The Knowledge Illusion – Some Quotes

We live in a community of knowledge, and unfortunately communities sometimes get the science wrong. Attempts to foster science literacy cannot be effective if they don’t either change the consensus of the community or associate the learner to a different community.

People tend to have limited understanding of complex issues and they have trouble absorbing complex details (like answering factual answers to factual questions). They also tend not to have a good sense of how much they know and they lean heavily on their community of knowledge as a basis for their beliefs. The outcome is passionate, polarized attitudes that are hard to change.

…shattering people’s understanding by asking them to generate a detailed causal explanation also makes them less extreme.

From The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman (Author) & Philip Fernbach
Riverhead Books (March 14, 2017)

The Worlds’ Greatest Hitchhiker Quote

“This one little car ride instantly redeemed us and rejuvenated us, offering an almost irrational hope for what lay ahead down the road. This I realized was the real magic of hitchhiking: not how it supposedly affirmed your faith in the goodness of humanity, but how it could make and break the faith, over and over again, often multiple times in a single day.”

From The World’s Best Hitchhiker on the Secrets of His Success – The New York Times – 3/22/2018


The Sunday New York Times Magazine has been producing some very entertaining issues. In the travel issue was an article about a crazed Polish man, Aleksander Doba who obsesses about kayaking to the point where he has kayaked across the Atlantic three times by himself.
In the same issues is the story about “The World’s Best Hitchhiker on the Secrets of His Success,” quoted above. It is 2018. Rarely do we ever see someone hitchhike in the United States on America. There probably is an app for that, or perhaps just craigslist, of this thing called facebook. It is unfortunate that hitchhiking has died out as hitchhiking is ultimately a way to challenge people’s beliefs, perceptions of reality and has the potential to have people from very different walks of life and classes interact. It is a way of taking a true chance on strangers and humanity and in the end it can be profound. In the least, for the hitchhiker it can be a test of patience and a realization of how often it is more beautiful on the side of the road on an empty stretch of highway than in a car. How liberating it can be to throw off the shackles of time and schedules. “We’ll get there when we get there.”

Just about everyone over forty has a tale of hitchhiking. The cross country trip out West. The trip that got derailed in a rainstorm. The trip from New York to Key West Florida and the amazing sunrises in Georgia. The ride down the Snake River Canyon in the back of a pickup. So many tales. All of them true.

In the current fashion of personal narratives I will indulge the reader with my own experiences with thumb exposed. It started in earnest with a cross-state trip of about 150 miles to visit my older brothers who were attending a pottery camp in Iowa. I was just fourteen years old. My parents did not seem at all worried and basically said, “Sure, have a good time. Need a ride to the highway?” What different times we live in now.

I left early in the morning with a map, a backpack, some sandwiches and a few dollars for sure. I do not remember every ride but in the end it took over ten rides. I remember being picked up by farmers heading a just a few miles down the road. Truck drivers were always good as the ride tended to be longer and the chatter on the CB radio was always cryptic yet entertaining. One ride, out in that territory, maybe not on that maiden voyage, was perhaps my most dangerous. A large rusted-out Oldsmobile sedan stopped. Three people were in the car. I got in the back seat with one of the riders and soon discovered that everyone in the car was completely plastered out on a bender. In the backseat was a case of beer and I was immediately offered a beer which being fourteen I politely turned down. We then proceeded to drive away at breakneck speed, flying over the rolling farmland hills of southern Wisconsin. After about fifteen miles of so and going over 100 miles per hour we came to a crossing and the driver stopped, to which I departed the car and thanked them for the ride. I never heard later if they ended up driving off the side of the road or not as we had no internets at the time back then to scour the movements of other humans, but they probably made it home fine and ate brats and kraut for dinner… washed down with five more beers.

To be honest, I was not an epic hitchhiker by any means but I do remember some beautiful hitchhiking with an ex-girlfriend out West in Montana. I remember hitching from Bozeman Montana to Salt Lake City Utah. Somewhere along the way we were picked up by a fancy black BMW sedan. After about 5 minutes the driver’s “fuzz buster” made a sound and we slowed down to avoid the highway patrol and a speeding ticket. We had been moving so fast that when we slowed down It literally felt like we were going twenty miles per hour when we were now going sixty. In a few minutes we returned to the normal 120 miles per hour. Sort of the Montana autobahn perhaps. Rides in the backs of pickups were always a joy with the mountains and open skies, the padding of your backpack, which you used as pillow providing comfort. I remember a ride down the length of Wisconsin from Upper Michigan. We were picked up by a pastor who worked with Native Americans and he seemed like he needed someone to talk to to make the ride easier and perhaps clear his conscience. All of these rides courtesy of “the kindness of strangers.”

The last hitchhiker that I picked up was about twenty years ago. You simply do not see many hitchhikers today. It was some youngsters heading down the coast on Highway 1. I was checking out the surf at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and had a hunch that the waves were better down in Pacifica. The two people in their early twenties had a sign that said “L.A. Bound” and after telling them that I was not going but fifteen miles down the coast they said that it would suit them just fine. I let them off at Linda Mar Beach and by the time I got my wetsuit on I noticed that they were headed south, looking for a good spot to continue the journey. Free spirits on the road.

Hitchhiking. A way to connect with every walk of life and find commonality in the human condition. Way safer than the internets.


Zorba the Greek and Thugs, Leeches, Shouting and Playing Piano in the Lobby

“ Mr. Fintiklis, 39, declined to comment, but he has made several notable — and provocative — appearances at the hotel in recent days. On one evening, following a verbal confrontation with Trump employees, he and his entourage of about a dozen people retired to the lobby and had pizza delivered from a restaurant on the property. Then Mr. Fintiklis played music from “Zorba the Greek” on the lobby’s baby grand piano while his friends sang along.”

From N.Y. Times – Thugs, Leeches, Shouting and Shoving at Trump Hotel in Panama (March 3, 2018)

This story in the Sunday N.Y. Times seems like the perfect material for either a documentary or a piece of historical fiction. We are at a point where in the world of politics, reality is stranger than fiction. Imagine Mr. Orestes Fintiklis, a young millionaire in a tussle with Trump and he uses art (playing a song in the hotel lobby) as a way to state his position. If this was a proposed screenplay it would never make the cut – too unbelievable. I like the fact that this really rich guy takes pleasure in playing the piano and singing songs from the mid-twentieth century. Imagine the party eating probably Dominoes pizza in the lobby hanging around the piano singing songs while the security in military garb and armed with AK 47s stood guard. What a bizarre scene.

Perhaps the movie would be called Orestes the Cypriate.

Observations on the Word “Feminism”

“According to Merriam-Webster’s “feminism” was the most searched-for word in its online dictionary, up seventy percent from 2016. But who in 2017 needed to be told what “feminism” means? Upon searching, these people would have learned from Merriam-Webster that “feminism” is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Some number of them where probably relieved to learn that it is still just a theory.”

From The New Yorker – Jan 8th, 2018 – Talk of the Town – Words of the Year (Louis Minead)

There are some words that are confusing by their very sound and came to life in a way that in the end does not serve humans or the word well. “Feminism” is one. “Net neutrality” is another.  Wordsmiths and politicians conjure up others. Citizens United, the law that allows corporations to be treated as citizens is another and should really be called Corporations United to Screw You Over. But once a word takes life it is hard to undo the confusion and damage.

The reason why people were probably looking up “feminism” is because for many it conjures up an image of the feminine – perhaps lipstick and high-heels, but originally it was not meant to mean that at all, but I digress and am “mansplaining”  – a word that is quite good and accurate – way better than “feminism.” But I hope the people who looked up the word “feminism” are satisfied with the Merriam-Webster’s definition. That is how I have always had it defined in my head.  Equality. Maybe it should be “equalitism,” but that almost sounds like a mathematical theory.

It is strange that the UCLA feminist magazine and website Fem is staffed entirely by woman. I think it may have to do with the confusion about the word “feminism” and perhaps a feeling by men that they are not welcome. Surely nothing could be further from the truth. One of my friend’s kids that is off to college joined the  school’s Latin Dancing Club and is loving it. Very few men and a lot of woman who are eagerly looking for dancing partners. Smart guy.

Anyway, this little essay ,Words of the Year, is extremely well written and also pretty funny. I have been exposed to the New Yorker since I was young. When I was a little kid, I would eat my bowl of cereal and page through the single pane cartoons and never get a single joke. Now I look at the cartoons and marvel at how they came up with such great ideas. Usually the Talk of the Town is all about the dreary state of politics. It is good that they mix it up from time to time.