All posts filed under: Trains of Thought

XXXI. memories

Like a commute, a Renaissance garden is a buffer between outer landscape and internal living: outside and inside, departure and arrival. A good commute would be like the Piccolomini Palace garden in Pienza. Opposite me a young man’s neck cranes down to his phone. His ears are covered by green metallic headphones. His perception is limited. His breathing oscillates. An excited crescendo is followed by a sigh. He leans forward sometimes and his stale breath enters my range of olfactory perception. The fold-out bikers coalesce into a peloton on Whidborne Street. It is not safe to cross the road until they pass. A man in a grey tracksuit and a woman by the window argue. He has a can of Red Bull on his table. His black training shoes are immaculately black. He is probably forty years old. The argument pauses. He asks me whether they are in the right carriage to King’s Cross. Two men at Starbucks talk about God. “I know I should be praying” says the one wearing a light beige coat, …

XXX. frayed

A watch of nightingales, a kit of pigeons, an abandon of thoughts. The equivalent of grinding lenses today? What would Spinoza do? Code? The computer is our primary optical device, a  telescope of sorts. People are stuck to them as they walk around. Activity behind me that I cannot see. She was penciling her face when I walked past to sit one row in front. Now she must be packing her face-colours away. Breakfast wrappers uncrinkle audibly. In a pink shirt he reads something about Manchester United in large font on a Samsung phone, his blue bag so frayed you wouldn’t keep it unless attachment to it was a carelessly formed habit, like chewing fingernails, which he does too. The train is full after three stops and the driver’s young voice announces another unscheduled stop at Welwyn Garden City. His fair hair matches a Sainsbury’s bag. Blue pullover, blue shirt. He is studying Japanese with a frayed exercise book. Yesterday between Farringdon and St. Pancras two men talked about a younger colleague at work: I …

XXIX. balls & bugs

“The signaler tried to terminate us early at the last station.” A new reason for a morning’s train delay. Illusions become stale. Once you’ve seen the Müller-Lyer arrows they won’t fool you again. Psychologists may at some point in the future run out of illusions to illustrate the mind’s foibles. Follow simple rules and study the effect. For example, take a deep breath before you use an electronic device. What happens? Most of us become obsessed with work at some point. How many calories are channeled into corporate endeavours? There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Dupont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx? They pull out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories and minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, …

XXVIII. progress?

A bulky man in a jacket wears a gold watch and brown suede slippers. The lowest button of his jacket is done up in spite of his girth and the rules. Good rules are based on good stories. The story for the button rule is that Edward VII became so fat he couldn’t do up the last button on his waistcoat. In solidarity members of the court all set their last button free. This jacket is cream, beige, green with an orange square pattern. Two North Americans: He is wide, bulky with a Mammut jacket over a checked business shirt. His attention is focused on his phone. His wife is bored. He shakes his legs like a novice poker player excited by a mad bluff. The woman is slender, thin, younger looking. Her ears sport two large pearl earrings, her ring fingers carry jewel-studded rings. She is looking at her phone as well, but it is not the greedy look of the man. She has no choice. He is not paying her any attention and the …

XXVII. cire perdue

Between Coulsdon and Redhill from the train I saw decommissioned red telephone boxes stand close together in the cold weather. What makes the prospect of death distinctive in the modern age is the background of permanent technological and sociological revolution against which it is set, and which serves to strip us of any possible faith in the permanence of our labours. Our ancestors could believe that their achievements had a chance of bearing up against the flow of events. We know time to be a hurricane. Our buildings, our sense of style, our ideas, all of these will soon enough be anachronisms, and the machines in which we now take inordinate pride will seem no less bathetic than Yorick’s skull. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton Perched by the window on a plane due to fly from Munich to London is a well-suited man with hair combed back from a widow’s peak who dominates more than the space he has paid for, V-legged, but one row behind the edge of alpha-class, where …

XXVI. 04/02/18-18/02/18; cut and carve

I get up early. An email woke me. I had forgotten to switch my phone to airplane mode. Airplane security has wrought itself into some of the daily operating systems of our earth-bound lives. Why should it be called “airplane” mode? Why not “offline” or “free” mode? To paraphrase Herb Simon, problems are more complex than our brains can handle, so we oversimplify and ignore parts of the problem statement, or fill in the unknown with our mental models of the way we think it should be, sometimes with dramatic effects on the results. Creating a useful problem statement is therefore a balancing act, a matter of providing enough solution-neutral information to capture important needs, without providing extraneous or misleading information. System Architecture, Global Edition Because the safety switch must be recognizable to strong-willed stewards in the economy classes of intercontinental flight services. An oversight like keeping your phone wired to the beating throb of cyberspace might change your life. You get up and have three or four hours more time to think or write …

XXV. 17/01/18-03/02/18; drawing lines

The train is full. I settle into a seat in the first-class compartment. Here there is ample space while it is cramped outside. I recognize others who are not supposed to be here either. The man next to me is marking tests labeled “Human Synergistics: Life Styles Inventory, Description by others, LSI2.” How does he describe himself? Is someone who evaluates states of mind with standardized tests a coach, a psychologist or a consultant? He is a kind of priest taking confession through a score sheet. “If one wanted to express the value of the priestly existence in the briefest formula it would be: the priest alters the direction of ressentiment.” He wears a blue suit, sits with shoulders hunched. The crown of his head is bald. He is on a new set of test-papers, LSI1 this time: “Strengthening organizations through individual effectiveness.” (According to the website, LSI1 is a self-assessment of thinking styles, personal effectiveness and satisfaction while LSI2 is feedback provided by peers, managers, and/or sub-ordinates.) He goes through the 20 squares on the …