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Getting Along

“Can we get along?” asked Rodney King (https://goo.gl/sGsh4r) of Los Angeles rioters back in 1992. Thanks to the unfortunate incident in which he experienced unjustified levels of violence he perhaps had a unique perspective on the fortitude it takes to get along not just with those around you but with those you feel have somehow wronged you.

Dealing with toxic people, learning to get past perceived slights requires a healthy sense of self-awareness (https://goo.gl/nTbI2k) and a sound emotional base, at individual level. Most people, of course, tend to avoid conflict. But if we’ve learnt anything over extensive interactions in G+ it’s that healthy questioning can frequently lead to a greater degree of honesty than simply blindly accepting something simply because someone has said it: https://goo.gl/05t6ji.

The problem with being questioned is that frequently it feels like an attack which means that a response may have to feed into a win/lose scenario when, actually, this is not the case: https://goo.gl/Fw8ZD0. It helps when we have a broad enough perspective to understand that even when we come up against individuals or corporations that appear to be evil, they are reacting to the environmental parameters they find themselves in: https://goo.gl/lw1i0x.

When even the Klingons can join the Federation (https://goo.gl/aB76eM) it would seem that most relationships can be reduced to a transactional root (https://goo.gl/UApgqh) where perceived self-gain is the motive power that drives us forward. That, of course, presents a narrow point of view. One that doesn’t always take into account trust (https://goo.gl/kVZdxx) which itself is part of a much broader, equation that’s written in our behavior.

If we are wired to trust (https://goo.gl/L344rq) and have also evolved complex, knowledge-based strategies for apportioning it (https://goo.gl/QE8TJO) is it fair to say that self-gain or at least self-interest does not immediately come into that picture? The theory of Transactional Analysis (https://goo.gl/HCvEWV) suggests that all behavior is motivated by self-gain but the parameters through which that is expressed can often be broad enough to include selflessness and altruism (https://goo.gl/ABHKLe).

The picture that emerges appears to be complicated, particularly when we attempt to include all human behavior in it but as I wrote in The Tribe That Discovered Trust (https://goo.gl/OpHlN2) we choose to trust for the same reasons we choose to cooperate (https://goo.gl/kfhQDz) – it provides a viable shortcut to energy expenditure and creates a more optimized existence for us, as individuals. By extension the principle is the same where companies, organization and countries are concerned.

It would appear we are as hardwired to trust (https://goo.gl/YaelRC) as we are hardwired to cooperate, presumably because those ancestors of ours who did neither, didn’t survive long enough in the world to pass on their genes. Admittedly our societies sprung from less enlightened models and we still hark back to them at times (https://goo.gl/rGHi). Trusting and cooperating take more time, more thinking, and a greater degree of engagement than a rules-based, tit-for-tat mutually assured destruction type of relationship. But that’s exactly what also makes them worth so much more.

Despite our hardwiring we are always capable of acting against our own self-interest by taking a much more narrow approach. We can, as an example, smoke an entire pack of cigarettes, drink a bottle of wine in one sitting or eat an entire chocolate cake because these acts activate the intrinsic reward system in our brains. The fact that all of these actions are usually filed under “self-destructive behavior” suggests that at least where they are concerned we know what’s good and what’s bad for us.

We still have to learn to be better: https://goo.gl/9N3asy. Evolution may have shaped us to get along (https://goo.gl/Pg1EKG) but we still need to consciously make the choices that lead us to that point. Having precious few instincts we are the products of our own conscious and unconscious actions (https://goo.gl/JjcvXs). That makes us responsible for a whole lot more than we actually think: https://goo.gl/R1jGCT. To get along we need to create the right reality for ourselves. We need to be the conscious architects of the world we want to live in and then help those around us, through our conduct, to construct their own reality. The areas where those realities overlap are the realities in which we can cooperate, co-create, co-produce and get along. That is something which will not just happen. We are the ones who will have to work to make it happen.

I hope you've done the right thing (again) and are fully equipped with plenty of coffee and cookies, donuts, croissants and chocolate cake. All the things, in sort, required to make this day feel special. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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The Message

Semantic search has allowed us to understand that the existence of something is predicated upon specific characteristics that are driven by its direct value to us: https://goo.gl/g81xJe and supported by independently verifiable attributes (https://goo.gl/SX8M9v) which create a largely undeniable reality.

The idea that perception creates reality seems such a flimsy edifice to built anything of lasting value on. It lays the door open to reality shifting and changing, it opens up the possibility of reality morphing and fragmenting, the solidity of a world based upon undeniable facts held hostage to ideological agendas and, even, nefarious plots.

David Bohm (https://goo.gl/Nkn5NP) who amongst other concepts helped us understand the value of ontology (another key concept in semantic search) - https://goo.gl/9QQZVs and the necessity of constant dialogue as opposed to absolutist reasoning (https://goo.gl/PZdjgH) in order to determine where the shifting boundaries of tolerance between peoples (and opposing views) lie and what, if anything, can be determined to be truly universal. (https://goo.gl/l7quMr).

In a 1997 Berkeley lecture Bohm famously said: “Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.” - https://goo.gl/8nDhi2.

Bohm’s concept of the role perception plays (https://goo.gl/xDuZHp) is key because according to Cultivation Theory (https://goo.gl/rWd7qU) the medium we spend most time in is the key architect of the reality we choose to create and then inhabit. The Mean World Syndrome (https://goo.gl/0BJsE6) springs right out of the Cultivation Theory and it suggests that those who have the means of controlling our consumption of a particular medium or are capable of reflecting a representational slice of its content can then guide us towards perceptions that are reflective of it, but evidently untrue.

When we need an entirely structured approach in order to determine the reality of just a single word: https://goo.gl/Tw3DzB it might seem hopeless to hope that we can apply anything more than a superficially created and probably self-serving filter to the world at large in order to perceive its reality: https://goo.gl/pV4Msd.

Cultivation Theory talks mostly about television but it can now be applied, equally well to the internet and its filter bubbles (https://goo.gl/qOk2J) and echo chambers (https://goo.gl/yVwNCA). Pariser who first talked about filter bubbles (https://goo.gl/BW9dx1) in an inevitably politicized article discusses their impact upon journalism and our perception of what’s true: https://goo.gl/IKHMZA and its effects on what we now really have to call the democratic experiment: https://goo.gl/19xjKS.

It is ironic that it was Solon (https://goo.gl/y2lXxY), an authoritarian ruler, whose dictates laid the groundwork for what we now call democracy: https://goo.gl/ncK68K. A few years back I took part in Paradigm Shift where +Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales, +John Ellis and I discussed Cultivation Theory and its development in the medium of the web: https://goo.gl/SOU7uV. In what is, in retrospect, a much more innocent approach, we believed that the world had changed irreversibly for the better.

It hasn’t, but neither has it got worse. We live in a time of great challenges and incredible potential marked by a hesitancy to move forwards because of fear of the unknown. That fear has always been there. It is a healthy response. It requires us to, once again as a species, choose to be brave. Bravery requires cooperation, compassion and empathy to manifest itself (https://goo.gl/IBxLix). It requires us to, once again, be resolute and mindful: https://goo.gl/lpx2Nr.

With all the digital tools at our disposal, it is not our fears that can hold us back, nor our perceived weaknesses. We are all afraid at some point just like we are all, individually, weak. It is only when we find the strength to overcome our reluctance to fully engage with other people and work to forge commonalities that can benefit us all that we can truly begin to become more than what we are. It doesn’t matter who our leaders are and it doesn’t matter how they got to be there. Today, now, the power resides with us. We just need to use it wisely.

I hope you’ve all been wise in your choices today which means the coffee pot is full to the brim and you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to donuts and cookies, croissants and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are. 
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The Inexpressible Things We Feel

In Shibui (https://goo.gl/L3D5qo) practitioners reconcile opposites in an exquisite existential edge. Meraki means doing something not just with your hands and mind, but your soul (https://goo.gl/YqrqqM). The work itself becomes the conduit through which a fusion of internal self and the external world take place and something akin to Zen (https://goo.gl/6C5V87) occurs.

In music, Arabs, experience Tarab (https://goo.gl/1Pxrca) an existential understanding of the notes and the lyrics that transforms how they feel themselves in the world, while no one knows how to have uninhibited fun quite like the Portuguese with their notion of Desbunder (https://goo.gl/tv6b8I) which, in Brazil, has given rise to its own counterculture: https://goo.gl/e21OOe.

Despite the ability of the English language to provide subtle, nuanced descriptions and translations and its capacity to freely borrow words from other languages (https://goo.gl/IFALz5) and appropriate them: https://goo.gl/I2CCR2 there are still a great many words associated with particular states of being, feelings if you like, which English cannot adequately describe: https://goo.gl/d7rBG9.

These words that you won’t find in the English language: https://goo.gl/88fh58 are a signpost of limitations. A sign where the cultural differences between the speakers of one language and another become obvious. While language, most of us would agree, is there to describe the world and provide a utilitarian approach to description so we can all understand what it is we are seeing, its role as a channel for communicating the less substantial is less well understood: https://goo.gl/A6Fuut.

There is an interesting quandary revealed by lack of words in English that explain certain feelings. In the dynamic interface where we all assume that all languages do, more or less, the same thing: communicate facts about the world. We see, through the existence of untranslatable words the inherent suspicion and maybe even lack of trust from one people’s to another over things they cannot see and hold: https://goo.gl/EeTFla. Here, more than in any other facet of inter-cultural interaction, we see the true limits of tolerance and the clear boundaries raised by fear, however subliminal, of the unknown.

Would the English sense of satisfaction at having completed a difficult project somehow be altered by calling Yuan Bei a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment in Chinese? Would pining be any less real or accurate if we called it Sehnsucht? (https://goo.gl/nJuXPK). Beyond its utilitarian approach language plays a vastly deeper role in expressing the identity of those who speak it (https://goo.gl/ctWvgR). It encodes hopes, dreams and understanding. It provides a Point-of-View of the world that is as different for each peoples as it is for each individual.

It’s no accident that psychology is replete in untranslatable German concepts (https://goo.gl/S0oPVI). Its founder was looking at the human psyche through the eyes of 19th century Vienna (https://goo.gl/2pCO3). Yet the words of one culture to another are just like the words of one person to another: in their differences we find the value of the connection. We see the depth of more than one point of view being directed at what we call “reality”.

The Positive Lexicography Project (https://goo.gl/EeTFla) charts some of these depths to try and find the missing dimensions we’ve overlooked. In its global dominance English has often regarded anything it doesn’t immediately understand with a certain air of disdain (https://goo.gl/1ZNv0g) finding it quaint and, perhaps, less worthy of inclusion in the language or even translation. That’s the stuff we miss out on the most: https://goo.gl/zTsq9l.

Words, used correctly, can totally transform our lives (and minds) - https://goo.gl/rWsTSk. Language is, indeed, a “social technology” whose development and usage reveals as much about society as its does about human development as a whole: https://goo.gl/LTVBCr.

Restoring the power of words: https://goo.gl/dh7pyE is something that opens our minds to possibilities we hadn’t considered before: https://goo.gl/m4Q1U3. By being exposed to concepts we hadn’t quite considered we open up our minds to fresh possibilities that may remain closed to us: https://goo.gl/oZYG4E.

We can no longer afford to be bounded by one language or just one culture. It is only by broadening the boundaries of what is permissible to say that we can lift the veil on what is permissible to experience. When we do that the adventure of life and living is immeasurably enriched.

Words: Coffee. Donuts. Croissants. Cookies. Chocolate cake. You all know the power they hold this day. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

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The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly effect (https://goo.gl/QcSdL5 ) “…is the concept that small causes can have large effects.” Particularly where the weather is concerned: https://goo.gl/ZUksV. Despite its colorful name and the butterfly imagery (https://goo.gl/7txRP7) the power of a butterfly’s wings to cause tornadoes thousands of miles away is not quite true, but it’s a pretty good metaphor.

The global weather system, like the rest of this planet and everything else upon it, including us, is connected. What happens in one part affects others and, not unreasonably, the more violent the effect in one part is, the greater is its impact upon the whole: https://goo.gl/CIR0ZG.

The idea of small acts having a great impact that can result in alternative scenarios of reality was something Philip K. Dick (https://goo.gl/2b6PxD) explored in The Man In The High Castle (https://goo.gl/t1d6GR). His idea has found fertile ground amongst those who look at history and wonder whether there are indeed nexus points (https://goo.gl/ccPa8m) at which decisive action alters the course of everything, ushering in an alternative reality (https://goo.gl/vh2mWr).

It was the quintessential renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci (https://goo.gl/cySp1 ) who said that “To develop a complete mind: Study the art of science; study the science of art. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else”.

We can’t consider interconnections and holistic global systems without some kind of philosophical framework and Dialectical materialism (https://goo.gl/cEmdO5) has looked at the principal of universal connection (https://goo.gl/qpHgPx). For a more up to date though no less mystical approach to the interconnectedness of things consider Brian Cox’s (https://goo.gl/cxi5h1) quantum mechanical explanation (https://goo.gl/hZf5lt).

Connectivity is not without its challenges however: https://goo.gl/a25kX7 nor is it something that we haven’t discussed before: https://goo.gl/BP5ihV. The global economy is interconnected: https://goo.gl/Vpcqq4 as are the socioeconomic structures that support it: https://goo.gl/WpcPtA. But while these practicalities are relatively obvious to see and analyze there are other, less obvious connections such as politics and religion (https://goo.gl/ZXE9F5) that have not yet reached the stage where they can easily integrate with each other.

In the meantime, as large connections are made outwards, with countries and nations and systems reaching out tendrils to one another, internally, in cities more minute but vital connections are made: https://goo.gl/GIajcw supplying a kind of connective density that accelerates the rate of change at a microlevel.

Now this is where things get really interesting. When everything is connected and nothing can quite exist without it having first been, somehow, contemplated by the brain could quantum physics explain consciousness? (https://goo.gl/ktJo3o). One form of consciousness is, apparently, connected to another: https://goo.gl/rncn84 and consciousness itself may power the physical world: https://goo.gl/u8LUfp.

Mind and brain may be connected via a quantum bridge: https://goo.gl/5xR9KT and there may well be a real, physical mechanism that actually makes that happen, inside the brain itself: https://goo.gl/BNEhy2. That would then mean that consciousness creates reality: https://goo.gl/NMCjnj.

If that’s the case not only are we responsible for ourselves, our communities, the world and each other but we are also responsible, through the many tiny acts that affect bigger and bigger things, for the direction the world turns towards. That brings us back to the importance of principles and values. Ethics and a highly developed sense of what is right and what is wrong.

Leonardo da Vinci famously said: “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.”

I wish coffee aplenty upon you. And donuts. Croissants, cookies and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.

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Living

In The Republic (https://goo.gl/br8tmB) Plato (https://goo.gl/Yu60RI) asks (and answers the question of whether it is always better for the individual to be just than unjust. The ideals of Greek ethics have been the foundation of moral theory (https://goo.gl/x7YIo1) not because somehow the ancient Greeks were more moral or personally just than any of the peoples before them or after them, but perhaps because they lived in a time when life was so precarious and things so uncertain that understanding the value of a person’s life was of paramount importance.

While in our super hi-tech world we have managed to advance our thinking on ethics a little by creating a greater level of taxonomy (https://goo.gl/ruUJAg) our questions (and answers) show that we have not really moved the needle that far from ancient Greek times (https://goo.gl/sSlxrv). We are concerned with how we ought to act because we want to have at least some concrete answers to how we ought to live (https://goo.gl/dBjBGS). And therein lies the rub. If self-interest is our primary motivation, can that be successfully reconciled within a broader personal and then national context? - https://goo.gl/beifIF.

In our search for ethics we are really looking for morality (https://goo.gl/EuAhuV). More than that, really, what we want is clarity of the sort that will allow us to say “There! See? That’s how things ought to be!”. Consider the bind, for a minute, presented by former American coach Lou Holtz (https://goo.gl/D27u1N) whose quote on doing the right thing (https://goo.gl/f1Bo8C) is the kind of motto that should be graven on everyone’s wall. And then wonder how, in through that one man’s mind, we go from the high aspirations of his kindness to others, to this: https://goo.gl/q2JQJI.

Plato’s answer that it is always better to be just than to be unjust (https://goo.gl/3TFDFK) relies on proofs that revolve around life, living, meaning and happiness and the cultivation of specific attributes and virtues. In Plato’s time the world was decidedly smaller, though perhaps not from his perspective, and arguably simpler in its belief systems which might have made one ‘better’ than others. A luxury which perhaps we can no longer enjoy: https://goo.gl/mGG3dA.

Cultural (and ethical) relativism raises some pretty important questions regarding authority, acceptance and our collective sense of right and wrong. Or maybe the ancient Greeks were right all along: https://goo.gl/W5mkLl and we need to go back and reconsider some of the deeper aspects and implications of their concept of a life “well lived”.

“At the heart of ethics is a concern about something or someone other than ourselves and our own desires and self-interest.” - https://goo.gl/g5Or5s. It is, it seems, upon us to create ethical cultures and ethical people: https://goo.gl/d55SGd. We hold those who hold High Office accountable to greater standards because they set the tone of what’s acceptable, they create the atmosphere of permissiveness that allows us to be more or less ethical ourselves: https://goo.gl/IZnWoi. But it is perhaps wrong of us to expect those who lead us, just like those around us, to do everything by themselves.

Ethics and morality just like just leadership and a just society are the direct result of our collective actions and the collective responsibility of us all: https://goo.gl/AEcwf0. If we have the power to create the world we want to see, then not using it to create a better place for everyone: https://goo.gl/d55SGd is akin to living a life, half-lived. Our eyes, made to see far and wide, failing to raise themselves from the ground. Passing from this world without once having looked up at the sky and wondered just how far we can go? How high can we fly? How much better can we be?

Now, sugar, is not the best thing in the world, but taken in small doses on the one day of the week when we have coffee aplenty and time to think, may not be the worst thing we can do. So, I hope you’ve got your donuts and your croissants, your cookies and your chocolate cake and, as always, have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.





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”…there are other worlds to sing in.”

On days when the world just gets too much to bear I play a mental game. I sit and I think back on the person I have been and the journey (and choices) that have taken me to where I am, here. Now. Because I know well just how unreliable human memory really is (https://goo.gl/1skcpc) I focus on the ones where the emotional connection was so strong that the events remain crystal clear. Moments in which I can hear other people’s tone of voice like it was yesterday. Remember what I felt where I stood. See the color of the sky and recall the smells of my surroundings. Those moments and those events are always of other people and they always involve connecting with them, in some way.

In the quantum universe of my mind (https://goo.gl/ys095V) I know the risks involved in recalling the past (https://goo.gl/QxPO8A), each memory can be possibly subtly altered or even erased to fit a new narrative. This makes me all the more cautious, methodical and it makes the moments I do bring up all the more precious. Rare.

If our memories are constantly being rewritten (https://goo.gl/7OA1So) and who we are is a product of what we can recall (https://goo.gl/fWWrfu) what we then become is the result of what we have learnt and what we can remember: https://goo.gl/hkFqu0. In the 1987 classic Robocop helmer, Paul Verhoeven (https://goo.gl/FVsRtF) deftly and seemingly so easily encodes the empathy that the FX superior but empty shell of a movie 2014 remake (https://goo.gl/K9o26V) totally lacked, with a scene where the recently awakened Cyborg, Murphy, recalls the feeling of his missing family and lost humanity but can no longer recall their erased memory (https://goo.gl/UTNyFA).

And that’s just the point. Emotion helps anchor memory (https://goo.gl/SGuXq2), memory then shapes identity in a binary component of recall and ownership (a.k.a. personal feeling) - https://goo.gl/6P70VB. Our most vivid memories make us who we are: https://goo.gl/RVPvpf. A person may be defined by his actions, not his memories as Kuato (https://goo.gl/pXh6sp) so famously says (https://goo.gl/fAepke) in that other Verhoeven 1990 classic, Total Recall (https://goo.gl/s4rBCK) which, again, blows the remake (https://goo.gl/66fT8) out of the water (https://goo.gl/beUB8a) but it’s the recall of those memories that determines our actions.

Daniel Kahneman goes one step further linking memory and experience, the gap between the two and the narrative that ensues, with happiness: https://goo.gl/0miu1E. Memory does more than this, of course. It takes some very specialized hardware inside our heads (neurons) which interconnect and perform a complex, synchronized electrochemical dance so that we know where, physically, we are in the world: https://goo.gl/eNXaOr. A brain connecting disconnected neurons is one that is misfiring, forgetting not just where it is in the world, but also where we are.

In a way, disconnected memories have the same effect upon our sense of identity. Lacking an internal map (or recipe) of where to fit them and how, we lose sight of what it is that we actually are. As Julian Baggini says it is the narrative and the interconnection, the connectivity if you like, which actually creates the emergence of us: https://goo.gl/EFOSNX.

Connectivity, whether in the neural sense or a more physical manifestation as in this case of a ‘simple’ phone mast in a remote African village: https://goo.gl/NMsFYI is always transformative. It allows layers of meta data to emerge. Fresh classifications that redefine the world we see because we can better understand the context of what we see and judge its relevance.

Connectivity then is what adds content, context, narrative, meaning and a sense of self. It makes the brain happen (https://goo.gl/M00Eh4) as James Gleick suggests in The Information (https://goo.gl/OJRcBb). It also makes life itself happen as Paul Villard’s devastatingly touching story shows: https://goo.gl/C9ZqNK. Connectivity, whether between people or neurons, nations or tribes, nodes in a network or atoms in a matrix, requires the same thing. In chemical engineering we call it affinity. In a social context we call it kindness.

On that note I hope you are in the right physical context. Your brain knows where the percolator is and you have mapped the locations of the cookies, chocolate donuts, croissants and chocolate cake you need to make this day feel special. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

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A New Beginning

“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct….” goes the quote from Dune (https://goo.gl/Z8nIgV) Frank Herbert’s increasingly prescient and, in retrospect, deeply philosophical work about the future.

It was Caesar (https://goo.gl/Gh6qzv) who made the tradition we celebrate today that was subsequently further enshrined as the church, later on, got behind it (https://goo.gl/HdcyG). For many of us New Year is the opportunity we were looking for to try and turn a new leaf (https://goo.gl/J2oAMn) which, as it turns out, has been the subject of much speculation and conversation in itself: https://goo.gl/lqliLn.

A New Year is an opportunity to somehow “reset the clock” and do things in a new way: https://goo.gl/66RyuJ hoping to have different outcomes from the year before. We are obsessed with starts for many reasons, not least because we hope to somehow wipe out the past (which we know and understand) which means the future may be completely free of its effects which would make it the “undiscovered country” (https://goo.gl/8Q8ZiF).

Whether we like it or not, we are products of what has gone before us. The present we live, determines much of our future (https://goo.gl/zkuwN2). Yet, we struggle to divorce that future from the present, which means we also hope to unshackle it from the past, therefore liberating ourselves not just from the choices imposed by others on us, but also our present self from the responsibility we bear to our future self.

Responsibility is a difficult thing to handle: https://goo.gl/csDVxC. There is no real road map and the choices we make may cut both ways which makes it terrifying. Making decisions in itself, actually difficult: https://goo.gl/DUhB33. It requires a complex fusion of self-awareness, the impact our presence has upon the world and a means of acquiring data that is as comprehensive as possible which we then must process through a crucible of logic. It all requires effort and it takes time and energy and not everyone is inclined, or willing or sometimes even capable of performing on that front: https://goo.gl/URxxaD.

Our craving for a new beginning then is something that Canadian philosopher Nikolas Kompridis (https://goo.gl/7uQWrf) has written about (https://goo.gl/UVGpPb) in an examination of our seeking to free ourselves from the perceived constraints that appear to bind us. Sometimes new beginnings are forced upon us like in the case of filmmaker David Hoffman (https://goo.gl/GLT6OZ). At other times they are part of convention and hope, like at the start of each New Year.

If Paul Muad'dib (https://goo.gl/bjZn1w) was right and a beginning is the place where the balances must be correct, interconnectedness plays a key part in everything: https://goo.gl/mA8ksJ.

This post has been some time coming. I’ve spent what amounts to almost three years of my life researching, talking to people at the extreme points of decision making and going through research that tells us how we can learn who we are and how we function so we can become better. That journey has been encoded in a forthcoming book (https://goo.gl/nzqoEx) that I hope will be a springboard for many a future conversation.

We live in complex times (https://goo.gl/cTWa2E). The way we work, the choices that we need to make, the understanding that each of these requires is daunting to say the least. We are being asked to constantly expand ourselves, pouring energy into our every action. The only resource we have to help us, somehow, redress that balance are the connections we make with those around us: https://goo.gl/AXt3uz.

So, as we embark upon a fresh segment of 365 days, we start with a metaphorical fresh sheet, a clean start. We press a kind of figurative reset button that allows us to momentarily wipe the slate clean long enough to take the breather we require, re-energize and start. There are many challenges ahead, much risk and the only guarantee, that in this journey through the year, none of us will be totally alone. We are wired to connect: https://goo.gl/NUDlSu.

I am sure that by now you know the drill. You’ve started the day with a freshly brewed pot of coffee, chocolate donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are. 
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A Little Christmas Magic

When at the height of the Cold War NORAD began tracking Santa Clause (https://goo.gl/gtACa) it was, in its commanding officer’s words, indeed, “the magic of Christmas” (https://goo.gl/XynVmL).

Irrespective of your age, Christmas tends to be special because in our minds it’s an opportunity to be a little more introspective (https://goo.gl/HR3E6D) and even though we may agonize over gifts to buy the best ones to give are, still, experiences: https://goo.gl/FBMD6i.

Unsurprisingly given the commercial build up that takes place each year, Christmas has a deep psychological impact on us: https://goo.gl/4AuAUT and is intimately tied to our wellbeing (https://goo.gl/JqOnUK). Giving presents is always an act that reveals a little about ourselves: https://goo.gl/fjr3Wv and the family-orientated nature of Christmas Day itself is not, as you might have guessed, without some of its very special, family-relationship tinged minefields: https://goo.gl/cMJ2Ce.

As Justin Smith in a touching and funny TED Talk says, Christmas is a challenge that frequently starts all sorts of community traditions that bring people together and bring the best out from inside them: https://goo.gl/JplG53. And it’s indeed in that ability to bring people together in a framework (https://goo.gl/OrPzSP) that primes them (https://goo.gl/DYRB5C) to do something good that the magic of Christmas really happens.

Its power to bring about unexpected results in the most hopeless of cases (https://goo.gl/7w0BI8) shows that inherently we all want to believe in the good that can arise from people making contact with each other (https://goo.gl/J1j0dw). One of the best known of these instances perhaps happened at the height of what in retrospect was sheer madness: the trench warfare of WWI (https://goo.gl/WHvYOz). The story behind it is also enlightening, particularly in how the human factor, the ability of one person to reach out to another, as a person, was seen as a threat by those in power: https://goo.gl/DcBZxL who made sure it could never happen that way again (https://goo.gl/kuN0cL).

The Christmas traditions we take for granted today were not always so, particularly during the Victorian era with its Puritan overtones. It took Charles Dickens, working out his own childhood demons to change that forever: https://goo.gl/QBPFFJ. Christmas is part of our shared narratives which, in turn go on to inform our shared sense of values: https://goo.gl/VRbrO, the things that make us special to each other and human to ourselves.

Divorced of religious connotations stripped of its commercial message of consumerism Christmas is still magical. It brings people together, it shapes our beliefs and guides our expectations. Subconsciously, this time of the year features deep within our heart of hearts and, despite it being a holiday, there are still many people who spend it working: https://goo.gl/uem8IQ, providing essential services for those who need them (https://goo.gl/OOOTyu).

Of course, the real magic of this day lies in its message of hope. Hope that the togetherness it brings and the sense of solidarity it creates last more than just a day and are actually indicative of something much deeper and way more real that spells for us, as a species, the hope that the future awaiting us is way better than the transient problems of the present would have us believe.

It is Christmas Day of course so mince pies (https://goo.gl/97rKOv) are in order. Chocolate donuts, of course, and croissants and cookies and chocolate cake too followed by endless rivers of filtered coffee. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

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Connections

Admitting my own mild dysfunction I confess that friendship is not something that comes easy to me. I grew up being the outsider in every group I was ever in and as I became an ‘adult’ things did not get any easier (https://goo.gl/0vJLkf). Working and living in cultures that were different from the ones I had grown up in, I learnt to listen to and prize equally the viewpoints of everyone but form friendships with people who I prized not because they were similar to me, or had the same accent or skin color but because they possessed a sense of themselves that was sufficiently robust to not constantly require shoring up.

This makes the question of friendship something remarkable that needs to be better understood. Why for instance should we care about the passage of a cat? (https://goo.gl/AAGmLK) when patently it wasn’t a politician or great leader who helped advance our civilization or even one of us in any traditional sense of the word?

The Japanese use the term “Kenzoku” (https://goo.gl/AbmUxk) to describe friendship as a familial bond we form with people other than family, though that doesn’t always fully answer “why”. When we look at animal societies we see that friendships and altruism exist even there and the reasons behind them have a lot to do with survival: https://goo.gl/62fgq1. When it comes to the human expression of friendship however things get murkier, particularly when we cross species boundaries: https://goo.gl/jOajaP and befriend animals (which is something that even animals do, it would appear: https://goo.gl/Wa1VFA).

Animals have always played a key role in our lives: https://goo.gl/CP63fD and our anthropomorphizing of them (https://goo.gl/ymG2Ca) is one way we have of stripping back the layers and understanding some of the deeper aspects of who we are: https://goo.gl/kwaipm.

In a less scientific but certainly more human way people celebrate the friendships they have and publicly admit that they helped them in their lives: https://goo.gl/AY1ilA. In the Nicomachean Ethics (https://goo.gl/ny1OFp) Aristotle, in his examination of how we should live (https://goo.gl/uEPvju) speaks of three types of friendship: https://goo.gl/nGAq9m. Psychologists consider that friendship is critical to our inner balance: https://goo.gl/Bp7N9I and we may, indeed, be hardwired to connect with friends: https://goo.gl/hSofH5.

Our brains respond differently to those who are our friends than they do to strangers: https://goo.gl/C9uy0H and, as neuroscience is discovering, having friends is a cognitively positive attribute: https://goo.gl/HhLGPu. Unsurprisingly, having friends we like is good for our brains then: https://goo.gl/F6mUj4. Even more unsurprisingly, when it comes to such complexities we are not quite as unique as we may want to think we are: https://goo.gl/JfxYsn.

When friends are really good for us and loneliness is an affliction of sorts (https://goo.gl/graHeO) making friends in the age of connectivity ought to be easier than ever: https://goo.gl/SP8YHe. Finding support, even through the remoteness of a digital connection is something we crave at times: https://goo.gl/fKsIbe and as many an IRL meeting has shown the sentiments and bonds that develop are very real: https://goo.gl/eBUpeK.

Maria Scileppi took making friends to a new level: https://goo.gl/Gz9kTJ. Claud Williams explains why he makes friends with strangers: https://goo.gl/S9E2iE and Dr. Jill Squyres why building friendships and connections is critical to creating a better world: https://goo.gl/r4xheS. Making friends online requires a slightly different approach: https://goo.gl/e2b17o.

As Maria Scileppi says we need to be open, we need to be willing to be vulnerable and we have to be aware that we affect everyone we meet. In my working life over the past ten years, I have travelled to more than 30 different countries and cities. When the pressure of work, responsibility and the expectations of others have become so intense that the reality around me has blurred into the anonymity of hotel rooms and aircrews and the hum of plane engines and air-conditioned suites, I have found that what has kept me sane, grounded and grateful to be alive, have been the connections I have made over the years that are never more than a couple of clicks away from me. People I have never met in person with whom I share points of view and shots of clouds taken over airplane wings and sunsets at 30,000ft.

It is these connections that have taught me that no matter how smart I think I am I can, also be wrong. That no matter how far I travel or how many people I talk to, I am also very human and no better than anyone else. That no matter where I go, people are the same. Everyone matters and everyone wants to connect.

Ideally, right now, you’d be reading these words in a world where everything has more or less been worked out. Where you can get on your VR headset or your smartphone and connect with people, just like that, and as you share and discuss things contribute to the progress of a world that is rapidly heading towards perfection. Well, we know that we live in less than ideal times.

In the turbulent, messy stream of our everyday existence it is important to find friends and make connections that don’t always reflect our world view but which, nonetheless, enrich us. That way we each become a strand in a multihued, complex tapestry which appears to be discordant but which, upon closer inspection, reveals itself to be exactly as it should be. Its tale unfolding because we all hold it together. Bonded closely with each other.

The year is almost at an end and, as you are reading this, I hope you have coffee aplenty and croissants, donuts, cookies and chocolate cake to go with it all. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are. 
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You Cannot Be Serious!

Back in the very early 80s, tennis-playing sensation John McEnroe (https://goo.gl/nW9p5C) made the world laugh while also causing some staid eyebrows to be raised by bringing refreshingly loutish behavior to the tired, genteel sport of Tennis: https://goo.gl/gW02I2.

Humor is a weird attribute. When we are not asking ourselves why it even exists: https://goo.gl/2dhkzE, we are busy linking it between cultures (https://goo.gl/oDXMQo) where frequently it ends up being lost in translation: https://goo.gl/whZo1V. One of the theories is that it is a coping mechanism (https://goo.gl/U37IK1) that allows us to face the incredibly difficult or terrifying by making light of it in our minds.

Neuroscientist Sophie Scott says it’s not just an outward expression of what we find funny but also a means through which we express social acceptance, solidarity, inclusion and affection: https://goo.gl/rG4vnZ. Laughter, like data, is always meaningful because laughter is data. Peter McDraw in a TED Talk explains why the Benign Violation theory (https://goo.gl/5jhNZQ) makes laughter possible: https://goo.gl/JzSR6T.

Naveed Mahbub suggests that humor is all about communication: https://goo.gl/8jeEbR and interestingly Chris Bliss both picks up and diversifies on this by suggesting that comedy is an act of translation: https://goo.gl/QOcYZv. The reasons why we laugh, from an evolutionary point of view are linked to our survival: https://goo.gl/ZEpJR6. Interestingly researchers always seem to agree that laughter is not about something being funny: https://goo.gl/S16zR6. Or, at least not in the situations they have examined.

Unsurprisingly laughter is a form of expression of our personality: https://goo.gl/GHix6d and we laugh only when a whole lot of complexities join up in our brain to translate data into something that has many different meanings: https://goo.gl/p4nFo. Case in point, puns: https://goo.gl/7PxI30, which seem to require the engagement of our brain as a whole in order to work: https://goo.gl/ULcx2O.

All of this becomes important in the age of machines when AI (at least in its narrow form) is both everywhere and getting smarter. If we think of artificial intelligence not so much as a way of doing away with people but as a means of making our interaction with machines better (and already we seem to trust the more: https://goo.gl/2rPS0R) then the machines’ ability to get humor: https://goo.gl/7LJpr might be the breakthrough that will lead to a better AI (if not necessarily a human-like one). One recent breakthrough saw machines being able to see and understand a humorous image: https://goo.gl/bKJiC4. While another has seen a passable attempt at humor made by machines: https://goo.gl/i2Zx5N.

This has been an attempt that’s been a long way coming: https://goo.gl/h5jhUD and its aims have been not just to help make machines better but to humanize them sufficiently to make interacting with them feel natural: https://goo.gl/jjqrxA.

There is a paradox here that is obvious only in retrospect. As our machine creations become ever more granular, nuanced, externalizations of our own traits: https://goo.gl/eYJpSV, in order to create better versions of them we first need to dig deep and understand just what we are. That also raises the prospect that we must finally define the very core of us. What is it that makes us, “us” to the extent that we are different from, let’s say, a super-intelligent machine that can do everything we can do and maybe do it better?

This is the question raised by Zeynep Tufekci in a TED talk that says: Understand thyself first and then you can better apply that understanding everywhere else: https://goo.gl/hHRHst. Humor then, despite the cultural differences that arise, seems to be able to pull us together when most other things conspire to push us apart. It may sound silly but as long as we can share a laugh, collectively, we may be neither as different as we say we are nor as ‘bad’ as we think we can be. And just to make this point, for any of you who have not yet seen Fawlty Towers (https://goo.gl/CMk9x8), The Kipper and the Corpse (https://goo.gl/pvXR7T) is one of my favorites. Life really is too short to be serious all the time.

The year is tapering away fast. We have barely 20 days to go before 2016 runs out and I hope you’ve got plenty of coffee and lots of donuts, cookies, chocolate croissants and chocolate cake to help you make this day special. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.

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