Life, the Universe and Everything
No free rides, just a push to get started.

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.
Henry L. Mencken

Let us endeavour to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
Mark Twain

tangent logo  Why Me?

A cynic might simply ask, "Why not?", or "Got somebody else in mind?". The bad news is that there’s usually no satisfactory answer. The good news is that you can stop looking. It’s not about you, and your name didn’t suddenly appear in the wrong column of some cosmic "naughty or nice" list. We’re all subject to seemingly random forces and universal principles much bigger than any of us. We can study these forces, and possibly develop some appreciation for their grandeur, complexity, subtlety, or other qualities. In some cases we might even develop some degree of control or find ways to minimize the consequences. We go on because we have to, and because part of our nature as humans is to explore, push limits and pool our knowledge, experience and resources. Our associations, families, societies and cultures are ways we create something enduring and larger than ourselves, which helps us overcome, or at least endure through, those things we can’t control.

tangent logo  Is it meant to be?

I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more I have of it.
Thomas Jefferson

Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right!
Henry Ford

Perhaps it’s meant to be, or not to be. Sometimes it’s just a test. Some tests determine if people will stubbornly continue despite having nothing more than wishful thinking on their side. If they let it go, then they pass the test. Other tests measure determination. If you succeed after putting in extra effort to show you’re serious, then you pass. How can we tell if it’s fate or some kind of test? That’s the most important part of the test.

tangent logo  My God Can Beat Up Your God

The worlds many religions are likely here to stay, and an important part of some religions is “spreading the joy” to all who will listen. The essence of religion is faith, and for many, no amount of logic will sway their beliefs. This also makes it difficult to win converts, and a few enthusiastic believers resort to some brutal means of sharing their inner bliss with those not persuaded by rational discussion. In some cases, it might be best to simply avoid discussing religious differences. At other times, try to limit the discussion to sharing personal, positive religious feelings and experiences, such as how your life is enhanced by a particular religious belief or ceremony, or how you were changed for the better. What religious values guide your daily life? What do you embrace? What do you exclude from your life? Try to remain as open-minded as you expect your listener to be, and understand that the personal feelings, intuitions, and experiences of others are just as meaningful as your own. Even when there seem to be irreconcilable differences in what people believe, sometimes they can find common ground in why they believe.

tangent logo  Declining Values?

People value what they need. Hunter-gatherer societies need the earth, plants, and animals. They may consider certain places sacred and develop rituals for gathering plants and hunting. Survival may require the combined efforts of an extended family.

As civilizations develop, individuals start to specialize. Culture and social customs connect unrelated people who become increasingly interdependent.

Technology such as email, credit cards and telephones allows creating virtual neighborhoods that only include neighbors by choice. We can connect with others anywhere in the world. Money and the law become important means of interaction as personal connections weaken. Corporations are a worldwide community of stockholders and board members with few local ties. Less social interaction with those we depend on reduces the need to learn to get along and work things out. There’s a tendency to want to be like people on TV rather than feeling like part of a local community.

As personal interactions and local ties become less necessary, we need to work harder to maintain them. At least once a week, do something from this list:

  • Do something nice for a stranger.
  • Learn the name of a neighbor, coworker, worker at a neighborhood business, or someone you share public transportation with.
  • Buy a product or service from a locally-owned business.
  • Learn the name of a native plant or animal, and something special about it such as the meaning of its scientific name, it’s place in the ecosystem, or characteristics that help it survive.
  • When asked "how are you?", briefly mention something you or a family member accomplished recently, or something you’d like to accomplish.
  • Recycle, repair, or donate an item you were going to throw away.
  • Learn about a local issue and contribute in some way.
  • If you learn about someone else’s problem, think about how you might feel and what you might do if you had the same problem.
  • Ask others what they like about themselves, or what makes them feel good about themselves. Listen without interrupting or commenting, unless they ask you a question. When they finish, repeat back something you heard that’s interesting or important.
  • Add an idea of your own to this list.

tangent logo  On the Shoulders of Giants

If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
Sir Isaac Newton

Becoming part of the big picture doesn’t make you smaller, it makes the picture bigger.

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Learn from the mistakes of others - you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.
Martin Vanbee

We humans are sharers and learners. We add our own thoughts and creations to what we learn from parents, teachers, friends and mentors, and then pass our knowledge along to others. 30 years after the invention of the transistor, several manufacturers offered affordable home computers. The Internet and spam weren’t far behind. The first space shuttle launch was less than 80 years after the Wright Brothers first flight. We can’t all be rocket scientists or invent something as important as transistors, but we can enjoy the benefits and share in the accomplishments by understanding to the best of our ability. Anyone can climb onto the shoulders of a giant. Some offer their own contributions and others just enjoy the view.

Many people honor their heritage by passing on the traditions of their culture or society, like those endlessly circulating Christmas fruitcakes. Honoring your heritage doesn’t mean never changing. Each tradition came from somewhere and took its place alongside earlier traditions. Our ancestors kept traditions because they served some purpose, even if that purpose is simply to remind us of someone or something from our past. As we sit on the giant of our own heritage, that giant can join others on the shoulders of an even larger giant. We can climb ever higher without leaving anything behind.

tangent logo  I Believe, Therefore I Am

What we need is not the will to believe but the will to find out.
Bertrand Russell

Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.
Mark Twain

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

Many think of their beliefs and opinions as part of who they are, but what about the way they formed those beliefs and opinions? Before we were believers, we were capable of forming beliefs. The philosopher Descartes went so far as to doubt his very existence. He finally concluded that if he could doubt his existence, think about his doubt, and even doubt that he was thinking about doubt, then he must actually exist. He simplified his conclusion to, "I think, therefore I am." Before thinking about something you believe and how that belief is part of who you are, think about how you came to believe it.

Was there ever a time you believed something different? If so, what changed?

If you believe because someone told you to believe, would you change your mind if the same person now told you to believe the opposite?

If you believe because you "just know" it’s true, what would you say to someone who "just knows" it’s not true? How would you respond if someone says the same thing to you?

If you believe it’s true for you, could it be false for someone else? How could you tell if it’s true for someone you just met? Is there a test for this belief?

If you believe because it’s the only thing you know, how would you respond to someone who knows more than you and believes differently?

If you evaluate various options and try to choose the best one, how do you respond when you learn something new?

When people comment on your clothing, they’re probably also thinking about your taste in clothes or the way you choose your clothes. The clothes themselves are just things that hang on your body and don’t change who you are. The way you choose your clothes is a reflection of your personality. In the same way, why you believe and how you respond to those who believe differently define you even more than what you believe.

tangent logo  Let it Begin with Me

It’s been said in many ways.

Let him that would change the world, first change himself!
Socrates (470BC - 399BC)

O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.
Robert Burns (1759 - 1796)

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910)

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948)

We have met the enemy and he is us.
Pogo/Walt Kelly (1913 - 1973)

Ask not what your country can do for you, do it for yourself.
Stewart Brand (b.1938)

Take care when giving advice. It might be given back.
Okum Taylor

It may be tempting to think that everything would be fine if those others would stop being so stubborn, admit that they are wrong, and agree to do things my way. Those others may be thinking the same about me. We may settle for splitting the difference, trading concessions, or simply agreeing to disagree. What if, like the blind men and the elephant, we were both wrong from the start? If we are going to break the cycle, someone has to go first.

Many people who’ve heard a foreign language encountered words in the other language that sound similar to words in English. The foreign words may sound familiar but could have very different meanings and the consequences can vary from humorous to catastrophic. If people have nothing else to go on, it’s tempting to jump to conclusions based only on that little bit that seems familiar. We need to remind ourselves to slow down and ask questions before acting on something that may exist only in our imagination.

People often enjoy stumping each other with riddles and brainteasers that may rely on steering people toward a wrong path to a dead-end or hopeless contradiction. The solution often requires backing up to the wrong turn and taking a different, less obvious path to the correct solution.

Murder mysteries may contain clues that point to a particular suspect. Other characters may demand this person be immediately arrested and punished. The true culprit is only revealed after a determined detective sees some troubling loose ends and digs deeper. It’s easy for readers or observers to simply enjoy the bumps, twists, and turns of a well-told story without becoming emotionally invested in a particular outcome. Situations that impact us directly are more difficult, but it’s still important to occasionally take a step back, listen to others, and look for alternate paths that may lead to a different conclusion.

You may have played or heard of a game (sometimes called Telephone or Whispers) where people stand in a circle, someone whispers a message to the next person, and by the time the message gets around the circle, it’s changed. As a message travels from our ears to our concious mind, it travels through various pathways controlled by our thoughts, feelings, knowledge, and past experiences. Some pathways are straight, others may have twists, bumps, trap doors or dead-ends. While traveling through an internal pathway, the message may change or part of the message may be trapped or erased. As we become aware of these pathways and observe messages passing through, we can learn to straighten out crooked pathways, seek shortcuts, and create new pathways. One way to explore our internal pathways is to observe ourselves thinking. This leads to a better understanding of our own thought process and the various associations we make.

  • When meeting someone new, I think about ...
  • Something I value in others is ...
  • When I hear a rumor about someone I don’t like I ...
  • When facing 2 unpleasant options I ...
  • Conflicting opinions are never/sometimes/always helpful because ...
  • I know I’m getting good advice when ...
  • I make the best decisions when ...
  • I feel good about a decision when ...
  • I reconsider past decisions when ...
  • I accept someone else’s decision or opinion when ...

As we explore our own pathways, we also learn how to listen and ask questions that help us understand the pathways of others. As we learn more about the pathways within ourselves and others, we learn to recognize actual needs, and how to separate those needs from strategies that we believe will help us meet those needs. We can learn to distinguish "feel-good" solutions from "do-good" solutions. We can share what’s going inside of us in specific situations, and listen to what’s going on inside others. If we catch ourselves wanting to jump in or interrupt with our own opinions, we can take that as a warning that we’re focused on what’s going on inside us rather than carefully listening to what’s going on inside someone else.

tangent logo  The Meaning of Life

Assuming there is an ultimate answer, what would you like it to be? If you could rearrange everything to fulfill your concept of the ultimate meaning, what would you change? Would it be all about you, or would you just be a part of something bigger? If you’re not sure about one specific plan, what are some possibilities? Might there be any unintended consequences?

If you not sure what the answer is, do you have some idea of what it’s not? Either way, how would you decide whether to believe an answer you read or hear somewhere?