Book Notes: The Tao of Pooh


Winnie the P’u: the Hero of the Story


P’u: Uncarved Block

The essense of the principle of the Uncarved Block is things (or people) in their original simplicity contain their own natural power.

When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.

From the state of the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work.


The Scholarly Owl and Fallacy of Intellectual Knowledge


“The wise are not learned; the learned are not wise.”
—Lao-tse

Rather than learn from Taoist teachers and from direct experience, he learns intellectually and indirectly from books.

The Confusionist Dessicated Scholar is one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his own small group, writing pretentious papers that no one else can understand, rather than working for the enlightenment of others.

Scholars always using Big Words that some of us can’t understand and are there to keep us from understanding.

For scholars, putting names on things is the most vital activity in the world.

Scholars are useful in that they provide a lot of information. It’s just that there is Something More, and that Something More is what life is really all about.


Cottleston Pie and Inner Nature


Mechanical judgments and clever remarks tend to prove inaccurate with passing time, because it doesn’t look very deeply into things to begin with.

The thing that makes someone truly unique, Inner Nature, is something that Cleverness cannot really understand.

“A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.”

Trying to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.

Everything/one has its own place and function.

When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong. You also know where you don’t belong.

“A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.”

I have certain limitations, and unlike Tigger I know what they are. There can be lots of things wrong with blindly trying to do what you aren’t designed for.

The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not.

“One disease, long life; no disease, short life.” Those who know what’s wrong with them and take care of themselves accordingly will tend to live a lot longer than those who consider themselves perfectly healthy and neglect their weaknesses.

Your limitations can be your strengths.

“Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.”

We don’t need to play Abstract Philosopher, asking unnecessary questions and coming up with meaningless answers. What we need to do is recognize Inner Nature and work with Things As They Are.

Everything has its own Inner Nature. People are easily led away from what’s right for them, because people have Brain, and Brain can be fooled.

Inner Nature cannot be fooled. But many people do not look at it or listen to it, and consequently do not understand themselves very much. They have little respect for themselves, and are therefore easily influenced by others.

The Way of Self-Reliance starts with recognizing who we are, what we’ve got to work with, and what works best for us.

Point our weaknesses or unpleasant tendencies in a different direction than we have been.

The Wise are Who They Are. They work with what they’ve got and do what they can do.


Wu Wei is the Pooh Way


Don’t try too hard. Be like water flowing over and around the rocks in its path.

Wu Wei means “without doing, causing, or making.” But practically speaking, it means without meddlesome, combative, or egotistical effort.

When we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around use, we reach the level of Wu Wei. Then we work with the natural order of things and operate on the principle of Minimal Effort.

Tao doesn’t force or interfere with things, but lets them work in their own way, to produce results naturally.

Wei Wu Wei – Do Without Doing

Cleverness takes all the credit it possibly can. But it’s not the Clever Mind that’s responsible when things work out. It’s the mind that sees what’s in front of it, and follows the nature of things.

Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit round holes, but not square holes. Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does it.

The surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard—one that thinks too much. The animals in the Forest don’t think too much; they just Are. People think they are a Superior Animal because they can think (and overthink).

“If people were Superior to Animals, they’d take better care of the world.” —Pooh

Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least they do when you let them. Follow the natural progression of things.

The Wu Wei approach to conflict-solving can be seen in T’ai Chi. The basic idea is to wear the opponent out either by sending his energy back at him or by deflecting it away, in order to weaken his power, balance, and position-for-defense. Never is force opposed with force; instead, it is overcome with yielding.


Bisy Backson and Unreachable Jars of Honey


The Bisy Backson is almost desperately active. If you ask him what his Life Interests are, he will give you a list of Physical Activities.

The Athletic sort of Backson is concerned with physical fitness, he says. But for some reason, he sees it as something that has to be pounded in from the outside, rather than built up from the inside. Therefore, he confuses exercise with work. He works when he works, works when he exercises, and works when he plays.

If you want to be healthy, relaxed, and contented, just watch what a Bisy Backson does and then do the opposite.

The chronic Backson always seems to have to be going somewhere. He doesn’t go out for a walk, though; he doesn’t have time. Always going somewhere, somewhere he hasn’t been. Anywhere but where he is.

Our Bisy Backson religions, sciences, and business ethics have tried their hardest to convince us that there is a Great Reward waiting for us somewhere, and that what we have to do is spend our lives working like lunatics to catch up with it.

Unreachable jars of honey gives people Something To Do. A way of life that keeps saying, “Around the next corner, above the next step,” works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good that only a few get to where they would naturally have been in the first place—Happy and Good—and the rest give up and fall by the side of the road, cursing the world.

Those who think that the rewarding things in life are somewhere beyond the rainbow.

The first Bisy Backsons in this part of the world, the Puritans, practically worked themselves to death in the fields without getting much of anything in return for their tremendous effort. They were actually starving until the wiser inhabitants of the land showed them a few things about working in harmony with the earth’s rhythms. Now you plant; now you relax. Now you work the soil; now you leave it alone. They never really believed in it and so everything is tasteless, all products of soil that was not allowed to relax.

Remember the Pooh dialogue about why he’s not busy because he’s enjoying the nice day listening to the birds. p. 101

The rootless, dissatisfied ancestry:
Miserable Puritan > Restless Pioneer > Lonely Cowboy > Bisy Backson

The Backson thinks of progress in terms of fighting and overcoming. Real progress involves growing and developing, which involves changing inside, but that’s something the inflexible Backson is willing to do.

Instead they change everything else (the Bulldozer Backson), and everyone (the Bigoted Backson) else but himself, and interfere with things he has no business interfering with, including practically every form of life on earth.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” —George Bernard Shaw

The irony of Bisy Backson Society: they worship youthful energy, appearance, and attitudes but developed no effective methods of retaining them. A lack testified by the unnatural False Front approach of cosmetics and plastic surgery. Instead has developed ways of breaking youthfulness down and destroying it. Those damaging activities that are not part of the search for the Great Reward seem to accumulate under the general heading of Saving Time. (E.g., Soylent, fast food, microwave, supermarket,)

Versus China’s Teahouse and France’s Sidewalk Cafe. Practically every civilized country in the world has a place where people can go to eat, relax, and talk things over without worrying about what time it is.

If timesaving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us now than ever before in history. But we seem to have less time than even a few years ago.

It’s great fun to go someplace where there are no timesaving devices because, when you do, you find that you have lots of time. Elsewhere, you’re too busy working to pay for machines to save you time so you don’t have to work so hard.

The MAIN problem with this great obsession for Saving Time is very simple: you can’t save time. You can only spend it. But you can spend it wisely or foolishly. Bisy Backson has no time because he’s too busy wasting it by trying to save it.

Taoist Immortals: practice Taoist exercises, believing that exercise which strains and tire the mind and body shortens life. Favorite way of travel was “walking lightly.”

“Sit like a turtle, walk like a pigeon, and sleep like a dog.”

Honey doesn’t taste so good once it is being eaten; the goal doesn’t mean so much once it is reached; the reward is not so rewarding once it has been given. If we add up all the rewards in our lives, we won’t have very much. But if we add up the spaces between the rewards, we’ll come up with quite a bit.

Christmas presents once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were beforehand.

Goals cause us to go through the process, and it’s the process that makes us wise, happy, or whatever.

Enjoyment of the process is the secret that erases the myths of the Great Reward and Saving Time. This is The Way.

What do we call the moment before we begin to eat the honey? Some call it anticipation, but we think it’s more than that. It’s awareness. It’s when we become happy and realize it, if only for an instant. By Enjoying the Process, we can stretch that awareness out so that it’s no longer only a moment, but covers the whole thing. Then we can have a lot of fun like Pooh.

When we take the time to enjoy our surroundings and appreciate being alive, we find that we have no time to be Bisy Backsons anymore.


That Sort of Bear


No matter how Useful we may be, sometimes it takes a while to recognize our own value.

In order to take control of our lives and accomplish something of lasting value, sooner or later we need to learn to Believe. We don’t need to shift responsibilities to some Deity or Fate. We simply need to believe in the power that’s within us, and use it. When we do that, and stop imitating others and competing against them, things begin to work for us.

Story of Buckminster Fuller: almost committed suicide before he realized he was free to take risks, initiate action on his own, and, by doing so, to help other people. He committed himself to the work that he believed the universe wanted him to do, instead of what he had been taught to do.

The play-it-safe pessimists of the world never accomplish much of anything, because they don’t look clearly and objectively at situations, they don’t recognize or believe in their own abilities, and they won’t stretch those abilities to overcome even the smallest amount of risk.

Story of Roo Swimming and the North Pole: once we see what the situation is and what we can do about it, we need to use everything we find along the way in order to accomplish whatever is required. More often than not, the things we need are there already; all we have to is make use of them.

Tz’u is “caring” or “compassion” and is based on the character for heart.

Lao-tse names it as his “first treasure” and wrote “From caring comes courage.” And from that also comes wisdom. Those who have no compassion have no wisdom. Knowledge, yes; cleverness, maybe; wisdom, no. A clever mind is not a heart. Knowledge doesn’t really care. Wisdom does.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
—Thoreau

We can stop our desperate clinging to hollow life-substitutes, and set ourselves free. The Tiddely-Pom Principle / Snowball Effect can work negatively or positively. The important thing is to make it work for yourself and for the benefit of others, or face the Ugly Consequences.

Piglet Gives Tree to Owl Story: Do you want to be really happy? Using the Snowball Effect, you can begin by being appreciative of who you are and what you’ve got. Do you want to be miserable? Begin by being discontented.

“A tree as big around as you can reach starts with a small seed; a thousand-mile journey starts with one step.” —Lao-tse

Wisdom, Happiness, and Courage are not waiting somewhere out beyond sight at the end of a straight line; they’re part of a continuous cycle that begins right here.


Nowhere and Nothing


T’ai Hsu – The Great Nothing

It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” —Lao-tse

To have no thought and put forth no effort is the first step towards understanding the Tao. To go nowhere and do nothing is the first step towards finding peace in the Tao. To start from no point and follow no road is the first step towards reaching the Tao.

An Empty sort of mind is valuable fro finding pearls and tails and things because it can see what’s in front of it. An Overstuffed mind is unable. While the Clear mind listens to a bird singing, the Stuffed-Full-of-Knowledge-and-Cleverness mind wonders what kind of bird is singing. Knowledge and Cleverness tend to concern themselves with the wrong sorts of things, and a mind confused by Knowledge, Cleverness, and Abstract Ideas tends to go chasing off after things that don’t matter, or that don’t even exist, instead of seeing, appreciating, and making use of what is right in front of it.

“Music is the space between notes.” —Claude Debussy

Many people are afraid of Emptiness, however, because it reminds them of Loneliness. Everything has to be filled in, it seems—appointment books, hillsides, vacant lots—but when all the spaces are filled, the Loneliness really begins. Then the Groups are joined, the Classes are signed up for, and the Gift-to-Yourself items are bought.

The power of a clear mind is beyond description. If you trace ideas back to its source, you will discover that it came from Nothing. To find the epiphanies must be completely awake.

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” —Lao-tse

It starts when we are children, helpless but aware of things, enjoying what is around us. Then Adults. But the adult is not the highest stage of development. The end of the cycle is that of the independent, clear-minded, all-seeing Child. That is level of Wisdom. “Return to the beginning; become a child again.” —Lao-tse. Why do the enlightened seem filled light and happiness, like children? Because they are.

The wise are Children Who Know. Their minds have been emptied of the countless minute somethings of small learning, and filled with the wisdom of the Great Nothing, the Way of the Universe.

It is the journey of attaining knowledge and then systematically removing it to attain Wisdom.

Abstract cleverness of mind only separates the thinker from the world of reality, and that world, the Forest of Real Life, is in a desperate condition now because of too many who think too much and care too little.
The masters of life know the Way, for they listen to the voice within them, the voice of wisdom and simplicity, the voice that reasons beyond Cleverness and knows beyond Knowledge.


The Tao of Pooh
by Benjamin Hoff

Book Notes: The Tao of Pooh

Book Review: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Fossil_fuels
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein

I heard an interview with the author, Alex Epstein, of this book on the anarcho-libertarian Tom Woods podcast. I am nowhere near anarcho-anything but I love contemplating the wild ideas that come out of that corner. Anyways, keeping an open-mind is critical so I dug in.

His main thesis is that our standard of value benchmark is to make human life better at the expense of everything else. Fossil fuels have made human lives better, therefore fossil fuels are good.

What I agree with

Before I go in to my issues with his thesis I am 100% with him on nuclear energy and he calls out the “liberals” for their unwarranted stance against it. Yes the idea of the black swan event is scary but look at the statistics. Nuclear power caused deaths on a per watt produced basis are a miniscule fraction of deaths from coal, oil and even solar for that matter. CANDU and underground salt reactors are exceptionally safe and there’s serious promise in even safer thorium reactors. Harnessing nuclear fusion is within our physical limits and would create such an abundance of exceptionally safe energy with essentially no radioactive waste that this topic would be moot.

For every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,000 die due to coal

ARE FOSSIL FUELS OUR SAVIOR OR SOMETHING ELSE?

The problem with his thesis is that fossil fuels is only a vehicle for and not the underlying mechanism of human flourishing. Industrialization is what has created such wealth and high standards of living. The book would have much more clout if it were called Moral Case for Industrialization. It is the clever harnessing of mechanical energy from potential energy that has transformed the human world. Fossil fuel just happened to be the most convenient (or as Epstein hammers into our heads: the cheapest, most plentiful, and most reliable) modality for this era.

We all are very grateful for Industrialization 1.0 but we’re now at a tipping point in technological advances that will allow us to transition to renewable fuels. Industrialization 2.0 will allow continued exponential growth with less downside. I’d give him slack on this but he holds the stodgy opinion that not only should we continue relying on fossil fuels but that we should expand our reliance. It’s almost like he’s doubling down in his convictions as a way to strengthen his argument. Kind of like how some people think talking louder will somehow prove their point.

PHILOSOPHICAL DISAGREEMENT #1: Fight fire with fire… FOREVER?

He argues we can use fossil fuel technology to “dampen” the effects of any fossil fuel caused climate change at the expense of any non-human entities. For example, build bigger, coal-powered air conditioners for the hotter climate.

Let’s use an analogy of a boat at sea with a fist-sized hole that is slowly growing in size. The hole has finally reached a size that our bilge pumps can’t keep up and the hole is too big to patch with our current technologies. Keeping a long-term viewpoint, should we invest in:

  • A) high output bilge pump technology that will continuously improve to meet the gradually growing hole size
  • B) technology to plug the hole while it is still relatively small

He says bilge pumps and waders. I say high-tech spackle. I come from the tech world and when we have the resources we always do root-cause analysis so that we can address the root cause. It’s served us well. Band-aids give us a job in the short-term but we can’t be cost-competitive in the long-run.

I think Lao Tzu dispenses all the wisdom you need to derive the correct path in this case:

“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small.”

PHILOSOPHICAL DISAGREEMENT #2: THESIS, ANTITHESIS, SYNTHESIS

Epstein holds this overly simplistic view of how human life is our standard of value. The way he explains it is it would be best for human life if we paved the world with concrete because it would eliminate disease, bugs, walking on dirt, and pesky bird calls. To “get back into nature”, underground parks would be built with artificial lighting, manicured landscaping, and perfectly controlled climates. On paper in a reductivist’s world, this would be ideal for the modern human. Personally not for me, walking in nature soothes my soul. And interestingly he delineates between human nature and nonhuman nature. Nonhuman nature IS human nature.

Humans and the massive amount of bacteria in our stomachs did not evolve in this concrete environment. Our evolutionary stable strategy involved wading through mud, swatting mosquitoes, and building makeshift homes. When you start eliminating species on a quest for the most sterile, “human-friendly” environment there are major consequences in the ecosystems upstream and downstream.

Finally, human life in the long run is indeed our standard of value. But it should be about synthesizing human technologies in to our ancestral environment. More of the same for short-term comfort and monetary gains is not what an intelligent species prioritizes. Unknown and known externalities and their effects like CO2 accumulation and climate change are not something as a species we should be gambling with. There will be some pain at first, but that comes with any magnificent challenge worth doing.

CHEERLEADING FOR KODAK

A great majority of humans are grateful that film photography came to be and gave us movies, a new form of art, and shareable visual memories. But with the technological advances in digital photography there is no valid reason to continue to expand analog film technology other than a few who prefer the nostalgia and visual effect of film.

Epstein’s position is like an oblivious, short-sighted Kodak major stakeholder in 2002 who thinks everyone is wrong to increase digital camera use because of all the great things film photography did for us in the 20th century and digital is too expensive and has lousy quality. Yes, at first, digital photography was expensive and quality not so great. This was when the technology was in the initial deceptive growth stage of that oh so lovely exponential curve that is so prevalent in the digital world. We’ve now entered the part of the curve that has allowed digital photography/video to become dirt cheap, compact, and very high quality only within a few years.

expontential_magic
My horribly terrific sketch of the beauty of the exponential curve

 ELECTRIC CARS

He devotes a full half-page to electric vehicle technology and summarizes by saying that battery technology is not advanced enough. The laws of physics are in favor of much improved battery solutions with incredible energy densities and charge/discharge rates. This is another situation where deceptive exponential growth comes in to play. The economics and technology have not been in favor up until the early 2010’s to invest in solutions but things are changing very quickly. Prices are coming down and there is a great race to solve the battery problem. It’s an exciting time in the industry!

I will only touch for a moment on how electric vehicles are a much more elegant solution to internal combustion vehicles. There are much fewer moving parts, less maintenance, noise, and much more efficient power conversions both in terms of less energy lost to heat and electric motors are highly efficient at 90% of the operating RPMs. This is most evident by the Tesla Model S P85D vehicle. Tesla Motors just started releasing electric vehicles in 2006 and they already have a vehicle that goes from 0-60 in 3.1 seconds and can hold seven people. This is super-car performance in a large sedan form factor. Just search Youtube for “Tesla Model S P85D” and watch it blow away gas vehicles from Lamborghini and Ferrari that have had almost one-hundred years to optimize their internal combustion engines for performance. It also has the safest rating possible and is the highest rated vehicle Consumer Reports has ever tested! This is only just the beginning!

SOLAR TECHNOLOGY

I sound like a broken record but again he underestimates the power of the exponential curve and the effects of scaling. The more solar is used and built, the cheaper it gets. This can not be said for coal, oil, and natural gas. And you can clearly see this in the below chart from this Solar Energy – Disruptive Technology article.

The plummeting cost of photovoltaic cells (green line) per watt from 1977 to 2013
Solar capacity graduating from deceptive growth to where the MAGIC happens! Notice the time scale is over only 9 years! Before 2011, capacity looked forever helpless.

At the moment the percentage of energy from solar is small but the wonders of exponential growth will make this not the case shortly. Just think about the concept that if you start with a penny and double your total amount every day you will have over a million dollars after thirty days. We are talking the same principle here. Right now we have sixteen cents and in just a dozen proverbial days we’ll be banking!

swanson-effect
There’s plenty more of charts showing similar exponential curves at http://costofsolar.com/cost-of-solar-panels-10-charts-tell-you-everything/

Another argument he states is that solar can’t handle base load and that cloudy days and nights limit it’s reliability. Molten salt storage is actually making concentrated solar a viable base load power source and solves cloudy day and night demand. And such a power plant will be coming online soon. This will take a while to scale and we should continue to use coal and natural gas plants as base load until the technology is mature enough.

CORRELATION VS CAUSATION

He relies on these really compelling charts showing correlated curves between fossil fuel use and variables like life expectancy and GDP. But he does absolutely zero explaining of how fossil fuel use increases these values. One could surmise that indirectly fossil fuels (ahem, industrialization) freed up time to improve on these problems, but I want him to explain the causation. It’s just lazy.

fossil_fuel_correlation

I could just as easily throw in similar charts just by Google Image searching for “exponential growth chart”. Oh look national debt growth correlates with fossil fuel use… so what?

Random chart that correlates just as well as the charts in the book
Random chart with a correlation to fossil fuel use just as strong as the charts in the book

GRATITUDE

Finally, he claims that anti-fossil fuel people would prefer fossil fuels never were touched. I don’t know what sane person isn’t appreciative for advances in medicine, transportation, and the world in their pocket gained from the post-steam engine age.

It’s also odd how he takes it personally that people don’t thank every coal worker, oil driller, and petroleum engineer as they are making life good for all of us. It’s not like they are volunteers with some altruistic mission. Many jobs in the industry require few skills and get paid handsomely and the high skilled jobs get compensated higher than similar jobs in other fields.

There were other issues with his arguments along the lines of battery storage, wind, and his general resistance of change to superior technologies. I’d give the horse / car transition story here but I don’t think it’s necessary.

Image

Book Notes: MONEY: Master the Game by Anthony Robbins

Somehow I got sucked into reading his new 600 page MONEY book at B&N and ended up taking it home. It’s half-filled with useful information albeit with a lump of salt and the remainder is typical Robbins emotions/story-based filler. The advice he provides is not his, but rather is the collected (and sometimes conflicting) byproduct of over 30 interviews with some of the top money managers and investment billionaires. A lot of it is common knowledge if you float around the Boglehead forums so will only highlight a few of the strategies, tools, and products I was either unaware of or want to add to my bag of potential tricks:

  1. Roth 401k??? – yep look it up. Basically same concept as your tax-deferred 401k but is taxed immediately. I checked my 401k and found the option to contribute to a Roth version. Would make sense to go that route if you feel you will make more money in your retirement and/or you believe taxes in general will go up in the future.
  2. 401k fee checker – pull up a report of how your company’s 401k expense ratios compare to others. By law companies must reevaluate 401ks yearly so you may be able to convince HR to move to a cheaper 401k solution.
  3. Fixed Index Annuities –  there’s many varieties but main sell is that they offer a market-linked annuity with less downside (part of the theme in the book of asymmetric risk/reward). Here is some info and caveats. Really the most cost-efficient route is to cut out the middlemen and build your own here and here . Although as DIY longevity insurance, will I be coherent enough to rebuild my ladders at the ripe age of 105?
  4. Structured notes – basically a loan to a bank linked to a stock/bond market. After maturity date the bank pays back most of the upside of the market or if the market is down will pay original principal back (100% downside protection in this case). This could be a very good hedge for someone within 5 years of retiring who needs protection from a devastating situation where a market downturn coincides with beginning of retirement. Here is SEC’s cautionary warning.
  5. PPLI / private placement life insurance – called the Rich Man’s Roth. You’ll need a substantial initial investment to qualify. It’s basically an insurance wrapper for your investments that will not be taxed when taken out.

As a reminder to myself: always invert! Look for disconfirming evidence critiquing all these products and strategies and weigh your decision only after you can argue the other side just as well as your side.

Book Notes: MONEY: Master the Game by Anthony Robbins