ideas continue, but they become less and less logically interconnected. You don’t notice that they’re not logically connected until you ask yourself, “What made me think of that?” and you try to work your way back, and often you can’t remember what the hell did make you think of that!
So you get every illusion of logical connection, but the actual fact is that the thoughts become more and more cockeyed until they’re completely disjointed, and beyond that, you fall asleep.
After four weeks of sleeping all the time, I wrote my theme, and explained the observations I had made. At the end of the theme I pointed out that all of these observations were made while I was watching myself fall asleep, and I don’t really know what it’s like to fall asleep when I’m not watching myself. I concluded the theme with a little verse I made up, which pointed out this problem of introspection: