Erudition is not wisdom

Q: ‘Why don’t you go around and talk to other philosophers?’

A: To me that’s not philosophy. It is like literary criticism. A real writer, like Hemingway, doesn’t cast around for opinions, he goes off fishing somewhere, starts calming down. He said: ‘I turn my flame down and down and down and down until it explodes.’

via The Observer Interview.

Robert Pirsig is the author of Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

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Don’t confuse your life and your work

A few months ago I received an email about a Commencement address by Anna Quindlen and I never got around to looking into it.


“You will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.” (A current reference for the idea of being the “captain of one’s soul” captured in the movie Invictus in which Nelson Mandela recites the poem of the same title by William Ernest Henley)

“Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. (…) A life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous”

“Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because if you do you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.”

Here’s the back story:

Two years ago, Villanova University asked author and Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen to deliver the commencement address. She declined, she says, when a group of conservative students threatened to demonstrate against her well-known liberal views. “I don’t think you should have to walk through demonstrators to get to your college commencement.”

But the world was not deprived of Quindlen’s wisdom. She e-mailed the speech to a Villanova graduate who was disappointed not to have heard it. It found its way onto the Internet and within a few months people everywhere were talking about it.

Quindlen expanded the speech into the book called A Short Guide to a Happy Life. The book became a best seller and more than a half a million copies are in print.

via ABC News.

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Students study less

Over the past five decades, the number of hours that the average college student studies each week has been steadily dropping. According to time-use surveys analyzed by professors Philip Babcock, at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks, at the University of California Riverside, the average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student hits the books for just 14 hours.

The decline, Babcock and Marks found, infects students of all demographics. No matter the student’s major, gender, or race, no matter the size of the school or the quality of the SAT scores of the people enrolled there, the results are the same: Students of all ability levels are studying less.

via The Boston Globe.

Ancient Greeks are modern

With a program called Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives: Poetry-Drama-Dialogue, Aquila Theatre will

stage free dramatic readings from 10 plays—including Homer‘s “Odyssey,” Sophocles‘ “Ajax,” and Euripides‘ “Trojan Women“—for the public, especially combat veterans, inner-city residents and rural communities.

The programs, set to take place at 100 public libraries and art centers in some 20 states, will be followed by “town-hall” discussions examining the connections between the classics and contemporary America.

Also on offer: scholarly lectures, reading groups, master drama classes and a resource-laden website.


Corporations should invite them in-house. Ancient texts are great prompters for reflection on perennial themes.

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Why I can’t stand Charlie Rose

In the words of Mark Twain:

[He] never seems to reflect that the wise thing to do, after he has turned on this and that and the other tap, by a multitude of questions, till he has found one that flows freely and with interest, would be to confine himself to that one, and make the best of it, and throw away the emptyings he had secured before. He doesn’t think of that.

He is sure to shut off that stream with a question about some other matter; and straightway his one poor little chance of getting something worth the trouble of carrying home is gone, and gone for good.

It would have been better to stick to the thing his man was interested in talking about, but you would never be able to make him understand that.

He doesn’t know when you are delivering metal from when you are shoveling out slag, he can’t tell dirt from ducats; it’s all one to him, he puts in everything you say; then he sees, himself, that it is but green stuff and wasn’t worth saying, so he tries to mend it by putting in something of his own which he thinks is ripe, but in fact is rotten.

True, he means well, but so does the cyclone.

via PBS.

Your language is essentially

I bumped into a list of 1000 “Essentialist Explanations” in the form “Language X is essentially language Y under conditions Z”.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Basque is essentially the distance between kaixo and agur.

English is essentially the language of people who think that everybody else speaks their language. French is essentially the language of people who think that everybody else should speak theirs.

Spanish is essentially a language that should be called Castilian, for the relief of Basques, Gallegos and Catalans.

Italian is essentially Tuscan dialect as spoken by a Lombard.

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The business card

As a communications form, it is characterized by severe physical limitations and adamantly observed conventions. Its canvas measures a mere 2 inches by 3.5 inches. There is basic information — name, job title, contact info — you’re expected to include, and if you do include it, that can be enough.


Facebook profiles get revised (…). Tweets fade into the ether and avatars are put out to pasture, but real paper business cards,

these sturdy facsimiles of ourselves on custom-duplexed cardstock with metallic ink and die-cut rounded corners, are going to last forever,

tacked onto bulletin boards, tucked away in wallets, stuffed into filing cabinets, dumped into landfills and yet taking up space in the world, stunning evidence of our superior discernment and professionalism that generations yet unborn will marvel at.

via The Smart Set.

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Best way to plan is to look backward

Invert, always invert.” Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward. What’s in it for the other guy? What happens if all our plans go wrong?

Where don’t we want to go, and how do you get there? Instead of looking for success, make a list of how to fail instead — through sloth, envy, resentment, self-pity, entitlement, and the mental habits of self-defeat. Avoid these qualities and you will have success.

Tell me where I’m going to die, that is, so I don’t go there.

Charlie Munger quoted in Warren Buffett, The snowball, p. 770.

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