Category Archives: Liberal Arts

Life is colorful (English)

Note: The original Chinese version is here. I am not satisfied with the English version at all. I cannot feel well with English. The original Chinese version is very beautiful, and I am quite satisfied with it.

Life is colorful!

In my life, I have heard three most beautiful sentences. The first one is Life is Colorful. The second one is also this sentence. The third one is still this sentence. Even if I can forget all the sentences in the world, I will never forget this one.

I still remember you took a jump like a rabbit on the grass field. With that jump, you jumped into my heart. That is the most beautiful move I have seen in my life. Even if I can forget all other moves in the world, I will never forget that one.

In my time with you, you always gave me this kind of shocks, shaking me off all my hypocrisy, and bringing me back to my very existence itself.

“Existence”, now I think I can use this word to summarize my huge change these two years because of you. This is also the result of me trying to understand the meaning of “Life is colorful”. In these two years, you were like a great master, helping me to understand the meaning of this sentence through various angles on various levels. Before I could understand this sentence, I was afraid that I might give up striving hard after believing in this sentence. After I understood this sentence, however, I worked harder, and at the same time, I enjoyed the great happiness in the process, and never felt exhausted.

Because I started to understand, living in this world as a human being, there are probably only three things to do: grow (learn), have fun (play), and create.

Growing, just like all creatures grow, we also grow. But as human being, our growth is not only in term of body, but also in term of brain, e.g. to become smarter. Unlike the plants and animals, our bodies might stop growing and start weakening, but our brain can always keep growing. Understanding this, I don’t judge people by moral standard of good or bad anymore. Good people might not be able to good things. Smart people can actually do good things. I always say that my true nature is a gangster, and that I have to do some bad things occasionally. Otherwise, if I keep doing good things without doing bad things, I will be very imbalanced and might commit very bad things eventually.

Having fun, just like the plants enjoy the sunshine and the rain drops, we also need to enjoy the fun of life. Not only do we need to eat well and dress well, we also need to let our brains have fun, because the brain is the most advanced organ in the body to enjoy the fun. No matter what I do, it is not because of anything but because I like it. Just like when I was a kid, I was so deep into flying the kite, swimming, fishing. I think if there is any truth in this world, fun is the biggest truth. Please don’t tell me any kind of big ideas. As long as it is fun, it is the biggest idea. To enjoy the most advanced fun, we have to grow, to become smarter. Thus I have to work hard. But the process of hard working itself, is also full of endless fun.

Creation, the most fun, also needs the highest ability. Creation, I think is to connect knowledge in all different fields together, and find out that they are actually talking about the same thing. It is just some talk about it in an interesting way, some don’t.

Thus last semester, I was studying very efficiently. There is no exam, I don’t need to take courses, but this is a state of freedom, and I can make free choices. The question is whether I have the ability to make free choices. Throughout the whole semester, I was exploring how to study the most efficiently.

Finally, I found out that knowledge system can be divided into several domains. In each domain, it can be classified into various levels. Roughly speaking, it has three levels. At the bottom is the math and the physics thinking methods. In the middle level is the knowledge we learned in our majors. At the top level are various products and application of knowledge. It is the fundamental ideas in the bottom level that connect knowledge of different domains together. The knowledge in different levels are flowing everywhere. When they condense in a certain form of container, we have a subject or a product. The most efficient way of learning is to learn through doing a project (because it is best for understanding the knowledge), with the purpose of doing the project in the fastest and best way, through the means of systemic study and analyzing the flowing knowledge. Through one project after another, I can progress in different domains gradually. My thesis is my first project, and I got an excellence.

Everyday, looking at the knowledge flowing, continuously forming various subjects and products, it is really full of extreme happiness.

While I was applying for scholarship, I tried to build up mathematical models for various complex scenarios. It is really endless fun.

After the last time I called you in China, I had been through great ups and downs, great happiness and great sadness, and you missed all of them.

The dean wouldn’t allow me to quit the graduate school. To persuade her, I was forced to use my super power. I became super saiyan.

Sending classmates away, Zhe Da BME 95 doesn’t exist anymore. The party is over. Everyone was gone. Only I was left to watch the empty building.

Preparing for the visa interview and practicing oral English, I went on streets grabbing Americans to practice English with. On the day of interview, I spotted an American near the embassy, and wanted to grab him to practice my English. Later I found out that he is actually an official of the embassy.

Visa interview, I marched into the embassy singing the Whole River Red (Note: Man Jiang Hong, an ancient classic Chinese song by a famous general, a national hero). When I sang to “Feast on the flesh of the invaders. Laugh and chat and quench our thirst with Tartar blood“, I found my feeling. The visa official saw me, withdrew two steps immediately, asking me:” What… what do you want? ” At that moment, I saw from the window glasses that my eyes shooting out green lights. “I want to apply for a visa.” I said. “OK, OK, I give you visa. Here.” My visa application experience is the most smooth one among my classmates. Actually when I walked into the embassy I treated the visa officials like old friends, because I knew he would be the one who would give me the visa to let me go to America. When I saw that American official, immediately he reminded me young American guys I talked to in the English corners. So it is really like talking to old friends.

Going back to where I grew up, getting together with childhood friends again, my memory of my wonderful childhood is still very fresh. That kind of happiness disappeared since I went to middle school in the city. Until I went to college, until now, again I have that kind of happiness. At home, looking at me as a kid, and compare with the present me, I cannot believe if it is not you I can change so much.

I went to visit my most respectful Chinese teacher. He told me he always had a very high expectation of me because I gave him two impressions: the first is that I have a very high goal. The second is that I can take all kinds of pains and work very hard. I think, for the first one it is probably because I refuse death and mediocrity. And the second enables me to keep going beyond myself. In the past, I strived very hard and bitterly with these as my support, until you told me that life is colorful, and gave me great shocks through your natural flow of personality. Although I always try to go beyond myself, for this kind of change, if not for you, it would be almost impossible just through my own efforts. I think I am very lucky.

I had been trying very hard to understand the changes these two years and their causes. But it is really very hard. That is why I didn’t write a letter for a long time. Now I still cannot say I am able to see it very clearly. But I think I tried my best to truthfully write this letter.

I have learned so much from you. I believe I haven’t finished my study yet. I don’t want to drop out in the middle. I want to keep studying. Can I continue through distance learning? I want to get the graduation certificate and the degree certificate.

Talking about the graduation certificate, it reminds me of our graduation ceremony. In our stadium, bachelors, masters and ph.ds from four campus coming together, about 7000 graduates, forming a square (?), it is really awesome (?). It is the first time in Zhe Da’s history. After the ceremony, a classmate who missed it asked me what happened during the ceremony, I said that we all kept punching our fists into the air, and shouting loudly:”Qiu Shi Chuang Xin (Note: the motto of Zhe Da), unites the whole Jiang Hu (Note: if you watched Crouching Tiger and Hiding Dragon, you probably know what Jiang Hu means. :)), great president Pan, long live for ever.”

The photos were taken before we graduated. That was our last happy time together. The statue behind me is called “infinitely big”. I said that when I stood before that stature, it became “infinitely disgusting”. This is our dorm’s “Disgusting Culture”. Living in Zhe Da for 5 years, we become too bored and became spirits, and created the “Disgusting Culture” together.

The two super disgusting people in our dorm are “Heaven Disgusting Star” and “Guaranteed Disgusting Star”. “Guaranteed Disgusting Star” is a super pervert figure of our dorm. He can look at you with a smile on his face for several mins, and then speak gently: actually I am in love with you.

“Heaven Disgusting Star” has another nickname “Old Bull”. He has three super disgusting moves: singing, reciting poets, and reading English. With any move, the whole dorm will be immediately empty. But the last move has the most damaging power on me.

But they two always complain that although I don’t speak much, I am actually the most disgusting one. As for what I have said, I don’t want to reveal them here, for the fear of damaging my image. But I can let the Guaranteed Disgusting Star let out the loudest laugh at late night, and let the Heaven Disgusting Star (old bull) be sad for the whole night. That night, I was writing on Old Bull’s year book:

Taoists say bull can bull, not normal bull;
Buddhists say bull is not bull, named bull, thus is bull;
Christ says all bulls have sins, repent!
Archimedes’ herding bull problem challenged mathematicians of many centuries;
Even the great history of human arts started with drawing bulls;
Old Bull, my noble respect for you, is really like that mighty river that runs forever;
Old Bull answers: you can beat me, you can scold me, but you should never humiliate me.

Old Bull read my words on his year book, got sad for the whole night, saying he had no face to see people any more. Taking the advantage of writing the departing words on the year books, I humiliated all my classmates. But I dared not use heavy hands on the girls’ year books. They kept writing very sentimental words on my year book, making me feel very embarrassed. But at the last moment when we had to be apart, I finally couldn’t control myself any more, and became very sad. Do you understand? Throughout all these years of living together, although we had many conflicts, in the senior years, we all developed the mutual understanding, learned to tolerate and have fun with each other. After departing with them, I could seldom have that kind of fun with other people and say those interesting words, and never could go walk the bird with someone with nickname “Little Bird”, or go herd the cattle with someone called “Old Bull”. Don’t know the cry at our departure is for the friends’ departing, or for ourselves, for the ending of a time in our lives.

Last semester, I was very proud of being a fifth grade student on campus. I told people, there are two kinds of students who don’t know the direction on campus. One kind is the freshmen. You ask them for the direction. They will tell you:”Sorry, I am a freshmen. I don’t know.” The second kind is us 5th grade students. You ask us :”How to go to Dorm No. 7?” “Dorm No. 7? Let me think. … I don’t know. Wait a second, I live in Dorm No. 7. You can follow me.”

Now I become the first kind of students again. There are many things I need to learn, and cannot have that state of freedom of the 5th grade students. But I will work hard, because Life is Colorful!

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Breakfast At Tiffany’s

The wild thing. A pretty girl loves everyone. She is in love with the world.

All the things that moral is trying to teach, most of them are wrong. It just make you more hypocrite. It takes a lot of efforts to find out the truth by yourself. What is life? How do you manifest life?

Remember the words of my most favorite novelist: to live like grass growing and horse having sex.
Even those moral things are right, when they are taught that way, it only leads to hypocrisy. While we live in a world full of liars and dirty things, how can you be moral? So it is better to change the world first.

Are you still wild? Or are you tamed?

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Natural writing and editing

This is a question raised in a Dharma gathering. I think it is a good topic to comment a little on.

It is asked how to understand the relation between natural/original writing and editing (Not exact words, but roughly so). With original writing, there is a sense of expressing oneself. It is raw and fresh. With editing, it is a respect for the audience. It is considering how the audience will perceive the writing, and modifies the writing so audience can better take it.

I think we can try taking some extreme case. Say, you lock yourself in a room, not interacting with people for years. What can you write? It is probably very difficult for you to write. Or in another case, you have internet in the room, and you do a lot of reading, pursuing your very high level thinking without ever talking to anyone. Then you start writing. Your writing will probably be very hard for other people to understand. I know some people like that. It is all their own construct. They are on a very high level, but cannot communicate with people. My writing when I first came out of my long time of solitude (of my tech learning), can be very hard to understand. (I always try to tell more. Actually I should tell less.) I had the painful experience of writing because of lack of interaction with people here and the language barrier. It took me a lot of time to write a short article.

So when you write something, you create an identity. You call that identity self. So self (as an identity) is generated out of interaction with other people, in response to the outside world. The true self is the self that is able to interact and respond to the outside world. It is the self that is playing.

Then you do some editing, working on the style and details. But the substance is already there. I know some people do revising many times. My most favorite Chinese novelist kept revising his novels for 20 years. But his novel is quite long and complex. So it is worth spending time keeping improving it. He rearranged various sections for many times to find a more beautiful structure (He even wrote software to help him doing that). But the substance is deeply rooted in his life experiences.

Recently I have more enjoyment of writing instead of pain. It comes out more naturally and doesn’t take me much time. It is only because I do more interaction now and I am more in context of the space here. Also after in the world of language for a while, the words and sentences quite often just build themselves. Of course they build themselves through me. 🙂

 

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Society is like a big novel

It is a lot of fun to watch different threads developing in a culture. Anything, as long as it is truth, there is endless beauty in it.

However, to be able to enjoy this big novel and follow it threads, a lot of reading and interaction with different levels and aspects of society are needed. You also need to know a great deal of history.  Nevertheless, it is a lot of fun.

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Comments on Whither the World

http://libcom.org/library/whither-the-world

I like this article. I agree with his view on capitalism and most of his analysis. I agree with him that capitalism is a historical advancement. A lot of things in capitalism can be justified. The real change in capitalism has to start from a underlying structure change. Throughout the article, the author is looking for the so called “new energy supply, new tools” that will lead to structure change. But he hasn’t been successful. As he observed, there isn’t as much productivity boost in the 90s as in previous decades.

My view is that the author failed to find the  so called “new energy supply, new tools” that will lead to structure change is due to the author’s lack of understanding of comptuer/software/web. Although he pointed out the computer technology, together with finance, is the force that will potentially cause the structure change, he understands computer simply as a new kind of machine. However, computer/software is not just another kind of machine. Computer/software is actually a bridge between human world and physical world. It is in this sense that the appearance of computer/software is a very revolutionary breakthrough in human history. Our current time is less about improving our producing power in making physical products. Instead it is more about how we can make better social products. So the author totally missed the point as he continue to seek a new tool to dramatically improve the productivity of making physical product as the cause of structure change. Our time is about how to build better social products (such as learning, music, journalism and so on). It is about what really makes us happy.

Below are some quotes from the article and my comments.

We can’t expect capitalism to become as capitalist as possible, treating the proles in the toughest possible way, and thus forcing them to react. (How could a movement that means both collective and individual self-awareness and autonomy, be based on a determinism that would push us into action almost unconsciously? What matters is not how and when restructuring will impoverish labour, but whether or not restructuring is maturing, i.e. entering its first large structural contradictions, and meeting a resistance aimed at its core, not just at its effects.”

Data are valid as far as they lead us towards the social profitability of a system at a given time, that is, its capacity to produce its own general stability, and to reproduce its ruling class in the best possible conditions. The extent of the restructuring can only be understood if we start from the contradiction that the restructuration is trying to solve. ‘What’s the technical system that will enable capital to rebound? Where are the new energy supplies, the new materials, the new tools? Above all, where’s the new organization of labour that will make up for the defects of Taylorism, and raise to hitherto unknown heights the domination of capital?’ ” 

“The history of capitalism can’t be explained by the action of a single class, only by a permanent contradiction, where class struggle and confrontational partnership are two sides of the same coin.” 

 ” Until then, and from the beginning of the XXth century, capital had been busy altering the work process, but not yet the forms of existence of wage-labour. It’s only after 39-45 that it was also able, in the US, in Western Europe and in Japan, to transform the (re)production of labour power:

* Integration of the proletarians in the economic, political and social sphere of capital: they’re no longer perceived as enemies, as outsiders, but as rival partners in the valorization process.

* On the other hand, what defined the XIXth century worker (his skill, his craftsmanship) is decomposed and rejected.

* Wages are not merely a cast, but an investment which feeds consumption: there’s a reasonable increase in direct wages, and a large increase in indirect wages.

* Mass consumption (with planned obsolescence) fuels growth, and commodification pervades the whole social fabric.

* National development gives a new role to the State, which no longer deals only with war and law & order, but also initiates social justice and social peace. It helps or forbids mergers, supports growth through fiscal policies, public works and a permanent arms economy.

I agree with his description of the transformation that capitalism went through. If you read John Taylor Gatto’s online book (http://johntaylorgatto.com/underground/index.htm), you will come to the same conclusion.

Computerized labour: know-how is transferred from the worker into a machine (numerical control appeared in the early 70’s), and management is accelerated in the services. However, computerization saves time and wastes it, because of breakdowns, training, fast hardware obsolescence and other incidental expenses. The real success of the “computer revolution” comes from its ability to control the work process and to make it even more obscure for the wage earner. At least, at the end of the assembly line, the worker can see a car or a tin of sardines. Screens, digits and icons now blur each person’s contribution to the collective effort. Computerization is a script for lack of comprehension.

I feel the problem is really: why the worker cannot learn and empower themselves and thus in control of their own profession since they know the best of their profession. Social software of course will change how people learn, and thus will really empower individuals. Social software will also put the individual professionals in control. One reason why social software will empower the individual professionals is that social software will allow individual professionals to reach a small diverse market via the web thus making it easier to build a profitable small business instead of having to relying on a huge stable homogenized market to be profitable (see the book Long Tail). But the author of ” Whither the World” seems to be against diversified consumption.

The waste the author mentioned as caused by computer is probably no where near the magnitude of the productivity that  computer has brought. If so, it is meaningless to mention it.

It is a very good article. I think maybe the article will be a little different if the author writes it now instead of a few years ago since the innovation of web2.0 is taking shaping in these years.

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Creativity, Business and Buddhism

During my first day of meeting with my teacher, I brought three things to him: a stone, a pine tree branch and an acorn. I asked him that of these three things what are the same, what are different and which one he likes the best. Heaven on earth, here life takes on different forms. Everyone likes the flower the best, right? Creativity is to perceive the same common nature shared by various things, witness different patterns in different forms of lives, combine those patterns together in a different way with free will into another form of life. That is creativity. That is why Buddhism is the art of all arts. That is what Buddhism practice is about. It is the same as playing an art.

Deep in everyone of us, there is a creative core. We need to work hard to dig into it. It is the highest fun.

About business, what should I say? First of all, business is how this world is run. If you don’t understand business, you miss a big part of the truth. You won’t achieve anything in activism if you don’t understand business.

Business is about getting you hands dirty and being able to DO things.

Everyone has a huge army. We need to train ourselves to be a good general. You have ears, eyes, nose, hands, legs, brain… You need to know how to command them. When there is no enemy, a good general shouldn’t let his army running around, exhausting itself. The army should rest, but be fully awake. If you are asleep, even though the enemy put the knife on your neck you won’t know. Whenever the enemy attacks, you can get your army to respond immediately whichever direction the enemy comes in.

Out of free will, we are doing various activities in our daily lives. There are different types of activities. A complex activity such as writing software demands the use of brain. You have to think. Some activity such as sports and playing music requires a very high physical coordination of your ears, eyes, and your body. Playing is the best way to coordinate them. So you have to play. Some activity is more responsive, like when interacting with people. Then you have to be mindful, mind responding to mind, reading the mind. Interacting with people is the real fun. Sometime to do the activity well, you have to have responsibility. Responsibility is very important. It comes from true love. But responsibility is not enough. When playing some extreme activity, you have to PLAY. You should command your army well to do best in those different activities. So practice to be a good general. It is all about experiencing plus and minus in the activities. That is the thing you are doing every day. That is emptiness. That is peaceful.

If you can only find peace in meditation, this is the answer.

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Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

Dumbing Us Down

Thinking after reading Dumbing us down.

No one can do a good job on education without reading Mr. Gatto’s books. Reading his book, you will have a feeling that education is the root of nearly all problems of our society. The education is to understand other social issues on a very deep level.

Brief recap of central points of his book:

  • the cost of learning is very low, almost free
  • genius is very common among us, everyone can be genius
  • without community life, one cannot be a full human being
  • family life is important in teaching love
  • local vs. global: any local community, if there is no external artificial disturbance, can be self-correcting, can grow,
  • you cannot love people you don’t know, act locally
  • community life is a connection between past, present, and future. Schooling, however, destroys the natural process
  • no one right way
  • what lessons children have to go through to be a fully human being
  • solitude is an important lesson, it gives the space and time necessary to develop the self
  • human being is not machine. Human beings are self-initiative and self-complete, while machine just follows command.
  • big dose of time is needed in learning

Very beautifully written book.

(To be continued…)

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Filed under Elearning, Essay, John Taylor Gatto, Liberal Arts, unschooling, What is Learning