Wednesday, January 31, 2018

--- The bookshelf ---

My dyslexia wears me out. It took me three years to read Lord of the Rings. I can read 10 pages of a book and, regardless of how enthralling the story is, I have to stop and do something else. And I read sloooooowly.

So I do my best to find a digital copy and use my screen reader to listen to the book. LibriVox is a godsend.

But reference books are different. I keep them around for, well, referencing. For adventuring, I preview he topic I'm studying and books play a big part in that.

Let me tell you about some of my favorite philosophy and psychology books.

Top of the list - Will Durant's, The Story of Philosophy (1926, Simon and Schuster, Inc.). It's the most readable introduction to philosophy I know of, which is surprising since it's not a lightweight. It really gives you a good overview of psychology.

If you want depth (great depth - and don't expect it to be easy going), check out the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( This is for advanced, serious reading and it is my vote for the best philosophy reference source.

The classic college text of logic is also a pleasant read - Irving Copi's, Introduction to logic. If you want to learn about logic, it's a clear presentation with lots of examples to show you how it's done. There's about a million editions out so just find one and read it. The 14th edition was published by Routledge in 2013.

I'll strongly recommend three books on problem solving. They are fun and informative.

Conceptual Blockbusting, by James Adams gives you tips on what to do when your brain freezes up and just refuses to work. The fourth edition was published in 2008 by Basic Books.

Wayne Wickelgren's, How to Solve Problems (1977, W. H. Freeman and Co.), goes way deep into problem solving theory and leaves the reader amazingly able to understand what they read.

The absolute classic text for problem solving and teaching problem solving is George Polya's, How to Solve It (1945, Princeton University Press - they keep coming out with new editions with various introductions and prefaces, but I sorta like the antique.). It's a tiny book that manages to encapsulate just about everything anyone really needs to know about how to solve problems and does it in a clear, engaging, and fun manner.

If you want an understandable introduction to symbolic logic, try the online text Forallx, by P. D. Magnus, which can be had here:

If you want to go so deep that you get a nose bleed, I heartily recommend Rudolf Carnap's, Introduction to Symbolic Logic and it's Applications (It's available in English as a Dover addition). Expect a challenge.

In psychology, I think a required text for every person on the globe should be Eric Berne's, The Games People Play (1996, Ballantine Books). It's a great read, but be careful, you might realize that he's talking about you.

The other must read in psychology is Desmond Morris' Peoplewatching (2002, Vintage Books). It's like a field guide to human beings.

If you want to read some classic papers in psychology, check out the website, Classics in the History of Psychology, .

But, honestly, I don't have many recommendations for psychology. Psychology texts tend to be blah, sensationalistic, or shallow.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

--- Best laid plans and a new beginning ---

If you're keeping up with this blog, you know that the blogs have been appearing slowly lately. Well, I've been learning. There's been some rather harsh lessons, from which I might just draw from in later blogs. It's been a wild season.

In July, I learned about zoning laws and moving into a new house (see the July 14 blog, "A moving experience"), then in September I got a job and learned that you should be careful if you are retired and decide to pick up some work (according to how your benefits operate), and then I spent October getting over the pinched nerves in my back and refurbishing my benefits. Some walking tours in November taught me that I am no longer in my thirties. You can read about some of that and the after effects in December in the January 12 blog, "Notes on life and death." That pretty much took care of December 2017 and January 2018 for me - learning, indeed.

But here, on January 28, with some fatigue left after sitting around for two months, I'm almost back to normal (whatever that is) and am looking forward to a year of looking deeper into what it means to not be 32 any more (I'll have to experiment some more to really find the limits.)

What's coming up?

I was hoping to be through with this pass through psychology and philosophy (I may make it back around to them  again) by the end of the year (I was also hoping to hike Waterton Canyon, but that, too, is put off until a later date.) but I have another couple of posts, tying up loose ends, actually. Then, next year, I plan to address religion and social sciences - there's plenty of grist in this area for these mills, and I suspect you have many opportunities for adventure in your areas also.

Denver has an astounding variety of religions for a "secular" area. In fact, the recent influx of people from all parts of the country and the world has brought a new interest in spirituality and religion. Being a lifelong church-goer, I was delighted to find a friendly church that has recently found a new impetus forward right across the street from our new home. Churches that are in the process of picking up after a dry or traumatic period are often some of the most exciting and vital of churches. I'm pretty much set for an adventure in religion.

And society in Denver is in the process of flux. The opportunities here are vast and the barriers are frightening. Regular people are becoming aware of a harsh underbelly in the city (admit it, your city has one too. They all do. Believe it, we all do float down here.) and many want to do something about it. For a sociologist, times are fascinating. What's gonna happen? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

--- Notes on wisdom ---

If any man among you seem to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

St. Paul

Philosophy is a fool's endeavour. Socrates said so. He wondered at the Delphi sibyl's contention that he was the wisest person in the world until he realized that he was only wise because he knew that he knew nothing.

You can absorb all the knowledge in the world and become very, very smart, but to be wise, you have to question all of it and craftily figure it all out for yourself because there are no cut and dry answers for the questions that wisdom addresses.

Knowledge is data, but wisdom is the effective use of the data to attain life goals - to attain life goals that bring you out of yourself and other out of themselves into a greater sphere of reality. It is the path to ascendancy.

--- Links and lectures ---

This blog is about active lifelong learning - getting out and experiencing your world - but I don't want to completely dismiss audiovisual and other kinds of more passive experience. After all, opencourseware and other Internet resources, lectures, books, and documentaries can certainly prepare us for real life adventures and enrich our activities. Here, I'd like to tell you about some of my favorite podcasts and lecture from the Internet and commercial sources.

Let me first dispense with my favorite commercial source of audiovisual lectures. The Teaching Company provides college (and some high school) level courses. The lecturers are auditioned and, typically, I would call the some of the best I have ever seen and heard. More recently, they have partnered with organizations such as National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute to offer visually rich, fascinating, and informative series. One thing I like about these lectures is that most tell me quite a lot that I have never heard before and the lecturers are active in their fields so that much of the information is current.

On scanning their website ( the prices seem pretty steep. A course on photography is listed at $234.05, but there are 24 half hour lectures. A new movie costs $20 or more. It's like 6 movies. Still a little steep. On sale the lecture series is only $59.95 and every title goes on sale at least once every year.

In psychology and philosophy, the Teaching Company has The Great Ideas of Psychology, presented by Professor Daniel Robinson. My1997 copy is a little out of date but is still a great introduction to the subject.

The Great Ideas of Philosophy is presented by the same instructor. He does quite well in both fields.

Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues is narrated by Professor Michael Sagrue. This is one of my favorite lecture series in philosophy. I always enjoy hearing a presenter who is passionate about their subject.

There are several series on logic and problem solving that make the difficult subjects clear. The Art of Critical Decision Making, presented by Professor Michael Roberto of Bryant University is sold as a business course but provides a useful coverage of decision making strategies for any field including everyday life.

Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning, presented by David Zarefsky, and Tools of Thinking: Understanding the World Through Experience and Reasoning, presented by Professor James Hall of the University of Richmond would be a great start for anyone interested in sharpening their reasoning skills.

Now, on the free download side, one of my favorite series in philosophy is Peter Adamson's, The History of Philosophy without Any Gaps. Professor Adamson is the Professor of Philosophy at the LMU in Munich and King's College in London. When he says "no gaps" he means "no gaps". This is the most complete presentation of philosophy I have ever seen (well, up to the Renaissance, anyway. It's an on going project). The website is at .

Academic Earth ( is an excellent website for lifelong learners. Like The Teaching Company, they look for the best video college courses. Unlike The Teaching Company, they are mostly filmed in classrooms so you generally won't see many of the beautiful cinematographic bells and whistles on Academic Earth, but they're free downloads! I don't want t give you too much in the way of recommendations. All the courses are great and you'll want to look through them. But I do have some favorites.

By far, my favorite psychology course is Yale's Introduction to Psychology presented by Professor Paul Bloom. Professor Bloom's presentation is insightful and surprisingly humorous. Just go to the Academic Earth website, open the "Psychology" list form the "Course" menu from the top of the page, and find Yale's Introduction to Psychology course on the alphabetical list that appears.

You won't see philosophy courses in the Courses menu - you have to use the Search box, but there are some good philosophy courses. Peter Mullican of the University of Oxford presents a great series of lectures on the Introduction to General Philosophy.

I keep an eye on MIT's opencourseware ( and occasionally donate because...whoa! The courses are absolutely up to date and range from web pages that tell you what books they use - go read them - to full, everything-you-need assemblages of video classes, printed materials, complete textbooks - the whole shebang.

Professor John Gabrieli presents a great Introduction to Psychology complete with video classes and transcripts, lecture notes, problems to solve and their solutions, and more.

If you want a good overview of ethology (animal psychology and sociology) and biological anthropology, take a look at Professor Gerald E. Schneider's class, Animal Behavior.

The philosophy courses tend to vary widely in subject and not be very introductory, but there are some enthralling courses, such as the several courses in logic. If you want to dig deeper just look through the philosophy courses and select one. And if you ever decide to devote the time and effort to fight your way through the adventure of Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, certainly check out Robert Speer's presentation - It'll make the fight considerably easier.

Friday, January 12, 2018

--- Notes on life and death ---

We call such things as life and death "opposites," but this is not altogether a satisfactory name.... In fact life and death are not opposed but complementary, being two essential factors of a greater life that is made up of living and  dying just as melody is produced by the sounding and silencing of individual notes.

Alan Watts

It doesn't feel like philosophy to me. We know, without doubt, that we die - that death punctuates a life. What we do with that knowledge - how we interpret it, determines how we approach death. It's a personal decision.

What happens after death? Philosophy needs evidence if not facts. If a person has the evidence, they can't communicate it in any persuasive fashion. If they have no evidence, then they approach the end without certainty. But we're not talking about afterlife here.

When my father died, he died a good death - he taught me to die a good death. He didn't say, "I'm going to a better place," although he might well have had reason to believe so. What he said was, "this body doesn't work right anymore. I'm tired and old and ready to go."

Alan Watts was a Zen Buddhist. He believed in reincarnation but whether he believed that persons continued after death with their essence isn't certain to me. In the quote above, he says nothing about what happens after the song. Yet, again, he doesn't approach death as a bad thing.

So, the experience of death - the adventure of death - that's what I'll talk about here. Americans seem to avoid the topic vigorously. If it bothers you, just skip this blog. That's a good thing about blogs - you can skip the ones you don't like. But for completeness sake I should at least give the nod in it's direction.

And how timely! An intimation of death doesn't have to be a near death experience - it just needs to be something to remind you that you will, one day, die. Many say it's a valuable experience. As for Horace, Robert Herrick, and many other poets, it reminds you to make the most of life while you have it. It underlies my two tenants for life.

Fill your life with things that matter (value density) and for me that would be my relationships and active lifelong learning.

Live so as to minimize the number of regrets at the end.

As you get older, intimations of mortality come more frequently. There are many opportunities to revisit old familiar illnesses, but much more often, there are new concerns and each one makes you think - is this the one?

December 7, I took buses to Broomfield for an eye doctor appointment. It was a very cold and dry day and I arrived early enough to eat lunch. Generally, I like cold and dry and the short walk invigorated me, but it also triggered my immune system and a serious bronchitis. That would not have been so bad - I was quite familiar with bronchitis, a lifelong acquaintance - but there was something else, a very profound fatigue. I didn't understand that and, two days later, checked myself into the local hospital to see what was going on.

I wasn't dying. But a visit to my general practitioner placed me on bed rest until a next appointment and there I am now. I haven't been very active on the blog lately - here is the explanation and the excuse. Did I ever think I was dying? I don't think so, but I have certainly been reminded that I'm closer to death now than I ever have been before. I do look forward to washing dishes again and returning to the trail.  This one isn't going to stop me.

My father came out of the depression and went into the Army. He was a mortar Sergeant and one of the first wave of American military in the Philippines during World War II. I never realized how some of his personality was associated with "Sarge" until much later in life.

He survived the war and came home with a, then, lethal dose of amoebic dysentery. Luckily, his home town doctor knew about research being done in Atlanta, Georgia that would save his life.

After that, he supported a family, meaning he followed the jobs. My take on macho in his generation, and my take away was:

A man does what a man has to do.

And watching my mother, I came to the conclusion that the exact same rule applied to "real women."

Between us, I think my father and I have done most kinds of jobs. Neither of us have walked on the moon, but he has walked on an amphibious lander with bombs exploding around him, and I have walked on a lay barge with the sea exploding around me. I can see some similarity. In both cases, a wrong step can get you killed and there are some situations where you really don't have much choice in the matter.

My father was known as a person who would give you the shirt off his back, literally. If he knew of some one who needed something he had, he would give it to them. He knew that he would come through it anyway and he knew that they might not. My take away - I'm responsible for others well-being, and I can get through anything - confidence and philanthropy I learned from my father.

My brother was with my father when his doctor told him that he had lung cancer. I am told that the initial reaction was very transient. After that, he said that he was ready - he was tired and his body didn't work well any more. I saw very little change in his daily life style. We did a lot of the things that he enjoyed - gem and gold hunting - and he continued working with his hand. In my memory, he didn't stop (barely even slowed down) until a couple of weeks before his death.

He became close to one of the orderlies while he was in the hospital. The orderly told him that he would be transferred to a Hospice facility the next day and he said, "Don't worry about it. I won't be alive tomorrow." And, sure enough, he died five minutes before midnight. I was holding his right hand and my brother was holding his left. At the very end, the cancer took his voice. It didn't seem that bad - maybe it really wasn't to him.

Even his funeral was amazing. It was supposed to rain all that week. An hour before the funeral, the sun came out and stayed out until an hour after the funeral - and then the weather took up it's regular programming.

He gave me his name - Payton Bailey VanZant. He lived well and he died well. I hope he gave me that also.


 When I die, I'll die the proud death.
 To this I will commit myself
 And graciously I will concede
 My body to the earth.
 I will not fear death.

 But as I live on this earth
 I will neither fear life.
 And will search it for it's best
 And live to my extent.

 On the low plains with the wild and free
 On the high plains with my God.
 By this I will live my life
 Until death sets me free.

From The Werewolf
(Confessions and Dreams of a Functional Werewolf)
by Wolf VanZandt
January 16, 1977