Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy by Brian Arthur

Summary

  1. The idea of increasing returns has come up every few decades but Brian Arthur’s precise and fully-modeled papers caused us to clearly understand what kinds of models have what kinds of implications. One outstanding characteristic of Arthur’s viewpoint is emphatically dynamic in nature. Learning by using or doing plays an essential role, as opposed to static examples of returns to scale (those based on volume-area relations). The object of study is a history. Another distinctive feature of most of the work is its stochastic character. This permits emphasis on the importance of random deviations for long-run tendencies. Other tendencies include the multiplicity of possible long-run states, depending on initial conditions and on random fluctuations over time, and the specialization (in terms of process or geographical location) in an outcome achieved. Increasing returns may also serve as a reinforcement for early leading positions and so act in a manner parallel to more standard forms of increasing returns. A similar phenomenon occurs even in individual learning, where again successes reinforce some courses of action and inhibit others, thereby causing the first to be used more intensively, and so forth. There are in all of these models opposing tendencies, some toward achieving an optimum, some toward locking in on inefficient forms of behavior. 

 Key Takeaways

  1. The papers here reflect two convictions I have held since I started work in this area. The first is that increasing returns problems tend to show common properties and raise similar difficulties and issues wherever they occur in economics. The second is that the key obstacle to an increasing returns economics has been the “selection problem” – determining how an equilibrium comes to be selected over time when there are multiple equilibria to choose from. Thus the papers here explore these common properties – common themes – of increasing returns in depth. And several of them develop methods, mostly probabilistic, to solve the crucial problem of equilibrium selection. 
  2. Arthur studied electrical engineering so was vaguely familiar with positive feedback already and became more intrigued when he read about the history of the discovery of the structure of DNA and read whatever he could about molecular biology and enzyme reactions and followed these threads back to the domain of physics. In this work, outcomes were not predictable, problems might have more than one solution, and chance events might determine the future rather than be average away. The key to this work, I realized, lay not in the domain of the science it was dealing with, whether laser theory, or thermodynamics, or enzyme kinetics. It lay in the fact that these were processes driven by some form of self-reinforcement, or positive feedback, or cumulative causation – processes, in economics terms that were driven by nonconvexities. Here was a framework that could handle increasing returns. 
    1. Great discoveries tend to come from outside the field 
  3. Polya Process – path-dependent  process in probability theory 
  4. In looking back on the difficulties in publishing these papers, I realize that I was naive in expecting that they would be welcomed immediately in the journals. The field of economics is notoriously slow to open itself to ideas that are different. The problem, I believe is not that journal editors are hostile to new ideas. The lack of openness stems instead from a belief embedded deep within our profession that economics consists of rigorous deductions based on a fixed set of foundational assumptions about human behavior and economic institutions. If the assumptions that mirror reality are indeed etched in marble somewhere, and apply uniformly to all economics problems, and we know what they are, there is of course no need to explore the consequences of others. But this is not the case. The assumptions economists need to use vary with the context of the problem and cannot be reduced to a standard set. Yet, at any time in the profession, a standard set seems to dominate. I am sure this state of affairs is unhealthy. It deters many economists, especially younger ones, from attempting approaches or problems that are different. It encourages use of the standard assumptions in applications where they are not appropriate. And it leaves us open to the charge that economics is rigorous deduction based upon faulty assumptions. At this stage of its development economics does not need orthodoxy and narrowness; it needs openness and courage. 
  5. I did not set out with an intended direction but if I have had a constant purpose it is to show that transformation, change, and messiness are natural in the economy. The increasing-returns world in economics is a world where dynamics, not statics, are natural; a world of evolution rather than equilibrium; a world or probability and chance events. Above all, it is a world of process and pattern change
  6. Positive Feedbacks in the Economy
    1. Diminishing returns, what conventional economic theory is built around, imply a single economic equilibrium point for the economy, but positive feedback – increasing returns – makes for many possible equilibrium points. There is no guarantee that the particular economic outcome selected from among the many alternatives will be the “best” one. Furthermore, once random economic events select a particular path, the choice may become locked-in regardless of the advantages of the alternatives
    2. Increasing returns do not apply across the board – agriculture and mining (resource-based portions) – are subject to diminishing returns caused by limited amounts of fertile land or high quality deposits. However, areas of the economy which are knowledge-based are largely subject to increasing returns. Even the production of aircraft is subject to increasing returns – it takes a large initial investment but each plane after that is only a fraction of the initial cost. In addition, producing more units means gaining more experience in the manufacturing process and achieving greater understanding of how to produce additional units even more cheaply. Moreover, experience gained with one product or technology can make it easier to produce new products incorporating similar or related technologies. Not only do the costs of producing high-technology products fall as a company makes more of them, but the benefits of using them increase. Many items such as computers or telecommunications equipment work in networks that require compatibility; when one brand gains a significant market share, people have a strong incentive to buy more of the same product so as to be able to exchange information with those using it already. 
    3. Timing is important too in the sense that getting into an industry that is close to being locked in makes little sense. However, early superiority does not correlate with long term fitness 
    4. Like punctuated equilibrium, most of the time the perturbations are averaged away but once in a while they become all important in tilting parts of the economy into new structures and patterns that are then preserved and built on in a fresh layer of development 
  7. Competing technologies, increasing returns, and lock-in by historical events 
    1. There is an indeterminacy of outcome, nonergodicity (path dependence where small events cumulate to cause the systems to gravitate towards that outcome rather than others). There may be potential inefficiency and nonpredictability. Although individual choices are rational, there is no guarantee that the side selected is, from any long term viewpoint, the better of the two. The dynamics thus take on an evolutionary flavor with a “founder effect” mechanism akin to that in genetics 
  8. Path dependent processes and the emergence of macrostructure 
    1. Many situations dominated by increasing returns are most usefully modeled as dynamic processes with random events and natural positive feedbacks or nonlinearities. We call these nonlinear Polya processes and show that they can model a wide variety of increasing returns and positive feedback problems. In the presence of increasing returns or self reinforcement, a nonlinear Polya process typically displays a multiplicity if possible asymptotic outcomes. Early random fluctuations cumulate and are magnified or attenuated by the inherent nonlinearities of the process. By studying how these build up as the dynamics of the process unfold over time, we can observe how an asymptotic outcomes becomes “selected” over time 
    2. Very often individual technologies show increasing returns to adoption – the more they are adopted the more is learned about them; in then the more they are improved, and the more attractive they become. Very often, too, there are several technologies that compete for shares of a “market” of potential adopters 
  9. Industry location patterns and the importance of history 
    1. This study indeed shows that it is possible to put a theoretical basis under the historical-accident-plus-agglomeration argument (mostly arbitrary location for determining where a city is established but then more people flock to it, it receives more investment, more buildings come up, etc. which leads to agglomeration and increasing returns).
  10. Information Contagion
    1. When a prospective buyer is making purchasing decisions among several available technically-based products, choosing among different computer workstations, say, they often augment whatever publicly available information they can find by asking previous purchasers about their experiences – which product they chose, and how it is working for them. This is a natural and reasonable procedure; it adds information that is hard to come by otherwise. But it also introduces an “information feedback” into the process whereby products compete for market share. The products new purchasers learn about depend on which products the previous purchasers “polled” or sampled and decided to buy. They are therefore likely to learn more about a commonly purchased product than one with few previous users. Hence, where buyers are risk-averse and tend to favor products they know more about, products that by chance win market share early on gain an information-feedback advantage. Under certain circumstances a product may come to dominate by this advantage alone. This is the information contagion phenomenon
  11. Self-Reinforcing Mechanisms in Economics
    1. Dynamical systems of the self-reinforcing or autocatalytic type – systems with local positive feedbacks – in physics, chemical kinetics, and theoretical biology tend to possess a multiplicity of asymptotic states or possible “emergent structures”. The initial starting state combined with early random events or fluctuations acts to push the dynamics into the domain of one of these asymptotic states and thus to “select” the structure that the system eventually “locks into”. 
    2. Self-reinforcing mechanisms are variants of or derive from four generic sources:
      1. Large set up or fixed costs (which give the advantage of falling unit costs to increased output)
      2. Learning effects (which act to improve products or lower their cost as their prevalence increases)
      3. Coordination effects (which confer advantages to “going along” with other economic agents taking similar action)
      4. Self-reinforcing expectations (where increased prevalence on the market enhances beliefs of further prevalence)
    3. Besides these 4 properties, we might note other analogies with physical and biological systems. The market starts out even symmetric, yet it ends up asymmetric: there is “symmetry breaking.” An “order” or pattern in market shares “emerges” through initial market “fluctuations.” The two technologies compete to occupy one “niche” and the one that gets ahead exercises “competitive exclusion” on its rival. And if one technology is inherently superior and appeals to a larger proportion of purchasers, it is more likely to persist: it possesses “selectional advantage.”
    4. Some more characteristics: multiple equilibria (multiple “solutions” are possible but the outcome is indeterminate, not unique and predictable); possible inefficiency, lock-in, path dependence
    5. We can say that the particular equilibrium is locked in to a degree measurable by the minimum cost to effect changeover to an alternative equilibrium. In many economic systems, lock-in happens dynamically, as sequential decisions “groove” out an advantage that the system finds it hard to escape from. Exiting lock-in is difficult and depends on the degree to which the advantages accrued by the inferior “equilibrium” are reversible or transferable to an alternative one. It is difficult when learning effects and specialized fixed costs are the source of reinforcement. Where coordination effects are the source of lock-in, often advantages are transferable. As long as each user has certainty that the others also prefer the alternative, each will decide independently to “switch”. Inertia must be overcome though because few individuals dare change in case others do not follow
  12. Path Dependence, Self-Reinforcement, and Human Learning
    1. There is a strong connection between increasing returns mechanisms and learning problems. Learning can be viewed as competition among beliefs or actions, with some reinforced and others weakened as fresh evidence and data are obtained. But as such, the learning process may then lock-in to actions that are not necessarily optimal nor predictable, by the influence of small events
    2. What makes this iterated-choice problem interesting is the tension between exploitation of knowledge gained and exploration of poorly understood actions. At the beginning many actions will be explored or tried out in an attempt to gain information on their consequences. But in the desire to gain payoff, the agent will begin to emphasize or exploit the “better” ones as they come to the fore. This reinforcement of “good” actions is both natural and economically realistic in this iterated-choice context; and any reasonable algorithm will be forced to take account of it. 
  13. Strategic Pricing in Markets and Increasing Returns
    1. Overall, we find that producers’ discount rates are crucial in determining whether the market structure is stable or unstable. High discount rates damp the effect of self-reinforcement and lead to a balanced market, while low discount rates enhance it and destabilize the market. Under high discount rates, firms that achieve a large market share quickly lose it again by pricing high to exploit their position for near-term profit. And so, in this case the market stabilizes. Under low discount rates, firms price aggressively as they struggle to lock in a future dominant position; and when the market is close to balanced shares, each drops its price heavily in the hope of reaping future monopoly rents. The result is a strong effort by each firm to “tilt” the market in its favor, and to hold it in an asymmetric position if successful. And so, in this case strategic pricing destabilizes the market
    2. The simple dynamics and stochastic model of market competition analyzed in this paper reveals striking properties. First, positive feedback or self-reinforcement to market share may result in bistable stationary distributions with higher probabilities assigned to asymmetric market shares. The stronger the positive feedback, the lower the probability of passing from the region of relative prevalence of one product to that of the other. Second, when producers can influence purchase probabilities by prices, in the presence of positive feedback, optimal pricing is highly state-dependent. The producers struggle for market shares by lowering prices, especially near pivot states with balanced shares. 

 What I got out of it

  1. Influential read discussing self-reinforcement, lock-in, increasing returns in knowledge-based economies/industries, path dependence, and more. Extremely applicable for business, investing, economics, learning, and more. A great mental model to have in your toolbox

The Nature of Technology: What it is and How it Evolves by Brian Arthur

Summary

  1. This book is an argument about what technology is and how it evolves. Technologies are put together from pieces – themselves technologies – that already exist. Technologies therefore share ancestry, combine more, and combined again to create further technologies. Technology evolves similar to how a coral reef builds itself from activities of small organisms – it creates itself from itself; all technologies are descended from earlier technologies. Technologies are not “inventions” that come from nowhere so in a sense, technology created itself 

Key Takeaways

  1. Technology, Evolution, Recursion, Phenomena
    1. Technologies have a recursive structure and collectively advance by capturing phenomenon and putting them to use. The economy arises from technologies and therefore issued forth from all these capturings of phenomena and subsequent combinations
    2. We are caught between two huge and unconscious forces: our deepest hope as human’s lies in technology but our deepest trust lies in nature. These forces are like tectonic plates grinding inexorably into each other in one long slow collision. The collision is not new but more than anything else it is defining our era. Technology is steadily creating the dominant issues and upheavals of our time. We are moving from an era where machines enhance the natural to one that brings in technologies that resemble or replace the natural. As we learn to use these technologies we are moving from using nature to intervening directly within nature. And so the story of the century will be about the clash between what technology offers and what we feel comfortable with. 
    3. We have great understanding about individual technologies but very little in the way of the general understanding. Much like in 1800 there was a great understanding about the family relationships among animals but few principles like evolution to hold all this knowledge together. Missing in other words is the theory of technology – an “Ology” of technology
    4. For me how technology evolves is the central question in technology because if we could understand its evolution we could understand that most mysterious of processes: innovation. Combination drives change or at least the innovation of technology. Invention proceeds from the constructive assimilation of pre-existing elements into new syntheses. So the very cumulation of earlier technologies begets further accumulation. The more there is to invent with the greater will be the number of inventions. These two pieces lead to a theory of evolution of technology that novel technologies arise by combination of existing technologies and that existing technologies beget further technologies. 
    5. Why we are seeing change, innovations, disruption at levels never before seen – there are more building blocks than ever before that can be combined and recombined in new ways, leading to new innovations. This trend seems likely only to continue
    6. The change in vision I am proposing is from standalone technologies, each with a fixed purpose, to seeing them as objects that can be formed into endless new combinations. These technologies can be easily combined and they form building blocks which can be used again and again. Technology, once a means of production, is becoming a chemistry
    7. Arthur gives three definitions of technology:
      1. A means to fulfill a human purpose
      2. An assemblage of practices and components
      3. An entire collection of devices and practices available to a culture.
      4. A means to fulfill a purpose: a device, method, or process (combination, recursiveness, reliance on a natural effect(s) 
    8. Technology consists of parts organized into component systems or modules and some of these form the central assembly and others have supporting functions. This is a general rule: what starts as a series of parts loosely strung together, if used heavily enough, congeals into a self-contained unit. The modules of technology over time become standardized units. In this sense technologies have a recursive structure as they consist of technologies within technologies all the way down to the elemental parts. There is no characteristic scale for technology as every technology stands ready, at least potentially, to become a component in further technologies at a higher level 
    9. Combination is inherently a very disciplined process as all these different modules must not only work together but further the primary function 
    10. Just like higher level technologies are composed of a series of assemblies and subassemblies, they’re also composed of a series of natural phenomenon. For example, maybe one or two phenomena such as trucks use the burning of fuel and low friction to roll or several phenomena such as detecting planets that are too far away to see directly. But, in either case, it is combinations of natural effects that we can exploit for greater technology
    11. Phenomena are the source of all technologies. In the essence of technology lies and orchestrating them to fulfill a purpose. Phenomenon or simply natural effects exist independently of humans and of technology. They have no use attached to them. The principal by contrast is the idea of use of a phenomenon for some purpose and it exist very much in the world of humans and of use. In practice, before phenomenon can be used for technology, they must be harnessed and set up to work properly. They can barely be used in raw form and must be coaxed to operate satisfactorily and may only work in a narrow range of conditions. So, the right combination of means to set them up for the purpose intended must first be found. Therefore the practical technology consists of many phenomena working together. Technology can then be thought of as a collection of phenomenon captured and put to use. In its essence a technology consist of certain phenomenon programmed for some purpose. Technology can then be seen as a metabolism where the phenomenon are the genes of technology – they interact in complex ways, converse with each other, similar to how subroutines and computer programs call each other. Biology programs genes into myriad structures and technology programs phenomena to myriad uses 
    12. I like to think of phenomena as hidden underground – not available until discovered in mind into. This is general with phenomena as a family of phenomena is mined into effect. Some covered earlier begin to create methods and understandings that help uncover later. One effect leads to another, then to another, until eventually a whole vein of related phenomenon has been mined into. A family of a facts forms a set of chambers connected by seams and passageways – one leading to another. And that is not all. The chambers in one place, one family, of the facts leads through passageways to chambers elsewhere to different families. Quantum phenomenon could not have been uncovered without the prior uncovering of the electrical phenomena. Phenomenon form a connected system of excavated chambers and passageways. The whole system underground is connected. This build out happens slowly as it earlier forms of instruments and devices help uncover later ones. In this way, the uncovering a phenomenon builds itself out of itself. Phenomena accumulate by bootstrapping their way forward. 
    13. Not every phenomenon of course has an immediate use but when a family of phenomenon is uncovered, a train of technology typically follows. 
    14. Technology is not merely applied science. It is better to say it builds both from science and from its own experience. Science is in no small part the probing of nature via instruments and methods – via technology
    15. Evolution works by new technologies forming from existing ones which act as building blocks. Sometimes these blocks come from radical innovation but novel building block elements also arise from standard day-to-day engineering. 
    16. Novel technologies come from linking, conceptually or physically, the needs of some purpose with an exploitable effect (or set of effects). Invention, we can say, consists in linking a need with some effect to satisfactorily achieve that need
    17. Technologies tend to become more complex – much more complex – as they mature. 
  2. Domains
    1. The greatest innovations are new domainings – a switching to a new cluster of technologies. They allow not only a wholly new and more efficient way to carry out a purpose but allow entirely new possibilities. As when the provision of power switched from being expressed in waterwheel technology to steam. A change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses but a novel domain may appear to have little direct importance early on. Such components and the way they are used do not just reflect the style of the times, they define the style of the times. An era does not just create technology, technology creates the era
    2. Half of the effectiveness of a domain lives in its reach. The possibilities it opens up. The other half lives in using similar combinations again and again for different purposes
    3. The domain’s grammar determines how its elements fit together and the conditions under which they fit together determines what works. Where do such grammars arise from? Well, of course ultimately from nature. Behind the grammar of electronics lies the physics of the electron motions and the laws of electrical phenomena. Big grammar determines how the elements interrelate, interact, and combine to generate structures. Grammars in large part reflect our understanding of how nature works in a particular domain. Mastery in the technology in fact is difficult to achieve because of technology grammar. Unlike a linguistic one, this grammar changes rapidly. 
    4. Domains are worlds in the sense that experts lose themselves in them. They disappear mentally into them just as we disappear into the world of English when we write a letter. They think in terms of purposes and work these backwards into individual operations in their mental world. Much as a composer works a musical theme back into the instrumental parts that will express it. Some domains have deep worlds with a lot of possibilities. What can be accomplished easily in the domain’s world constitutes that domains power. So, understanding this leads to the natural conclusion that an object or business activity to be worked on effectively must be brought into more than one world to make use of what can be accomplished in each. But there is a general lesson here: cost accumulates anywhere and activity leaves one world and enters another. Shipping a freight containers by sea is not expensive but transferring freight from the domain of rail into the shipping container world requires the cumbersome and expensive technologies of railhead, stocks, container handling cranes, and stevedoring. Such bridging technologies are usually the most awkward aspect of a domain. They create delays and bottlenecks and therefore run-up costs but they are necessary because they make the domain available in control what can enter and leave its world. We can think of a domain as containing a small number of central operations that are streamlined and cheap – maritime container transportation say. But, surrounding these on the outer edges of the domain, are the slower and more awkward technologies that allow activities to enter the world and leave it when finished – the docs and gantry cranes of that world. These in general are costly. Domains reflect the power of the worlds they create but they also reflect its limitations. There is nothing static about these worlds. What can be accomplished constantly changes as a domain evolves and as it expands its base of phenomena. One implication is that innovation is not so much a parade of inventions with subsequent adoptions. It is a constant re-expressing or redomaining of old tasks within new worlds of the possible
    5. If we can see technologies as having dynamic insides we can better understand how technology can modify themselves over their lifetime. We can see that technologies interior components are changing all the time. As better parts are substituted, materials improve, methods for construction change, the phenomenon the technology is based on are better understood, and new elements become available, its parent domain develops. So, technology is not a fixed thing that produces a few variations or updates from time to time. It is a fluid thing – dynamic, alive, highly configurable, and highly changeable overtime. The second difference lies in how we see technology’s possibilities in its collective sense. Technology does not just offer a set of limited functions. It provides a vocabulary of elements that can be put together or programmed in endlessly novel ways for endlessly novel purposes. 
  3. Design & Invention
    1. Requirements start from the key purpose and proceed outward, the needs of one assembly determining those of the next. A design is a set of compromises. Intention comes first and the means to fulfill it – the combination of components – fall in behind it. Design is expression 
    2. Many innovations and great designs do not come from genius but from an accumulation of knowledge and expertise slowly gathered over years 
    3. The search is continuous, conceptual, wide, and often obsessive. This continuous thinking allows the subconscious to work, possibly to recall an effect or concept from past experience, and it procures a subconscious alertness so that when a candidate principle or a different way to define the problem suggests itself the whisper at the door is heard. Strangely, for people who report such breakthroughs, the insight arrives whole, as if the subconscious had already put the parts together. And it arrives with a “knowing” that the solution is right – a feeling of its appropriateness, its elegance, its extraordinary simplicity. The insight comes to an individual person, not a team, for it wells always from an individual subconscious. And it arrives not in the midst of activities or in frenzied thought, but in moments of stillness. One must be open to see a purpose for what appears to be a spurious effect 
    4. At the creative heart of invention lies appropriation, some sort of mental borrowing that comes in the form of a half conscious suggestion 
    5. Invention at its core is mental association. Principles often apply across field and at the core of this mechanism – call it principle transfer – is seeing an analogy. 
    6. An emerging technology always emerges from a cumulative of previous components and functionalities already in place. This is the pyramid of causality. Particularly important is knowledge – both scientific and technical – that has cumulated over time 
    7. Origination is at bottom a linking – a linking of the observational givens of a problem with a principle (a conceptual insight) that roughly suggests these, and eventually with a complete set of principles that reproduces these. At heart, all inventions had the same mechanism: all link a purpose with a principle that will fulfill it, and all must translate that principle into working parts 
    8. A technology develops not just by the direct efforts applied to it. Many of a technology’s parts are shared by other technologies, so a great deal of development happens automatically as components improve in other uses “outside” that technology. A technology piggybacks on the external development of its components. This internal replacement is part of what makes technologies more complex as they age but so does structural deepening. Sometimes changing internal components won’t do, so adding assemblies or systems is needed. 
    9. Origination is not just a new way of doing things, but a new way of seeing things. But it threatens. It can cause an emotional mismatch between the potential of the new and security of the old. Old technologies can lock in because of this and causes a phenomenon we will call adaptive stretch. It is easier to reach for the old technology and adapt it by “stretching” it to cover the new circumstances. There is a natural cycle. A new principle arrives, begins development, runs into limitations, and its structure elaborates. The new base principle is simpler, but in due course it becomes elaborated itself. 
    10. Just as pulling on one thread of a spider’s web causes the web to stretch and reshape itself in response, so the arrival of a new technology causes the web of prices and production in the economy to stretch and reshape itself across all industries. Cheaper steel due to the Bessemer process caused railroads, construction, and heavy machinery to changed their costs and what they could offer their consumers 
    11. Innovation emerges when people are faced by problems: particular, well-specified problems. It arises as solutions to these are conceived of by people stating many means or many functionalities that they can combine. It is enhanced by funding that enables this by training and experience in myriad functionalities. By the existence of special projects and labs devoted to the study of particular problems and by local cultures which foster deep craft. But it is not a monopoly of a single region or country or people. It arises anywhere problems are studied and sufficient background exists in the pieces that will form solutions. In fact we can see that innovation has two main themes. One is this constant finding or putting together of new solutions out of existing tool boxes of pieces and practices. The other is industries constantly combining their practices and processes with functionality is drawn from newly arriving toolboxes, new domains. This second theme, like the first, is about the creation of new processes and arrangements, new means to purposes. But it is more important. This is because it is a new domain of significance. Think of the digital one – it is encountered by all industries in an economy. As this happens, the domain combines some of its offerings with arrangements native to many industries. The result is new processes and arrangements, new ways of doing things – not just in one area of application but all across the economy. 
    12. Because all technologies come from some combination of past technologies, the value of the technology lies not only in what can be done with it but also in what further possibilities it will lead to. Inventions beget more inventions as there are more possible combinations, leading to exponential growth. Even if new technologies can potentially be supplied by the combination of existing ones, they will only come into existence if there exist some need, some demand for them. Or, even better yet, opportunities for technology niches they can usefully occupy. 
  4. Other
    1. Ironically we can say that design works by combining and manipulating clichés. But, still, a beautiful design always contain some unexpected combination that shocks us with its appropriateness. 
    2. We must get comfortable with technology with non-physical effects such as organizational or behavioral effects like the monetary system, contracts, symphonies, algorithms, legal codes, and so on
    3. All explanations are constructions from simpler parts
    4. I do not believe there is any such thing as genius. Rather it is the possession of a very large quiver of functionalities and principles. 
    5. New bodies of technology tend to have their leading edge highly concentrated in one country or region as real advanced technology issues not from knowledge but from something we’ll call deep craft. It is more than knowledge. It is a set of knowing. Knowing what is likely to work and not work. Knowing what methods to use, what principles, what parameters. It derives from a shared culture of beliefs, an unspoken culture of common experience. Deep knowings in a technology can be levered into deep knowings in another. Technology proceeds out of deep understandings of phenomena and he’s become embedded as a deep set of shared knowing that reside in people and establishes itself locally and that grows over time. This is why countries that lead in science lead also in technology. And so, if a country wants to lead in advanced technology, it needs to do more than invest in industrial parks for vaguely foster innovation. It needs to build its basic science without any stated purpose of commercial use and it needs to culture that science in a stable setting with funding and encouragement. Let the science sow itself commercially and small startup companies allow these nascent ventures to grow and sprout with minimal interference. Allow the science and its commercial applications to seed new revolutions. Building a capacity for advanced technology is not like planning production in a socialist economy but more like growing a rock garden. Planting, watering, and weeding are more appropriate than five year plans
    6. Human needs are not just created by biological nerds or prosperity but are also created directly by individual technologies. Once we possess rocketry, we experience a need for space exploration. However the vast majority of niches for technology are created not from human needs but from the needs of technologies themselves. The reasons are several. For one thing every technology by its very existence sets up an opportunity for fulfilling its purpose more cheaply or efficiently. And, so, for every technology there exists always an open opportunity. And, for another, every technology requires supporting technologies to manufacture it, organize for its production and distribution, maintain it, and enhance his performance. And these require their own sub supporting technologies. The third reason technology generates needs is because they often cause problems indirectly. In this it generates needs or opportunities for solutions
    7. These technologies and their needs grow fractally. Entertainment used to consist of public speeches or shows but now novels, movies, podcasts, sports and so much more exist too. 
    8. Arthur thinks of the economy as the set of arrangements and activities by which a society satisfies its needs. The economy is an expression of its technologies. The economy in this way emerges from its technologies. It constantly creates itself out of its technologies and decides which new technologies will enter it. Notice the circular causality at work here. Technology creates the structure of the economy and the economy mediates the creation of novel technology and therefore its own creation
    9. Technologies can cause structural change in the economy and this change is fractal – it branches out at lower levels just as an embryonic arterial system branches out as it develops into smaller arteries and capillaries 
    10. The more high-tech and sophisticated technologies become, the more they become biological we are beginning to appreciate the technology is as much metabolism as mechanism. As we come to better understand biology we are steadily seeing it as more mechanistic as we better understand the mechanisms behind it. Conceptually at least, biology is becoming technology and physically technology is becoming a biology. The two are starting to close on each other and, indeed, as we move deeper into genomics, more than this, they are starting to intermingle
    11. As technology becomes more biological and generative, the economy reflects this too. In the generative economy, management derives its competitive advantage not from its stock of resources and its ability to transform these into finished goods but from its ability to translate its stock of deep expertise into ever new strategic combinations. Reflecting this, nations will prosper not so much from the ownership of resources as from the ownership of specialized scientific and technical expertise

What I got out of it

  1. A fascinating and deep read about technology, how it evolves, permeates, and builds off of itself. Some rich language and concepts to apply to many disparate fields

Why Do People Sing? Music in Evolution by Alexander Jikuridze, Alexander Jordania

Why do People Sing? Music in Evolution by Alexander Jikuridze, Alexander Jordania

Summary

  1. “One of the most important new questions that this book will try to answer is why the most archaic parts of the human brain, which are only activated by the critical survival needs, are activated when humans sing or listen to music. Is it possible that singing really had a function of survival for our distant ancestors? Despite the diversity of the approaches and models for the origins of singing and music, the author of this book believes that singing and music had much more important functions in the evolutionary history of our species than has ever been suggested by any of the above mentioned scholars. The central idea of this book is very simple yet very complex at the same time. The author suggests that human singing had a tremendously important role in our evolutionary past. It was singing that provided our ancestors with defense against predators, provided our ancestors with food, gave rise to human intelligence, morality, religion, formed the human body and facial morphology, gave birth to human arts and the mystery of artistic transformation. That’s why this book, dedicated to the origins of singing, is in fact a book about human evolution. That’s why, in this book, we will be discussing many big issues that you would not expect to be discussed in a book about singing. “

Key Takeaways

  1. Human singing is one of the greatest mysteries of human evolution. Charles Darwin was one of the first people to be puzzled by this phenomenon. in “The Descent of Man” he wrote: “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to men in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious with which he is endowed”
  2. There is no human culture without singing, but singing plays a very different role in various cultures.
  3. Generalizations are always dangerous, but we could say that when people lose links with their traditional culture, the role of singing decreases in a society. That’s why in many western societies people generally sing less than people in more traditional societies. Interestingly, together with the decline of singing in the general population of Western cultures, there is also a contrasting development: plenty of studies strongly suggest that singing in a choir is good for your psychological and physical wellbeing. As a result, there is an increasing popularity of singing and participation in community choirs in western countries.
  4. The exception – a scholar’s only true friend. Scholars formulate plenty of new hypotheses to explain existing facts. In the process of creating a new hypothesis, scholars are often carried away by the long list of facts that fit comfortably into their hypothesis, and therefore neglect the facts which do not fit their hypothesis. These ‘misfit’ facts are labeled ‘exceptions’. Understandably, scholars usually dislike exceptions. Sometimes scholars push exceptions to coerce into their hypothesis, in other times they try to discredit the fact or the source where the fact came from. And if nothing helps, notorious sayings like ‘no rule without exceptions,’ or even worse, ‘exception proves the rule,’ are always at hand. But of course, to a nonbiased person it is clear that an exception cannot prove the rule, and that a rule with ‘exceptions’ is actually a bad rule. My favorite literary hero, brilliant analytic Sherlock Holmes once said: “I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule”. I agree with Holmes and consider the saying ‘exception proves the rule’ as the last resort for a wrong hypothesis. So what is in reality an exception? Exception is a scholar’s best friend, the only true friend that tells the bitter truth. Do not listen to the calming array of facts that prove your hypotheses, they are like many flattering friends who are ready to lie to you in order to make you a happier person. Listen to your only true friend – exception. And only if this friend is silent, not complaining of any facts that do not fit your idea, you can be truly happy. One exception can outweigh dozens of proving facts. There is no greater proof for your hypothesis than the absence of an exception.
  5. Milk Drinking Syndrome and origins of European Polyphony: Many readers of this book might not be aware that different human populations differ drastically from each other according to their ability to absorb milk. It was found, for example, that African Americans have a much higher percentage of people who cannot absorb milk compared to European Americans. later studies suggested that the number of populations that have problems with milk is quite big, and includes populations of sub-Saharan Africa, Arabs, most of the Jews, most Asian populations, Australian aborigines and Melanesians. And finally, in the 1970s, scholars came to the quite amazing conclusion that with some minor exceptions, the only major population on our planet that can drink milk without complications is the population of North and central Europe and their descendants. If we take into account that most of these scholars were Europeans themselves, and for them drinking milk was a very natural part of their life, it is not difficult to understand this kind of initial unconscious ‘European arrogance’ towards other populations of the world. From the end of the 1970s it has been acknowledged that although very young children of every human population naturally drink milk, it is a norm for most human populations that as children grow, they lose the ability to absorb lactose and to drink milk. Therefore it is the North and central European adult population’s ability to absorb milk, if we may say so, that is ‘out of the human norm’. after this fact became known, the embarrassing earlier complaints from many parts of the world about the ‘no quality food provision’ for the developing countries were understood, and humanitarian aid programs correspondingly had to adjust their policy of providing huge quantities of milk powder to the starving populations of third world countries, who could not actually drink milk. This methodologically interesting case teaches us a very important lesson – not to extrapolate European experience to other populations of the world. In my 2006 book I suggested the term ‘Milk Drinking syndrome’ for similar cases when European experience is unjustly extrapolated on the rest of the world.
  6. Rise of Andean Mountains and the origins of Polyphony: Just a week after his 26th birthday, while resting in a forest, Charles Darwin experienced a major earthquake that struck Chile on 20th February of 1835. Walking a few days after the earthquake on the beach, Charles noticed that some mollusks that always live on the rocks under the water were now on the rocks well above the water level. Darwin made a correct conclusion that the recent earthquake was to blame for this, and on a bigger historic scale he concluded that series of such earthquakes during many millions of years were responsible for the actual rise of the surface and the creation of the huge range of Andean mountains. Darwin correctly understood the historical dynamics of landscape changes and the rest was a question of multiplying the results of small time span changes (that humans can observe) into a large evolutionary scale that humans cannot observe. Some things are incredibly slow. For example both American continents are moving westwards about the same speed as nails grow on your fingers. To notice and understand this kind of slow developments, we need to study the historical dynamics. The question of historical dynamics is absolutely crucial for the correct understanding of any process that goes for centuries and millennia, including the process of the origins of vocal polyphony.
  7. Singing is so central for human cultures that no one ever questioned the universality of singing. The question which we are going to address in this chapter is which of the many functions of singing was possibly the initial core one that gave music its unique position in the life of every human society. Was it possibly the Mother-child relationship as Ellen Dissanayake proposed? Or charming the opposite sex as Charles Darwin and Geoffrey Miller argued? Or establishing cohesiveness in human society as John blacking suggested? Or possibly singing is just an outgrowth of human language as Spencer thought? Or even simpler, was singing just an evolutionarily useless tool invented for auditory pleasing our ears as Steven Pinker suggested?
  8. During the 20th century many new facts appeared pointing to the unique emotional and psychological power of music. For example, in the first world war it was found that playing music to patients during the surgical operations allowed doctors to use almost half the regular dosage of the painkillers; it was also found that music can help to rehabilitate patients with strokes and severe mental disability. As a result of such findings, music therapy deservedly became one of the quickly developing spheres of musical research. Apart from such practical findings, there were very interesting theoretical findings as well. For example, it was found that music has unexpectedly deep roots in the human brain, and that listening and making music involves deep and ancient brain structures which are only activated for crucial for survival purposes; we also learned that virtually all newborn babies have absolute pitch (which is rare even among professional musicians), and the fact that all newborn babies cry at the same pitch, at the pitch known to us as ‘A’.
  9. Charles Darwin criticized Spencer’s idea of the music being an outgrowth of human speech, and suggested that music predated the origin of language, serving the needs of sexual selection through charming the opposite sex with musical prowess. Maybe even more importantly, Darwin famously declared ‘as neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to men in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked amongst the most mysterious [phenomenon] he is endowed.’
  10. Whether singing is dangerous or not depends on where you live. For the animal species who live in the trees, for some reason, singing does not seem to be dangerous, but for species who reside on the ground singing is deadly dangerous. If you do not believe this assertion look at the statistics: almost all of the singing species that we know today live high on the treetops, such as birds and gibbons. Not a single animal species that lives on the ground sings. There is only one exception, only one species which lives on the ground and sings: humans. Yes, let us repeat one more time: we are the only species on our planet who live on the ground and can sing. Even amongst animal species that live in the water there are at least a few singers like whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, but not among ground living species.
  11. I suggest that this is the main reason why tree-dwelling species feel more secure to sing or to communicate with a wide range of vocal signals. A leopard or a wild dog can hear the singing of the birds and smaller monkeys from the higher branches of the trees very well, but the singers are well out of their reach.
  12. Apparently, humans are very weak compared not only to animals of a similar size, but even much smaller animals. For example, if you put together photos of a common chimpanzee and the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, it will be quite difficult to believe the fact that the much smaller chimpanzee is several times stronger than this powerfully built sportsman. Humans look much bigger and stronger than chimpanzees, no questions about that, but when it comes to actual physical strength, chimpanzees and even smaller baboons are much stronger than humans. Therefore, we need to remember that during the course of evolution humans became bigger, but they lost big part of their physical strength.
  13. Rhythmic unity brought a few new important features into human defensive singing and made it much more efficient: (1) singing/shouting is physically louder if it is precisely organized rhythmically; (2) rhythmically well-organized group vocalizations send a strong message to the predator about the unity and determination of the group; and (3) doing repetitive rhythmic physical actions in a big group (working, marching) is an extremely effective way to create a strong bond between the members of a human group. But most importantly, I suggest that loud rhythmic chanting-singing shouting, apart from the external function (scaring away predators) had a crucially important internal, psychological function as well.
  14. According to recent research by Jonathan Presoak, many American soldiers confess that it would have been impossible for them to get into the required combat spirit if they did not listen to heavy and rhythmic rock music. I hope we all can agree that, when a combat unit goes out for a combat mission, it is of paramount importance that they all are feeling the strength of their unity and an utmost trust towards each other. This feel comes from being in a state of collective identity, in a state of battle trance, and rhythmic music and dance are the best means to put soldiers in the state. I propose that the central function of the rhythmic loud singing was to put our distant ancestors into a very specific altered state of consciousness which I call the ‘Battle Trance.’ This is a very specific state of mind designed by evolution for the most critical moments of life, when the total commitment of every member of the group was needed for a life-or-death fight. This state has several characteristics: (1) humans in a state of battle trance do not feel pain. This state is known as ‘analgesia’; (2) in this state humans also do not feel fear. This state can be called as ‘phobia’; (3) in this state humans may totally neglect their individual survival instincts as they are fighting for something bigger and more important than their own life; (4) in this state humans sometimes demonstrate supernatural strength; lifting cars and doing other things that are beyond their usual physical capabilities; (5) in this state humans lose their individual identity and acquire a different, collective identity, and as a result every member is acting in the best interests of the group, even neglecting the powerful instincts of self-survival. (6) Going into the battle trance may happen instantly, fully instinctively, or can be induced by special ritual-like activities.
  15. Among humans this motherly instinct of utmost dedication towards the offspring turned into something different: the total dedication of all members of the group to the interests of the Group they belong to. Like in a well-established combat unit, where in the heat of the battle one can sacrifice his own life to save friend’s life, human ancestors developed the feel of group identity. The feel of group identity is based on the total trust and dedication of each member of the group to the common interest. Group identity kicks in when there is a critical situation, a mortal danger for survival of the group or any of its members. In such moments the noble principle of ‘one for all, all for one’ rules any individual self-preserving instinct, fear and pain. Such human sentiments, like patriotism or religious belonging, are primarily based on this ancient instinct, and the feelings of group identity are becoming particularly strong in the moments of big national or religious upheavals, wars, natural disasters. Going into the battle trance and acquiring group identity can be viewed as a classic example of altruistic behavior, although I want to maintain that humans go into group identity not because of their feeling of duty towards others, but mostly because the powerful forces of evolution designed this mechanism as a better survival strategy for a group and every member of the group. Evolution supplied powerful neurological mechanisms to make this feeling a positive experience. Going into group identity brings the most exhilarating feelings to every member of the group. Every member of the group feels bigger, feels stronger, and virtually feels immortal. You can only become truly immortal if you do not fear death. Group members in such an altered state of mind, when they share total trust with each other, emotionally believe that the group cannot be defeated
  16. I am proposing that the mechanism of the battle trance has been designed by the forces of evolution as the highest ranking instinct in the entire hierarchy of human instincts, the instinct that rules our behavior in the most critical situations of life.
  17. Want to suggest that our ancestors became very skillful competitors at scavenging opportunities. They were very slow and bad hunters, and they lacked natural weapons to kill a prey, but they became excellent at scaring away all other competitors, including the strongest of the African predators, the lion. So I am suggesting that aggressive or confrontational scavenging was the central means of obtaining food for early hominids. I propose that our distant ancestors were targeting lions and waiting for them to make a kill. As the kill was made, after some special preparation (we will talk about the nature of this ‘special preparation’ very shortly), hominids would approach the feasting pride and would start scaring them away from the kill with the display of loud rhythmic group sound, stomping on the ground, drumming, clapping, threatening body movements, and stone throwing.
  18. So we came to the conclusion that the evolutionary function of music was directly connected to the physical survival of our species. It was loud rhythmic music that was preparing humans for confrontations with powerful African predators, instilling boundless bravery into virtually unarmed hominids with only rocks in their hands, turning separate individuals into a unit of dedicated and self-sacrificing warriors, and giving predators a strong message that behind our ancestor’s rhythmic war cry there was a fanatic unity and an absolute dedication from every fighter towards a common goal. As this fanaticism was also supported by the heavy rocks thrown at the closest possible range, no wonder that after countless bloody confrontations on the African savannah, lions started avoiding these kamikaze-style warriors. Lions did not need hominids, as it was too much trouble for them to hunt hominids or to eat them if they managed to kill some of them (about this see later). on the other hand, humans needed lions as ‘professional killers’ and hunters of the big game, who could kill a decent meal for the whole group
  19. Even if hominids could stand their ground against the biggest predators during the day, sleeping in the open savannah for the badly armed hominids must have been a very serious challenge. Some insightful ideas were expressed. Adrian Cortland made a brilliant suggestion that one of the ways to secure night time sleep was to organize a loud evening ‘concert’ to scare away potential predators. I would like to suggest that there were at least four more factors to make night time less dangerous for the hominids: (1) reclaiming the dead bodies, (2) cannibalism, (2) the use of eyespots, and (4) smell of the human body
  20. When a predator kills its prey, it intends to eat the kill. Prey animals, even after defending their family members with ferocity, usually stop fighting if the attacked member of their group is already dead. Therefore, as soon as the kill is made, there is no more confrontation – the predator got what it wanted, the fight is over and now the predator can enjoy the meal. It was totally different with hominids and humans: being superb masters of intimidation as a group, if their member was killed and taken by a predator, they would follow the predator and reclaim the dead body from the predators. What is the aim of such crazy bravery? Of course, you cannot bring to life the dead member of your group, but with this behavior you can give a strong message to the predator: every time it attacks your group and kills someone, you are not going to give them a chance to eat the dead body in peace. This behavior, repeated generation after generation, would teach predators the lesson that preying on humans was unprofitable. Of course, individual humans are among the worst armed animals, so tracking and killing a human for a leopard, tiger or a lion is much easier than killing an antelope or zebra, but it is a totally different story when it comes to eating the kill. Antelope or zebra family members do not start a massive attack on the predator after the kill is made, much unlike humans. Therefore, from a predator’s point of view, humans are easy to kill but very hard to eat.
  21. These two options had different, short-run and long-run consequences. In short run, if you do not eat the dead body, then predators will eat it. You might think this does not matter as the person was already dead, but it did matter in the long run, because if predators can easily obtain and eat human/hominid corpses, there is a good chance that they will become habitual man-eaters.
  22. Although this has never been suggested before, I propose we have eyespots, but we fail to notice them because of two reasons: (1) humans are generally not good at noticing eyespots, and also, (2) because we only have them when we sleep. If the reader asks friends or family members to close eyes and looks at their ‘sleeping’ faces, they may notice, that the eyebrows, arched upwards, and eyelashes, arched downwards, form quite visible oval eyespots on a ‘sleeping’ human face.
  23. I suggest that the birth of questioning behavior was the birth of human intelligence. We can look at the entire evolution of the human species and the development of human society and civilization from the point of view of an exchange of information and the means available in a society to ask each other questions. The ability to ask questions was the first and truly revolutionary change in the quest to exchange information via direct communication. Human dialogical language, intelligence, mental cooperation and a self-developing brain emerged together with the ability to ask questions. After this we never stopped inventing different ways of asking each other or ourselves questions. At some point we started asking questions using speech (do not forget – we started asking questions before the advance of fully articulated speech!). Then came written language, so our questions could survive time and could be transferred to other places.
  24. I hope the readers of this book remember that, according to my model, early humans had two mental states: the ‘ordinary’ state, or the state which was present in everyday non-critical situations, and much more rare ‘critical’ state, which was appearing only when the total dedication of the whole human group was necessary for the physical survival of the group. Although instances of the appearance of the ‘critical’ state were rare, it was crucial for the physical survival of our ancestors. Evolution provided powerful neurological mechanisms to promote the interests of the group over the individual interests when it mattered the most. That’s why in this state our ancestors had a neurochemically-created uplifting feeling, a spiritual disregard of earthly needs including feelings of fear and pain, and had the intoxicating feeling of obtaining a super-personality. In order to achieve this state when it was needed, our ancestors developed elaborate rituals, mostly based on strong rhythms: loud drumming, group singing, group dance, use of verbal formulas or mantras, together with visual elements of personality change: body and face painting, use of clothing and most likely the use of masks. The central goal of human (and even hominid) rituals was to affect the mental state of the participating individuals, to turn their mental state from individual, or ‘everyday’ state into the collective, or ‘critical’ state of mind. This was an amazing transformation of mental state, nothing short of the changing of identity of a whole group of people, turning them from separate individuals into the members of a common single super-personality. Most importantly for us, as physical survival was the biological priority, the orders of the collective or ‘critical’ state of mind were overriding any opposition from the ‘ordinary’ state of mind. The phenomenon known as ‘common sense’ is obviously a product of logical thinking of an individual in ‘ordinary’ state, but the ‘critical’ state of mind produces set of behaviors that often contradict the logic of common sense. In this state a person can do both deeply moral and extremely immoral things, from sacrificing his own life in order to save somebody else’s life on one hand, to doing horrible atrocities during battle on the other hand. Such atrocities, committed in a state of a battle trance (and usually together with the members of the combat unit), are difficult to comprehend from the point of view of common sense, often even for those who actually committed them. Most importantly, I am maintaining that these two ‘ordinary’ and ‘critical’ states of mind are present in the brain of every normal and healthy individual. These two states can be quite independent from each other, similar to two different personalities residing in one brain. In a way, we all have a ‘split personality’ in our healthy brain, but our second personality takes charge only in the most critical moments of our life. So let us remember, in the critical moments of life our ‘critical’ state of mind takes over and overrides all other orders coming from our logical mind. In such moments we go into the extremely focused state of mind, where we instinctively follow either the group behavior (if we are in a group), or follow the orders coming from the external source (for example, a group leader, or a hypnotist), or some other, instinctive and mostly unknown impulses from inside of our own brain.
  25. The phenomenon of the post-hypnotic suggestion also proves that the conscious brain cannot resist orders coming from the ‘higher authority’ – the unconscious brain. A person who receives an order while still under the hypnosis (so the order is received by the second identity), will carry out the order after receiving the triggering signal, already in full consciousness, after the session, even if following the order causes a fully conscious person great embarrassment or even some personal danger. Although today hypnotic trance is mostly (although not always) induced to individuals, group hypnosis must have been the original environment for the emergency of this state. I propose that the origins of hypnotic trance must be found in the primordial state of the battle trance, when for the sake of survival a group of individuals were acting as a single organism, with united single conscience and single aim. So I suggest that the individual unconscious was designed by the forces of evolution as a part of a united ‘collective conscience’, to promote the survival of a species. And here let us remember one more time, that loud rhythmic music and loud drumming were the central elements of inducing trance in our ancestors several millions of the year ago in African savannah, and the same method can be used today as well, not only in the shamanic rituals in the native peoples of North Asia or America, but in the comfortable lounge of the hypnotist as well.
  26. These two states of mind also refer to two sides of our human nature: individual and social. Like two masks of the ancient tragedy, happy and sad masks, we all have two personalities in a single brain, personalities that might not even know each other very well. Finding the balance between them is crucially important for a healthy and happy mental life. As Jung proposed, music and other arts help us keep the healthy balance between these two sides of our personality. Arts can connect us with our second, hidden, or ‘critical’ identity. I suggest that this mysterious power of different arts, including music, dance, painting, the use of masks, clothing, leading to the artistic transformation and the virtual change of our identity, originate from the ancient ritualistic exhilarating rhythmic dance and song, designed by the forces of evolution during the millions of the years in order to physically survive.
  27. Another fascinating side of the ancient ‘critical’ state is that for the normal functioning of our brain in the long run, we need to activate our ‘critical’ state from time to time, in order to feel our ‘second identity’ and to have a healthy relationship between the two sides of our selves. The millions of years of everyday battle and going into the ‘critical’ state of mind, where our ancestors were ready to fight for the higher aim, left us with a legacy where we crave the exhilarating feel of dedication to a higher aim, higher than one’s own life. To experience this feeling, we use very different techniques. With our profoundly social nature, our interdependence on each other, and as a result we are today searching for venues to feel our collective identity in the individualized world. We are all still humans, and we all still crave to experience the same spiritual feeling of being a part of something larger than ourselves. If our personal life is the only thing we are left with, even with all the comfort of contemporary life, but without experiencing ourselves as a part of a something bigger, then we may experience feeling of losing the meaning of life, and this feeling can be the most effective way to induce this feeling
  28. Music, dancing, abusing our health with chemical substances, and endangering our life with different activities (climbing mountains, swimming with sharks, doing bungee jumping, petting tigers and lions, running on the tracks in front of the racing cars, and even paying handsome sums of money to arrange our own kidnapping as a newly established service in Paris offers). From the point of view of the common sense some of these activities simply do not make sense. Extremely different in their actual forms and results (from reckless and life-endangering behavior to altruistic religious and community based behavior), these activities are directly or indirectly connected to the activation of our deep brain structures, and involving our ‘second identity’, the ‘critical’, or collective state of our mind.
  29. In the new model presented in this book, the role of human singing in human evolution is seen in a very different light. According to the new model, group singing was a crucial factor of hominid physical survival, the central means of defense from predators for our ancestors, and the central means for obtaining food through ‘confrontational scavenging’. It was group singing, together with loud, rhythmic drumming and vigorous body movements that would put our ancestors into a battle trance, create an unseen but powerful mental network between individual humans, and turn all of them into a single, collective super personality through which each member of the unity was religiously dedicated to common interest. Music was creating a mental web for the groups of hominids, or as Benzon brilliantly expressed in his 2001 book, ‘music is a medium through which individual brains are coupled together in shared activity.’ it was the state of battle trance that allowed our distant ancestors to dominate African savannah and made them feared arch-enemies for the kings of the savannah – the mighty lion. Altruistic drive, self-sacrificial dedication, human morality and religion are all the descendants of the ancient battle trance and of the important human principle ‘strength is in unity’. According to this model the birth of human altruistic behavior was not a well calculated ‘you help me and I’ll help you’ mechanism, but it was a necessary psychic state, created by the power of natural selection, for the physical survival of our ancestors.
  30. ‘Aposematism’ is the complete opposite strategy of Crypsis. Aposematic species do not try to stay unnoticed. On the contrary, they try to be clearly seen and heard by everyone. Their bodies are decorated in the brightest possible colors to be clearly seen, and they make sounds to let everyone know that predators must keep away from them. The principle of aposematic animals is ‘here I am, I am not afraid, and I am warning everyone to stay away,’ very much like a person singing loudly while walking at night in the forest.
  31. Why do we need such a detailed discussion on the principles of aposematism? What does it have to do with human ancestors or with human singing? I am proposing that aposematism was the central defense strategy for our distant ancestors. I am proposing that the elements of Audio-Visual intimidating Display, which we already discussed in the third chapter, constituted a classic set of tools for a multi-channel aposematic display: audio elements (loud rhythmically united singing in harmony and drumming), visual elements (tall bipedal body on long legs, head hair, painted body, use of animal pelts on shoulders), and the olfactory element (body odor). Ironically, if we add the olfactory element to the initial set of audio and visual signals, instead of AViD (Audio-Visual intimidating Display) we will have AVoiD (Audio-Visual-olfactory intimidating Display). With their fierce look, big painted bodies, bipedal threatening posture, threatening movements, loud and rhythmically united sounds, and ability to go into the battle trance and fight fearlessly with heavy and sharp stones, our hominid ancestors were truly a species to avoid.
  32. We must remember, that sexual selection has two very different strategies: (1) female choice, and (2) male to male competition (usually known as a ‘male to male combat’). Apart from this well-known division I suggest that we must also differentiate between two related but very
  33. No method can provide a scholar with a guaranteed problem solution receipt, but I want to recommend to readers a method that I often use when I am facing a difficult problem. Here is the method: if you are searching for the solution of a problem, at some point try to look at the existing facts from a greater distance, take a wider scope of facts into your account.  
  34. We are profoundly social, and we are profoundly musical. Our musicality and social nature had been together for millions of years. Unlike many other species who mostly use music as a means of competition, for us music was primarily a tool for cooperation. That’s why the harmony made together in a group of singing humans is possibly the best symbol of our social nature. Of course, as with every cooperation, musical cooperation was also made as a tool for more successful competition on a bigger, group level. Today we are searching for the factors uniting humanity, and if we manage to find uniting music it will be a big step towards reaching the unity of humanity. The main argument of this book is that the extraordinary strength of musical emotions and the amazing depths of musical centers in our brain comes from our evolutionary past, when singing was crucial for the physical survival of our species for the millions of years. The evolutionary choice that our distant ancestors made, when they did not stop singing on a predator-infested ground, a place where no other species dare to sing, triggered a chain of long transformations leading to Homo sapiens. I suggest that continuing singing was the first crucial evolutionary step towards becoming a homo sapiens, possibly even before our ancestors committed themselves to bipedal locomotion. Through the unique model of behavior, based on living on the ground and trying to be as visible as possible and as loud as possible,
  35. Our ancestors developed most of the morphological features we still carry around: bigger body, longer legs, long head hair, hairless skin, eyebrows, small teeth, low male voice. The same model of survival, based on the Audio-Visual-olfactory intimidating Display, triggered plenty of other important behavioral features: bipedalism, making stone tools, dancing, singing in dissonant harmonies, use of body painting, use of clothes, altruistic behavior, prehistoric cannibalism, fanatic dedication to group ideals and aims, strive towards morality and religion, ability of asking questions, appearance of human cognition, intelligence, language, and speech. As a species, we are all the children of our singing ancestors, and with the great evolutionary lullaby for many millions of the years we gradually obtained virtually all of our morphological and behavioral features that make us humans.

What I got out of it

  1. A mind-blowing book which gives an alternate view as to why people started singing and how it has impacted human’s evolution. Battle trances, protection, aposematism, so much more. Worth reading in its entirety

The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music by Victor Wooten

Summary

  1. “The story of a struggling young musician who wanted music to be his life, and who wanted his life to be great. Then, from nowhere it seemed, a teacher arrived. Part musical genius, part philosopher, part eccentric wise man, the teacher would guide the young musician on a spiritual journey, and teach him that the gifts we get from music mirror those from life, and every movement, phrase, and chord has its own meaning…All you have to do is find the song inside.”

Key Takeaways

  1. The most surefire way towards personal growth is to share with others 
  2. Don’t worry so much about what is true or right. Worry about what you’ve learned, what you’ve gotten out of it
  3. Just like you can tune your mind to find a certain color, you can tune your mind to recognize and spot other patterns 
  4. 10 key elements of music
    1. Notes 
    2. Articulation
    3. Technique
    4. Feel
    5. Dynamics
    6. Rhythm 
    7. Tone
    8. Phrasing – all sounds and physical movements cause physical vibrations which alter our space and people’s reaction to us 
    9. Space – rest or silence is as important as the notes. You cannot have music without space 
    10. Listening – only through the power of listening can you truly know anything 
  5. All the music ever played is still “out there”, as is all knowledge. All you have to do is tap into it. You must know that you already know everything and just need to tap into it
  6. Intention is everything. Intention + emotion can accomplish anything
  7. The most powerful musicians, the most powerful people overall, are those that can let people freely express themselves 
  8. The only time you fail is when you change your mind
  9. Music, like all things, is vibration. 
  10. All experiences are ordinary. It is up to you add that extra. You miss much by not being present 
  11. Anyone can play music but it is the only the master that can allow music to play them
  12. What is more dangerous to a person: success or failure?
  13. Music is related to everything – especially nature and language – but in order to play it naturally we have to become part of it

What I got out of it

  1. Out there but a fun description of the spiritual path towards mastery – in this case, music, but relevant to any pursuit at a high level

The Yankee of the Yards: The Biography of Gustavus Franklin Swift by Louis F Swift

Summary

  1. “Rare indeed is the man who attains preeminence with the steady, irresistible thrust – who leaves in those who started with him a sense that his success was inevitable, that one could no more have stopped him than an Alpine glacier or a Sierra cascade. This is the story of Gustavus Swift. His abilities and the world’s changing needs came together to produce a career as exceptional as it is interesting.”

Key Takeaways

  1. A Better Mousetrap
    1. His long suit was keeping expenses down. Next in his interest came developing byproducts – which is another form of the same thing. Low expenses and maximum return from every pound of live animal are what made Swift a leader in the new industry of which he was a founder – meatpacking and distribution. He recognized early on that waste and accomplishment are incompatible. 
    2. He turned small and uneconomic units into a large, centralized, very efficient unit which bought, transported, slaughtered, refrigerated, and brought to market high quality beef to dense urban centers. He eliminated middlemen, only shipped parts of the animal that were needed, which eliminated markups, wasted shipping/feeding costs and more. He made money out of what age old customs said to throw away. The butchers were glad to have this rubbish carted off, for disposing of it was difficult. The savings were so great that the beef was sold below locally slaughtered beef although it was higher quality and it still left a handsome margin. His competitors were slow to catch on so used this time to sprint ahead while he had the field to himself. Every cent his business yielded went back into it again 
      1. Reminds me of Sam Zemmuray, the banana king, who took bananas that people thought were useless as they were too ripe and sold them locally. Alchemy – turning other people’s rubbish into gold. 
    3. No enterprise can grow soundly and survive the lean days which always come unless it blocks off every possible source of waste. Byproducts revenue is what developed his business. Before he had finished sign the process, he was using everything from the animal to produce a profit. 
    4. He was never satisfied with his business. He knew he could get more if he could crowd his prices below the rest of the field without sacrificing profit. Out of this continual pushing for sales by cutting his costs, he built his own business to a place of preeminence. There were no little cracks in the walls which permitted anything to get away undetected. It is the leaks which ruin more basically sound businesses than any other cause 
    5. Ability by itself could not have done what he did. His thoroughness was the source of his magic – working dissatisfaction with half measures. Father could not be happy if anything which he was connected functioned short of 100%. Basically of course he comprehended a fundamental commercial truth: if everything is done right if errors are held below the errors of competitors and if a business service and economic end then it must prosper. He schooled himself to do everything absolutely right and to expect the same of everyone else. Perhaps the one point where he laid the most emphasis on having everything done absolutely right was in cleanliness. He insisted on it because he liked it and because it cut down spoilage materially. He looked in the corners, under benches, and in the least well lit parts of for dirt. Sarcasm was his working tool for getting things corrected. He was much more concerned about maintaining a right method than about adopting a new one. Therein he showed that common sense which distinguished his ways of working from those of so many men of greater brilliance. Once he had a good method established he never allowed anyone, himself included, to overlook it. He was ready to supplant it at any time if a better method came his way. But he avoided that common failing of being so busy with new hatched plans that he overlooked the old, tested, profitable methods. 
    6. He had to overcome the sin of newness but his system was a marker improvement over the old order. 
      1. It is said people are afraid of change, and this is partially true, but what people are truly afraid of is uncertainty, losing and being in a worse spot than before. If you have a change which leaves everyone better off, people will flock to you. Nobody was ever afraid of a promotion because it included change. 
    7. He never believed in holding on to a thing because selling it might bring a loss. Meat is perishable and he believed that the best way to make money is to keep turning over goods and capital. He developed s technique  which kept his goods moving at a rate far faster than was needed to avoid spoilage. But he also warned his people not to overload a customer. Never try to sell a customer more of anything than he can get rid of quickly. Try to sell him what he needs and then he’ll come back. He’ll be a better customer in the end. Similarly he held that smaller customers should not be discriminated against. Maybe some day they’ll be a big customer
    8. He used a beautiful, clean, service oriented store to sell more meat. If a customer had their mind set, they sold only that. But if a customer was undecided they would push the meat they wanted to sell. He would sell more with nice displays and by having everything cut up, people would buy more 
  2. Role as a teacher
    1. Whenever he found a good man, he would raise his wages. These men will save us far more than they cost. 
    2. He no interest or time in discussing profitable branches. “I want to talk about the ones that are losing. I have no time for the others.”
    3. He cared about every detail and was always teaching. His aim was not to make a man feel bad but to avoid the possibility of repeating any similar loss
    4. I don’t have to go out and hire very many managers. I can raise better than I can hire. It is noteworthy that 20 odd years after his death, most of the men in positions of high responsibility are men who were trained directly under the founder. These men understand loyalty and that they have an obligation to the company, just like the company has to him 
    5. He believed in helping those who helped themselves 
    6. Loyal support from the head of a business makes loyal men beneath the head. Swift fully backed men he trusted and if he didn’t believe in a man enough to back him, he’d want nothing to do with them. 
    7. If he is the right kind of man, he is better off for being corrected. This man is worth the effort. Otherwise, leave it alone
    8. We have a policy to never put outsiders over old employees if the job can possibly be filled from within 
    9. One secret of his success in training men was the way he dealt with them. He knew all about practically every detail in the business, the standards to which every operation must be held. His microscopic eye for detail never overlooked any really significant points, even though he might not concern himself too immediately with them. At the same time, he would seldom overrule an individual he had confidence in if they made a deliberate junction. He preferred to let the man incur a loss to prove to his own satisfaction what would always have remained a doubt if he had simply been told to follow the boss’s instruction
    10. Even more than in developing executives – Swift’s knack of dealing with human being appeared in his work with the rank and file. It is more difficult to get a reasonable degree of work out of the 97% of employees who never develop the capacity for authority and who never can 
      1. A focus on the bottom of the roster is paramount to high performing teams 
    11. One of the cardinal principles which enabled him to raise better men than he could hire was his sparing use of compliments. You promote the able and willing and unless they do something spectacular, you don’t spoil them
  3. Touching the medium – an eye for detail
    1. Whenever he visited a branch house or plant, he went without warning. Generally he came in the back way and got his eyes full of what was going on, before ever he looked up the men in charge. 
    2. Father’s knowledge of every part of the business and his attention to the most minute details was one of the secrets of his operating success. While the microscopic eye was for scrutinizing little things, he had the telescopic eye for surveying big things. And he never put on the wrong lens!
    3. Swift became a devotee of weekly reports when the company became too big for him to have his finger on every aspect of it. You’ve got to know how you stand every week. If you wait a month, you might be broke. Above all else his favorite statistical diet was the reports of weak departments. His whole being enjoyed the sheer difficulty of going into a seat of trouble, diffing out the facts, aligning them, and putting things right. Swift believed in frequent reminders and in prompt corrective measures. 
    4. Knowledge of every detail of the business was the taproot of his way of managing. His technical knowledge was exhaustive, perhaps as great as that of any man the packing industry has known even to this day. His grasp of the facts of distribution, of transporting the products, of the current standing of company finances – in everything from buying cattle and icing cars all the ah through where he would get another ten millions of capital and how he would use it – made him completely the master. One reason for his mastery of the facts was the time he devoted to business, st the office, at the plants, at home. He worked hard, harder than he asked anyone else to work. The men who worked with him liked his pushing. 
    5. He grew at a rate considerably faster than a conservative man would have thought either possible or safe but his decisions were based on a meticulous knowledge of his own affairs and if the whole industry. 
    6. He did not want his information or opinions second hand. 
    7. Always he held his affairs ahead of his finances and his plans ahead of his affairs. One reason, the principal reason he managed to carry the thing off, was that he knew his business and held to it exclusively. He had no interests outside live stock, packing, and closely related enterprises. A secondary reason why he succeeded where most men must have failed was that he knew the measure of everyone from whom he borrowed money in any considerable amount. While a dreamer and a visionary, he based his dreams and his visions of expansion very much on the practical facts of life. 
      1. Circle of competency
  4. One thing he insisted on absolutely was honesty 
    1. Absolute honesty like his is exceptional. Not only did he know that he was honest in all of his dealings, everyone who dealt with him experienced his honesty and felt perfect assurance in its unvarying characteristic. The extent to which some people with whom he did business relied on his honesty and fairness is almost unbelievable. 
    2. He always regarded his credit as his greatest asset. He always had the money when a loan came due and usually asked for a renewal on the spot. In the downturn of 1893, Swift’s employees knew the business needed cash to survive as they couldn’t get it from banks. Hundreds of employees voluntarily lent the company their savings to keep it alive. That is the confidence and loyalty Swift inspired in his men. 
    3. He always tried to find out the right way to do a thing, and then he followed out his right procedure unfailingly. If a thing’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right. This was his maxim – not just in business, but in life.
    4. He never changed his price unless conditions changed. He stood by his word 
    5. There’s no use handling poor stuff or dealing with the wrong sort of people. There are enough people who want good stuff and who will deal honestly, to give us all the business we can handle. This was his guiding principle in picking men or livestock 
    6. Swift always gave his competitor a chance to join him. If you handle my beef, we’ll be partners. If you won’t, I’ll put it in against you. This was the squares kind of competition. And if it came to competition, my father always won. He had the mighty advantage of economics on his side. 
    7. Swift’s reputation was such that many a man gave yo his own established business to come to us, with full confidence that he was bettering himself 
    8. One thing he insisted on was absolute honesty. We want character to go with our goods. And sixteen ounces is a Swift pound. I don’t know how many times he said this to me; it must’ve been in the hundreds 
  5. Other
    1. If it had failed to come through the times of trouble, the verdict must be that it had grown too fast 
    2. He had trained himself never to forget anything until he had seen it to a successful conclusion 
    3. You don’t make a profit on shortages was another maxim of his
    4. He would quickly take a chance to lose a lot of money if that was the key to getting a big trade quickly. 
    5. He saved every minute he could and in this way saved more time than most men have altogether. He let not a minute nor an idea go to waste. He had no patience for anyone or anything which wasted his time. He heartily disliked any duplication of work for appearances’ sake. Using time to good advantage involves principally setting standards of what is worth taking time for and what is not – then holding up these self-imposed regulations. 
    6. To get the company up and running he had to work nonstop. Even after all was taken care of, he lived with it. And that is what wore him out. His son was able to change his working habits so that he was able to decouple and gain perspective
    7. He hated the excuse “it’s not my department” – he wanted everyone of his men to think of himself as a Swift man rather than as a lard department man or whatever his job 
    8. This business will be far bigger after I’m gone – that’s what I’m building for 
    9. The best a man ever did shouldn’t be his yardstick for the rest of his life. The department head or superintendent who used that forbidden yardstick was not worth keeping. Your standards must always be changing, evolving, adapting. 
    10. He was very interested in his employees personal affairs as he realized that a man’s personal habits had a great deal to do with his ability and also that they shed light on what might be expected of the individual
    11. He wished his people to own stock. He was a pioneer in bringing this about in a big way. His was the first large concern to encourage its employees to become substantial stockholders. Partners are usually the cleanest to make money for the firm and the concern which has many stockholders is more stable than the company which is closely held
    12. Use tact when you can but fight when you have to. He always preferred going around a difficulty to going through it. She never threw a challenge into the other fellows territory until he had made up his mind that arbitration or compromise would not settle for trouble
    13. He had absolute faith in his ultimate success. He was afraid of nothing. Even when he was still working out the kinks in refrigerated cars and would lose tons of beef, he’d be optimistic and tell everyone “it will be alright.” “We don’t quite know how to do it right. We’ll get it though. We’ll learn.”

What I got out of it

  1. He had a better business model. His method of slaughtering in one place and selling the meat thousands of miles away saved him costs in many ways. He’d be able to sell it at half of what the local butchers were and still make a healthy profit. He would save on shipping and feeding costs since he’d be shipping lighter and wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the animals fat and happy for the long trips. His innovation in refrigeration especially and constant improvement allowed him to come to dominate the industry in a relatively short period of time. He was a teacher, tough on his people, knew every detail, and worked extremely hard 

Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry by Marc Benioff



Summary

  1. Marc Benioff recalls what spurred him to build Salesforce.com and outlines 111 plays which helped him do it 

Key Takeaways

  1. Don’t keep your ideas so well guarded. Share them with friends and serendipity may just help you out 
  2. Be willing to take a risk – no hedging
  3. Always go after the Goliath or market leader. If there is none, go after the status quo 
  4. Whether you use a PR firm or not, make sure you know what your message is 
  5. Companies must embrace marketing from the beginning of their lives in order to break through the noise
  6. Brand (essentially keeping promises you make to employees and customers) is your more most important asset. Make sure everybody in the company is on the same page as to what the company does. Make everyone part of the marketing team and make the message concise and consistent. It must capture why you exist
  7. Build a trusting relationships with influential journalists. Meet with them often and give them direct contact to you.
  8. Unbiased advice from experts is the most powerful form of marketing. Word-of-mouth and references are so powerful
  9. Create your own analogies and metaphors upfront and test them out. This take some work but it’s so worth it as it helps people understand clearly, quickly, and concisely what you’re all about
  10. The event is your message. Make sure that the venue and everything else aligns with who you are – if you’re a sustainable company, have fair trade coffee, etc.
  11. Turn adoption into addiction through fast feedback loops. Keep in constant touch with your customers, track their requests, ask them what you could do better, act on it quickly, ask them how they are using your product. Rinse and repeat
  12. Make your website your best salesman by keeping it fresh and up-to-date. It is more effective than any direct marketing campaign
  13. Don’t undervalue your product at the beginning and don’t give discounts. Keep it simple with one price or a low number of prices across the board. This incentivizes the sales team to close deals immediately rather than waiting until end of quarter and offering customers discounts
  14. You can’t win an entire company at once. Start in a division, prove your value, and grow from there
  15. V2MOM – Benioff’s playbook for making decisions and tracking progress
    1. Vision
    2. Values
    3. Methods 
    4. Obstacles 
    5. Measures
  16. Hiring is one of the most important things you can do. Create a recruiting machine and always be on the lookout for top talent. Have people visit the new employee, make sure they have lunch plans, give them a crash course on product and culture 
  17. Set aggressive but attainable goals. If it’s too hard and only 10% make it, their morale is sky high but everyone else’s is low. This also helps with camaraderie and consistent morale 
  18. Hire A players, demote B players, fire C players. Hire slow and fire fast
  19. Solicit and act upon customer feedback.
  20. Strive for this checklist to be checked off for employees:
    1. I am doing the best work of my professional career
    2. I have the opportunity every day to do what I do best at work
    3. In the past six months I have talked to someone about my progress
    4. There is someone who cares about my development
    5. I have opportunities to learn and grow at work
    6. My opinions are sought after and acted upon
    7. My supervisor or someone cares about me as a person
    8. I have a support network at work
    9. My colleagues care about and do quality work
    10. I am recognized and rewarded for my contributions
  21. Eskimo proverb: “The time to fish is during the storm.” The time for real progress and differentiation is when others are retreating, not when everything is perfect.

What I got out of it

  1. Some great advice for anyone starting or leading a company. A playbook for various stages and common issues that everyone would face in this type of pursuit 



Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball by Sadaharu Oh, David Falkner

Summary

  1. Sadaharu Oh, one of the all time leading home run hitters, describes his journey towards mastery

Key Takeaways

  1. Oh’s proudest accomplishment and what he admires most is durability, endurance, spirit-discipline. Like he and Lou Gehrig had 
  2. Because of his profession, he was asked all sorts of questions about war and peace, politics and more. A man who has chased a little white ball his entire life should not be held as an Oracle from the Buddha 
  3. Baseball was a form of spirit discipline. A way to make myself a better person – although I surely never sought discipline for such a reason. It became my Way, as a tea ceremony or flower arranging or the making of poems were the Ways of others. 
  4. In his last game, he hit a home run and his opponents came out to shake his hands and bow to him. His opponents life’s his spirits and, in doing so, reminded him of something that I had spent 22 years learning. That opponents and I were really one. My strength and skills were only one half of the equation. The other half was theirs. 
  5. Practical training in skills, if done in a certain way, is a form of spirit-discipline. And in combat I learned to give up combat. I learned in fact, there were no enemies. An opponent was someone whose strength joined to yours and created a certain result. My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: that at the heart of all things is love. We are, each of us, one with the universe that surrounds us – in harmony with it, not in conspiracy against if. To live by being in harmony with what surrounds you is to be reminded that every end is followed by a new beginning – and that the humblest of life’s offerings is as treasured as the greatest in the eyes of the Creator. 
  6. I am not a religious man but I have been accompanied every step of the way by powers that are not mine alone. And so it was left to me always do make the most of the life I had. For myself and for what I am merely custodian to. 
  7. Fortune moves in and out of people’s lives like a living spirit. Because all of us are susceptible, sometimes we wind up seeing things; other times we scarcely know that our lives have been touched 
  8. A man’s purpose, my father has insisted to this day, is to be of genuine service to others 
  9. Defeat, like victory, is a passing thing. It is with you only as long as you insist on keeping it 
  10. The professional world enabled me after many years to understand that what I did everyday mattered far more than the glory or grief of a moment. I was not a “natural” hard worker. I have two in me, one is weaker, the other stronger. The weaker one always looks for a way out, wants fun and good times – and usually finds them; the other is therefore forced to work hard to catch up. 
  11. Just prior to the season, the coaching staff, as is traditional in Japanese baseball, reviewed the goals that were expected from each of the players on the team. There is no sense of contract in this, but there is a very strong cultural sense of obligation to which a player must answer. Obligation is a very powerful force in our lives – ours is a culture of shame – and the player who falls short of the goals established for him by his team runs the risk of having to answer to the sternest authority of all – his own sense of self worth. There were lofty goals for me for they seemed good targets to shoot for. However, what awaited me at the summit of my young baseball life was a three year free fall that nearly destroyed me
  12. In order to better deal with the high expectations, I adopted the slogan “take it easy.” Kawakami, a batting legend and hitting coach, and Wally Yonamine gave me their first baseman’s mitts. They were to be mine, letting me know in the strongest symbolic way they could that whatever batting problems I had were independent of my future with the Giants. I was the Giants’ new first baseman. I was very moved and obligated to them for this gesture. 
  13. Hitting is with your hip, not your hand. Imagine that your eyes are in your front hip. You can see the ball with your hip. It is difficult. Be patient and it will come. 
  14. I did not feel “easy” about this [living up to the obligation, loyalty, high standards that his nation expected of him]. I felt so stirred and fired up it took me some doing to convince myself that it was real. Oh, yes, I wanted to live up to that! I wanted to be worthy and responsible…was I confused? Confusion doesn’t begin to speak of it! But my brother taught me there was no need to make a display of feelings. I never imposed on anyone else what I was going through. 
  15. The dormitory exists for a purpose most valued in our culture – namely to nurture young people in the hard discipline of group endeavor. That a baseball team needs a sense of real togetherness is obvious, and that young people away from home for the first time need the helpful guidance of their elders is quite clear. But like everything, there is always a kind of balance between the ideal and the actual, and the tension between the two – in any culture – is how you begin to experience the particulars of a life. 
  16. Every man should have a good rival. Kitsugi saved my career even in the throes is the awful struggle between us. 
  17. The goal of zen is to become void of desire, but can a man attain such a high goal?
  18. It’s more important to do things than to brood over them 
  19. Ma, from Aikido, is space. It exists because there is an opponent. To eliminate ma, make the opponent yours. That is the real task. Absorb and incorporate his thinking into your own. Become one with him so you know him perfectly and can be one step ahead of his every movement. Make use of an opponent’s strength and yours will be doubled 
  20. After three years and much desperation, the coaching staff decided to try the one legged stance they joked about earlier. This removed the hitch in my swing and improved my timing. Oh learned absolute focus and balance in this pose – ma, ki. Immovable self discipline comes only when you master the use of ki. Acquiring the “body of a rock” literally meant having the discipline to wait. This implies far more than balance. To train one’s entire being to hold back from the tricks and feints of a pitcher, no less than from an enemy with a sword, is finally the single most important step in harmonizing one’s ki with the opponents. Ma, the interval or distance between you, is eventually that which you rather than the other create by the strength of your waiting. Everything was now suddenly poured into this subtle act of waiting. For waiting, I understood in this moment, far from being something passive, was the most active state of all. In its secret heart lay the beginning and the end of all action. In it lurked the exact moment to strike. With the ability I had acquired to wait, I now could make my contact point somewhat further back. This in turn gave me slightly more time before I had to commit myself. I thus wound up being able to see an incoming pitch till the last possible moment…Later, I got to meet Hank Aaron and learned that he trained himself to wait by measuring the pitcher’s best fastball. 
  21. I learned to focus at all times on the area just below my navel. I achieved great balance with this focus and was always ready 
  22. There was baseball in everything I did. I had this gnawing sense of fear that I would let down or be unable to play up to what I had previously done. 
  23. Baseball was with me wherever I went. There was simply nothing else!
  24. You see, Arakawa-san explained [his hitting coach and, in many ways, mentor], the better you hit, the less reason you have to think. After all, isn’t the goal of Zen to achieve a void?
  25. One day, when I went for training, I assumed my pose with the sword and methodically began my swings. I had taken only three swings that day – normally I took hundreds – when Arakawa-san suddenly stopped me, a look of pleasure glowing on his face. That’s it! That’s it! You’ve done it, he said excitedly. Done what? I asked, puzzled. It had taken all this time but you have just performed three identical, perfect swings. There is no more to do for today than to concentrate as hard as you can on remembering what it is you have done. You have finally understood. That is all I can say. You must accept this now. 
  26. Teams devised the “Oh Shift” (much like the Ted Williams shift) to try to get me to alter my swing. It was a psychological challenge as much as anything. My answer was to swing as I always did, to keep the contest of hitting between myself and the pitcher standing 60 feet away. Arakawa-san and I had reached the point where there were no tricks in what I was doing. And consequently no tricks used against us would get in our way. Nothing could stop me from hitting. I longed to hit as a starving man longs for food
  27. Arakawa-san said we would beat Babe Ruth. I thought he was joking but he was earnest. I’ll never be sure but he got me thinking and aspiring towards greater goals than I ever would have had myself 
    1. A great mentor, coach, partner helps you see possibilities greater than you ever would have on your own
  28. The door of possibility had opened. I walked through, never to go back. This was not unadulterated joy as far as I was concerned. For I discovered in this most amazing season of my life that achievement and recognition were not necessarily the same thing. 
  29. There are 4 stages in martial arts training – technique, skill, art, the Way itself. Early on, Arakawa-San likened me to Musashi but now he said I also had his ability. Musashi said that he looked up to the gods and Buddha but that he would never rely on them 
  30. It took me 25 years to learn but after Arakawa-san there was no more important person in my life that Nagashima-san (the best and most prolific player on the Giants). Learning to play with him was everything. He was an all time legend but I’m not sure I ever truly knew him. This mysterious part accounted for the tremendous hold he had on the imaginations of people in our country. It is this part that makes me think he had genius as well as talent. 
  31. In a slump, you ask yourself “why?” This is silent, never to be overheard. It seals you in the privacy of effort. My why is that I’m hungry for skill! I kept a bat and a notebook at my bedside so that if I came out of sleep with an idea, I could practice it and then write it down. I also got in the habit of simply writing to myself to raise my spirits, as I was the one I had to depend on
  32. 7 steps of my form – fighting spirit, stance, grip, backswing, stride forward, downswing, impact 
  33. My old friends come from every walk of life. They bring with them many interests and many new things to talk about
  34. Making things too comfortable takes away the challenge. And everything I do, including salary talks, has only one goal – to keep my mind focused on the challenge 
  35. All of a sudden I was one shy of the 700 home run mark and it seemed like a real barrier. I found myself trying and, in trying, trying to stop myself from trying 
  36. I never once had the idea that because I had made this or that record I could just lie back and play the star. If anything, I worked harder than ever. 
  37. In 1980 I hit a slump but it was different than before. My spirit was not there. My desire for combat was gone. I have no anger anymore. Mastery in Aikido means loss of desire for combat. 
  38. After I retired, I became assistant manager. I was ready to give what I could to younger players. I had certainly been blessed by having a master teacher, and if I could ever give just one young player a fraction of what was given to me, my role would be fulfilled. I did not ask for nor did I expect to receive special considerations based on the stature I had acquired as a player. During practice, I made it a point to pull and push batting cages around, to pick up balls, and to do other ordinary grounds keeping chores. I ate and lived among the players  
  39. I learned from Arakawa-san, my greatest teacher, that the Way is long and mastery of any sort is not easy to achieve. Above all, what I learned from my Sensei was how to wait. I believe I learned the meaning of waiting on one foot. If I understand anything in this life, it is how to wait. It is not an answer. But for me it is everything. 
  40. Nin – Oh added this frequently to autographs he signed. It means patience, or more precise, constancy. 

What I got out of it

  1. I had never heard of Sada but his story is incredible – his 3 years of struggle lead to desperation which allowed him to try something unusual – hitting on one foot. His thoughtfulness and clarity of thought are beautiful. The steps towards mastery using a Zen-like framework apply broadly (pair with Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning)

January 2019

The Rabbit Hole
     
Jump In. 
 

My monthly newsletter covers the books I have read over the course of the month, the challenges I undertook as well as some other interesting articles, blog posts, interviews, tools, hacks, etc.

Books

Full list of books read in 2019201820172016, 2015, 2014

Any book, which is at all important, should be immediately re-read

Essays

  • I want to become a better writer so will sporadically put out essays – my attempt to dig into fun, new, and/or surprising ideas. Besides becoming a better writer, I have found that writing helps me flush out my thoughts and ideas and this process makes it painfully transparent how little I truly understand. If I can’t write about it or explain something simply, I don’t truly understand it. I also believe that ideas beget ideas and I hope this process helps unlock and uncover more of them.
  • Costanza’s Law of Contrast

Teacher’s Reference Guides

  • None

Monthly Challenges

  • No caffeine – first couple days were tough but made me realize the impact caffeine has on me (elevated heart rate, a bit of a frantic mood, etc.). I’ll go back to regular coffee soon but limit it to 1 per day and might do one week of no caffeine per month to cycle off

Other

Amor Fati Amor.

Blas

Problem avoidance is the strategy of avoiding head-on encounters with a stubborn problem that does not offer a good point d’appui, or toe hold. It is the most under-rated of all methods of dealing with problems. Little wonder, for its practitioners are not to be found struggling valiantly against staggering odds, nor are they to be seen fighting bloody but unbowed, nor are they observed undergoing glorious martyrdom. They are simply somewhere else, successfully doing something else. Like Lao Tzu himself, they have slipped quietly away into a happy life of satisfying obscurity. The opposite of passivity is initiative, or responsibility – not energetic futility. Choose your systems with care. Destiny is largely a set of unquestioned assumptions.” – John Gall

December 2018

The Rabbit Hole by Blas Moros 
     
Jump In. 
 

My monthly newsletter covers the books I have read over the course of the month, the challenges I undertook as well as some other interesting articles, blog posts, interviews, tools, hacks, etc.

Books

Full list of books read in 201820172016, 2015, 2014

Any book, which is at all important, should be immediately re-read

Teacher’s Reference Guides

  • Machine Learning – getting to know the basics in these topics was not only a lot of fun but I think really important as they will likely become pervasive and permeate every area of life. The language and terms used to describe these different topics also gave me some vocabulary and a new way to think about learning, AI, habits, training, and serve as great metaphors to think about other areas not directly related to AI/ML.

Monthly Challenges

  • Changed the routine up a bit this December. Rather than reading new books, I’ve reviewed what I’ve read this past year as well as the best things I’ve read over the past ~5 years or so (see links above under “Books”). My goal was to spot patterns across topics and time, making it a priority to reflect more deeply on what I’ve already read in order to let these great teachings sink in. Really enjoyed this practice and will likely keep up.

Other

As we begin 2019, I’d love any recommendations on what to read, learn about, do, how I can improve the site, and anything else that might come to mind.

I appreciate and am grateful for all your feedback and for the community we’ve built together these past 5 years.

Amor Fati Amor.

Blas

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” – African Proverb

November 2018

The Rabbit Hole by Blas Moros 
     
Jump In. 
 

My monthly newsletter covers the books I have read over the course of the month, the challenges I undertook as well as some other interesting articles, blog posts, interviews, tools, hacks, etc.

Books

Full list of books read in 201820172016, 2015, 2014

Any book, which is at all important, should be immediately re-read

Teacher’s Reference Guides

  • Machine Learning – need another month at least to get a basic understanding but it’s a fascinating space

Monthly Challenges

  • 200 mg L-Theanine with coffee in the mornings – super sharp focus but didn’t sleep well and was hot all the time. Might do every once in a while when needed but not every day.

Other

Amor Fati Amor.

Blas

“What you dislike in another take care to correct in yourself.” – Thomas Sprat