I recently wrote a tribute to Eli Goldratt, founder of the Theory of Constraints, who passed away in June of this year. Afterwards, I wondered why one waits until after a person passes away to express gratitude - concretely - on how a person's work has influenced their own work. Rather than ponder on that question, I simply said to myself: Don't wait!
The Mandelbrot Set is a remarkable discovery. I've played with applications, watched countless videos, and read many books, some by Benoit Mandelbrot himself. Here's a good look at the amazing Mandelbrot Set:
The great Arthur C. Clarke, in fact, talked in depth about the Mandelbrot Set, and helped with a book / documentary / DVD series called - "The Colours of Infinity" - on the subject:
To play with the online applications that allow you to effortlessly do neat things is addictive. Try it yourself.
But then what?
I tried to create this myself, but couldn't even get started! I bought books showing how to do it, but they were no help.
So my interest stayed at this level: very cool. I think this is the case with most people and the "new math". It is very cool! One has a great deal of fun playing with the animations, programs, etc.
But then what? I was stuck.
I decided to change that.
These were just numbers, after all! What was I missing? I employed the spreadsheet to "nail down" parts of the process. And then what? And then what? And a process evolved. Assumptions in other's programs were verbalized. And step by step, my Mandelbrot Set emerged!
Crude, I know, compared to the above videos, but it was mine! As important, in the process of creating this, I discovered many aspects of the Mandelbrot Set I had not seen before! And the result was a small booklet. An excerpt is here:
My key: once one gets going, the results can really be phenomenal. A sustained intellectual assault on the problem. And it is a battle! Sometimes things go smoothly. Sometimes you have to fight to understand. But one is always moving forward, challenged yet at the same time confident. This, to me, is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "Flow" ..
"that state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter."
And the battle?
"The 'battle' is not really against the self, but against the entropy that brings disorder to consciousness. It is really a battle for the self; it is a struggle for establishing control over attention."
How to get to the "state of flow"? How to "win the battle" for the self?
What is the key to go from "a cool application" to being able to write a book about the subject, discovering things not previously printed?
Dynamic quality by itself - and what happens? You say it's "cool", but never progress in understanding. In fact, likely the experience will eventually degenerate into "I remember doing something with that", and really don't remember anything at all. Dynamic Quality with something - ANYTHING - to maintain one's interest deep enough to actually get started in understanding the experience, and you're off and running.
A static latch. A foothold.
And observe what happens. This understanding is not merely a one-way street. Once I have a bit of static quality, I can look more closely and from different perspectives at what's being studied. This is a cycle - an endless "spiral of understanding" of "joy in learning"!
A Common Objection
An objection often comes to mind: by analyzing nature and reality in this method, do we not take away from the wonder of the moment? Can’t we marvel at the beauty of the rainbow, for example, without breaking it down into scientific analysis? Richard Feynman, the great physicist, I believe addressed this point wonderfully in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”:
“I have a friend who’s an artist and he’s sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree, I think. And he says - “you see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist, oh, take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” And I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too …
At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter; there is also a beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structures. Also the processes, the fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting - it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: Does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which shows that the science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds; I don’t understand how it subtracts.”
You may think the "flow issue" has been solved. You see something very neat. Establish a foothold - a static latch, create some understanding. This understanding leads you to look deeper. And so on.
What about those things that are "not so cool"? Those things you don't notice at all? Those things that are absolutely "boring"? And remember, there are actually an infinite number of things to observe. Where do we even start?
This is a problem. Possibly a gumption trap. A barrier to progress. Or it was! But you really have to prove it to yourself to believe this.
A greyhound dog is very interesting - if you look. I mean really look. So is a cloud. A full moon. A blade of grass. A Shakespeare play. Yes - even Shakespeare!
But you have to look!
How do you know if you've looked? Really looked? You've created the foothold! The static latch.
And the "spiral of learning" again takes place!
Which leads to an interesting conclusion. It didn't matter if what I started with was a "cool experience" or not, if it was boring, or I didn't even notice. Eventually, I can experience the dynamic quality everywhere!
A "quality transaction"!
A story from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance comes to mind regarding this thought process:
One of (his students), a girl with strong-lensed glasses, wanted to write a five-hundred-word essay about the United States. He was used to the sinking feeling that comes from statements like this, and suggested without disparagement that she narrow it down to just Bozeman.
When the paper came due she didn't have it and was quite upset. She had tried and tried but she just couldn't think of anything to say.
He had already discussed her with her previous instructors and they'd confirmed his impressions of her. She was very serious, disciplined and hardworking, but extremely dull. Not a spark of creativity in her anywhere. Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, were the eyes of a drudge. She wasn't bluffing him, she really couldn't think of anything to say, and was upset by her inability to do as she was told.
It just stumped him. Now he couldn't think of anything to say. A silence occurred, and then a peculiar answer: ``Narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman.'' It was a stroke of insight.
She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distress that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn't think of anything to say, and couldn't understand why, if she couldn't think of anything about all of Bozeman, she should be able to think of something about just one street.
He was furious. ``You're not looking!'' he said. A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see. She really wasn't looking and yet somehow didn't understand this.
He told her angrily, ``Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick.''
Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, opened wide. She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. ``I sat in the hamburger stand across the street,'' she said, ``and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn't stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don't understand it.''
Neither did he, but on long walks through the streets of town he thought about it and concluded she was evidently stopped with the same kind of blockage that had paralyzed him on his first day of teaching. She was blocked because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard, just as on the first day he had tried to repeat things he had already decided to say. She couldn't think of anything to write about Bozeman because she couldn't recall anything she had heard worth repeating. She was strangely unaware that she could look and see freshly for herself, as she wrote, without primary regard for what had been said before. The narrowing down to one brick destroyed the blockage because it was so obvious she had to do some original and direct seeing.
A Concluding Thought
I run a Math / Science / Programming / Critical Thinking Club =EQUALS= in Kansas City. The site is here:
I also publish a monthly journal titled "about town" where I literally go "about town" looking to see what's "neat". I know I'll find something, because everything literally is - if you look!
But this is just a start.
There's much more to do - and write here - regarding the influence of the works of Robert Pirsig on my own work. I've not said here I've explained what the Metaphysics of Quality is. That's not my point. It's to highlight how I specifically have been influenced by his works.
Have I found "The Metaphysics of Quality"? No. But every time I pick up either of these books, I find something of immense value. Without exception. So there is much more to come, not just with own work, but detailing the influence of ...
While reading these two books, other issues arose I had never heard of before. These became stories in themselves to me, unbelievable stories, I've incorporated in different venues. Several include:
To those who do know the name, the traveling tent is what comes to mind, Hardly. There is a remarkable story behind Chautauqua and education in America. Architects of Their Own Future, my novel on education, incorporates a Chautauqua-theme throughout the book.
Here is the book:
Here is the Philosophical Summery - the Six Chautauquas ...
Greek for "Excellence", it's become, too, a remarkable story, and my site ... www.areteacademy.com
is dedicated to the idea of "excellence of learning".
The idea for "about town" came from a weekly article "Meet Boston" written by William James Sidis. No, I had never heard of Sidis prior to reading Lila. His story is remarkable. Here are several issues of "about town". The "about town" site here ...
Gumption Trap / Second Wind:
A barrier to improvement, to me, is tied to the idea of "Reserve Energy", of which I got from Sidis' father, Boris! A gumption trap, to me, can produce lethargy. You're stuck and can't proceed. But once you do, you wonder where the energy comes from! I call it "Second Wind" here, in this little booklet, where I encountered the gumption trap of not being able to solve a single problem. But unable to solve that problem did not allow me to move forward with the spreadsheet. Once solved, all sorts of questions came to mind - and were answerable!
"The Myth of Exhaustion: What's Possible When the "Second Wind" Barrier is Breached"
More to come!