How We Lose Our Grip On Reality

After learning how to SCUBA dive while in high school years ago, my friends and I did most of our diving from the beach. The geography was fairly simple; from the beach the bottom had a gentle slope until reaching the (non-coral) reef of interest at a depth of around 30 feet a couple hundred yards offshore. Water visibility was typically 15 to 25 feet offshore, but could be less than five feet in the surf zone. After moving as fast as possible through the surf zone, we would regroup, sink to the bottom, and rely on our compass, backed up by our depth gauge, to find the most direct path (perpendicular to the beach) to our destination. Our depth gauge was supported by physical clues of our depth, like light intensity and even the spectrum of colors available.

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Of course light intensity drops steadily as one goes deeper, but also the colors disappear with depth, starting with the longer wavelengths (red)A.
 At the end of the dive we would return straight to the surface, which would put us still a few hundred yards from the beach.  We would inflate our life vests, as they were called back then,
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They are now known as BCDs.D.
roll over on our backs, and leisurely swim back to the beach as we caught our breath. It was quite common on this return trip to look back past your fins and either see the beach behind you, or see one of your friends swimming out to sea.

But you don’t need to be a diver to see how poorly we maintain a straight and narrow path.

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Any resemblance to Matthew 7:13 & 14D is purely coincidental. 😉
To do your own experiment, start in the middle of a large field, put a blindfold on and walk in a “straight” line, dropping numbered markers or flags or let out a rope as you walk (the last time I heard of anyone relying on the bread crumb trick, it didn’t turn out wellA.)  You should be able to take the blindfold off in less than a minute, look back at your path, and be happy nobody was watching.  The moral of this story is that without regular “reality checks”, one won’t be taking the shortest path to your destination, and probably shouldn’t expect to get there at all.  And so it is with life.

How To Maintain Your Grip On Reality

Make regular observations

Every nautical chart will tell you that “The prudent mariner will not rely solely on any single aid to navigation …”, which clearly means the same as that seventeenth-century proverb “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”. Failing to make regular observations is the simplest way to lose touch with reality.

Verify all information – “Google, don’t gossip”

If you don’t know the position or the reliability of the source, you can’t depend on it to find or even describe your own position.

Apply the same standards to all information

Don’t get all of your news from one source. Expect all sources to have some bias (that may not be clear). Politically, this means that you should not get more than 30% of your information from Rush Limbaugh or any lesser-known celebrity (regardless of political affiliation). Your sources should come from all around your horizon,

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Landmarks that are near each other may have similar positional biases, which will translate into errors in your own position estimate because using them will cause the errors to accumulate and negate any averaging or cancelling effect that you were hoping to get from independent sources.
and you should not treat the information that comes from one side of your vessel different from the information on the other side. Again, politically, you can’t demand higher standards from the other candidates than you expect from your favorite. This just exposes you as a bigot looking for excuses.

Don’t Throw Out Information Just Because It’s Unexpected Or Inconvenient

I’ve already discussed this in “How Large Is Your Universe”.  If you are doing this, stop calling yourself a scientist and expect others to call you a bigot. We’ve all seen bosses who surround themselves with sycophantsD (ass kissers) and ultimately drive their Rolls-Royce off Reality Road into a ditch (Not surprisingly, none of their entourageD helps pull them out.)  When scientists, whose job it is to describe reality, run across information that doesn’t support their theory they are forced to change their theory.  Of course there are the occasional outliers,

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For a simple explanation of outliers, see the “Math Is Fun” website. The last paragraph of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (N.I.S.T.) website discusses how to handle outliers.
which need to be handled carefully.  One clue to how far you’ve wandered from reality is the number of outliers you have to throw away.

And that is pretty much it.  It is simple enough, but requires constant effort.  If you think I left anything out, let me know.  Other comments are welcome and appreciated.  Now go apply this to your life.  Thanks for listening.

A Spokesperson For Hillary Clinton

I think Secretary Clinton could find somebody like Clara Peller (August 4, 1902 – August 11, 1987)A to go to all of Donald Trump’s events. She could have been in the front row at the last debate, and then whenever Mr. Trump failed to answer a question (which I believe was every time except the last question (I’ll leave the fact-checking to somebody else – I don’t think I could sit through that debate one more time)), or when Mr. Trump interrupted Ms. Clinton (which only happened 18 times, down from the 51 times he interrupted her in the first debateA), this Peller doppelgängerD would interrupt Mr. Trump with her signature line, “Where’s the beef?”  I don’t believe Donald would even realize that she is questioning the lack of substance in his conversation or in his Presidential policies; with his adolescent “locker room” mentality, Mr. Trump would assume this old woman was referring to one of his male body parts, and he would feel deeply offended.  And then as Mr. Trump walked by at the end of the event, this lady could assume an open, gropeable stance, with her arms outstretched, and maybe her lips all puckered up and ready.  She could wind up  becoming Donald’s worst nightmare.

For Trump’s other events, you would probably need a corps of such old lady hecklers, because each one would find herself uninvited after her first appearance.  In fact, they would probably need to go in groups or be escorted, because Donald’s rabid fans would not be above “taking them out”.  Donald himself is more likely to launch into a tirade, followed up at three o’clock the next morning with a volley of angry tweets.

Mrs. Clinton would probably take the advice of Michelle Obama, rather than mine.  I understand.  I’ve never believed that the victor in a race to the bottom could really be called a winner, anyway (What was the prize for the first man to get to Hell?).  But a representative like Clara could put Donald Trump’s tactics into better perspective, and would be entertaining.

Simple English: The Problem With The “If” Statement

You are probably very proud of your grasp of English (unless you live in South Florida, in which case you may not give a damn).  And yet I have seen plenty of people whose lack of understanding about basic structures like the “If” statement

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The next article in this series will discuss how misunderstandings about the conjunction “or” have caused so much trouble.
cause them to make terrible assumptions.

An Example

Suppose a young child is misbehaving to the point that the care-giving parent decrees “If you don’t knock that off, I’m going to paddle you” (This is an old example; I’m sure nobody would ever actually do that today 😉 ). As young children have been known to do, for whatever reason, the child continues with its behavior. The parent repeats the statement, with added emphasis. Nothing changes. The parent soon throws their hands up and says “wait until (your other parent) gets home”.

The parent’s first decree, like all “if” statements, had two parts; a condition and a consequence (joined by the conjunction “if”), with the understanding that if the condition is true, then the consequence will occur. It’s simple enough that even a young child can understand it. If the condition is met and the consequence is not accomplished, then the statement would be considered false. In short, the child knew that the parent was lying.

Now suppose the non-care-giving parent comes home, sees the objectionable behavior, makes a similar decree, and then the first parent points out that they had already made that decree to no avail. The child, for whatever reason, stops the objectionable behavior. To everybody’s surprise, the second parent paddles the child. Although the child and many of you listeners may think bad thoughts about this parent, one thing you can’t call him/her is a liar.

The Problem

As you can see here, the problem with the “if” statement is that is incomplete in the sense that it only addresses what happens when the condition is true, remaining completely silent to the possibility that the condition could be false.  This allows most people to make the assumption that if the condition is false, the opposite of the consequence must occur.  As the young child in our example learned, that assumption would be a mistake.

The Solution

Don’t make stupid assumptions.  As your lawyer would tell you, get it in writing.  In the above example, since the second parent didn’t make any promises about what would happen if the behavior did stop, s/he can’t be accused of lying.  If this example bothers you, I’m sure the second parent told the child afterward that the paddling was for not obeying the first parent, in which case we would be unable to judge the truthfulness of their claim until after the right set of conditions are met following some later episode of misbehavior (guesstimating any change in likelihood of that future misbehavior based on recent events  will be left as an exercise for the reader).  To lawyers, mathematicians, and the like, the parent’s explanation doesn’t matter to this case and is unnecessary.

Save Your Birthday – Vote For Clinton

When I was growing up, birth was considered a significant event.  When a girl got pregnant, it wasn’t assumed that the fetus would have a normal, uneventful life as it grew, got an education and a good  job,  got married, created their own group of fetuses, contributed to society for several decades, and then had a long, fulfilling retirement.  In fact, for two of the three parties involved in the process, birth can be very traumatic.  According to one articleA, 60 to 80% of all naturally conceived embryos never make that milestone.  And of those who did make it, I don’t know of a single one of you that didn’t do a lot of crying about it.  Similarly, in 2015 over 300,000 women died during pregnancy or childbirthA. In the United States, 18.5 women die for every 100,000 birthsA. That is twice the rate of Saudi Arabia, three times that of the United Kingdom, and (strangely enough) 250% as many as died in this country in 1987 (yes, the problem is actually getting worse here).  In my mind, this is something we should be concerned about.

And then there’s the dad (or shall we say “sperm donor”).  Of the two events, the conception is the only one he has to show up for, and for many (mostly Republican) men in Congress, it is apparently the only one that has any meaning – probably the only one he brags about or bothers to put on his calendar (and to save time and space, I’m guessing he doesn’t even bother to jot down the mother’s name).  Some legislators have tried to pass laws making the mother personally responsible for everything that happens after that point.  I’m surprised that they haven’t passed a law replacing your birth date with the date of conception on your driver’s license and all other official documents (Oops! sorry, my bad; it just occurred to me that the reason they haven’t done that yet is probably only because they haven’t thought of it.  The good news is that nobody reads this blog anyway, so we are probably safe for now).

Call To Action?

If you are proud of your birthday, well actually the picture doesn’t look that rosy.  The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution, allowing women the right to vote, was ratified 96 years ago and what a waste of time that was.  Their major failures during my lifetime have been the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.), the Hyde AmendmentD – which says the government can only spend money on men’s health issues, not women’s (OK, I’m paraphrasing (maybe even exaggerating) here), and most recently any law that says women will get the same pay as men for the same work.  Are my biases causing me to miss anything?  Help me out, because I can’t think of a single success they can point to (if you remind me of such a success, I will publish it).  I’m really afraid that until women finally grow the balls to exercise their rights, we are all screwed.  Is that how you see it?  Back in the late 1970’s I had a notion that the National Organization for Women (N.O.W. – which is now 50 years old) was apparently not the right group to lead the charge on the E.R.A.  My thinking was that maybe a men’s group with a name like “Fathers Without Sons” (or something with a nicer acronym) would be required to really get the balls rolling.  Is that really what’s needed to protect us?  Somebody please step up to the plate.  In the mean time, the rest of you could start small with a vote for Senator Clinton for President next time you get a chance.  Thank you.

The Blue-spotted Monks Revisited

If you are not aware of the Blue-spotted Monk problem, or haven’t seen my previous post (in which I made an error in logic), please visit The Problem Of Blue-spotted Monks.

Did you ever wonder what would happen if, as a cruel joke, it had been reported to the monks that one of them had the dreaded blue spot disease when in fact nobody was afflicted? (Am I really the only one here with a slight sinister streak?) Since none of the monks saw a spot elsewhere, they would each assume it was them that was infected and the very first day all the monks would have started to gather at the exit station. One of them, as he approached, would notice that none of the others had a blue dot and would start to chuckle to himself, thinking “these clowns can’t even count”. The others, hearing him laugh, would look around for the first time (until then they were so sure of their logical talents that they hadn’t even bothered to check), and by the time he stopped laughing the rest would have disappeared into the forest. Then it would occur to him that maybe he didn’t have a spot either. When word got back to the Guru, the laugher would be expelled for violating the “no communication” rule, but it wouldn’t affect the solution because the other monks only counted the peers that had spots on their forehead and he was never missed.

Plan B (I named this scheme in honor of B, who first put things in perspective for me. If this plan turns out to be flawed, like the last, I take full responsibility.)

When answering nature’s call in the middle of the night a few days after accepting B’s explanation about why the monks had to start at zero, it struck me that since a monk was really only concerned with three possibilities in the number of blue spots anybody has seen, modulo arithmetic might give a way to synchronize everybody’s universe or get everybody on the same page, so to speak. Plan B calls for everyone to start counting not at zero, but at the last multiple of six. For example, the person who saw ten blue dots knows that there are either:

  1. ten afflicted, not including himself, which means there are ten people who see only nine spots.  Everybody else sees ten.
  2. On the other hand, if he is blue-spotted, there are ten others like him who see ten spots and everyone else sees eleven.

Those who see nine spots know that those who see eleven don’t really exist, and those that see eleven know that the nine-seeers don’t exist. The monk that sees ten must consider each of the other two cases, but not both at once.

Under Plan B he would start counting at six, as would the possible people who saw nine, and those potential people who saw eleven. If everyone knew to start at six, the nonexistent people who saw only six spots would be gone before the second day (we’ll discuss them again shortly), and since that won’t happen, the nonexistent people seeing seven spots will leave on Day 2, etc. Our guy knows he can sleep in until Day 4, when the really possible nine-spot sighters would be scheduled to leave. If he saw spots on Day 5, he would turn himself in and everybody else would live happily ever after.

Starting the inductive thinking process, the first six possibilities start counting at zero, just like the old days. We’ll call that their landmark. As the logic countdown continues past the next landmark (which would be six in this scheme), the hard thing for me was knowing who would start using it first, or even if it was possible to make the switch if that person needed to wait for the person ahead of him (who is still using the old landmark) to make his move. I had the hardest time reconciling the notion that you needed to wait for the people ahead of you with the notion that those people don’t exist.  It turns out the solution was easier than I imagined.

In Plan B, if the number of spots you see happens to be six (or any exact multiple thereof), your dilemma is that the possible person who sees five spots started counting at zero, and won’t budge until Day 6. The guy who sees seven spots will start counting at six, and is depending on you to leave now (Day 1) or else he’s lost. Go to the exit point on Day 1. If you are not infected, there will be a very large crowd heading for the exit with no spots on their head while six people with a spot sit comfortably at home. When you spot your peers, you will avoid the crowd and head home knowing that those six afflicted people will all leave on Day 6 as scheduled, and all is right with the world. If you do have the spot, there will be six others with spots heading out that day with you while everyone else waits patiently at home. When those who originally saw seven spots wake the next morning, you will be gone and the problem will be solved.

What Next?

Lately this problem has turned into an on-again-off-again obsession for me. I first saw a different version of the problem when I was much, much younger; I didn’t figure it out for myself but the answer made perfect sense. Just a few weeks ago, I ran across the spotted monk version I discussed in my last post and again, when reading the answer, I was completely satisfied (although I felt for the commenters who couldn’t accept that it would take 100 days for 100 blue-spotted monks to turn themselves in). Days later, while on a walk contemplating even more difficult (but unrelated) relationship issues, an answer just came to me out of the blue, which is the answer I last posted. It was flawed, and when B. gave his “parallel universe” explanation for why we needed to start at zero, I thought it made even more sense than the conventional answer did, and I was again happy.  Several days after that, the modular arithmetic idea just came to me (as discussed). Then it was only my day job and other commitments that slowed me from working toward this solution. But we are not actually finished yet.

Calling All Logicians

All I’ve done so far (if I got it right this time) is to show that starting at zero is not strictly necessary.  Plan B is not the only possible plan, however.  In fact, I doubt it is the best or fastest plan (I suspect that using a smaller modulus might be helpful).  For the monks to abandon zero as their global landmark there would have to be an understanding that there was a single, logically optimal plan to replace it.  Based on my difficulties wrapping my mind around the issues so far, I don’t feel I qualify for the “perfect logicians” requirementA of this monastery.  It’s just as well; as an aging curmudgeon, that vow of silence probably wouldn’t have worked for me for very much longer anyway.  I’m hoping that the real experts will take it from here and God will finally allow me to let go of this problem.  If you do see a flaw in this scheme (a check of the references will show it would not be my first mistake on this problem), let me know. I may not be able to fix it, but in keeping with journalistic standards, I am willing to admit and advertise the error. Thank you.

Flawed Logic: The Problem Of Blue-spotted Monks

I recently ran across the Problem of the Blue-spotted Monks again at https://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/answer-to-the-friday-puzzle-98/.  Actually, this is a slight variation of the well-known Blue-Eyed Monk problem that can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_knowledge_%28logic%29, among other places. One site even called this problem “The Hardest Logic Puzzle in the World”A, but that was probably just a case of self-promotion. For today’s discussion, I chose the first version of the problem because it is simpler (we don’t have to worry about the case in which one person has red eyes). If you haven’t done so, go ahead and read the problem. We will discuss the solution in the next section.

Start With Induction

The classic answer uses mathematical inductionD to first consider the (trivial) case in which only one monk has the disease. Then they move on to the case of two monks. Their error begins in the case of three infected monks, assuming that the monks were required to start back at one in making their individual analysis.  That is wrong; in the comments section of some of the references, several people take issue with this assumption.  I believe this to be a misapplication of the induction process.  The monks have only to consider two possibilities; either they are infected or they are not. For the sake of argument, let’s say there are ten infected monks. Most of the monks will see ten fellow monks with blue spots. Ten of the monks will see nine monks with blue spots. None of the monks will see only one monk with blue spots, or just two monks with blue spots, etcetera. Those monks seeing ten spotted monks have only two possibilities – either there are ten infected monks or there are eleven. Those monks seeing nine spots need only consider the possibility that there are either nine or ten monks infected. Most of the monks, in considering their first possibility (that there are only ten infections) realize that those ten, in considering the possibility that there are only nine infections, must allow for the possibility that there are nine monks who see only eight infected monks. With the information available, nobody sees any reason to consider any other lesser possibility. Just like in the conventional solution, each monk, having two possibilities, must allow the lesser possibility (which means they are not infected) to resolve itself first before concluding that they are infected and turn themselves in. All of the monks know that the least number of infections that any of them must consider is eight, not one. The first day nothing would happen. The second day, the monks that saw only nine other spotted monks will conclude that the possibility of anyone sighting eight spotted monks was groundless, so they will all turn themselves in. The third day, those who saw ten spotted monks will all breathe a sigh of relief.

Considering The Second Possibility

Now we need to look at the big picture.  This isn’t rocket science.  Why hasn’t anybody seen the error in conventional wisdom before today?  I, like the monks, must consider the possibility that I am the one infected.  If nobody else comes forward with a confirmation of the correct answer soon, I guess I’ll be forced to turn myself in.  Please hurry.

A Better Plan For Controlling Gun Violence?

Well, here we are again with another mass shooting in AmericaA, this time in Orlando, Florida.  This is the first such catastrophe since my last post on the subjectA six months ago, which followed a string of almost one mass shooting a month over the six month period before that.  And still no solution.  I saw a clever suggestion on Facebook, where some gentleman invoked the same rhetoric that Donald Trump used in his plan to ban all Muslims to call for a ban on all assault weapons and weapons of mass destruction only until the United States was able to get a handle on dealing with crazy people and began educating our children again (which were cited in that Facebook discussion as reasons for the rampage).  Strangely enough, this idea didn’t seem to be as popular as Trump’s.  We’ve also seen the difficulty in passing a law preventing people on the “No Fly” list from getting a gunA – something that most people consider sensible.

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The Atlantic has a nice articleA explaining how that idea has made hypocrites out of both political parties.
  Based on the comments and arguments I’ve read on this issue, I’ve come up with what may be the only workable solution.

Plan B

Since we will apparently never agree to restrict the ownership of firearms in any way (even though we have no problem regulating less dangerous products), we need to institute some sort of bag limits.  I am in favor of lifetime limits rather than seasonal limits.  There is still some debate on whether the limit on family members should be higher or lower than the limit on innocent strangers (the definition of “innocent” can be worked out later if it is even relevant to this discussion).  To get the ball rolling, I’ll throw out a few numbers that we can iron out in the comment section.  I propose a lifetime limit of one adult white male per person (some restrictions may apply) regardless of the number of guns owned.  Since up to now, damages for such offenses typically considered the earning power of the victim (which never seemed right to me), the bag limit for females should be about 1.5 (I’m not quite sure how to deal with round-off error; maybe we could start at two, but drop the limit to one if you’ve already met your male limit).  The limit on Muslims would, of course, be three (we need to keep the limit for any one incident below four so we don’t trigger the commonly used definition of a mass shooting, and can therefore look better than the French).  Since Jews are still the most persecuted religious group in AmericaA, we’ll set their limit at two.  As usual, there will be no limit on black males, except for overzealous law enforcement agencies.

If we follow this plan, the mass-shooting statistics are guaranteed to go down.  But if the overall gun violence statistics increase intolerably we could either go to a lottery system or increase the permit fees.  (As the fees for especially popular groups start to increase, we may need to find a way to control poaching.  We can worry about that later.)  Both of these solutions have been successful with other game.  If the fees are high enough, we could lower other taxes.  I would start with the taxes devoted to education, since I suspect that those most likely to object to this plan may have some level of intelligence.  We could export the catch to China and convince them it’s more humane than the dog meat they are now using.  If we corner the market for this resource, that too would increase tax revenue.

Did I forget anything?  I realize that this solution may not pass the test for political correctness, but based on some of the feedback I saw in the Facebook discussion, that alone could make the plan more attractive to some people.

What do you think?  If you have a more workable plan, let’s hear it.  If, on the other hand, your plan depends on Hell freezing over, you might as well keep it to yourself.

 

A Better Way To Handle The Harambe Incident

For those who haven’t heard about the gorilla named Harambe that was shot ten minutes after a toddler fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo around 4 pm on Saturday, May 28, 2016, here is as good a source as any: Gorilla killed after 4-year-old falls into zoo enclosure. Apparently, authorities had both a tranquilizer gun and a rifle at their disposal, and chose the rifle to fatally shoot the gorilla even though the boy hadn’t yet been seriously injured because they were afraid that the tranquilizer wouldn’t act fast enough. They didn’t have to make that call. Here’s a better way.

  1. Take both the tranquilizer and the rifle. The same person should not operate both.
  2. Have other staff members make themselves immediately ready to rescue the child.
  3. When both weapons are ready, shoot the gorilla with the tranquilizer.
  4. Have the person with the rifle continuously evaluate the threat posed by the gorilla.  If bodily harm from the gorilla is not immediately forthcoming, do not shoot.
  5. If the parents get hysterical while you are evaluating the situation and behave in such a way as to adversely affect the behavior of the gorilla or the judgement of the zoo staff, shoot the parents.  (So as not to make the same mistake as the Cincinnati Zoo staff did Saturday, I guess I should mention that you could use the tranquilizer gun for this if you had the forethought to bring the correct dose – even though at this point it wouldn’t be my weapon of choice.  If you don’t have the correct dose, just pray that the staff isn’t acting under the same level of panic or incompetence as they exhibited with Harambe.)
  6. Rescue the child as soon as practicable.

Although (admittedly based on limited information) I did not think the boy was in danger, and not all witnesses in Cincinnati felt the dangerA, those opinions don’t matter to the success of this plan. Since using the tranquilizer doesn’t prevent the use of the rifle, this plan could not have turned out worse for the child than the plan executed, and most likely would have turned out much better for all concerned. The zoo simply threw away options prematurely based solely on their worse fears instead of facts – that sounds like panic to me, and it sounds very unprofessional.  If you feel differently, feel free to comment.  If you see a reason that this plan would not work, feel free to comment.

How Large Is Your Universe?

We used to keep tropical saltwater fish. When getting a new fish, one important question that would inevitably come up would be how much space would it need. It amazed me to think that some fish, even in the wild, could be perfectly happy spending their whole lives patrolling one small rock. That was the extent of their universe. Each individual person, like each of those saltwater fish, lives in their own universe, each a different (but probably overlapping) subset of The Universe created by God.

In The Beginning

When you are born, your universe is very small – focused only on your mother’s breast – but starts to grow immediately. Every experience gives you a new plank you can use to expand your universe. As a new experience comes to you, your mind stretches to make sense of that experience. In a later article we can discuss how important a strong imagination is to discovering the truth (this may seem ironic), which is important for the growth of your universe, but I don’t yet understand how strong imaginations are developed. Other attributes are also required.

When Growth Starts To Slow

Growth may start to slow, however, once your universe is large enough so that a new plank can fit entirely within your existing universe. Since you didn’t have to stretch your universe to accommodate that plank, you may feel that no more growth is necessary and discard that plank. For example, in the story of the blind men and the elephant, which I embellished in The Blind Men And The Elephant, one scholar, “holding the tail, announced that an elephant was like a rope”. While their later behavior may lead you to question how scholarly they really were, a non-scholar would have been more likely to have declared that there are no elephants; what he was holding WAS a rope and he resented any efforts to try to fool him into believing otherwise. In this man’s mind, his universe was already sufficient to describe what he had experienced, and so he threw out the new plank. Once this happens, it takes larger and larger planks to keep up any growth.

When You Have Reached Your Limit

At some point your mind may start subconsciously throwing out old planks to make room for new. In my first career, I was at a field unit (from which everyone starts) and it was a common complaint about how clueless the people in the district office were about what was going on in “the real world”, based on the decisions that were passed down to us. And when someone in our unit was transferred to the district office, we took bets on how long it would take him/her to move to the dark side. The same thing happens when teachers with experience get transferred downtown, away from the classroom. One could argue that it was the people in the field, who had experienced only one small piece of the puzzle (or elephant, if you will), were the ones with the smaller universes and thus were unqualified to pass judgement, while the transferee, with more experience in a larger world was making decisions that would benefit the whole team. While that’s the way we would like to see it work, that doesn’t always happen. My father, who had to join a union to learn his trade, could see only the benefits of the unions at the time and was a strong believer. Once he became a contractor and had to deal with unions “from the other side of the fence”, he could see only the negative. Apparently his universe was not capable of stretching to accommodate both views. Sometimes the truth about elephants is too large to fit in anybody’s universe. When your universe stops stretching, it has reached its maximum capacity.

Then there are other people who are unwilling to stretch, and start throwing out new planks that don’t match or fit into a set of planks that they created themselves. Those people are known as bigots. It’s when they grab everybody around them and try to force the others into their resultingly smaller universe that things could get ugly. I think it’s a bad idea to voluntarily throw planks out of your universe at any time. Here’s why –

The Descent

At some point as you age, your universe will start to become less resilient and will try to shrink. The process begins well before your universe has reached its largest size, but from then on it’s all downhill. I think I’ve already started the slide. If you don’t keep actively trying to add new planks to slow the process, it may act like shrink-wrap, too soon becoming so tight around your body that everybody will be able to see just how small those private parts really are that you had bragged so much about for so long. When they start laughing, you won’t care that the shrink-wrap is now too tight for you to breathe.  I wrote this analogy specifically for men with bloated egos,

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since this term is not in any medical journal or book on psychiatry, I will have to define it in a later post
(which may be my favorite target), but something analogous happens to all population groups.

Measuring Universes

While the size of one’s universe seems to be a far better metricD by which to judge a person than more common and more superficial traits like size, sex, or hair quality, measuring this parameter is not as easy as it sounds. Since you can only measure something that is completely inside your universe, you can only judge people whose universe is small enough to be completely contained within yours, which usually means a child or imbecile. Maybe you are perfectly happy to always be comparing yourself to morons, but eventually your friends are going to correctly conclude that “it must take one to know one”. If a person has any talent or experience that is not part of your universe, there is absolutely no way for you to tell how significant that talent is. If the common area between you and that other person is only a small part of your universe, it might be tempting to draw inferences unfavorable to that other person. But since again you don’t know how large his/her unshared universe might be, your conclusions would be completely unsupported (It is entirely possible that their unshared universe could be larger than yours), but it would give evidence to any counterclaim that it is you who is the idiot.

A less common but more important question may be how to measure the size of your own universe. Sure, you can get from one side of your universe to the other, but what can you compare it to? Maybe you are like that little fish I mentioned at the beginning of this article, perfectly happy patrolling your own little rock while others swim in and out of your life on their way through. How do you know you are not missing out on something worthwhile just over that next rock? How do you know that something big is not soon coming along the path that will annihilate your universe and the universes of everyone around you? I don’t have answers to these questions, but clues might be found in the answer to two other questions: “How often do you discover a plank that isn’t yet part of your universe?” and “How hard are you really looking?”.

The Glory Of Golf

Before I start, I suppose you should know that I’ve never played golf. I was introduced to the game in school and whacked a few balls around, but it never captured my interest. Back then I didn’t even consider it a sport, and the news that some places demand you use a cart to get from hole to hole just reinforced my argument. Although at this point in my life I may be willing to reconsider the physical requirements necessary to qualify as a sport in my world, that’s not why I’m here. I believe there are important life lessons in the game of golf and I’m amazed that so many golfers fail to apply these lessons to their everyday lives.

For Perfectionists

There are perfectionists who would like nothing better than to redo their tee shot if it doesn’t go in the hole. Many of them would never progress beyond the first stroke. A golf course for perfectionists might not have a Hole #2, just eighteen 1st holes so they could better accommodate the crowd. At some point, possibly some time after the lights go out in the evening, even these people would be forced to move on. The question is not whether there are MulligansD in real life – certainly there are plenty of opportunities to practice and hone one’s skills before being tested. The question is whether when the clock is running and it’s time to get things done, if you’d really want to take a do-over. I think you will find that when you are allowed to take advantage of your earlier efforts and take your second shot from wherever the first one stopped rolling, you will find your solution or end of your journey much faster.  In life, the well-known problem-solving strategy of “trial and error” is much more effective when you can take advantage of what you learned in your previous trials.

For The Typically Delusional

Maybe the real beauty of golf is that it forces the rest of us to face reality also. When your shot invariably falls short of expectations, not only are you not allowed to start over, but you are not allowed to place the ball where it SHOULD have gone had the sun been up, or the wind had not suddenly come up, or somebody had not sneezed, or any other logical explanation for your shot being far below your previously advertised average. Yes, it IS amazing how often that happens. Deal with it. Move on. Your second shot will be taken from wherever the first one actually stopped rolling, under the conditions actually in effect when the shot was taken. And your third shot will be taken from wherever that one lands. In this fashion, your chances of success increase significantly with every stroke. You will eventually meet your goal of finishing the course, and you can practice your excuses when you get back to the clubhouse.

What’s not to like about that?