Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves

Physicist, novelist, and essayist Alan Lightman has added his own manifestoIn Praise of Wasting Time. Of course, the title is ironic, because Lightman argues that by putting down our devices and spending time on quiet reflection, we regain some of our lost humanity, peace of mind, and capacity for creativity—not a waste of time, after all, despite the prevailing mentality that we should spend every moment actually doing something. The problem is not only our devices, the internet, and social media. Lightman argues that the world has become much more noisy, fast-paced, and distracting. Partly, he writes, this is because the advances that have enabled the much greater transfer of data, and therefore productivity, have created an environment in which seemingly inexorable market forces push for more time working and less leisure time.

Lightman starts his book with an anecdote from his recent time in a rural village in Cambodia. When he asked a villager how long it took her to bike daily to the market ten miles away to barter for food and goods, she replied that she had never thought about it. Lightman is “startled” at this, and jealous. He points out that we in the “developed” world (his scare quotes) have carved up our days into minuscule portions, not a single one to be wasted. He admits that “from the instant I open my eyes in the morning until I turn out the lights at night, I am at work on some project. First thing in the morning, I check my email. For any unexpected opening of time that appears during the day, I rush to patch it, as if a tear in my trousers…” 

Lightman points to several productive, creative individuals who routinely had unstructured time in their days. A fellow physicist at MIT, Paul Schechter, used to sit for hours daydreaming on park benches, which he credited with helping come up with important ideas, including a formula for the number of galaxies with different luminosities. Gertrude Stein used to drive around in the country every day and find a place to sit and write; much of that time was not spent writing, but gazing at cows. Mathematician Henri Poincaré, after a few weeks of fruitless work on functions, drank coffee one evening and in his sleeplessness found that “[i]deas rose in crowds; I felt them collide under pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions . . . “

Lightman feels we are in a “dire” situation:

Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves. We are losing our ability to know who we are and what is important to us. We are creating a global machine in which each of us is a mindless and reflexive cog, relentless driven by the speed, noise, and artificial urgency of the wired world.

~ Anitra Pavlico, from “Alan Lightman On Wasting Time” (3quarksdaily, January 7, 2019)


Photo: Financial Times

T.G.I.F.: When my inbox is getting flooded with emails

Baby and Balls


Source: whatshouldwecallme

To Be

“Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of ‘doing for the sake of doing.’ We must resist this temptation by trying ‘to be’ before trying ‘to do.’”

~ Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Inuente


Sources: Image –  goodmemory. Quote: crashinglybeautiful

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