Notes on Scott Adams’ ‘How to fail…’

Title: How to fail at almost everything and still win big: Kind of the story of my life
Author: Scott Adams
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I’d read Scott ‘Dilbert’ Adams’ books before, but was reintroduced to his work when he became a notable voice during the recent US election. In his blog entries, he’d have a link to his book, and one time, he actually suckered me into buying it, so here we are.

‘How to fail…’ is a look at Adams’ struggles and successes, and he provides not so much a ‘how-to’ on living, but rather a ‘what works for me.’ He explains much in terms of ‘energy’:
Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up. When I get my personal energy right, the quality of my work is better, and I can complete it faster. That keeps my career on track. And when all of that is working, and I feel relaxed and energetic, my personal life is better too.
– Location 885-888 (Amazon Kindle edition)

Nonetheless, Adams fosters self-discipline by thinking of himself as a programmable robot. It is clear that Adams is fine with leaving much of life a mystery, but his book is no less useful and informative.

Luck plays a role in success, but there are ways or life habits to help you stumble on luck.
I would try one thing after another until something creative struck a chord with the public.
– Location 729

It’s also important to be open to new knowledge and skills:
Most of my problems were caused by my own bad decisions, lack of skill, and bad luck. I can’t think of a single instance in which I was stopped because there was information I needed and I couldn’t find it.
– Location 1076-1077

[B]ecome good at something, anything, and let that feeling propel you to new and better victories. Success can be habit-forming.
– Location 1217-1218

The best way to increase your odds of success—in a way that might look like luck to others—is to systematically become good, but not amazing, at the types of skills that work well together and are highly useful for just about any job. This is another example in which viewing the world as math (adding skills together) and not magic allows you to move from a strategy with low odds of success to something better.
– Location 1689-1692

Adams writes of the need to develop systems, rather than goals, the latter requiring payoffs in an often unforeseeable future:
It’s smarter to see your big-idea projects as part of a system to improve your energy, contacts, and skills. From that viewpoint, if you have a big, interesting project in the works, you’re a winner every time you wake up.
– Location 1169-1170

[Y]ou shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you’re probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway.
– Location 1246-1247

He provides numerous lessons in persuasion, such as this:
The way fake insanity works in a negotiation is that you assign a greater value to some element of a deal than an objective observer would consider reasonable. For example, you might demand that a deal be closed before the holidays so you can announce it to your family as a holiday present. When you bring in an emotional dimension, people know they can’t talk you out of it.
– Location 2276-2278

On happiness:
[I]t’s not a mystery of the mind and it’s not magic. Happiness is the natural state for most people whenever they feel healthy, have flexible schedules, and expect the future to be good.
– Location 2807-2809

It’s important to look at happiness in terms of timing because timing is easier to control than resources. It’s hard to become rich enough to buy your own private island but, relatively speaking, it’s easier to find a job with flexible hours. A person with a flexible schedule and average resources will be happier than a rich person who has everything except a flexible schedule.
– Location 2781-2784

When learning to eat right, it is important to conserve willpower:
An attractive alternative makes willpower less necessary. It frees up your stockpile of willpower for other uses.
– Location 3030

A controversial matter that Adams has previously shared is his use of affirmations, that is, saying or writing a desired outcome or occurrence repeatedly, which apparently has worked for him. Or maybe he talks about affirmations as an experiment in readers’ gullibility; I could never be sure. I admit that I tried affirmations after reading ‘The Dilbert future’ in 2011, and while my affirmation was general if not vague in nature, my life since seems to have unfolded in accordance with it.

Whether you are a born optimist or you become one through affirmations, prayer, or positive thinking, you end up with several advantages that make it easier for luck to find you. Optimists notice more opportunities, have more energy because of their imagined future successes, and take more risks. Optimists make themselves an easy target for luck to find them.
– Location 3653-3655

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Scott Adams’ ‘How to fail…’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

Notes on Julian Jaynes’ ‘The origin of consciousness’

Title: The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind
Author: Julian Jaynes
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julian-jaynes-originHumans as late as 3,500 years ago were not conscious in the sense that we understand consciousness. They were more akin to automatons, carrying out orders as heard in their minds, the mysterious phenomenon of which they were yet incapable of questioning. In this sense did Gods truly walk the earth.

This scenario, far out as it is, is difficult to accept unconditionally, but the late Julian Jaynes, first raising it in the 1970s, was able to account for the mental states of schizophrenics and feral children, even drunks, and his theory seems to explain the absence of memories of infancy. The mind requires social interactions, particularly language use, in order to develop what Jaynes refers to as spatialization of time, a narratization of events indicative of consciousness.

Reading ‘The origin of consciousness’ last year has been one of the biggest events in my life. To realize just how fragile consciousness really is, for it to be a mere matter of culture and habit as opposed to something fixed in one’s biology, has profoundly affected my view of the value of being human. At the very least, Jaynes’ ideas have inspired a good deal of my writing, as can be gleaned now and then in my short-story collection ‘Be kind to puns.’ Another dead visionary, David Bowie, listed the book (Jaynes’, not mine) as a favorite.

Jaynes saw memory not as a recording of things per se, but a making-sense of what we perceive:
Memory is the medium of the must-have-been.
– Page 30, Location 403 (Amazon Kindle edition)

Conscious retrospection is not the retrieval of images, but the retrieval of what you have been conscious of before…
– Page 48, Location 653

We may believe our material explanations of phenomena make for ‘science,’ when we may be merely grasping for useful metaphors:
[W]e reduce the storm to various supposed experiences with friction, sparks, vacuums, and the imagination of bulgeous banks of burly air smashing together to make the noise. None of these really exist as we picture them. Our images of these events of physics are as far from the actuality as fighting gods.
– Page 53, Location 716-717

Why do ancient people constantly refer to gods if these weren’t a literal and immediate presence in their lives, rather than a mere tool of communication?
To say the gods are an artistic apparatus is the same kind of thing as to say that Joan of Arc told the Inquisition about her voices merely to make it all vivid to those who were about to condemn her.
– Page 79, Location 1076-1078

Our minds, involving the brain among other things, seem suited for the evolution required to be conscious:
The biological purpose or selective advantage of… redundant representation and multiple control and its resulting plasticity is twofold: it protects the organism against the effects of brain damage, and, perhaps more important, it provides an organism of far greater adaptability to the constantly changing environmental challenges.
– Page 123, Location 1649-1651

A ‘bicameral’ mind, that is, one in which one’s thoughts manifested as sensory information, i.e. voices of the gods, was possible in small tribes, where ‘group think’ appeared infallible, remaining unchallenged:
Like the queen in a termite nest or a beehive, the idols of a bicameral world are the carefully tended centers of social control, with auditory hallucinations instead of pheromones.
– Page 144, Location 1914-1915

As societies further engaged in trade with outsiders, bicameral voices’ authority was undermined by conflicting voices:
[E]xtensive exchanging of goods between bicameral theocracies may in itself have weakened the bicameral structure that made civilization possible.
– Page 206, Location 2693-2694

In a way we are still reeling from the breakdown where back then people drew from the wisdom of the subconscious and people since are left with guesswork and bursts of inspiration.

Jaynes observes the change in the use of language over millennia, indicating the ongoing evolution of our minds:
Word changes are concept changes and concept changes are behavioral changes. The entire history of religions and of politics and even of science stands shrill witness to that. Without words like soul, liberty, or truth, the pageant of this human condition would have been filled with different roles, different climaxes.
– Page 292, Location 3878-3881

Today, our conscious wills are by no means certain. What we have gained in consciousness, we have lost in terms of conviction of action, that otherwise a god provides to the faithful:
[W]hy is it that in our daily lives we cannot get up above ourselves to authorize ourselves into being what we really wish to be? If under hypnosis we can be changed in identity and action, why not in and by ourselves so that behavior flows from decision with as absolute a connection, so that whatever in us it is that we refer to as will stands master and captain over action with as sovereign a hand as the operator over a subject?
– Page 402, 5319-5322
Perhaps seeing ourselves as a duality of body-spirit serves as fuel to the will.

[W]e have to accept our lessened control. We are learned in self-doubt, scholars of our very failures, geniuses at excuse and tomorrowing our resolves. And so we become practiced in powerless resolution until hope gets undone and dies in the unattempted. At least that happens to some of us. And then to rise above this noise of knowings and really change ourselves, we need an authorization that ‘we’ do not have.
– Page 403, Location 5333-5335

Applied to the world as representative of all the world, facts become superstitions. A superstition is after all only a metaphier [Jaynes’ term for the thing likened to the literal thing in a metaphor] grown wild to serve a need to know.
– Page 443, Location 5881-5882

The very notion of truth is a culturally given direction, a part of the pervasive nostalgia for an earlier certainty.
– Page 446, Location 5921

There is a lot in the book not covered here. I can’t count the times while reading that I raised my fist in exhilaration, where a cry of “Yeah!” could barely suffice. I really hope that this tiny guide encourages you to read Jaynes for yourself.

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Julian Jaynes’ ‘The origin of consciousness’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

Behind the songs: Soundtrack to no purpose

Soundtrack to no purpose’ is a compilation of music I created over a span of 18 months, from 2013 to 2015. It’s now out on Spotify, and I hope you give it a listen, because we shot the cover abroad.

The 15 tracks are mostly two to three minutes long each, designed as background music to films, commercials, news clips, etc. The album contains the best musical ideas I had in my early 30s, and I’m so proud of it, almost as proud of my more symphonic and contrapuntal album ‘Paul’s purpose.’

  1. A different world – When I first came up with this, I just kept playing the riff over and over out of fun, in spite of a nagging suspicion it wasn’t original. The suspicion turned out to be false, but it does bear a resemblance, if played at double-speed, to a well-known power ballad. Can you guess which one?
  1. Waiting – This was one of many ideas I had over a period of a couple of days. I like the indie vibe, and it doesn’t vary very much throughout but doesn’t get old.
  1. A light – I came up with this melody 15 years ago, possibly during the time I was still capturing ideas on cassette. I made it into a song that I have since scrapped, but here it’s given a fresh take, being less waltzy than before. The title is part of the cheesy lyrics I came up with, that went, “A light shines for you.”
  1. Grim is good – I stole the title from a relative, who modified the ‘Wall Street’ (1987) quote. The music itself was one of maybe a dozen quite good ideas I came up with in a span of an hour.
  1. I would like to try – The original feel of the melody was of a tiny voice crying in the silence of the night. Recording it, I unwittingly turned it into somewhat of a blues tune.
  1. Endless – I had come up with the delay (echo-thingie) riff years back, in fact around the time that I had just discovered using the delay effect like The Edge. Putting a lead track was just meant to add variety to the piece, but now it sounds like new age legend Kitaro.
  1. Future – The main riff here was a variation to a more bluesy creation of mine the year before. The title is just perfect.
  1. Persecuted radical – I had just watched the film ‘Safety not guaranteed’ (2012) the night before, so when it came to entitling it, I thought of a description for the main character. I am normally wary of songs I make in the key of E Major, because they’re so easy to make, but this one was exceptional enough. This is the only time in the album that I strum the bass part.
  1. Hope – The main riff came from a 30-minute jam I had, the chords of which are based on a Mozart aria (technically a cavatina but I couldn’t tell the difference), ‘Pallid’ombre’ from ‘Mitridate, re di ponto,’ written in the composer’s early teens. I entitled my piece ‘Hope,’ and it does sound hopeful.
  1. Legend – I had just discovered the fun of using a volume pedal (that is, making volume rise as the note resonates) with a flange effect, you know, that smoking-hot jet sound employed by Eddie Van Halen and Karen Carpenter. I like the vagueness of the tune, hypnotic in its way.
  1. The dictator of dictators just bought ice cream – Who is the dictator of dictators? The consuming public. The main riff sounds a bit like the opening theme from ‘The X-files,’ and the heavy riff in the middle still kicks my ass.
  1. Great – This is the most straight-up ‘metal’ tune in the album. When I first made it up, it felt like I was stepping on worlds beneath me.
  1. Skipping like a kid – Still makes me feel like skipping like a kid.
  1. The bad is the worst of us – I like the sheer happiness of the song, which reminds me of something out of ‘90210.’
  1. Thank you – More ballady when I first came up with it 15 years ago, the additional effects make it a lot more upbeat. The slide could be done better, but it’s still not as bad as Duane Allman on ‘Layla.’

Perhaps this soundtrack album does have a purpose, to read alongside my books ‘Dumbest President Ever’ and ‘Be kind to puns.’ Enjoy!

Notes on Hee-Jin Kim’s ‘Eihei Dōgen: Mystical realist’

Title: Eihei Dōgen: Mystical realist
Author: Hee-Jin Kim
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hee-jin-kim-dogenI was first drawn to philosophy through the Eastern religions, but I spent the better part of the past two decades oriented towards ‘Western’ concepts designed to pin down some Truth that is out there. In the past year, my focus has shifted to realizations in the moment, incommunicable as they may be. Studying Dōgen complements this change, and this book’s author, Hee-Jin Kim, seems to grasp the 12th-century monk’s approach, and the various Zen schools throughout history, very well. The following quotes are Kim’s, except for those in single quotes as well, which are Dōgen’s.

Human nature is most fruitfully understood in terms of animal symbolicum and homo ludens. Religion is intimately related to mythmaking and playful activities—thus, it is nonintellectual, nonutilitarian, and nonethical at its core.
– Page 10, Location 756-758 (Amazon Kindle edition)

‘Those who regard mundane activity as an obstacle to the Buddha-dharma know only that there is no Buddha-dharma in the mundane life; they do not yet know that there is no mundane life in the Buddha-dharma.’
– Page 42, Location 1514-1515

[T]he matter of supreme importance in religion was not abstract doctrines and theories, but rather lived experience and activity, which was crystallized in zazen-only.
– Page 61, Location 1968-1969

[T]he authenticity or inauthenticity of practice, that is, of activity—rather than the superiority or inferiority of doctrine, or the profundity or shallowness of teaching—was the sine qua non of Buddhist truth.
– Page 75, Location 2320-2322

[T]he motif of realization, rather than that of transcendence, was the key motivating force in Dōgen’s thought about language and symbols, as in other aspects of his philosophy.
– Page 84, Location 2567-2568

[T]he nonduality of illusion and reality[.]
– Page 92, Location 2770

[T]he activity of philosophizing, like any other expressive activity, was restated in the context of our total participation in the self-creative process of Buddha-nature.
– Page 99, Location 2943-2945

The permanence of mind or soul independent of the perishability of body [i]s an illusion.
– Page 102, Location 3004-3005
This is especially interesting, considering most people’s concept of religion as a matter of immortality, of something beyond what we know as biological life. The quote helps in understanding ‘mystical realist’ in the title.

‘Marrow is not deepest, skin is not shallowest.’ To put it differently, Dōgen was concerned not with how and why all existence was as it was, but simply with the fact that all existence existed in thusness—he found Buddha-nature in this fact.
– Page 131, Location 3769-3771

Being and becoming [a]re not two separate metaphysical realities but one and the same in the process of impermanence.
– Page 142, Location 4038-4039

The toughest thing for me to swallow was Dōgen’s concept of time. At the point of reading there is no past and future, only present, my initial reaction was, “What crap is this?” But if we are to consider our actual lives by the moment, we grasp his meaning, or rather his state of mind, better.

[E]ach realized now constitutes a unique whole of actuality.
– Page 158, Location 4441

‘[T]he times of ancient and modern do not pile up, nor do they line up[.]’
– Page 161, Location 4510

But for all the seeming metaphysical wizardry at work, Dōgen was very much concerned with the moral and social.

‘Praise the virtuous, and have compassion for the wicked. As you take delight in affectionate words, they will gradually flourish; then even those loving words which were hitherto unknown and unperceived will show themselves.’
– Page 209, Location 5663-5665

[U]ltimately one confessed, repented, and was forgiven in the nondual purity of self and Buddha.
– Page 216, Location 5837-5838

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Hee-Jin Kim’s ‘Eihei Dōgen: Mystical realist’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

Notes on Nassim Taleb’s ‘Antifragile’

Title: Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder
Author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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nassim-taleb-antifragileI might as well confess from the start that I’ve only read Book IV (of VII) of ‘Antifragile’ in full. The fourth book’s critique of academia was my primary interest in reading Taleb, and is compelling enough to discuss on its own.

Before we go any further, we have to define ‘antifragile.’ To Taleb, a word like ‘resilient’ just does not do, not connoting the particular traits he wants to convey. It’s not enough that one is able to withstand adversity, but to benefit precisely from it.
The fragile is the package that would be at best unharmed, the robust would be at best and at worst unharmed. And the opposite of fragile is therefore what is at worst unharmed.
– Location 721-722 (Amazon Kindle edition)

Book IV is entitled ‘Optionality, technology, and the intelligence of antifragility.’ It examines the gap between intellect and action. Expertise in a certain field may not be located where most believe.

[Y]our work and ideas, whether in politics, the arts, or other domains, are antifragile if, instead of having one hundred percent of the people finding your mission acceptable or mildly commendable, you are better off having a high percentage of people disliking you and your message (even intensely), combined with a low percentage of extremely loyal and enthusiastic supporters.
– Location 3214-3215

[Y]our assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.
– Location 3336

[I]n the long run, happy errors bring gains, unhappy errors bring losses.
– Location 3260

[E]conomics is not a science…
– Location 3746
I take issue with this, because it conflates science with practical application. Economics involves far more variables than reproducible experiments in physics, but involves exact principles no less. A difference in number of variables shouldn’t be a basis for being classified scientific, but rather merely determines the limitation of the methods used to ascertain ‘truths.’
Economics may lack value in predicting precise timing of, say, market crashes, but even then, such events, when they do happen, are understood just as thoroughly as a predicted astronomical phenomenon. The trick here is to distinguish between those fitting their logical inconsistencies to facts, and those who grasp facts in a logical manner.

‘Real men don’t use sheets’…
Location 3857-3858

[S]tudying the chemical composition of ingredients will make you neither a better cook nor a more expert taster—it might even make you worse at both.
– Location 4087-4088

Taleb’s ‘Extremistan’ pertains to situations involving sudden, consequential changes, as opposed to moderate fluctuations in ‘Mediocristan’:
‘[M]ost companies’ in Extremistan make no profit—the rare event dominates, and a small number of companies generate all the shekels.
– Location 4176-4177

[W]hat is picked up in the classroom stays largely in the classroom. Worse even, the classroom can bring some detectable harm…
– Location 4261-4262

Avoidance of boredom is the only worthy mode of action.
– Location 4340-4341
I don’t quite agree with this statement. Considering what many, myself included, are accustomed to from their upbringing, there is a need to increase resistance to boredom. Otherwise, there are certainly many points to be missed that more disciplined habit-forming allows, at the risk of finding some aspects ritualistic in the interim.

‘Rational’ Socrates is contrasted with Taleb’s practical ‘Fat Tony’:
What Socrates is seeking relentlessly are definitions of the essential nature of the thing concerned rather than descriptions of the properties by means of which we can recognize them.
– Location 4470-4471

We are guided not so much by rational considerations but things arrived at via often non-conscious trial.
[T]he probability (hence True/False) does not work in the real world; it is the payoff that matters.
– Location 4596

[S]ystems without top-down controls would specialize progressively, slowly, and over a long time, through trial and error, get the right amount of specialization—not through some bureaucrat using a model… [S]ystems make small errors, design makes large ones.
– Location 7795-7797

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Nassim Taleb’s ‘Antifragile’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

Notes on Shep Gordon’s ‘They call me Supermensch’

Title: They call me Supermensch: A backstage pass to the amazing worlds of film, food, and rock’n’roll
Author: Shep Gordon
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Just about the best firsthand account on Hollywood history you’ll read. If you found Mike Myers’ documentary ‘Supermensch’ (available on Netflix) funny and entertaining, you’ll love the book from Shep Gordon himself. He covers a lot more ground here.

Every chapter offers a crazy anecdote involving some icon from showbiz and popular music. To think that he mentions dating Sharon Stone for years, almost as an afterthought. You’ll also find that Shep had a big hand in the rise of celebrity chefs in the 21st century.

It seems that Shep was made to name-drop a good deal, giving the appearance of excluding ‘the little people’ who undoubtedly had a big hand in the success stories he tells. I believe though that the stories would hold even if he withheld real names.

Before becoming renowned as Alice Cooper’s manager, he learned of his ability to create hype, in promoting a fabricated visit of fabricated Middle-Eastern royalty to his university:
No one checked us on our facts – including the part where we’d said that Marchantia was ‘an island in Arabia.’
– Page 42, Location 741-742 (Amazon Kindle version)

Early in his career, Shep found out the following principle:
‘[G]uilt by association.’ If you want to be famous, get next to somebody who already is famous.
– Page 70, Location 1157-1158

On Salvador Dali. Read the book to find out what scissors and honey have to do with it:
The Dali didn’t seem to make art only when he was painting or sculpting; he seemed to make his entire life, every minute of it, every word and gesture, art. That was the point of the scissors and honey. It was a living Dali painting.
– Page 114, Location 1770-1771

A credo that Shep has lived by:
Don’t get mad. Accomplish your goal.
– Page 137, Location 2080-2081

[G]uests, not customers.
-Page 157, Location 2363-2364
That is, treat customers that way.

[S]eeding a little compassion and kindness every chance you get creates an abundance of happiness for all.
– Page 164, Location 2465

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy Shep Gordon’s ‘They call me Supermensch’ on Amazon, here.
This article is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.

Read one book a week – or pretend to

I constantly buy books, but have only recently managed to finish them on a regular basis. Prior to the past couple of months, I would either get bored of what I’m reading, or realize the book was not quite what I expected. Often, I had only wanted to read whatever book for the sake of having accomplished reading it.

The last reason is particularly true when it comes to ‘the classics,’ you know, the must-reads that you must read just because others say they’re so great. That was largely the reason I took up reading Arthur C. Clarke’s short stories, and I was able to finish three of four collections, until I couldn’t take it anymore. I love some of his stuff, and his ideas, but the long space journeys just have no appeal to me. His characters seem to be intentionally dull mouthpieces of his science know-how.

Anyhow, to give me further incentive to read and finish what I’m reading, I’m challenging myself to complete them in a week. Hopefully, treating it like a job will make me think, “This isn’t that great, but isn’t a bad job!”

What’s in it for you?

Lucky for you, I’ll be highlighting stuff in the books that appeals to or resonates with me, and share them with you here. And you can pretend to have read it, ready on-hand with quotes to impress your friends. You’ll never appear more well-versed on an assortment of topics, at least the topics that I enjoy.

This is somewhat similar to the concept of Blinkist, the app that provides chapter-by-chapter summaries of numerous books, except I’m providing more of my personal opinion, complete with blind spots and glossed-over ideas, much like any casual reader goes through books. You don’t want to be more than a casual reader; that’s just dorky.

Come visit my site every Monday for your supply of new readings, in .pdf, .mobi, and .ePub. Like my Facebook page so I could remind you.