End of Year Reflection Looking Forward

As 2016 came to an end, and the new year starts I’m looking back thinking about what 2016 brought to my life, and what I hope 2017 will bring. I can’t stop being human for sure so my feelings come with a sense of paradox. A paradox that brings happiness and sadness together; hope and concern for the future, and an appreciation of what we have and don’t have.

One thing I like to do is read about philosophy and psychology in general. And about human nature in particular. Both from the neurochemical aspect of who we are to the sociological-evolutionary aspect of our development and progress. So this year I read a few books that I’ll mention next.

Let me start with Kropotkin’s Ethics. Continued my reading of Kropotkin after Mutual Aid last year. These books are based on evolutionary philosophy and are contrary to the hypothesis that evolution is an individual phenomena. His main point is the relationship between elements and groups of societies as guiding forces in evolution. Following the trait of relationships I read “No Man is an Island” by T. Merton.

Thomas Merton was a deep intellectual Catholic monk so his book “No Man Is an Island” is based on his theological knowledge and insight. I like in particular the way that Merton has a continuous lead on human nature as it related to the goodness of creation. The main point that I got from this book is the strong sense of connection. There is no way we can be connected to God if we are not connected to each other.

Related to my role in higher education I am looking for insights to be a better teaching professor so I am not only strongly interested on pedagogy and didactics but also deeply interested in the social and political context of our education. Started reading Suzanne Mettler’s “Degrees of Inequality” at the end of 2015 finishing it at the beginning of 2016. In this book Mettler clearly takes into account the relationship of the historical development of higher education in the US with the present circumstances that define both the strengths and weaknesses of our system.

“Crimes Against Logic” by Jamie Whyte is an extraordinary book, a brief and concise account of how we use feelings and cultural norms to avoid looking at the reality of truth, a relevant issue today that when it looks like we are getting into a post-truth epoch. Whyte clearly unmasks trick that people use to argue in favor of their hypothesis or in denial of the opposite ideas. Moving forward to this “post-truth” cultural environment, the strategies outlined in this book become efficient tools for my educator role.

For personal satisfaction and growth I like to re-read some books this time it was Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness.” Russell is always refreshing, and in this book we have to go back to basics. What is the purpose of life? As stated in the declaration of the US independence: “the pursuit of happiness” becomes the goal. I have to make the point that it is not happiness but the pursuit of it that is the goal. Interesting dynamics when in today’s world commodification has made objects the final goal and not states of mind or processes. In these regards the book “The Givenness of Things” that I read for the first time was a great complement.

Author of “When I was a child I read books”(read it last year) Marilynne Robinson wrote “The Givenness of Things” apparently trying to clarify how confusing our thinking is today. Together with Richard White’s “The Heart of Wisdom” bring higher complexity in the way we act every day. I feel that I should take some time to write about these two books as they are by themselves full of great ideas about how we should live our lives.

Related to our minds and thinking I read several books (David Eagleman’s “The Brain”, “Phantoms in the brain” by Ramachandran and Blakeslee, “Mindset Mastery” by Nicholas Dodge, John Medina’s “Brain Rules”, and “Neuroscience and Philosophy” by Bennett, et al.) that helped me understand a bit more the intricacies of thinking. These books guided me in the search for meaning of what it means to be human. Ideas that I will use as I teach because it is important for me to make sure that students understand the connection between them as individuals with needs, desires, limitations, and a great potential and the reality of who we are as individuals members of a society that is hosted in the earth’s environment. Our home in space.

Ending with E. O Wilson “The Meaning of Human Nature” that I am now reading. Wilson the creator of sociobiology is well respected on issues of evolution and is a good “closing” for me as in a way reflects the views of Kropotkin that I started talking about today. The fact that it is through relationships that we have evolved, and making the distinction between progress of an individual within a group, versus the progress of a group within the context of many groups. Wilson states that an egocentric individual has advantages within a group and most likely succeed so his genes will be predominant in heredity within the group, but that groups with altruistic individuals do better than groups of selfish individuals. What seems like a paradox. But Wilson explains in easy terms how we have levels of association and development, as we have levels of complexity in organisms.

So, what is that I am looking for this year? I’ll continue to get good ideas from my friends about books to read. I’m looking forward to continue my conversations about life, nature, and our relationships. Specially, I am looking to learn more about helping my students reach their full potential.

Wishing you all a wonderful, prosperous, and peaceful 2017!

 

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If You Are Not Having Fun, You’re Not Learning

It is the end of the fall semester and I am done with reading final papers, and grading final tests. It is a lot of work but it is rewarding to see how students have progressed, learned, and matured. Through hard work we all have become, in some way or another, better persons. This last months have been very difficult, traumatic but for sure have provided lessons with deep understanding that will take many years for them to be debriefed. Yes, I am talking about the presidential elections in the US. Elections that produced to certain extent unexpected results and created a political situation that will have grave economic implications. Many of us, the so called middle working class, are going to be negatively affected. For example those of us who depend or will depend on Medicare and Social Security will be hurt as these social programs will be gutted.

There is much we can do and must do to keep progressing in the right direction. Thinking and acting come together as thoughts and choices come together. It is a mistake to separate outcomes from attitudes, to separate achievements from goals. It is all about having the right attitude, the right mindset that will guide us to success. This is why when I teach I tell my students: If you are not having fun you’re not learning!

It seems a bit eccentric to say this, as many would argue that learning is hard work and that hard work can’t be fun. Here I have to ask myself what do I mean by having fun? As we grow up having fun would mean doing something without paying attention, leisurely without fear of consequences. Fun things are those we do for pleasure, where we don’t have to be forced to do it like work that it is paid to be done. In fact one definition of work is: something you do for money. Work is not something you do for pleasure, that would be fun. That would be play.

It might be a lack of literacy from my part but I refuse to accept the narrow minded definitions of work and fun stated before. If by having the positive attitude of doing what you love or loving what you do, then anything you do can be fun, even if you are paid to do it. Human have free choice and the most important choice we make is how we take the life we have to live. In school we ask our student to do things like reading and working with exercises outside to the class. It is called “homework” as we can call it anything I call it “homejoy” because doing it should produce a good and positive sense of accomplishment. Going to school is a privilege that only a few people in the world have, going to a higher education is even more of a privilege; so doing what is required to succeed should be a source of joy.

As with education, life should be considered a privilege. One must live every single day remembering that it is a privilege to be alive. Even when the situation political, economical, or social looks like is a disaster. And in many cases it is, what can I say about what is going on in Aleppo? It is for sure a sad and terrible human disaster. Next step is to do something about it. Everyone within his/her own means has to do something about it.

My goal is to have some influence in my students, to help them be better persons. Help them to find joy in everything they do no matter what. Even as I recognize that we are all different we all can come together for the good of the community, for the good of the global village that we are part of.

 

World class leadership with Baroness Sue Campbell

This is a great post. We can always do better, and I mean always!

Class Teaching

img_4114Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the SSAT National Conference.  It was a great two days with some inspirational speakers – many of whom I got some great ideas from.  The highlight though was listening to Baroness Sue Campbell.  Sue was made Chief Executive of Youth Sport Trust in 1995 and has been Chair of UK Sport since 2003.  She started her  talk with the Olympic medals table (left) which illustrates the amazing legacy that this remarkable leader will leave.  Sue said that whilst financial investment into UK Sport had undoubtedly played a role, more important was culture.  In Sue’s words ‘Culture is about people and a belief’.  However, she also pointed out that you can’t just impose this belief on people, you need to learn about the people you are working with and take them with you.  This is what the best leaders do.

img_4115The best leaders…

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Election 2016—At the Table

I have spent much of the last two years investigating the connections between politics and Christian discipleship. Many people have commented how relevant, timely, and needed such an analysis is. M…

Source: Election 2016—At the Table

Demolishing the House

Demolishing the house in order to build a new house.

This blog is named “In Search For Reality” for a reason. I want to know what is going on. What is going on in my life and around me. For that purpose some times I “look” inside of me to see how I am feeling and what I am thinking; sometimes I look outside to see what is happening. As I do that (like looking at a mirror) I find myself comparing what I see with what I feel.

As I look outside today through the window I see across the street a lot, an empty lot. In this lot a few days ago stood a house, a nice house. A nice house no more! There are plans to build a new house, a house that will be a better house than the house that was demolished. That is what we do in the US we demolish to build new, modern buildings. This is not new in any ways, this is the way we have developed this country.

This is the metaphor that I will use now to think about the changes we face in this country. And as the world has become more connected a good metaphor for what we expect to happen around the world too.

We have very good examples from recent events to show that people are fed up with the present social contract, the middle class is suffering. That is how I can explain the recent Brexit vote in the UK, and Trump in the US.  From history we learn that when this lack of representation of “the people” by “the elites” gets to an unsustained level, changes arise. Many people suffer as it did during the second world war but after that we made a better world. It looks like we are at a similar juncture in our time.

The question I have now is what kind of world do we want and how we are going to move in that direction. Technology of course will be part of this conversation as I am using this means for communication. This is completely a new game! If something was learned from this election is that political science is not a real hard science. Polling provides information that is presented as data when in fact is not data in the sense we use in the sciences (hard sciences) like chemistry or physics.

That was my major disappointment! To learn that I was wrong, to learn that treating polling information as data was wrong. That all those numbers didn’t mean a thing, that it is pure B.S. Now of course pundits and pollsters are trying to explain why and where they were wrong. But let’s face it. It is deeper that; just finding excuses to the lack of objectivity because it is not about being objective it is about perception! Perception is key, that is the answer for political science: acknowledge that we are dealing with perception that is not quantifiable.

As a scientist myself I find it very hard to move and live in a world that is not objective, but that is the world we live in. It is a subjective world so we have to lean to live in the subjectivity of the mind. As a teacher I have to learn how to help my students get a sense of objective reality through their subjective perception.

Finally, I have to know (remember) that the world is real, and that at the end that reality will not care how we feel about it. Disasters like flooding will not stop just because people don’t think there is climate change.

That is the good news!

 

Meaning

On the night of 6/7/2016 I heard on TV a journalist/political commentator Chuck Todd say that Donald Trump had his worst week on the worst week possible of the primaries. This comment made an impact on my feelings about what is going on today at this moment in our political life as a society.

We all want to improve the lives of everyone, we all want to have better conditions for our living standards and wellbeing. We come together through “politics” to establish civilized rules of engagement, where words matter. It is clear that having correct and accurate semantic interpretation of what it is said is of paramount importance in our social relationship. People can’t just say what ever they feel and expect that the listener will get a different idea of what is said. That is one problem today with how spinning words that mean something are made to mean something different.

Take the words “conservative” and “liberal”, they should mean something but after may years of spin these words have lost their meaning. Depending on who utter them they will have a pejorative meaning. For a “liberal” a conservative person is an uneducated, retrograde, regressive individual who is not prepared for the demands of a continuous changing world. For a “conservative” a liberal is someone who is lazy and depending on other’s work, drug-addict who wants to destroy our way of living.

Of course in reality this is not true. Liberals and conservatives want the best for all, as individuals and as a community. Why is then that appears to be such a deep division in our society today? Can we blame the “media”? Can we blame “special interest”? Can we blame “education”?

Is the problem today that we are so lazy (in general) or so busy that we don’t take the time to think about the meaning of words anymore? I’m reflecting on this now because on the one hand I am teaching my students of chemistry the meaning of very specific words like “mole” that have a quantitative as well as qualitative narrow meaning; and on the other hand I am listening to the news where it appears that no word has meaning. Take for example the word “immigration.” In the news of the last days people have been talking about the “problem of (illegal) immigration” in a way that doesn’t make any sense but individually people appear to make sense of it because they create the meaning that they want.

In one of my classes last spring as we were talking about human nature and the meaning of names I asked my students: What is the name of this country? My students were perplexed, and looked at me intrigued! How can ask such a stupid question? So when I insisted with my question they replied derisively “America”! Of course they were wrong as this country is not named America as America is the name of the continent. So I clarified my question by telling them that a name is something like “Oregon”, “Canada”, “Great Britain”, etc. Immediately they came with the name: United States of America! Which is not really a name but an idea! My point being that when The United States of America was founded the founding fathers were thinking about an ideal, were thinking about a place where there were not going be labels of nationality as all of them were immigrants and came here to a land of opportunity given by the fact that “all men were created equal.” This is for me the main reason why this is the country of the future now and has been for many years and for many (immigrants) who have labored in order to make it so.

We have much to learn, and we will.

Lessons from great footballing nations

I’m sat watching Germany play football.  They’ve just scored – as they often do.  What is it about certain countries, like Germany, that make them successful at football?  Germany…

Source: Lessons from great footballing nations