Thursday, January 30, 2014

Slow Thinking

There’s this culinary philosophy you might have heard of, it’s called Slow Food.
Slow food came about as part of a wider ‘slow’ movement, a response and resistance to the speeding up of our modern day society. It aims to return people to a saner pace of life, giving more time for reflection, appreciation of moments spent with friends and family, and a way to focus on the ‘slow’ ways of achieving our aims and goals.

Google ‘slow food’ and ‘slow movement’ and you’ll come up with an enormous amount of information if you’re interested in exploring that particular side of the philosophy. My take on the slow way of life is a little different. It's a little more intellectual rather than lifestyle oriented.
I've been developing this little theory; I've called it slow thinking.  This theory has come about mainly in response to certain observations over the years (both my own and other thinkers) that indicate we seem to perceive the end product of our thoughts, our opinions, as being the most important part of the entire intellectual journey.

Most of the time, as soon as a discussion worthy topic is mentioned, those of us who relish a good old debate are straight off the starters and into the race. We rush toward our (often preconceived) opinions as if we are aiming for gold at the Olympics, barely giving a nod to the often long and sometimes many branched pathways we have wandered in order to come to this opinion.
In the act of wanting to broadcast our opinions to the world, or at least to others in the current conversation, we can overlook several facets of thought that I feel are extremely important to thinking and understanding as a whole.

There is a simple saying attributed to Sir Francis Bacon

'Knowledge is power...'

Such a statement seems almost absurd in its obviousness, yet this pure and short philosophy is so commonly overlooked and misunderstood, that I find I am revisiting this sentence and reminding myself of its power on a regular basis. I too am guilty of forgetting such an obvious thing.
By knowledge, I do not mean the mere accumulation of facts, though these too are important in formatting a healthy world view. Knowledge encompasses many things, including our observations, our own and others’ experiences, and that elusive thing we call ‘wisdom’.

So how does all this fit in with the theory of slow thinking?

There is an aspect to knowledge that gets overlooked when we run to the finish line to spew forth our opinions and convince others of their correctness. We overlook the sheer necessity of dwelling on the mechanics of thought. To put it simply (and simple is almost always best), HOW we arrived at our opinions and views is as important (if not more so) as WHAT those views and opinions are.

Knowledge is the power to change ourselves, our environments and sometimes other people or the entire world. Our modern environment consists mainly of man made objects and people, remove other people and we are left with only our individual selves and our built environment.

Who makes and lives in these built environments of ours?


What allows people to influence, recreate and manage their environment most effectively?


It’s therefore not too huge a logical leap to make the connection between what other people think, and the consequences for our own environments.

Slow thinking allows us to wander at leisure through our own thought processes, making observations as to how we came to certain opinions and views, and even analysing these thought processes BEFORE formulating a solid view on a given issue.

We can derive so many extra dimensions to a world view by carefully following the patterns of our own thought pathways, allowing us in many instances to gain a better understanding of ourselves. Knowledge of ourselves is power over our own self.

Another extremely important application of slow thinking is to allow us to meander through the thoughts and thought mechanics of those who may hold wildly differing world views and opinions to our own. At this point I am reminded of some simple yet powerful images I discovered while using Stumbleupon years back. These images were designed by Liu Yang, a Chinese born woman who was educated from her teens through to adult life in Germany. Liu depicts in graphic form divergent world views in an ‘East meets West’ comparison.

Check out these compelling images Liu Yang created to show the difference in thinking.

We often say we understand that others around us think differently to ourselves, but how often do we take the time to try and understand HOW they think, not just WHAT they think. How have their thought processes led them to the conclusions they have made?

Slowing down the rush toward the almighty opinion can fill us with the profound realisation that, essentially, thought mechanics determine our final opinions and views. Understanding these mechanics can provide us with powerful mental tools to both analyse ours and other’s points of view and form a more wholistic, stable, and hopefully wiser world view of our own.

So take some time to purposely slow down those thought processes, move from the rapids of the intellectual river and dwell in amongst the slow flowing eddies and currents beside the bank.  I am certain there will be lots there for you to learn.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Voyage Of Voyager: Our Machines Out There In Space

The Voyage of Voyager: Our Machines Out There In Space

At certain moments I find myself contemplating Voyager 1's lonely flight out from the safe cradle of our solar system and into the unknown of interstellar space. Voyager 1 is currently the furtherest human made object from our home planet, rocketing at an astounding speed of over 60,000 kilometres per hour toward the stars. Also astoundingly, we are still receiving meaningful communication from it, though the vast distances of space and our current methods of communication make for a very slow conversation. It is conceivable that one day, travellers of non-terrestrial origin will pick up its inert form, haul it into their space ship and and inspect this piece of human space exploration history.

Back in the late 1970s when the voyager spacecrafts were being assembled, a record made of gold containing information on our planet and our species was placed into both Voyagers for just such an occasion. It comforts me that in the cold, mechanical process of space exploration, we as humans took the time to place such objects, a telling action on our part, and revealing of the romantic and aspiring notions we have of the greatest frontier we have ever encountered. How long and how far Voyager will hurtle into this frontier we cannot know, but space is the ultimate preserver of machines and its journey could be longer than our own.

So what about the machines we have left on celestial bodies in our solar system, those lost and lonely machines stranded on alien worlds? How long will they stand alone? Will they survive long enough to become historical monuments once we leave our earthly cradle and begin to explore the heavens?

The moon...

The Apollo landings left a host of objects that could be considered of historical significance. The first (and still so far the only) landings of humans on another celestial body means that not only are there objects such as flags, buggies, and scientific equipment, there are also footprints. The moon has no atmosphere, is geologically dead, and is only rarely impacted by anything of notable size. The moon is the perfect museum for preserving space exploration artefacts. Something as fragile as Neil Armstrong's first footprints in the fine Lunar regolith could last for thousands of years.


Up next in the historical timeline of space exploration is the Russian Venera series spacecraft, baking away on the surface of Venus. The first photos the craft (Venera 9 in 1975) took of itself and the Venusian landscape captured the imagination of the public and were the first photos from the surface of an actual planet other than Earth.

Considering the average temperature of Venus is over 450 degrees Celsius, the atmospheric pressure is a crushing 92 times that of Earth and the landscape is regularly renewed by volcanic activity, it's likely the Venera space crafts are no longer with us, eroded away or buried and melted under lava flows in this hellish landscape.


One of the darlings of the planetary family, Mars has had a succession of mechanical explorers sent to its surface to discover its secrets. In regards to long term preservation, human machines on Mars have in their favour the relatively thin Martian atmosphere, slower rate of oxidisation, and low temperatures. Against them they have the wild and abrasive Martian dust storms, with winds reaching speeds of almost 500 km per hour in some regions. And while Mars is relatively cold, the temperature differentials would contribute to metal fatigue and cracking. If at the end of its working life a robotic explorer rested in a relatively sheltered area, it may escape the worst ravages of the storms and be preserved for hundreds of years. In any case, it would definitely be faring better than its poor Venusian counterparts.


The largest moon of Saturn, Titan has long held the fascination of exobiologists with the enticing possibility of life on its cold but active and chemically rich surface. In 2005 the Huygens probe landed on Titan, snapping pictures of a surface covered in rocks and pebbles made of water ice and layered in hydrocarbon snow. Once again cool temperatures would contribute to the longevity of this probe against the ravages of time, but the hydrocarbon rich atmosphere and weather activity would mean that erosion, both chemical physical, would be a factor. Still better than Venus...

That's it for the current list of our industrious little machines that have beavered (or are still beavering) away on our behalf on the surface of our fellow terrestrial bodies. But while we are on the subject of humankind's interesting space junk, whatever happened to Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite which was launched by the Russians in 1957, scaring the bejesus out of honest, god fearing westerners with its ominous commie beeping, and starting the whole space race that brought us to where we are now? Turns out it lasted about three months in orbit before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and burning to a total crisp. So much for the grandaddy of all of the space machines being preserved for posterity.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A blog eh? Well... yes.

Having dabbled with blogs in the past, mostly not very consistently, I wanted to engage in a project that would foster a relationship between myself and the internet.  I wanted to develop an ongoing dialogue with a more in depth analysis than mere posts on social network and other sites could foster.

I have a penchant for intellectual conversations on pretty much any topic that will make me think, make me re evaluate my thoughts and opinions. It is with this in mind that I launched this blog, perhaps if only to develop my own concepts via the creation of coherent articles. Perhaps there is also the possibility of  fostering engagement with others who share the same desire for intelligent dialogue about issues that are important to us all as a species and as a civilisation.

In any case, here I am. We'll see how this pans out.