Curiosity Over Clash

I sat down to have some breakfast today and turned on TED to see what I could see, and stumbled onto this talk. I couldn’t have said it better. THIS is an idea worth spreading.

The high points:

  1. Choose curiosity over clash
  2. Expect development of your ideas through discussion
  3. Anchor in common purpose

Scenery along the way:

  1. I never thought it about it exactly that way before. What can you share that can help me see what you see?
  2. The people you are curious about tend to become curious about you.
  3. Think of conversations as a climbing wall.
  4. Make the ideas sharper and the relationships warmer.
  5. If it doesn’t seem worth the bother, re-evaluate the purpose of the conversation: to learn, to listen, to share.
  6. Start with the big picture. Then move on to principles.
  7. It’s easier to share with outsiders than with insiders.
  8. Invite people to inhabit future possibilities.
  9. Take responsibility for reminding people of their shared purpose: caring for people.

… and if you liked that, try this:

AI isn’t AI (yet), but we won’t know it when it is

I arrived at the idea for this post from an article that included the following statement: “[Natural Language Processing] underpins all conversational AI, as ‘you must first understand a request before responding.'” This should sound familiar to people who read this blog.

I’m usually an optimist about technology, because I think of technology as an extension of human nature, and I’m generally an optimist when it comes to human nature. But this idea scares me. A lot.

At this point, I’ll fight my urge to add a colorful storyline to this post, and get right to the punchline.

Point 1:

From the perspective of the use of language, chatting with software like ChatGPT is virtually indistinguishable from chatting with a human. That’s my experience, anyway. ChatGPT is more articulate than the average human. Today.

Point 2:

Most people think of “Artificial Intelligence” as real intelligence coming from a non-biological (artificial) entity (or even life form). It’s not — not yet, anyway. Currently, the word “artificial” in “AI” refers to the intelligence. It’s not real intelligence — it only seems to be real intelligence — and only because of its use of natural language. “GPT,” after all, stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer.” In short, “Artificial Intelligence” isn’t “Actual Intelligence.” Yet.

Point 3:

However… because ChatGPT (for instance) uses language so well, we interact with it as if it is Actually Intelligent… AND… (hold onto your seats)… when, someday soon, it truly evolves to that stage… we won’t know it.


The Road Not Taken, or whatever

I’m a fan of Ozan Varol, author of such books, as “Think Like A Rocket Scientist” and “Awaken Your Genius.”  I just finished the latter, which Varol reads himself. I usually prefer when the author reads their own work.

At one point in the book — maybe in the “Detecting Bullshit” section, or maybe it was in “Look Where Others Don’t” — he makes a strong argument, with numerous examples, of how the majority isn’t always right.  Honestly, it seems to me that anyone is so epitome to “group think” — no matter how enlightened or well-meaning.

For instance, Varol points out how one of the Western world’s most well-recognized and oft-quoted poems is usually completely misunderstood.

You know the line I’m talking about — the one about “the road less traveled.”  It’s often touted as poetic inspiration to walk your own path — to zig when others zag — to be yourself — follow your bliss.  Pick your own woo-woo buzz-phrase. 

The actual lines from the poem go like this:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

But Varol encourages us to dig into the poem a little deeper.  Here’s the whole thing:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

So, the first verse is pretty much fits the common conception of the poem.

The first three lines of the second verse continue along the same lines. But then in the fourth and fifth lines, it takes a turn:

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

Wait. What?  Is he saying that, after is taking that other road, the two paths were worn about the same?  Hmm… The first two lines of the third verse elaborate:

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Seems to be he’s saying that, by morning, both paths looked pretty much untrodden. No difference.

And then, he seems to be second-guessing himself. I Sense regret; doubt.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

And now, with all of that context, we arrive again at the punchline that is most often quoted:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Seems to me now that Frost was being a bit nihilistic— maybe even sarcastic.  He thought he was taking the road less traveled by, but really all roads are about the same.

This little exercise is surely fodder for many a college literary class. I am no literary scholar, and maybe I’m still getting it all wrong.

The point is that maybe most other people are, too.

Are you?

Douglas Adams on Being Wrong

This came to me on Facebook. My thanks to whoever posted it, and my apologies for not remembering who it was or thinking to take note when I saved the clipping. Shame on you, Facebook, for making it so damned hard to find stuff that you once glimpsed but now remember you really want to see again (and for making it so easy to see the same junk over and over again).

I think it’s fitting to refer to Douglas Adams with a story about being wrong. When I read “Hitchhiker’s Guide” long ago, I remember being captivated by Adams’ whimsical, conversational writing style, and the way he was able to make completely “out of this world” characters and concepts seem not only believable, but mundane. Come to think of it, he also made the mundane, extraordinary. And if you don’t know what I mean because you haven’t read the book, then you truly don’t yet know where your towel is. Trust me.

Anyway, here’s the clip. You read it, then I’ll tell you why it thought it worth clipping. You can read my comments, or not. Come to think of it, you can read the clip, or not. But then, you’ve already read this far, so you might as well…

I guess what struck me here is something similar to what struck me the first time I saw Kathryn Schulz’s TED talk “On being wrong.” At one point she led the audience through an exercise that makes it clear that being wrong about something always feels exactly like being right.

So I ask myself… what story do I tell repeatedly for which I might just be missing the punchline?

Out loud and in public

Scott Perry at once told me that, at some point, I had to speak my message “out loud and in public.” In part, that statement planted the seed in my mind for this website.

I understand this statement to mean that thoughts we have in our heads are little good to anyone until they are shared. To be truly valuable, they must generate action of some sort.

But “out loud and in public” also might feel overly arrogant or demonstrative for the more introverted of us. For those of us, it helps to keep in mind that “out loud and in public” doesn’t have to mean shouting at the top of your lungs in a crowd. In fact, that describes much of social media, and that’s not working out as well as we’d hoped…

“Out loud and in public” can also mean in small groups, or one-on-one. In fact, that’s often a better context in which to make a real connection.

I was reminded of this by a comic posted on Twitter by Susan David, author of “Emotional Agility” and one of the most popular TED Talks out there: “The Power of Emotional Courage.”

Of course, this means learning how to truly disagree, which means understanding who and what you’re disagreeing with.

A line from one of my songs: “Don’t mistake my silence for approval or complaince…” (Ranting in the Fray)

Conversation as Art

As a musician, I’m mostly a solo artist. I like it that way because I get to be in full control. I conceive of the songs, I write them, and I perform them. It’s one of the few parts of my world in which I focus on “my own voice” — literally and metaphorically.

I like song circles, in which people share songs. Usually people in the “circle” take turns singing their song, one at a time, and then listen attentively to the next person’s song.  Sometimes there is a little bit of collaboration, where someone might sing an impromptu harmony, or play an accompaniment or take a lead during a break. But it’s still mainly one person “speaking” at a time, and the others listen.

“Jam sessions,” on the other hand, scare the shit outa me.  I’m a pretty good guitar player, but I’ve never learned what to do when someone looks at me during a musical break and says “take it, Mike.”  I’m like Tommy Smothers in the old skit: I say “Take it back.”

A song circle is like a conversation. It’s an exchange of ideas.

But a “Jam” is also a conversation. In fact, it’s a more intimate kind of conversation, in a way. It doesn’t work if play in different keys, or even if they’re out of tune with each other, or they’re not keeping up with each other during the changes, or they’re not in rhythm with each other… 

When a jam goes well, the exchange of ideas is live, collaborative, supportive of each other. There’s a “groove.”  You hit the “pocket.”

A verbal conversation is like this — it’s an exchange of ideas between people.

This is in contrast to an argument, in which people intend to impart conflicting ideas upon each other. In musical terms, this is often called a “train wreck.”

If you think of a conversation as a song circle, or even as a single “jam,” it makes sense.  It also makes sense than an “argument” (in the usual sense) simply would not work as a piece of music. Nobody would want to listen to something where the people in the jam (the “band”) are out of tune, out of sync, or simply playing different pieces of music.

Imagine a simple duet on stage. Two guitars, two voices. One is playing “Hotel California,” and the other is playing “The City of New Orleans.”  Even in the same keys this would likely sound like crap. 

Most of what we read on social media is not conversation — it’s argument. Who (or more) different people playing different pieces of music, in different keys at the same time. 

To have a real conversation, you have to think of it as a piece of art. A collaboration.  What are you going to create, in the end?

Podcast Episode #1

I have not yet done the homework to learn how to launch an official podcast. But I did just finish a first draft of my first episode.

This is a conversation with two friends of mine, both of whom I know from practicing Aikido. We got together over beer to discuss how to have better conversations.

I haven’t launched the actual podcast yet (probably on Apple Music), and there will be some additional editing. But this will give you an idea what’s in store.

Things we discussed:

  • Conversations versus arguments
  • There is a market for conflict
  • The conditions necessary for disagreement
  • Talking stick
  • Understanding the nature of the conflict
  • How practicing Aikido is like practicing conversations
  • Maslow’s hierarchy — the process of being attacked
  • Ability to interact is a skill, and it can atrophy
  • Alone time, and how important it is
  • The “I,” the “You,” and the “We.”
  • Understanding ourselves is a key to better conversations

Just for fun… here’s a screen shot of the labels I added to the recorded conversation before I edited 2+ hours down to 1h 10m.

Research and Conversations

I use an app called “Ten Percent Happier” to help me with guided meditations, and learning about meditation in general. I’ve had a regular meditation practice for years, and this app is part of the reason it sticks.  

One of the guided meditations that I came across is by a guy named Jeff Warren — one of my favorite teachers featured in the app (there are many). This particular mediation is intended to be done during a creative activity. I chose, for that activity, posting to this blog. What you read below is edited, but not much. The exercise was to “let it flow” without any editing at all.

. . .

A quote about an article from The Free Press called “The Reason There’s Been No Cure For Alzheimer’s”… talking about a prevailing theory that seems to draw all the funding, but simply is not showing any appreciable results, despite any hyped rhetoric. …   “Acknowledging that this theory may be a dead end would mean entire careers and billions of dollars have all been devoted to the wrong idea. Not only that—there is no clear path to the right one.”

I’ve always known that “following the money” is a path to the Truth behind research, but to attach it to Alzheimer’s is a real punch in the gut.  My Mom died, essentially of Alzheimer’s, in 2018. She was really “no longer with us” for 3-5 years prior to that.

In Project Management, we are taught, when making estimates, to ignore “sunk costs.” It’s almost impossible, in practice, but we can improve our estimation if we at least try to keep that idea in mind.

“Sunk Costs” are the devil in any conversation where people disagree. We all have “attachments” — a very similar idea as “sunk costs.”  If we could let go of them, we’d more easily see any truth that might be in front of us.

I want to believe in science. But science is done by scientists. And scientists are people. And people need to fund their research. And people who fund research need to justify the allocation of those funds. So they will naturally side with prevailing wisdom; popular theories. 

But when the prevailing wisdom is wrong, that’s bad — right? But we can’t just allocate funds willy-nilly anywhere, right?  That would be wrong, too.

So how to put the money where the best possible solution might be? 

Maybe that’s the wrong question. 

How often do we “know” that we’re “on the right track,” and yet we’re not? How do we know we are? Don’t we always feel like we are?  I mean, being on the wrong track feels just like being on the right track — right?

Somehow, in my mind, this idea of research is similar to the idea of a conversation. It’s all about searching for truth.

Unfortunately, doing research is so often like making a case for what you believe, rather than trying to find the Truth (capital T).

So where does the idea of trust come into play in the world of research?  I can place the need for trust in a conversation — but in research? 

We have to have people in charge of the funding of any kind of research — particularly research into health issues — who are interested in the truth, not (primarily) in making money, and definitely not in covering their asses (or assets). 

If the prevailing wisdom doesn’t seem to be working, then somebody has to be able to say “then it shouldn’t be prevailing” — and that defines where the money goes.

Having a Moment

I’ve often fantasized about being a cartoonist. I’ve tried from time to time to learn to draw cartoons. I have a couple that I draw occasionally, but I’ve never taken the time to work at the craft. Maybe this will be an inspiration. I do believe that there’s wisdom in cartoon strips. It’s a form of art that takes basic truths and makes them accessible; obvious.

Here’s a great example:


A friend of mine recently turned me on to a site called “Free Press.” I guess it used to be called “Common Sense.”

I put those things in bigtime “air quotes” because I’m immediately suspicious. Part of my suspicion, I have to admit, is because the friend that sent me the link is very conservative, and I’m not. I’m not proud of that, but there it is.

Still, I’m pleased with the degree of two-sidedness that I’ve seen in what I’ve read so far. This, speaking as a guy who purposely tries to avoid political discussions on principal. I’m more interested in the way we have conversations than in the content or outcome of the conversations themselves. That’s the flag I’m flying for now.

My friend (let’s call him Jeff) and I got into a conversation about this site, and about “sidelessness” versus “open-mindedness”. Jeff says (I’ve edited):


You see sidelessness and I see open-mindedness. …are sidelessness and open-mindedness synonyms? … Of course people will lean into what they think are the certainties of their life, but to be certain and still keep the door open to your mind is the way to go. Sidelessness seems anchorless to me in the end… resigned to the fact there is no “right” side to seek  But seek we must – endlessly and relentlessly.  Sidelessness seems like a destination in and of itself.

The reason I go with the open-mindedness (I think) is that we should fear no questions for what we perceive our certainties to be. The most dangerous folks to Society at the moment are those who refuse to entertain any questions about their own certainties. Dangerous to have answers that are allergic to any questions. 


(to which I respond…)

I agree with everything you said, and yet I still prefer sidelessness over open-mindness as a moniker.  Both are imperfect. Sidelessness is not a destination, BTW — it’s a starting point. I agree that we must “side” — endlessly and relentlessly, as you say. As I’ve said many times, life is a series of essay questions, but the tests are usually multiple-choice.  

The reason I cringe at “open-mindedness” is because I don’t think people are open-minded by default. Certainly not at the start of a conversation.  I’ll tell you why I say that. It goes like this…

Let’s say I’m mediating a discussion (this happens a lot at work). We introduce a subject. I say “is there anything someone could say that might sway you from your position?” (or something like that).

Usually, the answer is some form of “yes, but I dare you” on the surface, and “I doubt it” just under the surface. We tease that out, and ultimately arrive at “so, your mind is essentially closed — at least on this particular subject, for the moment.”

They say “NO!” (nobody likes to be labeled as “close-minded”)

I say “but you just told me that you’ve given this subject a great deal of thought, and there’s probably nothing that could convince you. That sounds to me like a closed mind.”  It’s not saying “I refuse to change my mind” (true close-mindedness), but it’s effectively pretty close to the same thing, because we identify with our thoughts. Changing our minds means giving up a piece of ourselves, and we’re wired against that.

To me, true “open-mindedness” means “I’m not attached to any particular outcome. Let’s start from scratch and see where this leads.”  And, even then, once it actually does lead somewhere, we’re back at being less open-minded again.  The point point to thinking, after all, is to avoid having to think about that particular thing anymore.

This sometimes becomes an interesting discussion, and sometimes we can end up agreeing that we’re not as “open” as we like to think we are. For me, that’s an open door, not a closed one.

I think we inherit most of our bigger beliefs on subjects — politics and religion, in particular — and we’ve made up our minds on most subjects before we’ve really considered any recent information. Most of our energy is spent trying to interpret the information in such a way that it supports our pre-existing beliefs, rather than examining the information and discovering what it causes us to believe.  There’s considerable research on this, BTW, centered mostly around confirmation bias.

So we have to “endlessly and relentlessly” combat this natural tendency if we are to even begin to approach any kind of objective truth(s).  Furthermore, we can’t do that in a conversation without some level of trust in each other — some assurance that we won’t be belittled for changing our minds; some idea that the other guy isn’t the enemy. Without trust, we just dig in.

So. Expect to see clippings from the Free Press (no air quotes) coming in the future…