Thinking in Pictures

One of the basic techniques that we teach in our flagship course – Fundamentals of Structural Thinking – is to think in pictures.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that a visual language is dimensional.  In other words, you can see various levels of information at once.  That’s a good thing because it lets you understand the relationship of things quickly.  Another way to say this is you can see how things connect, influence each other, and, from that, understand, see what the structure is and why it behaves as it does.

Another advantage thinking in pictures gives us is clarity.  Often people think they are being clear, but too often they are vague.  But when we translate what they are saying into a visual realm, we can see where we need to fill in information, test assumptions, separate concepts from facts, and clarify what is not clear.  For the consultant, coach, manager, and person in the helping professions, this is an invaluable skill to have.  From this technique, new insights and understanding become possible, and lives change.

Most of us, even the most visual, do not actually think in pictures to the degree that we teach it in the FST.  Even the most visual people tend to talk to themselves while they are picturing what is being said.  They process information in two domains: visual and verbal.  When this is the case, the verbal tends to obstruct the visual.  Words are easier to process and so the pictures take a back seat.  One of the techniques we teach is the ability to be visual without any sub-dialogue – to see the pictures without “gabbing to yourself.”  As you can imagine, this is quite a discipline.  But, through it, you increase your comprehension enormously.

We have been taught to think in verbal language.  The limitation to this verbal language is that it is linear.  It is hard to see things dimensionally.  Information is processed in sequence – one thing at a time. That means you can’t easily understand how things connect.  Without that understanding, it is hard to see the underlying structures that drive behaviour.  If you can’t see what is causing behaviour, it is very hard to enable change and have that change be sustainable.  That is why so many change efforts first seem to work, but later, revert as if the change never happened.

Neuroimaging such as PET scans of the brain have shown that children with learning disabilities often have problems with their visual centers.  In other words, if we compared most children to those with learning problems, we would find that most children have active visual centers, but the ones with learning problems usually do not.  Their visual centers are much less active.  But, when they learn to think in pictures, there is tremendous improvement.  When their visual centers become more active, their comprehension goes up dramatically.  Much of this work has been pioneered by Nancy Bell through her company Lindamoodbell.  In their process, children first learn to picture single words.  After that, the next step is to visualize phrases.  Then complete sentences, then paragraphs.  This visual training enables the students to increase their learning skills and it makes a dramatic difference in their learning process.

In a similar way, training in structural thinking has a series of exercises that increase visual fluency.  As part of that development, your learning to picture allows you an increased ability to listen to information, translate it into a visual form, and study those pictures, non-verbally.  In other words, you are able to shut off your intrusive verbal mind for a period of time.  Because of that, you can suddenly see how things relate to each other, what tendencies for behavior exist, what it would take to change the structure leading to those tendencies, and why things are the ways they are today.  This type of insight is not usually available.  But when it is, it changes everything.

Another FST technique is how you translate words into pictures.  It’s as if you have a little film crew in your head making a movie of what is being said.  The pictures tell the story.  And, when you are listening to others, especially in a professional situation, there will be some missing pictures.  These missing pictures lead to targeted questions, and laser like penetration into unexplored areas.  This is transformative and life changing.

Often there are pictures that contradict other pictures.  People are not always consistent.  The job of the structural consultant is to sort out these discrepancies.  There are only two possibilities: one of the two contradictory ideas is incorrect; or there is information we don’t have that explains the apparent contradictions.  For example, what if your client said, “Last year was a great year.  All of our sales were down.”  These statements form two pictures that are contradictory.  Perhaps one of the statements is not accurate.

“How can last year be great if sales were down?”
“Oh, did I say last year.  It was the year before that was great.  Last year was a disaster.  Sales were down.”
“Oh, did I say sales were down.  They were up.  It was a great year.”
Or there is information we don’t have that we need to have to understand the apparent discrepancy.
“Sales were down, but we got the patent on the technology, so it didn’t matter about our sales.  We make royalties on everyone’s sales.  What a great year!”

Positive and Negative Space
From art there is a technique called negative space.  This is when the artist does not try to draw the object, but the space around the object.  Of course, the result will be a picture of the object, but it can look so different.  In the FST and in structural thinking, we have a similar technique.  If something is filling the positive space, such as “the door was on the right,” in the negative space, there is a left.  We may not need to know if there was anything on the left of the door, but, in our picture, there is a left.  There has to be because if you didn’t have a left, you could not have a door on the right.  Another example is if the statement someone made was, “She finally got it right.”  In the positive space we can picture a “her, getting it right.”  We don’t know what she got right yet, but we can ask about that later, and fill in that picture.  But there is even more information in the negative space.  The word “finally” gets us pictures of other times in the past when she did not get it right.  That is what the statement implies.  But people don’t always agree with what they are implying.  So we can ask a very targeted question based on our pictures.  “Has she gotten it wrong in the past?”  We expect a “yes” answer.  But if we get a “no,” we can change our pictures, knowing the word “finally” did not fit into the statement.

Often, people assume a lot about reality.  When we apply the technique of negative space, reality becomes clearer and in more focus.  Impressions may or may not stand up to scrutiny.   Often, people are reacting or responding to concepts that turn out not to be true.  This can lead to very bad decisions, ones that are not based on reality but a wrong impression of reality.  Through structural thinking, we can back up and study reality as it is, independently from our previous concepts.  This change is profound.  It is also very practical.  When you know what reality is, you can make better decisions on behalf of those things you want to create.  You can’t play the violin in tune if you can’t hear the pitch.  You can’t create the life you want if you can’t get a fix on reality as it is.

Start with Nothing
One of the techniques in the FST that takes some learning is step one: start with nothing.  Our entire educational system is based on an opposite notion, start with knowledge.  In fact, it is the job of education to fill our heads with knowledge so we can compare what we know with what we see.  This process works pretty well if you are going to train the masses to negotiate the world.  But the down side is a “this looks like that” mentality.  People think they know what’s going on before they look.  They jump to conclusions, theories, speculations, models, past experiences, and other frames of reference that distort their view of reality.  What we were taught about the so-called “scientific process” was to:

• Generate a hypothesis
• Test the hypothesis against reality
• From that, reject those things that didn’t fit
• And accept those things that did fit

So, it starts with a theory that we either prove to be right or wrong.  But that is NOT how true creative scientists work.  They start with nothing, in other words, no theory, or other frames of reference.  Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most gifted geniuses who almost single handedly invented physics and calculus, said, “Hypotheses have no place in science.”  And Rene’ Descartes said, “To understand some set of phenomenon, first rid yourself of all preconception.” Einstein was said to have his revolutionary insights from two traits he had.  One, he thought visually, and, tow, he was able to start with nothing so he was not influenced by past concepts.

Our minds want to jump to an answer in light of not knowing something.  That is natural.  The discipline we learn in the FST is how to not fill in the empty spaces of our understanding with speculation, theories, models, conjecture, and biases.  This is not easy at first, and takes real training and practice.  But the rewards are superb.

Starting with nothing, and then thinking in pictures is one of the most important fundamentals of structural thinking.  With that foundation, a new world opens.

A Lesson That Won’t Be Learned

David Mamet, in his book On Directing Film, describes modern architecture that was in vogue in the 60’s, with its flat roofs, being put all over New England. After a few years, these houses began to have major problems because they were not designed to handle the weight of the snow. Most of those houses are gone now because the designs didn’t take into consideration how nature worked.

Why is Mamet, the great director, playwright, screenwriter, and artist talking about houses? His point was about structure. He went on to say how the old New England builders understood weather, and structured their houses with the right pitch of the roofs so that snow will fall off them. He then went on to make the same point about the structure of film, and how it must understand the forces in play to make it workable.

Here in Vermont, where we live, there are people who know how water flows, and just where to build a house and just where to put ditches to route the flows of water from storms away from the house. Without this knowledge, you will end up with water in your cellar or worse.

So now we come to the tragedy in Houston. Without a sense of how land and weather work, entire towns and cities, factories and refineries, were build in places that were below the flood levels. Of course, our hearts go out to the millions of people who will suffer, some of whom have lost their lives, because of a terrible hurricane. You may think that this was something that couldn’t have been anticipated, but in the 1930’s, a similar hurricane hit that area with similar devastation. Then, however, the land was not built up. There was some damage but not the type we see today.

It can sound almost childish to ask why build buildings in places where they are subject to danger? In New Orleans, there had been wetlands to accommodate for the amount of water they would get from a hurricane, but someone had the idea of paving over the wetlands. A similar mentality drove Texas to rid the state of regulations designed to protect the population from exactly this type of event.

Those who want to rid the world of government, are against regulations as if they were somehow the enemies of freedom. These people put their societies in danger. Of course, we can talk about over regulation, etc. But that misses the point. To generalize about all regulations is ridiculous. A society has a right to protect itself. And without some guidelines and controls, short-term exploitive gain will lead to long-term harm. The folks that build the houses that flooded are long gone, but they made their money. They will not be held responsible for the outcome. Nor will the state of Texas when they changed the laws to permit such development.

The promise to restore the towns and cities that have been destroyed seems impractical at best, and inane at worst. Why restore something that was built in the wrong place to begin with? This is a lesson that will not be learned.

In our work is structural dynamics; we understand that the underlying structure of anything will determine its behavior. In our work, we have seen that self-organizing systems, much glorified a few years ago in some management circles, always lead to structural conflicts in which elements are pitted against other elements. This leads to an oscillating pattern of short-term Vs long term, a competition for the same resource base, and a drift to low performance. The glorification of the “free market” is such a self-organizing system. The market will not take care of itself when left to its own devices. In the case of Texas, many of the policy makers thought that great good would come from freeing up regulations and letting the marketplace do its thing. Well, it did its thing.

This is not a slam against free enterprise, which is a great system when proper and sensible controls assure its overall positive benefits and avoid its potentially destructive dangers.

As David Mamet teaches in On Directing Film, there are some structures that are better than others, and it is with folly that nature is not taken into consideration.


It is the essence of irony that white supremacists are not the most gifted among us. I suppose that is why they hang onto identity to make up for their actual inadequacies. For them, there is great synthetic comfort in holding on to a straw of false pride, and, hating other groups they see as less than them. That’s all their lives have become. And, when hate migrates into terrorism, as it did in Charlottesville, the pretense of anything good or noble that they would like to claim dissolves into the reality it is: a cult of evil.

What happened yesterday was just one event that dramatized a sickness in America. Actually it is a sickness that is finding pockets of malignant cells throughout the West these days. It is easier to seethe with hate than develop, work hard, build, create, and join together with others to build a better world.

To think that in 2017, after the history of the Twentieth Century, with millions upon millions dying because of National Socialism, that Nazi flags could fly in America is surreal. But there it is. History can seem lost to a world that, in its past, had sacrificed so much to overcome evil, only to see it reappear.

What can we learn? That nothing is ever fixed. That social order to guarantee such values as freedom and justice can be so easily undermined, and that progress is not assured in a steady state simply because at one point it had its victories. The human condition is the same as it was over 2000 years ago, and while there has been dramatic progress in technology and science, the structural makeup of humanity remains unchanged. That means that society has a choice it may not know it has. For it to make that choice, it has to always move ahead in the direction of freedom and justice for all. If it becomes complacent, it will lose ground, and the cancer of that which is lowest and most base in the human condition will have its day.

The Passing of Sam Shepard

It hurts to think of Sam Shepard, gone.

The cause of his death was complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

One of the greatest artists of his generation, Shepard was a true original. His plays have become classics of the theater, and, along with Bob Dylan, he was worthy of winning a Nobel Prize in Literature (even though he didn’t.)

He changed theater, experimented with form and structure, went way beyond the theater of the absurd which was in fashion in the late 50s and early 60s, and created powerful, unforgettable characters. Bruce Willis said that it took him years of acting experience to finally be prepared to play a Sam Shepard role because of the emotional complexity and dramatic depth it demands.

Shepard was also powerful actor. Memorable are his roles as Chuck Yeager in the Right Stuff and as Eddie in Fool For Love based on his play and directed for film by Robert Altman. His performances were always alive with a natural feeling, emotional truth, both down to earth and charismatic. When he was on the screen, you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. He could be doing nothing it seemed, and yet, the screen was filled with drama. Of course, he wasn’t doing “nothing.“ He was filling the space with his presence and imagination.

A true great has passed. Always a sad event that seems to change the world.

From his website:

Sam Shepard’s plays are performed on and off Broadway and in all the major regional American theatres. They are also widely performed and studied in Europe, particularly in Britain, Germany and France, finding both a popular and scholarly audience. A leader of the avant-garde in contemporary American theatre since his earliest work. Sam’s plays are not easy to categorize. They combine wild humor, grotesque satire, myth and a sparse, haunting language to present a subversive view of American life.

His settings are often a kind of nowhere, notionally grounded in the dusty heart of the vast American Plains; his characters are typically loners, drifters caught between a mythical past and the mechanized present; his work often concerns deeply troubled families.

Before he was thirty, Shepard had over thirty plays produced in New York. In his works Shepard has repeatedly examined the moral anomie and spiritual starvation that characterize the world of his drama.”

Sam began his career as a playwright in New York in 1964 with the Theatre Genesis production of two one-act plays, COWBOYS and THE ROCK GARDEN at St. Mark’s Church-in-the Bowery. Their lack of conventional structure and the manic language of their long monologues offend critics from uptown papers. Some find the plays derivative of Samuel Beckett and other European dramatists. But Michael Smith of THE VILLAGE VOICE hails them as “distinctly American” and “genuinely original,” and declares their author full of promise.”

By 1980, he was the most produced playwright in America after Tennessee Williams.

Over the past forty years, Sam has written over 45 plays, eleven of which have won Obie Awards. In 1979 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for BURIED CHILD. In 1986 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1992 he received the Gold Medal for Drama from the Academy. He was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1994.

“No one knows better than Sam Shepard that the true American West is gone forever, but there may be no writer alive more gifted at reinventing it out of pure literary air.”
…Frank Rich, The New York Times
“Mr. Shepard is the most deeply serious humorist of the American theatre, and a poet with no use whatsoever for the ‘poetic.’ He brings fresh news of love, here and now, in all its potency and deviousness and foolishness, and of many other matters as well.” …Edith Oliver, The New Yorker
“If plays were put in time capsules, future generations would get a sharp-toothed profile of life in the U.S. in the past decade and a half from the works of Sam Shepard.” …Time Magazine
“Sam Shepard is one of the most gifted writers ever to work on the American stage.” …Marsha Norman, Pulitzer-Award-winning author
“One of our best and most challenging playwrights… His plays are a form of exorcism: magical, sometimes surreal rituals that grapple with the demonic forces in the American landscape.” …Newsweek
“His plays are stunning in their originality, defiant and inscrutable.” ..Esquire
“Sam Shepard is phenomenal…. The best practicing American playwright.” …The New Republic

Sam Shepard was 73 years old.

The Chair

…….a little fable…
Once upon a time, there was a big chair sitting in a big room. The chair was very proud of itself because important people would sit in the chair and say important things. The chair began to think that it was important because these people where sitting in it, that important thoughts were thought that led to important things being said.

But over time, some of the people who sat in the chair said very silly and stupid things. Those listening to these silly and stupid things didn’t know that they were silly and stupid, nor did the people who sat in the chair know that what they were saying was silly and stupid.

The chair was getting on in years, and it thought that perhaps it was because of its age that those who sat in the chair were getting more silly and far more stupid that ever. It remembered all the brilliant minds and brilliant bottoms that sat in that chair, and then it dawned on the chair. “It must not be me if I can tell the difference between the smart and important words and the silly and stupid words. It must be the actual people who sat in the chair.”

“That means,” the chair thought, “that I have had nothing to do with how smart or stupid the people who sit in me are.” This was quite a revelation for the proud chair to have. After all, the chair couldn’t argue against the thought that it was the people and not the chair that caused the quality of thinking and saying. “That means,” it thought, “that I never had any influence of those who sat in me.” The chair felt both sad and a relief all at once.

And so the chair came to understand its role in life, to support people whether or not they were smart or stupid. Gone was the pride. In its place was the comfort of doing the job it was meant to do, which was to happily bear the burden that came its way.

The End.

Science March


April 22, Earth Day 2017, saw a march for science around the world. In a way, it is strange to think that people have to march in support of one of humanities highest achievements. But, sadly, that is the case. Science has become politicized.

On the one hand, that is natural because, as scientific research becomes more complex, science needs funding to realize its full potential.

It is hard to understand why science has enemies. Science, which has eradicated diseases, created technology, helped bring the Renaissance out of the dark ages, and that gave us levels of communication and helped build civilization, is under attack.

There are two major human inventions that drive the highest in the human spirit. One is science, the other is the arts.

A few years ago, I wrote this blog entitled “Oil Vs Science.” I republish it here because it is still relevant. Here is a fact: within the next 30 years, renewable energy can totally replace energy from fossil fuels. Think of what that means to the planet. Think of what that may mean politically in the world. It is science, and only science, that can lead to that positive development.

I support science as one of the most remarkable human achievements the world has ever seen.

Oil Vs Science

Science MarchOver 60 years ago, my father had one of his lungs removed by the leading pioneer in that type of operation. This was the 1950s, and everyone smoked. My father’s doctor insisted that my father quit smoking, which he did. Many of the other patients didn’t, and therefore, many of them didn’t last long. Only the ones that quit smoking lived much longer. My father went on for decades after his surgery. He did not have lung cancer or emphysema as did most of the other patients. He had scar tissue on one of his lungs caused by a childhood disease that was destroying the lung and his ability to breath.

In the early 50s, this doctor and his colleagues knew that there was a direct relationship between smoking and lung disease. No question about it for them. But they were up against an industry that sold cigarettes. There were “tobacco states” in which the politicians from those areas were dependent on the big tobacco companies. As far as they were concerned, there was no connection between smoking and illness. It was just a theory a few doctors and scientists had. What do they know? Let’s find some doctors who disagree. Let’s fund some research that proves how healthy smoking is.

It is amazing how little things change. The overwhelming scientific evidence is that global warming is real and there are human causes. That understanding goes against the interests of big oil. So, many politicians, who happen to create laws, regulations and fund agencies, are happy to deny the obvious.

I suppose there are those who still argue against the germ theory. Louis Pasteur had to suffer from the medical establishment when he asked them to wash their hands. How could something so small cause so much trouble? It didn’t make and sense, at least to them.

Any politician from right to left who wants to argue that there is still some disagreement about global warming and its human contribution to it is either an idiot or an opportunist. Given the vested interests of the oil companies and how they contribute to political campaigns, I would guess its opportunism. That means they have to be smart enough to know the truth that they are so ready to argue against. There is something more honorable in being an idiot given that comparison.

Science is an intellectual discipline. It is not a belief system the same way math and music are not belief systems. And when people say things like, “They have their own vested interests because they get funding to do their work,” they miss what science is. Imagine you could buy off science. Who has more money, the funding agencies for scientific research or oil companies? If it were just a matter of money, the oil companies could buy off science, and there would be a lot of research showing how there is no human hand in global warming.

But I don’t need to ask a scientist. My wife, as an avid gardener, knows what’s going on. She can tell from the calendar when various plants are supposed to bloom. And, over the years, they have bloomed sooner and sooner in the season.

I suppose the politicians can say something like, “Yes, the planet is warming, but we don’t really know if it has anything to do with CO2.” Yes, we do know. The fact is, they could know. They don’t want to know, because if they admitted the truth, they would need to vote in favor of human beings and against the interests of the bosses at the oil companies.

I suppose I sound cynical. Notwithstanding, to myself, I sound realistic because how can people argue against 90% of the science. I suggest everyone read my friend and colleague Peter Senge’s book about this called The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World. This is a book that verifies science, and goes further to discuss how to address it.

I can understand the oil companies. They are amoral (not immoral) and have little value driven objectives. This is a question of leadership. Given every corporation is amoral because they are not people but institutions, those who lead the companies must insist that higher values drive decisions rather than simple opportunism from a short-term perspective. I can’t understand the obvious lack of intellectual honesty of the politicians and ideologues that claim science has not proven its case. You can look this up. It is not one or two data points that show the patterns. There are hundreds of data points, all confirming each other, all aligned and consistent.

My advice is this: do not support or vote for any politician, no matter where they stand politically, who denies scientific fact and points to the most obscure fringe scientist who question the data. Also don’t vote for politicians who think Elvis is still alive or who think the moon landing was a fake.

What we can learn from music

Back in 2007, the writer/neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a book describing a disease he terms musicophillia. It is when the brain cannot process music. Most people do not suffer from musicophillia. In fact, music is one of the most universally loved art forms throughout the world.

What is it about music to which human beings so relate and respond? Is it about sound, rhythm, form, melody, texture, sonic relationships, the combinations of all of those things, or perhaps something else?

To Sacks, it was a matter of how the brain functions. In a PBS special, they hooked him up to a MRI brain scan and played him a piece by Bach and one by Beethoven. As it happened, Sacks liked Bach better than Beethoven, and his explanation was that his brain activity during the Bach was more stimulated than it was during the Beethoven. He suggested a few questionable conclusions from this. One was that somehow Bach was a better composer than Beethoven, and his brain waves were simply proving his point.

To think that one can claim that Bach was a greater composer than Beethoven, or the reverse of that seems the height of folly, and Sacks was too smart a guy to put his name on that declaration. But, after all his qualifiers, that’s exactly what he thought.

Taste is a personal matter. Some of us like sweet flavors, some of us prefer sour. Some of us like the combo of sweet and sour together, and some of us don’t. There is no right or wrong when it comes to taste. But, and here is the more interesting question, are those neurologists working on brain research today really understanding what came first, the preference or the brain activity?

In Sacks’ case of liking Bach over Beethoven, I would guess, and it’s only a guess, that his taste in music came first, his brain waves followed suit. Because he preferred Bach, his brain sort of said, “Mmm, Bach! How nice!” And then, his brain lit up like a young girl at a Justin Bieber concert. For me, while I love the Bach, the piece he was listening to by Beethoven was more interesting, more expressively powerful, and, if I had to chose between to two masterpieces, it would be the Beethoven hands down. I’m sure my brain would become more active with the Beethoven than the Bach, the opposite of Dr. Sacks.

I think that the late Oliver Sacks’ research over the years was brilliant. And he had a masterful ability to write about his findings. I’m a fan. But, music, that’s a realm that many neurologists have tried to explain without much success. The book This Is Your Brain On Music by McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, while popular, was a very silly book. His understanding of music is limited to that of an uneducated fan, and he had little knowledge of how music works structurally, something that all composers learn in music school their first year. McGill has a world class music school, and I’m sure he could have gotten a little help from his friends there, or maybe, better yet, taken a few classes in harmony, counterpoint, and form and analysis. If he had, he wouldn’t have ended up saying some of the childish things he said. Again, like Sacks, he tried to link his personal tastes to brain activity and neuroscience, and that weakness discredited his claims and demonstrated his lack of understanding.

Musical tastes develop over time. The 1913 premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring caused near-riots in the audience. Now it seems tame and mainstream. This tends to be the way new trends in music develop. Beethoven’s Third Symphony was a breakthrough that took getting used to by the audience of that day. Elvis’s first appearances were met with controversy and a storm of protest. The history of music shows that taste in music is often acquired. But, if, as some neuroscientists claim, that somehow the brain will gravitate toward structures that are predetermined by the neurological disposition, how can they explain the ongoing invention of new styles of music, and the fact that the pattern of audience response is often rejection followed by appreciation. Think of the development of reggae, techno rock, rap, minimalism, atonality and electronic music now heard in most Hollywood suspense films?

In 1863, German physicist Hermann Von Helmholtz published his groundbreaking book On The Sensations of Tone in which he explains how the overtone series creates its own built-in tension-resolution systems, the underlying structure of tonal harmony. From what we’ve seen from neuroscience, it is hard to imagine those who work in that field know much about Helmholtz’s work. If they did, they would begin to study why the overtone series generates the harmonic structures it does, and why throughout the 20th Century, music has moved from lower to higher aspects of the series, in other words, became more complex and dissonant. The inventions of Debussy and Ravel, followed by the discoveries of Schoenberg, Boulez, and Stockhausen created new systems of harmony and counterpoint. These new methods were directly consistent with Helmholtz’s descriptions of the physics of music.

The brain learns. The brain changes with new experiences over time. That observation leads to this question: is it the brain that dictates what you want, or does what you want dictate to the brain, instructing it to develop whatever connections it needs to accommodate your wishes?

There is a lot of interesting research going on in neuroscience right now. There are a lot of claims being made, often by people who sell programs that assert validity through neuroscience. I have yet to see anything compelling that explains how structure works within people’s lives. Music, one of the most structural of art forms, has yet to be explained by the wonders of neuroscience. Your brain may be waiting for your direction, and after a while, will do what it needs to do to comply to your wishes as much as it can. Perhaps this is art over science.

The Passing of Fidel

Before Fidel there was Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt dictator who used his military to control the country. He had overthrown Gerado Machado, another dictator. I was a kid when Castro took over Cuba. At first, most Americans were for him. They thought he was a democrat fighting for freedom and justice and they hated Batista who was close to the American Mafia. Soon, though, the truth became known. Even before he announced he was a Marxist-Leninist, he was killing his enemies in grotesque public firing squads. Then things got worse.

There is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions here, for Fidel had special qualities that could have served something positive and creative. Seems that in our world, you can only have one of two opinions of him: he was a despot; he was a revolutionary hero. The facts support the first opinion more than the second. I had known his chief architect who had built many of the modern public buildings in the early 60’s before escaping to America for his life. Fidel liked to kill people, put them in prison and lose the keys, control the press, intimidate the population, give the longest winded speeches in history, and he almost guided the world into a nuclear war. He tried to export his type of revolution to the third world, mostly in Africa.

Yet he created a fairly good medical system, produced the highest literacy rate in the world, and created other social benefits. Of course, the Cuba’s with their high literacy rate could only read what Fidel approved. I think he had a brilliant mind. But that only made matters worse given he was a total ideologue.

My co-author for our book IDENTITY, Dr. Wayne Andersen, had been on a fact-finding trip to Cuba, and had met with Castro. Dr. A said, “My experience with him confirms he was long winded, prone to talking in the abstract, and although he used physicians as ambassadors of health to different countries, the medical delivery system in Havana was quite dated and not close to our standards. He was brilliant but also twisted! A presence yet a threat to mankind. Suppression is what I felt while I was in Cuba.”

Castro’s worldview was so abstract, theoretical, dogged, and entrenched, with all his intelligence; he was self-defeating in his claim for a better world. This is the problem with true believers. They must make the world in their own image, ignoring reality whenever it contradicted the party line.

In little Havana, the Cuban part of Florida, the news was greeted with celebrations on the streets, Champaign bottles popping, and wild dancing, hugging, and breathing a sigh of relief. In the real Havana, things are quite different. Some people are saying it feels like they’ve lost their father.

Here was a man who could have been great. Was it his megalomania that turned him into a ruthless despot who trampled rights and freedoms? Reminds me of what Robert Frost taught us in his poem: A Semi-Revolution…

A Semi-Revolution
Robert Frost
I advocate a semi-revolution
The trouble with a total revolution
(Ask any reputable Rosicrucian)
Is that it brings the same class up on top.
Executives of skillful execution
Will therefore plan to go half-way and stop.
Yes, revolutions are the only salves,
But they’re one thing that should be done by halves

Dylan and the Prize

dylanWhen journalists write about music or pop culture, they are generally so unbelievably shallow it is more than annoying. And nothing proved that more than the announcement this week that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. They have no idea why he has won. They talk about things that don’t matter, missing everything that does matter.

Even some “serious” writers were critical. Once, reading something by a mystery writer talking shop, he said: “about ‘serious writers,’ “do they think the rest of us are just kidding?” Personally, I am both thrilled that he won, and thrilled for the recognition of the Nobel committee that literature has more avenues of expression than prose and poetry. And while many will see the prize to Dylan as if he is a poet, he works in a different medium, the song form.

Of course, winning the prize in literature is about words. But in the song form, the words are married to music. There is a vastly different way words work with music than alone. That is why it is hard to set the best poetry to music. A great poem defies the limitation of music because it takes something that can be understood a hundred ways and confines it into one single modality. It is what Stravinsky said about music, that music is too specific, that it is exactly what it is, and, because of that it is hard to write about. He said that writing about music was like dancing about architecture. Take a great poem and put music to it is like being able to see 3 dimensional sculpture from only one angle.

So, here is the song form, its own art form that is also a form of literature. And why is Dylan so great that he deserves the highest prize in the world for it? Because, through this form, through his words and music, he was able to reach something truly original.

Now, detractors will point to how Woody Guthrie influenced him. And that is true. But Dylan did something beyond Guthrie, which doesn’t take anything away from Guthrie. Everyone is influenced by those who come before. Sometimes the influence is to further develop what they had done the way that Beethoven further developed the classic style of Mozart. Sometimes it is to go in the opposite direction of what has preceded the trends the way Pop Art went in the opposite direction of Abstract Expressionism.

Dylan’s originality is not only in the way he moved the song from a strict form to something that could go anywhere, but how he captured irony and truth in such few words. Before Dylan, most Rock songs were about going out with your boy/girl friend, or the latest dance craze, or breaking up.

Dylan’s ability to see through pretense was disarming and raw. It had something the arts always strive for: emotional truth. It seemed as if he was creating little dramas, poetic moments, seeing everything there was to see, without filters, without an editorial position. This is something the greatest art can do better than any philosophy there ever was. And when the journalists tried to make him a political leader, or the leader of a generation, he said, “I like to think of myself as a song and dance man.”

Of course, he was the most influential songwriter in his generation. Artists from the Beatles to Joni Mitchell to Paul Simon to… well all of them… took their lessons at Dylan’s feet. For many of them, he opened up a new world they didn’t know was available to them. For them, the world moved from black and white to color.

For me, I often find the type of truth in rock songs more authentic and real than in any other form of expression. And Dylan was everyone’s father of that.

His body of work is too enormous to say anything useful about in this little blog. But it is there to listen to forever. Bravo, Bob! Bravo!


rejuvenationRejuvenation is the reversal of aging and thus requires a different strategy, namely repair of the damage that is associated with aging or replacement of damaged tissue with new tissue. Rejuvenation can be a means of life extension, but most life extension strategies do not involve rejuvenation.

Now the traditional meaning of the word is the reversal of aging.
As far as it goes, I have experienced a series of, what could be called, rejuvenating cycles. They have to do directly with the creative process. And, they have to do with learning new things. Creating and learning are inextricably tied. If you are creating you must learn. It comes with the territory. I know young people who, to me, seem like old fogies. They are already, even in their 20s, set in their ways. They are bored out of their minds. And the reason is, they are boring. What I mean by that is they have ground down to an attitude in which they know it all, have nothing to learn, are not interested in opening new possibilities, and are not in the business of creating anything, especially their own lives. I feel sorry for these kids.

Maybe later in life they will become young again. And that is the principle of rejuvenation, becoming young in spirit. What does that mean, young in spirit? First let’s say what it is NOT. It is not having a mid-life crisis, buying a sports car, and trying to act like a teenager. It is not entering a childlike dotage, either. Rather it is rediscovering that youthful spark you had in the best parts of your life.

It is opening a level of involvement with life that is fresh, new, interesting, dynamic, where something new can be born, something so new, that, maybe you’ve never thought about before.

It is overcoming the predictable, routine, day-in, day-out grind. But how is that actually done? That is the central question.

Let’s focus on cause rather than effect. The effect is rejuvenation, but the cause, what you can do to create that effect, is by delving deeply into your own creative process. This is about orientation and activity. Creating is generative. The more you create, the more energy you have to create.

And there are a few more things that those who know my work will find familiar. One is to eliminate concepts from your life-building process. Exactly what I mean by that are the various worldviews, personal ideals, social ideals, notions about how the world works. As I have said many times, get out of the belief business and into the creating business.

What is the opposite of rejuvenation? I suppose degeneration, or maybe decline. It certainly is going in the wrong direction. Well, your concepts are the ticket to that destination. The more you fill your life with your beliefs, worldviews, philosophic constructs, theories, speculations, and dogma, the less you will be able to engage with life. Here’s why…

If you think you have the answers, you don’t look at reality to see what’s there. Your concepts hypnotize you. This is what every art student has to learn: how to see reality without the filter of their concepts. Don’t look for answer’s to life, instead, look at life itself. Observe, look, without assuming you will know what you will find. If you do this, suddenly you begin to see some things that you had never seen before. Suddenly, life because more interesting. Suddenly you have new ideas, new interests, new aspirations.

And this is the key to rejuvenation. Originality. This doesn’t mean simply coming up with crazy ideas no one has ever thought of before. In this sense, originality means you are in touch with the origins of a new idea, the source of it. And that source is your own imagination, your own observations, and your dynamic urge to create something new.

Don’t use the creative process as yet another process to react or respond to circumstances. Use it to create. And when you do, and when it becomes your orientation, your way of life, that youthful spirit will emerge as a by-product.

And there is the old pursuit of The fountain of Youth. Many have gone on a quest to find it. They thought something outside of themselves would bestow that on them. Ponce de Leon, for example, was in search of the actual physical fountain of youth when he discovered Florida. He never did find the fountain of youth because it doesn’t exist. And while, it this day and age, explorers are not seeking the actual physical fountain of youth, many still have the same form of exploration. What is that thing I can find that will do it for me? For some, they think it is the right doctrine, or others, it is the right meditative technique, or some it is the right amount of money, for some it is the right relationship, for some it is the right spiritual, economic, or political beliefs. Something outside them can be found, and adopted.

The creative process is no such a thing. It is not something that happens to you, it is something in which you engage. It is not what it does for you, it is what you are doing to bring into existence those things that matter to you.