Tuesday, September 21, 2021


My father Arthur “Art” Jarvis died of a heart attack 29 years ago in a world very different from the one we now live in. He was at work in a business that sprang from his lifelong love of learning and a desire to share that love and its many benefits with others. Among the benefits was the ability to make logical, informed decisions that might, on average, improve the lives of the people they affected, what he considered and hoped would be “common” sense. I was working with him at the time and shared a darker motivation for trying to develop and share a better way of learning than what was being taught in schools: avoiding life in a world where people could not distinguish fact from fiction, a society whose lifetime would consequently be brutal and short.

Now more than double my age at the time and just six years away from his age when he died, I have lived to see the world we feared begin to emerge. I continued the work in my own way after it became impossible to follow our common path, becoming aware in the process that we were taking for granted that people would choose to make good decisions if they had reliable information and could apply logic to determine their consequences. In short, the definitions of “good” and “bad” were not being explicitly considered. It was among the most consequential blind spots I have found in the search for blind spots that has been an integral part of my life. The most consequential and deeply personally blind spot was that moving to higher altitude would not adversely affect my father’s health, which it did and likely contributed to his death.

Environmental effects on health are now a major part of everyone’s lives, just as environmental concern has grown to be a test of values (“good” and “bad”) that are shared by - and therefore defining - groups in our diverse and increasingly fragile global society. Since the fates of everyone are tied to how we affect our common environment, with varying and considerable degrees of power bestowed by technology, the survival of our entire species and countless others that we share that environment with, depends on us having a core set of common values that is consistent with that survival. That is: we need “common sense” based on common values and a common understanding of reality.

One of my father’s insights, and the essence of his approach to learning, was that the process of discovery provides a common experience that can be a basis for effective communication and accelerated understanding through collaborative application of logic to the observations made in that discovery. Open-ended learning by small groups can scale to larger groups and their members (us) perceive and value the relationships between each other and between them and their environment. If knowledge and understanding are inherently valued, then the process and the growing membership of those who follow it, will be inherently valued. For my father, and for me, that was self-evident and enough. To reiterate what I learned later, what we value is arbitrary; and (in my view) to ensure that the process can continue or reach a mutually agreed end, we must include discovery of our values along with our discovery of the rest, beginning with the value that makes all values possible: our continued existence.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Seeking Miracles

I was recently introduced to the Miracle Question by my wife, a social worker who has used it to help people transcend hopelessness in their lives. A substantial part of my writing has unwittingly followed its example as I’ve dealt with the growing potential for humanity’s extinction and the guilt associated with helping drive other species there first. Definitions and simulations of an “ideal world;” fictional versions of what they might look like and feel like by characters who care; and poetry describing efforts by heroic “death stoppers” have resulted from creative problem-solving with both analytical and artistic dimensions. 

In my latest experience, self-care has required a setting and enforcement of boundaries, practical and emotional, that enable functioning in the face of persistent news of growing breakdown in society and the natural infrastructure that it depends upon. I examined the relationships between what I thought and how I felt from the perspective of cognitive behavioral therapy, coupled with an honest appraisal of my responsibility for conditions I automatically chose to feel guilty about. I finally found a job to recoup financial losses during my self-imposed hiatus that had unfortunately coincided with the onset of the COVID pandemic and the predations of a much more irresponsible mob. 

Understanding how easy it is for me to expect and therefore detect the existence of catastrophic failure modes in every system around me, including myself, I have allowed myself to celebrate resilience and learn to seek it out effectively as I have its opposite. This is a work in progress, as I fight fear that it too may be doomed to failure. 

Recently I turned to an approach that strikes a middle ground and has worked briefly in the past, sometimes as a seed for creative insight. I searched for simple overarching variables that could define a better state in the experiences at hand. During a walk at a nearby reservoir I instead seized on a simple value statement based on what I have already discovered: everything comes down to how well we live and how long we live. I explored one aspect of this statement in a video I made during that walk. The three variables I identified form the basis of my historically derived model of human experience; and they can be appreciated at all scales, including what is seen and felt on a morning stroll in a mixed setting of people, birds, plants, and artifacts.

Since then, I have mentally and emotionally processed daily experiences within this context, easily expanding my awareness to the possible configurations of all variables based on which we choose to care about in the actions that we take. This view helps, like a map, to define and plan how to achieve a set of experiences that is “better” than what (or where) they are now. Creativity replaces reactive feelings with a process for turning the perception of miracles into lived experience.

Monday, May 3, 2021


Like many people I have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and will soon have the maximum immunity. I understand that this does not mean I will be totally unable to catch or spread the virus, which remains deadly to many people. 

Based on trusted guidance about the risks:

I will avoid being inside with people who I don’t know are vaccinated unless they are masked and there is proper ventilation and room for social distancing (in which case I will also be masked and will minimize extended contact).

When outdoors, I will wear a mask only when in extended close contact with people I don’t know are vaccinated.

Until herd immunity is achieved, the need to occasional sneeze and blow my nose due to persistent allergies will make it difficult to avoid freaking people out, so I will avoid being with others (unless we are all vaccinated) for more than an hour at a time.

The main difference from behavior before vaccination is that I am considering going indoors for other than unavoidable medical reasons.

My preference for entirely remote employment is consistent with my attitude about the virus. I have recently decided that I will also be willing to make infrequent visits to an office subject to the constraints above. My other reasons for remote work remain strong ones:

My creativity and productivity are maximized when not subject to interruptions and expectations inconsistent with my work style.

Commuting is dangerous as well as costly in resources and time; it should be avoided where it can be.

I am in the process of changing my living conditions to match my values and abilities; an associated move would not risk interrupting remote work.

I intend to continue working on my own projects, which would benefit from spending more time at home and having more control over my schedule.