The impossible strikes.


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How can it happen to a kid like me? I just turned eighty-one years old. That’s impossible. All the indicators of time agree – I’m old, but the instruments of health, like blood pressure, say I’m still a kid. I took my blood pressure six times over the last three hours, just to get it right. The highest was 131/70 – 52bpm, and the lowest 115/60 – 49. That is supposedly the score a college athlete would consider excellent.

Another score of how soon you are going to die is how quickly you can walk twenty yards, but I can still go up two stories of stairs two at a time, but I haven’t measured my walking twenty yards. When walking with a companion I like to stroll and enjoy the conversation and view the passing scenery, but when alone and going somewhere I usually walk fast.

I just took the Ubble risk calculator test which only went to age 70, but my risk of surviving the next five was 95%.

Pie chart of cause of death age 91

Cause of death US male age 81

From Health grove  46,884 survive of 100,000 males born in the United States in 1935. Their chart gives my cohort 8.2 more years, but with my good blood pressure, my life expectancy is probably better than that. If I keep writing blogs, that requires me to come up with 3,000 more new ideas to write about, and that’s on top of the 3,250 old ones. I am already scratching around the empty barrel, but somehow there are always bizarre things to write about, and I want to explore more deeply how to make people’s lives more meaningful and help them to pursue things that would naturally interest them. That is, I don’t want to tell people what to do, nor even influence them in what they might pursue, but I would like to remove the obscuring things so they can better see their options. I think exploring one’s options is best done when feeling emotionally expansive and physically sound. And the opposite of that, avoid making decisions when feeling depressed and sick. I have been thinking in terms of providing a logical ladder for ascending to more expansive emotions and more mature personalities.

Helping people grow is a worthwhile task to pursue for a couple of years.


Debate cheaters must be penalized.


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In debates, even presidential level debates, those people who cheat must be penalized. When a debater overshoots their allotted time they must be docked a fair amount. The next time they are given time to speak, the time they overshot on their previous presentation must be subtracted from their next response. Also, the amount of time they consumed interrupting the other person’s presentation must be subtracted. Because both of those actions give them an unfair advantage they must be penalized in a way that is obvious to everyone.

A clock could be placed so that the debaters, the judges, and the audience could see it clearly. Each time a debater overshot their time or spoke up while the other person was speaking, the clock would automatically start subtracting time from the interrupter’s total allotted time. The interruptions would be scored at a minimum of 5 seconds. That subtracted time could be divided equally among the scheduled number of responses.

Thus, if there were two more questions to be responded to and a closing-remarks section to be scheduled, the total amount of time of overshoots and interruptions would be divided into three equal parts. If a person had accumulated 30 seconds of penalty they would have 10 seconds removed from each of those portions of their time.

The way the above adjustment is stated there is no punishment for misbehavior, only an evening up of time the debaters are given. But that isn’t fair to the honest debater because it gives the interrupter the ability to disrupt the flow of the honest one.

To prevent that unfair advantage there must be an additional penalty given to each of the overshoots and interruptions. That can be easily done by doubling the time taken away. In the example above the 30 seconds would become 60 seconds, and that time spread over the coming three presentations so each would be truncated by 20 seconds.

The unfair advantage of overshoots and interruptions should be corrected by taking double that time away from future presentations.

On the Meaning of Life by Will Durant – book review


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On the Meaning of Life by Will Durant is a collection of essays solicited from prominent public figures of 1930 by the then famous historian Will Durant. His letter began, “Will you interrupt your work for a moment and play the game of philosophy with me? I am attempting to face a question which our generation, perhaps more than any, seems always ready to ask and never able to answer—What is the meaning or worth of life? After a bit, he lists the many ways that modern thought and science has destroyed the previous belief that people held that made their lives meaningful.

The astronomers placed us on a tiny planet orbiting an insignificant star. The biologists tell us that humans were simply a single species in a struggle with millions of other species. Historians write that people and civilizations end in inevitable decay and that every invention strengthens the strong and weakens the weak. “Nothing is certain except defeat and death—a sleep from which, it seems, there is no awakening.” He then concludes his letter with,”Spare me a moment to tell me what meaning life has for you, what keeps you going … where, in the last resort, your treasure lies.”

The letter was sent to over a hundred prominent luminaries. H. L. Mencken writes several pages on his motivations beginning with, “I write like a hen lays eggs – simply because that is what I do” and “Life demands to be lived. Inaction, save as a measure of recuperation between bursts of activity, is painful and dangerous to the healthy organism—in fact, it is almost impossible. Only the dying can be really idle.”

John Erskine’s response concluded, “The only choice is in the kind of life one would care to spend one’s efforts on. I believe the divine element in man is whatever it is which makes us wish to lead a life worth remembering, harmless to others, helpful to them, and increasing our own store of wisdom and peace.”

Jawaharlal Nehru writes, “But in spite of all this I have a feeling that the future is full of hope for humanity and for my country and the fight for freedom that we are waging in India is bringing us nearer the realization of this hope. Do not ask me to justify this feeling that I have for I can give you no sufficient reasons. I can only tell you that I have found mental equilibrium and strength and inspiration in the thought that I am doing my bit for a mighty cause and that my labor cannot be in vain. I work for results of course. I want to go rapidly towards my objective, but fundamentally even the results of action do not worry me so much. Action itself, so long as I am convinced that it is right action, gives me satisfaction.”

The final essay is written by Convict #79206 in Sing Sing prison, condemned to life behind bars. The essay quotes Durant, “We are driven to conclude that the greatest mistake in human history was the discovery of truth. It has not made us happy, for truth is not beautiful. It has not made us free, except from delusions that comforted us and restraints that preserved us. It has taken from us every reason for existence except the moment’s pleasure and tomorrow’s trivial hope.” The prisoner, Owen C. Middleton, answers “Truth is not beautiful, neither is it ugly. Why should it be either? Truth is truth…” and that “life is worth just what I am willing to strive to make it worth.”

This is a book of 144 pages that gives the motivations of some of the famous people of the 1920s. It is easy reading and seems to say that even our greatest people are like journeymen workers, just doing the jobs they are destined to do by their choice of life goals for themselves and humanity.

Homage to Picasso, Duchamp and Warhol


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The three pictures below were created for a public display on the subject of paper, but they didn’t fit in with what the judges were looking for and were rejected. I liked them so here they are for my friends on the web.

Picasso's name on a blank paper.

Homage to Picasso and his signature on a blank sheet.

A photograph of a framed roll of toilet paper.

Homage to Duchamp and his famous urinal sculpture.

A photograph of a photograph in halftone in bar-code.

Homage to Andy Warhol

For people with a background in 20th-century art these pictures don’t need any commentary, but for those people without that experience any commentary would seem inane.

Duchamp, Warhol and Charles Scamahorn

Duchamp, Warhol and Me in Dudley’s bookstore, Bend, Oregon

None of the people who discussed these pictures with me found them offensive.

A book fell off the shelf


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Winston Churchillized line spacing for easy reading aloud.

As I was standing there at Dudley’s Bookstore, a book fell off the shelf.
 What could I do but stoop and pick it up?
  My reflex was to put it back where it came from.
That response
 comes from my self-training of sixty years
  to instantly do the right thing.
It was a New Year’s resolution
 made in 1968
  when I was studying Gurdjieff’s philosophy.
At that time I was living in Berkeley, California,
 and my closest friends were from the Channing Club.
That is a Unitarian college-age discussion group
 I had been a member of for several years at WSC.
Most of these grad students were reading G’s book
 ”All and Everything
  and participating in a separate discussion group
   where they practiced self-observation.
I decided not to join that second group
 until I had read the book.
That turned out to be a BIG mistake, because
 the book is almost impossible to read.
The author G insists in the introduction that
 you be willing to read the book three times
  or put it down
   right away
    and walk away.
Because my friends spoke so highly of it
 I decided to read it the required three times.
  BIG mistake!
But it was a choice that made a huge impact on my life.
G wrote that we should read the book
 the first time
  like we would read any other book,
  and that we should read it the second time
   out loud,
    like this post is designed to be read.
We should only attempt to understand it
 on the third reading.
The problem was,
 and it would still be a problem for any reader today,
  it is nearly impossible to read the first time.
 I did follow G’s instructions, but
  it took me about six years
   to finish reading it the first time.
It only took about two years
 to read it the second time,
  and two months to read it the third time.
The reason it was so quick and easy
 to read it the third time
  is easy to say
   but impossible for you
    to understand
     without reading it.
The book is a pure comedy on the third reading!
It is filled with sarcasm,
 scorn and pity at the human situation.
It isn’t until the third reading
 that you realize you have been led
  down a path that seems
   perfectly logical and reasonable at first, but
    what is to be learned from
     each of the stories the third time is
      quite different from what was learned
       on the first reading.
On the first reading the people in the stories
 learned valuable life lessons
  and they applied those lessons
   to their daily lives.
On first reading, these lessons are promoted
 as valuable wisdom.
On the third reading, they are understood
 to be the wisdom of
  absolute fools.
Therein lies the comedy
 to be understood in the third reading,
a sardonic comedy, and
 perhaps it could be thought of as
  a cruel comedy.
But one comes out of the whole process
 a sadder and a wiser person
  because you learn to see human foolishness more clearly.
I never did join one of the G self-observation groups.
 but I feel that I am much better off
  for reading All and Everything three times as instructed
   and for not joining a group
It was my habit cultivated long ago
 to instantly do the right thing.
And I reflexively stooped over and
   picked up the book
    and put it back on the shelf.

The Tao Teh Ching – #28 – Revealed by Lao Tzu – Rendered by Charles Scamahorn



When you make visible people’s assertive self, but
Hide and use their passive self,
You become attractive for those people.
When you are attractive for people,
Your virtues will not be drawn away, but will revert, and
Return to the origin.

When you make visible people’s brilliance, but
Hide and use their dullness,
You become a model for those people.
When you are a model for people,
You establish the qualities of correctness;
These revert and are drawn into the void.

When you make visible people’s honor,
But hide and use their shame,
You become a valley for those people.
When you are a valley for people,
You stabilize the virtues
Which are sufficient.

Broadcast and infuse this simplicity into understanding people.
These people become proselytizers and magistrates.
This is how to found an organization that does not go astray.


What action does a baby’s emotion generate in its mother?


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Yesterday I asked the question What emotion should precede action? and considered the idea that all emotions have an evolutionary driving force on the inherited genes because those emotions generated successful actions on average. The idea behind that thought was that it was the adult’s problems that created the emotional expressions, and that is where the driving force was exerted.

Perhaps the primary driving force is not the adult’s successful emotional responses but the infant’s. Before an infant develops the ability to speak, its only forms of purposeful communication with its mother are gross physical expressions and facial expressions.

6 facial emotions

Paul Ekman’s 7 basic emotions are only 6 in infancy.

Of course, the man in the photos above will influence the conversations with his interlocutors and that will be important, and those expressions will be used all of his adult life. But the infant’s facial expressions are a matter of life or death. If the infant fails to create an intimate bond with its caregiver and clearly communicate its needs, it will receive little or no care. If that is valid, then the driving force for the evolution of facial expressions of emotions is with the infant. If it doesn’t succeed in communicating well, it will perish and thus will not give its genetic codes to the future.

With that clarified, it becomes a legitimate question to ask, what emotions do the various infant expressions generate in a caregiver? One of the most compelling actions to a mother is a soulful crying of her baby. That seems obvious, and yet the facial expression of distress is not in Paul Ekman’s basic list of facial emotions. The closest expression would be sadness or fear, but either doesn’t seem as compelling of motherly action as crying out in distress. Sadness and fear are too passive and anger too generalized.

Stated boldly –

The infant must get proper attention with its communications or it will die and thus not leave its genes in the gene pool of human behavior. We are the living result of the infant’s successful communication. 

What emotion should precede action?


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Perhaps different emotions should precede different kinds of actions. The previous posts were concerned about the long-term effects of the emotions preceding a decision point. The general conclusion was that the emotion felt at the time of a major decision would create a continuing bias relative to that future activity. It was suggested that one should be in a positive state of emotion when making a decision. This post will consider the multitude of other emotions and the possibility that evolution has built into our human DNA proper reactions associated with every emotion. It would appear that decisions based in a moment of anger would be counterproductive to long-term relationships, but perhaps one’s DNA would disagree. Perhaps every one of the emotions listed on the chart below has an ideal reaction associated with it based on actual experience of a million generations. Those were the reactions that proved to work best when those emotions arose. But, how could reactions based on a frantic, hysterical, terrified person be ideal for the situation? Perhaps it is.

There are many categorizations of emotions, and here is a visual chart that will give a logical display of the basic ones. I  didn’t find the root source of this often used image.

Basic emotions

A wheel of basic human emotions.

It would seem that the best decisions would be made when a person is in the green zone on this chart. And yet there may be situations where that may not be the best emotion for relating to some specific event. On TV drama shows most of the action concerns various kinds of violations of basic human decency and then comes the storm of emotional reactions and dramatic interactions between the characters.

We humans who are capable of forethought would normally choose decisions made when in the emotional states at the very bottom position on the chart, which could be labeled serene. Perhaps, that is wrong.

Some people claim that we are always in an ideal state for coping with the present moment.


What will be the results of decisions based on disgust?


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The seven basic adult facial emotions as defined by Paul Ekman are Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, and the adult emotion of Contempt, six of which are common to infants. “What will be the results of decisions based on anger?” was posted last week, but all of the emotions will have effects outlasting the moment. To some degree, these later results might be predicted and we can gain some insight on how we might behave by exploring what these effects might be.

6 facial emotions

Paul Ekman’s 7 basic emotions are only 6 in infancy.

When we come to the famous fork in the road and are forced to make a decision, the emotional state we are in when making that decision will affect what comes later. If we are angry when making our choice we will probably continue to be angry with what happens as time passes. It may not matter much what actually happens; our reaction to it will be influenced by the emotion we held when making the original choice.

If our emotion was disgust when making the decision our likely reaction to whatever happens later will be disgust. Probably we will have forgotten what our emotion was when making our decision, and that disgust was our emotion, but no matter which way we go, if our emotion was disgust, no matter what happens, it will be degraded by that original emotion of disgust.

Emotions are flitting through us all the time, and  most of them are neutral and mild, but the ones that affect our future the most are the ones held when we are making critical decisions. When we are feeling emotionally expansive we can look around and check our options and choose the best one. However, when we are feeling depressed we have trouble seeing our options, and we will tend to choose poorly when coming from a negative emotion like disgust. If our future is going to be directed by our emotion at the time of decision it will be in our best interest to be feeling happy. Also, we should come to that decision moment from a time of paying close attention to the true and accurate facts associated with what we are about to do.

If we are about to make an important decision, and notice that we have a negative emotion at the moment, like disgust, we should put off that decision until we are feeling better about it and about our emotions. The same idea applies to other negative emotions, such as fear, sadness or contempt.

Get happy before making an important decision.


Our social groups generate divisive morality.



It seems every time I associate with a new group of people there are new expectations placed on me. Also, as a group holds together for a while, a group identity forms and a political process develops within the group where individual people form closer bonds with some individuals than with others. The expectations are rarely stated, but if you choose to observe them they are easy to see.

Within one of my social groups, there is a stated deprecating of all judgments but especially of social judgments. We are not allowed to proclaim any person as being better than another person in any way. There is a complete flattening of all social value within this group. With this procedure in action, we all get along quite well, even though there are wildly different opinions on almost every subject brought to the floor.

In this group, people will say diametrically opposite things from one another with a complete equanimity of emotion. We all respect each other so much that we anticipate that if there are twenty people in the conversation we expect for there to be twenty different opinions. Every person speaks with a complete expectation that what they say will be accepted and we build upon what is being said.

This form of conversation is rather like the stage technique called improv. The primary principle of that technique is to simply say “yes-and” to every statement your interlocutors make. No matter how absurd their statement is, our responsibility is to agree with them and add some appropriate dialogue and commentary. It is the interlocutor’s responsibility to promote the conversation and not to improve the intellectual quality of the other person’s statement. The assumption is that every statement is perfect as it is and our responses will be perfect too.

That procedure has been a problem for me because I spent fifty years in various groups at Berkeley where everything is challenged and improved upon. The operative attitude is a qualified yes-but, and then a clarification of the errors you so obviously overlooked. That qualifying statement is obviously wrong, of course. It is too generalized or too specific, or missed the point altogether and it too needs clarification, and thus an endless cycle of correcting each other’s mistakes continues. It does occasionally end with an important discovery and a new understanding, but the air is inevitably filled with contention, hopefully, friendly contention.

My point is that social groups seem to create their own laws and conventions automatically. It appears there is an inherited tendency to generate social conventions. This behavior is like the capacity to learn a language, it’s innate. There is a problem because creating these conventions automatically generates an out-group. Those other people are outsiders and automatically, by definition, somehow different and, being different, automatically inferior. That statement is vehemently denied – we are not judgmental! – those people are just different. Separate but equal in every way! But, it seems they protest too loudly!

All men are equal, until they meet.