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Experiments are good — only if reversible.

If our experimentation becomes permanent, that’s not an experiment, but a decision.

The problem is we sometimes forget to make that distinction.

And we end up either being afraid to experiment because we think it will become permanent, or we end up making decisions which are permanent, when we think we are experimenting.

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When facing a crisis we tend to respond to our anxieties in a manner that often result in actions which tend to undermine our real interests, as these actions are not always the most effective way to gain the upper hand in the long run. Continue reading

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”
― Leo Tolstoy

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First published at the Words of Peace Global blog, Dec 31, 2010.

In 1982, when the war broke out on the northern border of Israel, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the reserves were called in: me included.

As a citizen of Israel — which I was at the time — I was a reservist soldier. I had my uniform, my boots, and my weapon in the closet.

So, there I was, a young man pursuing a path of inner peace — who loved life and loved people — suddenly confronted with a crude reality: you need to go to war and fight for your country. And so I did.

I served in a special unit of M60 Patton tanks in Division 252 of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). We were trained to fight in mountainous terrain: quite difficult for a 50-ton vehicle. My buddies in my armored platoon were puzzled when they saw me coming to join them. ‘What are you doing here?’ they said. ‘Didn’t you join some strange group of people that meditate and speak about peace all day long?’ They thought I had lost my marbles, and were not reassured to see me there. After all, would you go to war with a person that had devoted himself to fostering peace and believed in the sanctity of life? Would you trust that person to protect your own life when push came to shove? I understood where they were coming from.

So, after three days of preparation, we were on our way to the border to spend what ended up being fifteen long days in the frontline.

These days are a blurred memory of little sleep, endless drives on moonless nights, huge precipices right and left, the unavoidable confusion over the radio during combat, the clanging noise of the 105-mm cartridges falling inside the tank turret after firing, and terrifying moments of absolute fear: fear of the kind that I could never have imagined experiencing. But what I remember vividly is that most of what I knew about myself or what I thought about myself — my concepts, my ideas, my beliefs — all left me within the first minutes of the first shelling we took. All gone, as fast as rats abandoning a sinking ship. And that included my beliefs and concepts about peace.

All gone, but one thing did not. It was not big, not impressive: no booming voice from the sky or sense of spiritual enlightenment. None of that. Just a tiny, itty-bitty thing that did not leave me. It was a small understanding — nothing too impressive. But it was there and I could feel it. It was a seed of understanding about my life. Not what I thought about myself. Not what others thought of me. But it was real, and it was in me, and I could feel it.

I then recognized that this seed of understanding had been planted a few years back, after I had been introduced to Maharaji’s message. I had learned the techniques of Knowledge, and I had watered that seed for a while. It hadn’t grown a lot, but nonetheless it had grown enough, if just barely, for me to actually see it.

Did that seed of understanding protect me from bullets and shells? Of course not. Did it remove my fear, so that I valiantly stood on the tank turret, wind on my face, defying death? Of course not. So what did I really have, then? I had Knowledge. A simple experience. A cornerstone. Something that would never abandon me. Doesn’t sound like much? It was for me. And apparently for my buddies in the platoon as well.

After the cease-fire, when we cleaned our tanks, had a long-awaited shower and then some hot grub back at the base, many of them came over to shake my hand — they wanted to thank me. I was very surprised when they did.

In particular I remember Koren, a burly mountain of a man with a shaved head, John Lennon-style glasses, and a handlebar mustache. He thanked me for my courage and strength throughout the ordeal, for my calmness, and for lifting his spirits. I was amazed: I thought I was as afraid and confused as they were. But that little seed of understanding must’ve been much more than I thought.

Even when everything seemed to be lost, that understanding — as small as it was — was still there. It shined on its own. It was real.

Illustration by Sara Shaffer.

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How do we assess data? What are we biased to see? How many times we miss the obvious?

From Jack Uldrich’ blog:

“Consider the case of Abraham Wald. During World War Two, he and a team of researchers were charged with protecting Allied bombers from German guns. As part of their work the researchers diligently recorded where on the body of the plane each returning bomber was struck by gunfire. The most common areas were the wings and the tails.

“In response, the researchers advised the military command to reinforce those bullet-struck areas. Everyone, that is, except Wald who suggested that those areas of the plane not struck by gunfire – largely the fuselage – be reinforced. His recommendation was initially met with incredulity by his peers and superiors.

“Eventually, Wald convinced them of the wisdom of his logic. The mistake his peers made was that they were only observing those planes which safely returned. What they were not seeing were those planes that didn’t return. Wald reasoned correctly that if a plane could safely return with bullet-ridden wings and tailfins then those areas didn’t need reinforcement and, counter-intuitively, the parts of the plane without bullet holes were the areas requiring additional armor.”

Read more

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Deconstructing authority in social context of a wired world

Clay Shirky continues to provide insightful comments about the changes permeating our society in the context of the fundamental changes brought forward by social media.

Algorithmic authority is the decision to regard as authoritative an unmanaged process of extracting value from diverse, untrustworthy sources, without any human standing beside the result saying “Trust this because you trust me.” This model of authority differs from personal or institutional authority, and has, I think, three critical characteristics. Continue reading

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Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work. Continue reading

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There are at least two kinds of games.

One could be called finite, the other infinite.

The finite game is played for the purpose of winning, and thereby ending the game.

An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing the play … and bringing as many persons as possible into the play.

Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.

Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.

Finite players try to control the game, predict everything that will happen, and set the outcome in advance. They are serious and determined about getting that outcome. They try to fix the future based on the past.

Infinite players enjoy being surprised. Continuously running into something they didn’t know will ensure that the game will go on. The meaning of the past changes depending on what happens in the future.

All games are inherently voluntary. There might be consequences of not playing, but there is always a choice required. There are certain rules and boundaries that appear to be externally defined, and you choose to follow them or not. If you stop following them you aren’t playing the game any longer.

There is no rule that says you have to follow the rules, and there is no rule that says you have to play. If you have to play, you cannot really play.

All finite games have rules. If you follow the rules you are playing the game. If you don’t follow the rules you aren’t playing.

Infinite players play with rules and boundaries. They aren’t taking them serious, and they can never be trapped by them, because they use rules and boundaries as part of their playing.

Players can do what they do seriously, because they must do it, because they must survive to the end, and are afraid of the consequences of not playing or not winning. Or, players can do everything they do playfully, always knowing they have a choice, having no need to survive the way they are, allowing every element of the play to transform them, taking pleasure in every surprise they meet. Those are the differences between finite and infinite players.

You can play finite games within an infinite game. You can not play infinite games within a finite game.

There is only but one infinite game.

Paraphrased from James P. Carse, Finite and infinite games: A Vision of Life in Play and Possibility