Monday, April 12, 2010

Episode I: Dr. Swan & Dr. DJ stumble upon Ancestry

Setting: A coffee bar owned by Chris Owens (@singleorigin)

... they simply follow Chris wherever he goes; he's a legend like that.

Coffee-house culture is key to their thinkering (at least that's what they tell themselves regularly; that, and "thanks to Dave Lull").

Characters: Dr. Swan & Dr. DJ

Scene: Dr. Swan & Dr. DJ stumble upon Ancestry (an emerging school) early in the day and then stop by their local coffee spot to hang out (lounge, really) and converse about it.

Dr. DJ: "Swan, you've got to temper all this thinking about thinking that you've been doing since November 24th, 2007 openly and voluntarily."

Dr. Swan: "Yes, I am a bit concerned, at times, about tunneling so deeply that I won't be able to resurface in time to avoid suffocating. It's a challenging balancing act, indeed. It's those Levy Flights that eventually free me from the darkness, at least."

Dr. DJ: "Remember when Nassim said that 'painters don't paint about painting'? Maybe that's applicable to thinking about thinking? I don't compose and perform music about music. Music is my thing; writing is your game."

Dr. Swan: "Yes, what you're describing is the central Paradox of Living: searching versus acting. They're one in the same, really. They're what Nassim calls inseparabilities. Concrete, binary thinking compels us to break them into discrete, crisp categories, but thinking and tinkering are really one activity when we search and act perceptively, reflectively. Just look at all those platforms that I've told you about over the years that help us sort through these philosophical uncertainties."

(Dr. DJ interrupts)

Dr. DJ: "Yeah, yeah. I know where this is going: more high-falutin' Talebian prose, as Dr. Kurt Harris would say."

Dr. Swan: "What about your music making? Songwriting is quite an abstraction process; wouldn't you say? You have sounds and poetic rhymes and lines to express yourself. I've only got pen and paper, keys and computer screens. How do I make melodies from silence for folks to read? I don't have the luxury of a (multi-fractal) drummer like you do in your Music Medicine band."

Dr. DJ: "That's true. I can see how an aspiring hunter-gatherer artisan/citizen scientist like yourself may feel restricted at times when it comes to working through new ideas, unclear areas of inquiry, and the rest of the human condition that you seem to enjoy exploring via essays."

Dr. Swan: "Thanks, DJ. But enough of that fluff for now; what about Ancestry? That sure doesn't seem like white noise to me."

(Dr. DJ's eyes light up. He sips on his espresso, then responds.)

Dr. DJ: "I wish that school were open today; I'd send my kids there right away."

Dr. Swan: "I agree; that co-founder we talked to this morning really understands child development; his ideas on education are insightful and refreshing. He said that Ancestry developed from the mentoring company and nonprofit program that he co-founded with his friends."

Dr. DJ: "Yeah; it's so cool. Did you see that they want to teach ancestral health, personal finance, and personal mythology alongside the academic core? That's great. I wish we had that when we were in school. All those grocery store trips and mortgage loan dips, in addition to many other things, probably would've gone more smoothly (and less roughly) ... at least for me."

Dr. Swan: "I agree. Sugar is like debt: ancestral nutrition and personal finance instruction are gaping holes in modern educational systems. Education, like medicine, does not exist/occur in a vacuum. We have to equip both students and patients with practical survival and thrival skills today. Ancestry is attempting to tackle those challenges head on--good for them."

Dr. DJ: "Here's what that well-designed flyer we picked up today says:"
Ancestral Education is a student-centric educational approach that seeks broad human development through meaningful relationships with dynamic mentors.

Ancestral Education is a re-emerging educational approach that capitalizes on human beings’ innate, ancestral capacity to learn and grow via mimicry.

For millions of years, without defined, standardized knowledge, humans learned what (and when) they needed in order to survive. They learned by mimicking successful elders (role-models) who passed down useful tricks of the survival trade. The curriculum was defined by what worked, not what ‘should have been’ taught.

(m=1) + (n=1) = (s=1)

The history of science, the history of knowledge, teaches us that epistemic humility is of ultimate importance: We must recognize that we know far less about the world than we think we know. Thus, at some point, since no one knows everything, each of us must self-experiment to figure out what works and what doesn't work in our own specific cases. It's an n=1 clinical trial, the statistics of individuals, and this local, small-scale tinkering approach is the modus operandi that rises to the surface as the best way to confront and make decisions in the face of opacity. In this spirit, self-experimentation operates under a thinkering model: Generate m=1 my-thologies and then test these conjectures by conducting n=1 tinkering efforts, just to see what happens, falsifying negative results along the way, re-editing your personal narrative in the process.

Dr. Swan: "DJ, that sounds like some of your wonderful music to me; it's music to my ears: s=1 sounds fun."

Dr. DJ: "I saw somewhere on the Web page that they are starting to coalesce everything by organizing an Ancestral Health Symposium and an Ancestral Health Society. That seems like a decent way to lay the groundwork for Ancestry. Ancestry seems like one umbrella idea, like an epistemocracy; Nassim would probably like that--plenty of room for trial-and-error in the far-from-equilibrium tails to unleash Positive Black Swan hits from the envelope of serendipity."

Dr. Swan: "Now you're talking my language, DJ. Come on; let's take these excellent drinks with us and hit the trails in our Vibrams for some fractal, Primal sprints. Soaking in the aesthetics of nature is a nice way to end the day; being fooled by randomness selectively can be pleasing."

Dr. DJ: "Sounds good to me. That's basically what I do with my music making anyways. By the way, I read Keith Norris' blog this morning, so, of course, I'm full of energy--let's put some theory to practice. Parkour!"

Stay tuned for Episode II ...

To good health,



  1. I love dialog writing. Two critical observations, if I may: 1) the characters agree with each other way too much. More progress and more enjoyable reading can come from a bit of disagreement that progresses to resolution. This is the Hegelian progression of Thesis-->Antithesis-->Synthesis. 2) Your characters speak like you write. You should write how they speak. It's a difficult craft to hone, but it looks like you've got the seeds for something fun and inspiring.


  2. Thanks, Aaron.

    It's a fun medium to start thinkering with to communicate differently. I'll work on infusing some disagreement; but, as you know, personally, I am not that way naturally, so I have to push myself a bit to think in those terms. I tend to skip right to synthesis, don't you think?

    I'm trying to link back to the essays that I have composed previously, trying to synthesize the wide range of topics that I've touched on. Like I've said before, I don't know how much people read archives, and when you pick up a book and start reading at page 225, some things get missed or don't make much sense. A blog is not a book; when you stumble on a new blog, it's like randomly opening a new book to page 22__ and then trying to get the gist on the fly.

    Cheers to planting seeds and seeing what flowers!

    (I don't eat many plants, so these seeds are safe!. lol)



  3. PS. Here are some good thoughts on 'Wisdom Literature' from Mark Vernon (thanks to Dave Lull) about this form of dialogue:

    "Well, for one thing, philosophy is not like physics. It does not contribute to the accumulation of knowledge, an essentially linear, progressive activity. Rather, it seeks wisdom, and that – as Plato stressed time and time again – is a circular activity, mostly focused on asking better questions. To put it another way, as Plato himself did, wisdom is not like water that can be poured from one vessel into another; it is more like the seed that sprouts afresh in each generation. Or, as Bertrand Russell wrote:

    'Philosophy is to be studied not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definitive answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves.'

    "Something else that is key, though routinely forgotten by professional philosophers: Plato wrote dialogues, and no work of philosophy that is indisputably his own contains a single word written in his own voice. He always speaks through the mouths of others. It's a literary strategy with far-reaching implications for what we make of him, not least that it allows him to be his own best critic. As a thinker, he is as much like Shakespeare as your typical philosophical great. In fact, Plato arguably reigns supreme when it comes to asking good questions, and pursuing the equally important task of searching out flaws in possible answers. That is why he sets an agenda that philosophers broadly still follow to this day."

    Lots of good threads in there to play with and experiment.

    That's what writing at Ancestry will be all about: trial-and-error composition evolution.



  4. Skipping right to the synthesis. I grok that. But you've already had the dialog inside your head long ago that led to your adopting your particular synthesis. I know it would take a bit more work, but it would be fascinating to hear those antagonistic, struggling voices as they grappled with the topics and arguments that led to your synthesis. Don't hide them from us! :) Remember, life is a journey, not a destination. The same is true with wisdom. It is barren without a memory of its past, and it is path dependent (unlike some famous, but inadequate learning theories of which I know).

  5. Thanks, Aaron.


    Yes, Episode II and beyond will go there and raise the antitheses. I just feel like my natural tendency is to convey the syntheses, so thanks for reminding me to back peddle a bit and build my conclusions from their premises by sharing my thinkering from the beginning.

    And, with Ancestral Wisdom, we are trying to give context to modern science concepts by looking at the past for insights.

    This will be a good format to work on these notions.