On Carl Sagan & Feeling Hopeless About the State of the World

Reflections on the “cosmic perspective” and what to remember when feeling powerless to change the world.

I finally started watching the new Cosmos series the other day. You know, the remake of Carl Sagan’s classic 1980s science documentary-show? The one about science and the universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson as intergalactic guide? Yeah, that one.

I’m a little late to the game, I know. The showed aired way back in March, but I don’t watch a whole lot of television. However, as a big fan of Carl Sagan and of the original Cosmos, I was aflutter with science-happy when a friend of mine said he had the series on his computer and we ought to watch it.

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Friedrich Nietzsche’s Guide to Conquering Existence

In Nietzsche’s most popular book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described what would become one of his most memorable theories—that of the Übermensch.

In English versions of the work of Nietzsche, “Übermensch” is translated as “Superman” or “Overman”. The term “Superman” has adopted many connotations as a result of the comic book hero in popular culture, so for most scholars today, “Overman” is the more suitable term.

“Overman” refers to Nietzsche’s conception of a man who has literally overcome himself and human nature. In essence, an Overman is an extraordinary person who has superseded the bondage of the human condition and reached a liberated state—one of free play and creativity.

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Reality Tunnels & E-Prime: A Taste of Robert Anton Wilson

“They just have a different reality tunnel, and every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we are willing to listen.”

Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson, if you’re unaware, was something of a countercultural Gandalf, a white-haired wizard of skepticism and subversion. Wilson lived a remarkably diverse life, becoming, at various times, a novelist, essayist, philosopher, polymath, psychologist, editor, playwright, psychonaut, futurist, civil libertarian, Discordian Saint, and self-described agnostic mystic. A mouthful, I know—the man got shit done. 

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11 Tips for Self-Education in the Internet Age

“Knowledge emerges only through . . . the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

Paulo Freire

A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay that decried the inadequacies of our mass education systems and made a case for an autodidactic approach to learning. In that essay, I argued that if we do not take responsibility for teaching ourselves—if we are not actively curious, knowledge-seeking inquirers—we cannot hope to attain significant insight or understanding in any area of study. Of the above quote by Paulo Freire, I wrote:

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We Are Verbs: Human Existence as Perpetual Becoming

I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process — an integral function of the universe.
R. Buckminster Fuller

If you ask my parents, they’ll tell you that I came into this world a fragile, naked infant in an Iowa hospital on March 25, 1991. But what, precisely, links me to that infant? I mean, I have different cells, different thoughts, a different physique, etc. What necessary conditions are fulfilled by my current self, such that I and that tiny child can be confidently declared one and the same?

For centuries, philosophers have debated this and other metaphysical questions surrounding the topic of personal identity. These questions are tantalizing, but as one finds (perhaps surprisingly) upon investigation, the issues are quite complex, and little consensus exists as to what makes me me, what makes a person a person, what it takes for a person to persist in time, etc. etc. Acknowledging these philosophical problems seems like a worthy starting point for this essay, as my intent here is to submit to you a re-imagining of a common intuition about qualitative identity—namely, that it is static.

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10 Great Novels to Fracture & Expand Your Perspective

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

It’s no secret around here that I am a fan of books. I believe in the bastards—hardbound, paperback, eBook, etc.—I don’t discriminate. I want ‘em all. I wish I could vote them into office. Four more years of books! I am a veritable book-harlot.

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David Foster Wallace & the Dark Side of News Media

“Aren’t there parts of ourselves that are just better left unfed?”

David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster and Other Essays is a rare sort of book—one which traverses boldly across numerous disciplines to dissect the dark underbelly of modern American culture, politics, and society. Published nearly 10 years ago, Wallace’s conscientious commentary remains utterly poignant today, and its central theme—that we, as individuals, must take responsibility for becoming thoughtful and scrupulous cultural participants lest we be led as blind cattle to doom by the misguided or maligned agendas of those in power—is arguably timeless and universal. Thus, a hearty recommendation to anyone with a pulse: purchase and read Consider the Lobster.

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A Quest for Novelty: Reflections After 10 Months in South Korea

I arrive in the dimly lit entryway of Daejeo-Jungang Elementary School and immediately remove my dress shoes, trading them for a pair of slide sandals, my indoor footwear. I take a small step upwards from the entryway onto the old, stained wood panel floor that flows throughout the school. As I do this, I unconsciously detect the familiar interior scent—aged, dusty, somewhat stale, reminds me of an antique store or museum.

I mosey a few paces through a wooden sliding door into the main teachers’ office. The vice principal and sixth grade teacher are seated at their computers. I greet them with an obligatory bow and quasi-cheerful “annyeonghaseyo!” (It’s Monday; I’m drowsy). I then grab my classroom’s key and security card from the top shelf of a large cabinet and exit the room.

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The Inadequacy of Mass Education & the Case for Autodidacticism

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

I was always an “outstanding” student. I earned top grades throughout my high school and university education, pulverized standardized tests, was a National Merit Scholar, and went to college on a cushy full-ride academic scholarship. I was diligent, clever, and dead-set on doing what was necessary to garner high marks, exceptional test scores, and accolades; I wanted the proverbial stickers and cookies. After all, those things were presented to me as definitive metrics of “success” (shady word, that one), and the more one collected, the closer one was to securing the ever-enviable “Bright Future”.

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The 14 Mindfulness Teachings of Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Zen Buddhist Order

Zen Buddhism is pretty chill. Really, I daresay there are few beings as low-key and drama-averse as a Zen monk calmly sampling the fragrance of a rhododendron. Okay, maybe sloths.

One particularly awe-conjuring Zen Buddhist is a fellow by the name of Thích Nhất Hạnh.  A Vietnamese monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist, Nhất Hạnh has published more than 100 books, traveled and taught around the world, and was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. He’s like a Super Saiyan of Zen.

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