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A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes

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Started: 2018-01-22
Finished: 2018-01-23

Tired of my daily humdrum, I decided to escape to Victorian London for a while, by reading all of my Sherlock Holmes.

This time though, I was going to make notes!

And then it dawned on me, that I already had a comprehensive set.
I had, along with my copy of Peter Bevelin’s fantastic Seeking Wisdom, also purchased a copy of his A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes.

Bevelin synthesizes not just Sir Doyle’s works, but also pulls related information from a wide variety of sources, like Joseph Bell who was Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe and Michel De Montaigne.

Like thoughts on practice as a discipline …

Practice is a good instructor and teaches us to where to look and what to look for

Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems. Let him on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)

and on learning

And learning never stops

“But what I can’t make head or tail of, Mr. Holmes, is how on earth you got yourself mixed up in the matter.”
“Education, Gregson, education. Still seeking knowledge at the old university.” (Holmes; The Red Circle)
Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)
Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last. (Holmes; The Red Circle)

On learning to reason backwards

Reasoning backwards - working back from observations/effects to causes

The essential factor in this method consists in working back from observations of conditions to the causes which brought them about. It is often a question of deciding the doings of yesterday by the records found to-day. (Thomas McCrae; The Method of Zadig)
The ideal reasoner...would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it but also all the results which would follow from it. (Holmes; The Five Orange Pips)
The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unraveling it. (Holmes; The Sign of the Four)
In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backward. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practice it much. In the everyday affairs of life it is more useful to reason forward, and so the other comes to be neglected. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)
Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backward, or analytically. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)

and the fact that everything old is new again …

History often repeats itself

There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before. (Holmes; A Study in Scarlet)
Mr. Mac, the most practical thing that you ever did in your life would be to shut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the annals of crime. Everything comes in circles...The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again. (Holmes; The Valley of Fear)

This is ergo more a book recommendation, than a book notes post.
Most everything that I could hope to capture, is already in this slim volume.
And just like Doyle’s books, this one is worth coming back to over and over again.


The Race for Paradise

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Started: 2018-01-03
Finished: 2018-01-16

I’m Catholic and as a child, I was somehow naïvely proud that Christianity was the largest religion in the world.
We were good people. We were morally superior.
After all, we were the righteous chosen ones!
Our crusades were what helped Christianity become foremost and widespread!
All those knights in shining armour and all those devout folk went from their homes in Europe to battle the bad Muslims and conquer Jerusalem.
It was stuff of heady, wild fantasy!

Time has slowly cured me of my delusions, but the curiosity has always remained.

Why? and How?

Why did these two religions who had so much in common, go to war for centuries?
And the answer after ripping through the book is realistic disappoinment.

For all that many, maybe most Franks and Muslims wished it to be so, the realities were rather different. This was not a clash of Islam versus Christianity. It was at best a clash of specific Frankish polities warring with specific Muslim ones, where universal claims to religious truth or holy war almost always took a backseat to specific regional and political interests.
They do outright injustice to the more nuanced, less dramatic, but nevertheless authentic decisions made by generations of medieval Christians, Muslims, and Jews involved in this history. The Crusades, understood from any perspective, cannot shed light on modern struggles, and their motivations cannot be legitimately claimed as background or inspiration for contemporary conflicts.
Medieval Muslims and Christians went to war for their own motives, not ours.

And nothing captures the zeitgeist of the book, as much as this short note somewhere in the middle of the book

Bashir saw the strange spectacle of the Frankish lord of Antioch marching alongside Muslim troops from the lord of Aleppo, arrayed in battle against the sultan’s representative, the Muslim lord of Mosul, who marched with his own Frankish allies from Edessa.

It was just humans … being humans!
But don’t let that stop you from reading the book.

Paul M. Cobb weaves magic with this well researched work. While it may seem like I took a while with the book, the reality is that this is a page turner for any history buff. I had to slow down consciously because I did not want it to end!

Ranging from Spain to Africa to the Middle East to Mongolia and from the year 750 to 1492, he explores whole host of places, events and people. Action abounds! Treachery, back stabbing, sieges, plague, naval battles, battles in the plains, battles in the mountains, fire, it’s all here!

And while it is about humans being humans, I found it quite enjoyable as I kept switching sides throughout the book, rooting for who I thought, was doing the right thing at the time.

It gave me a perspective on how the “other side” sees these events and it looks suspiciously a lot like mine.

And the only reasonable reason as to why, comes from Yuval Noah Harari (read my notes on Sapiens, here.)

The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.
This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes.

We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights.
Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings.

You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven.
Only Sapiens can believe such stories.
This is why we rule the world, and chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.


Sapiens

It’s a quake book.

It manages to fit a hundred thousand years of human life, into less than five hundred pages, filled with history, wit & philosophy.

Page for page, this is one of the most wisdomous books I’ve ever read.


Joey being Wisdomous

This is how I imagine, Yuval Noah Harari acknowledging my compliment


Thoughts and Insights abound

I read past, before the impact of a line, two pages ago blinds me

Facts put in such simple terms, that make me wonder, why didn’t I realise this before?

“Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world.”

Will we ever be Kumbaya united as a whole human race?
Methinksnot.

“Evolution has made Homo sapiens, like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature.

Sapiens instinctively divide humanity into two parts, ‘we’ and ‘they’.”

and

“Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark.

In modern times, a small difference in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group.

Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species?

It may well be that when Sapiens encountered Neanderthals, the result was the first and most significant ethnic-cleansing campaign in history.”

Why is money so important? Because …

“money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.”

Masters of the land, are we?

“We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.”

Happiness, what is it?

“Nothing captures the biological argument better than the famous New Age slogan: ‘Happiness begins within.’ Money, social status, plastic surgery, beautiful houses, powerful positions – none of these will bring you happiness.

Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.”

Perspective … need one?

“In the 300 years of the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, polytheistic Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. Local administrators and governors incited some anti-Christian violence of their own.
Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians.

In contrast, over the course, of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions, to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion.”

I’m barely scratching the surface.

And all this, while nimbly skipping over events, places, geographies, and eons.

With the voice of a sad enlightened being, he concludes,

… humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever.

Self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company, we are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.

Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

This is definitely something I’ll keep coming back to, so that I can learn something new, time and again.


Hats & Boas: The Little Prince Has Them All

I might say that I read Meditations over and over, or that Morgan’s Run is the book that I love to lose myself in.

But the truth is that the pages that I’ve read the most, the quotes that shake me up the most, the lessons that I’ve learnt from the most, are from The Little Prince.


The Little Prince


The book has serendipitously inveigled it’s way into my mind and heart over the years.

I was introduced to it through an excerpt in a school textbook.
And ever since then, I’ve run across its quotes and lessons in books, in film and through people.

Even as I child, I somehow knew that the story added up to more that what the explorer and the Prince went through.
I knew the story teller was saying more than he let on.

And as I’ve grown, the book has continued to delight and offer lessons (if I care to listen)

On responsibility

“People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said.

“But you mustn’t forget it.

You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.
You’re responsible for your rose.”

On innocence and seeing things for what they are

If you were to say to the grown−ups:
“I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,”
they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all.

You would have to say to them:
“I saw a house that cost $20,000.”
Then they would exclaim:
“Oh, what a pretty house that is!”

On what truly matters … to You!

“If some one loves a flower,
of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars,
it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars.

He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there …’
But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened …
And you think that is not important‽ ”

On the joy of effort

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose, that makes your rose so important.”

On looking past appearances to find true beauty

“The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen.”

I replied, “Yes, that is so.’
And, without saying anything more, I looked across the ridges of sand that were stretched out before us in the moonlight.

“The desert is beautiful,” the little prince added.

“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well …”

On sorrow

It is such a secret place, the land of tears.

On love and belonging

… said the little prince. “What does that mean –– ‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“To establish ties?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys.
And I have no need of you.
And you, on your part, have no need of me.
To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.

But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.
To me, you will be unique in all the world.
To you, I shall be unique in all the world … ”

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince.
“There is a flower …
I think that she has tamed me … ”

On death

“You understand … it is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy.”

I said nothing.

“But it will be like an old abandoned shell.
There is nothing sad about old shells … ”


Saying GoodBye



Word for word, The Little Prince has given me more wisdom and comfort and joy, than any tome I have ever read, more than even a Seneca or an Aurelius; a Wu Hsin or the Bible.

And yet, it does all this, with a story so simply and delightfully told.
I laugh at my explorer’s drawings.
I cry every time the Little Prince has to go away.

And for all this, I’ve never appreciated it all these years.
Never again.


Wishing Upon a Star

I’ll close with the same lines the comte de Saint Exupéry writes, to bring the story to its wistful end …

This is, to me, the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world.
It is here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared.
Look at it carefully so that you will be sure to recognise it in case you travel some day to the African desert.

And, if you should come upon this spot, please do not hurry on.
Wait for a time, exactly under the star.

Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is.
If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back.


All I Want to Know Is Where I’m Going to Die, so I’ll Never Go There - 00

Ok, so here goes.

I’ve always wanted to do marginalia and notes and talk to myself and share all that with … someone like me, but younger I guess.

I want to retain and understand and absorb, more of what I read.
I want to come back to what I’ve written and see if it holds up
And I want to read and osmosize1 more of what Vishal Khandelwal calls Supertexts.



I read three volumes of Taleb over the past year and a half and I wish I had written down what I learnt.
And I know now, why they’re called Supertexts
Every other day, I see something through that new lens I gained.
And I wish I could have written about the Incerto, the way Kyle has

Well, better late than never :)
The super half, gifted me a Munger trio early this year.



And so I’ll start with the aforementioned book, as I try to make sense of it.

Come along, will you?



  1. I make up fancy shit, as I go! :P 

On the Wisdom of Taking Action

I’ve followed The Art of Manliness blog for quite some time now.
To say that it’s changed my life would be an understatement

The articles I really love, are the ones based on philosophy.
And the ones I really love are the ones that resonated with what I already knew, or had read and forgotten

Articles that distilled the advice of old greats like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, with the new thinkers; Taleb, Stephen Pressfield, Ryan Holiday and Cal Newport.

Turns out, most of them are written by an awesome guy called Kyle Eschenroeder.
My favourite of all his writings is an article called, “10 Overlooked Truths About Taking Action

And a few days before, Kyle and Brett decided to write a little monster called, “Screw 10 Overlooked Truths! Here’s All of What We’ve learned about Taking Action!

Well, that’s what I would have called it! :)
They decided on the classier, “Meditations on the Wisdom of Action

The first thing on my list today is to print the little sucker and bind it and keep it right next to my well worn copy of Meditations.
This is something I’ll return to again and again.
And again.

The act of “doing” is something that always scares the shit out of me.
Doing something new. Doing something that I want to.
I thank God, that I’m surrounded by awesome family and friends.
Otherwise I think, I would have been a scared turtle-in-his-shell all my life.

This book expands that little circle to now include what Seneca calls the eminent dead. (some of the guys still live, mind you :) )

Here’s a few choice morsels

“The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around. That’s all you need to know.”
–Marcus Aurelius

and

Books About Heaven.
Steven Pressfield relates a New Yorker cartoon in his (short) book Do the Work: “A perplexed person stands before two doors. One door says HEAVEN. The other says BOOKS ABOUT HEAVEN.”

He’s perplexed. He’s considering the book over the actual experience. It’s funny because it’s absurd… and because we know we’d have the same consideration.
Why would we deny ourselves direct experience?
Action is going to Heaven. Abstraction is reading about going to heaven.
(Reading a book can be Heaven when it’s a primary activity.)

and

Acting Is Dirty.
Creation is inherently messy. The Big Bang was an explosion that created everything we know. You were born into this world bloody while your mother endured the worst pain of her life.
….
Honest action won’t take you on a straight path. It may not make sense to you or those around you at first.
Instead, it will straighten your posture on any path you’re on. You won’t fear what others fear. You won’t regret what the others will.
You’ll have scars and remember the lessons they taught you. Others will look fragile because while they kept their training wheels on you let yourself fall down, endure the pain, and do it again.

and

“Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy…”.

“… but where are they.”
–Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans

The Spartans knew they would meet the enemy and fight with courage. They didn’t ask for unnecessary information.
You don’t need to either.
Gather the minimum information you need to begin.
Then, before you think you’re ready, begin.

and

Motivation Follows Action.
Our fatal mistake is waiting to be motivated before we take action.

Action motivates.
I don’t feel like working out until I get my blood flowing. I’m too tired to have sex until we’ve begun. I don’t want to go to the party until I’m there.
Motivation will follow if you have the balls to go without them.

My favourites are the two examples of the principle I currently work so hard to achieve

Meditation as Action.
Meditation connects the mind to reality.
It is pure action. There is no frustration of what should be done. There is only doing.
Meditation is a right action that acts as a catalyst for more right action.
How do you meditate?
One way: Sit down. Set a timer for twenty minutes. Close your eyes. Feel the sensation of air flowing in and out of your nostrils and on your upper lip. Each time your mind wanders bring it back to the sensation. Do not get upset when your mind wanders; the point is to become more aware of your thoughts, not get rid of them. And whatever you do, don’t get upset at being upset.

alongside

Action is Waiting.
The most difficult action to take is often non-action.
Not stillness out of laziness, but out of self-discipline.
Waiting to look at your phone until your date is over.
Waiting for the other guy to stumble in a negotiation. Waiting to work out until your injury is healed.
The sniper must be patient. Warren Buffett says he makes mistakes every time he is bored with too much money.
… Patience is an action. Laziness is not.

The booklet ends with …

Everything you do matters.
Act accordingly.

So do yourself a favour, take action and go grab the free pdf booklet right now.