Plumbing the Depths: Thinking Deeply

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Today’s quote comes from English minister and hymnwriter Isaac Watts (17 July 1674 – 25 November 1748), but not from one of his hymns or even one of his religious works — because Watts was more than a hymnist. He was a theologian but also a logician, and wrote a volume entitled Logic which carried the unwieldy but descriptive subtitle The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences.

In The Improvement of the Mind, which was a supplement to Logic, Watts wrote,

Do not hover always on the surface of things, nor take up suddenly with mere appearances; but penetrate into the depth of matters, as far as your time and circumstances allow, especially in those things which relate to your own profession. Do not indulge yourselves to judge of things by the first glimpse, or a short and superficial view of them; for this will fill the mind with errors and prejudices, and give it a wrong turn and ill habit of thinking, and make much work for retraction.

How many of us would benefit from heeding these words, in this age of self-built social media echo chambers and “fake news,” and spend just a bit more time digging deeper than the surface impressions and passionate rhetoric for more than “a short and superficial view” of the issues that confront and confound us? Yet we are bombarded by so much input, from so many directions, that it threatens to overwhelm us — and the time seems so short to analyze even a little of it.

We fight an ever-more-difficult uphill battle, but the battle also seems more important than ever. Don’t lose heart!


(Image: “The Thinker,” by Auguste Rodin, at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; photo by Karora, on Wikimedia Commons.)

In closing, it does not surprise me that Watts — who wrote deep and powerful hymns many of us still love, such as “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “Joy to the World,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” — would be a deep thinker and would encourage us to think deeply. May we all find time this week to think deeply about important and meaningful things, to “penetrate into the depth of matters,” so that we might fill our minds with fewer errors, and fewer prejudices.

Have a great week!

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New Video: Just Doing Our Best

On Independence Day this year, I had the opportunity to experience glass-blowing — something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but not something I was prepared to do on my own. I would have failed miserably, and possibly done a good bit of damage even with my best efforts, if I had not had supervision, coaching, and expert guidance.

And, having this week learned that my best efforts in another endeavor were woefully inadequate, I recalled that Dr. W. Edwards Deming often said we were being “ruined by best efforts.” It’s not too hard to imagine how bad things might be in other areas of life — in business, in education, in the military or the government or the church — if everyone was doing their best but no one knew what they should do or how to do it.

So, in this episode, we look at glass-blowing, best efforts, and lessons learned from failure.

What do you think? Can we be “ruined by best efforts”?

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You May Also Like:
– Video: Perspective and Self-Improvement
– Video: Public Speaking Tip: Stand Up, If You Can
My YouTube channel

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Does Art Make Us Human?

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

We all enjoy art.

We may not enjoy every art, and our enjoyment varies from person to person, community to community, culture to culture. But we all enjoy art. We take pleasure in observing it, in sensing it, whether by reading or hearing or viewing or touching or, in the case of culinary arts, smelling and tasting.

Not only that, but we have it within us to produce art. We may not produce every art, and our individual artfulness varies even more than any other trait or factor we might name because we have it within us to produce — or to attempt to produce — more than one art each. And according to British author G.K. Chesterton, that ability, whether we allow it to flourish or keep it bottled up, is what makes us, as human beings, distinct from every other species on our wondrous planet.

In The Everlasting Man, a 1925 volume of Christian apologetics, Chesterton wrote,

It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.

I love that last line: “Art is the signature of man.” Not of a man, not of a woman, but of mankind writ large, of humanity, of homo sapiens.

Now, it may be that at some point in the future — perhaps the nearer future than we wish, if the Planet of the Apes franchise turns out to be in the least prophetic — that a monkey will draw a picture of a man. And it may be that the monkey that does so turns out to be of only middling or very little intelligence. But if a monkey draws a picture of a man, will that monkey have become something more than a monkey? Will the monkey have crossed some threshold that the human race crossed long ago?


(Image: “Japanese Calligraphy art,” by Ayu Nabila, on Wikimedia Commons.)

Does art make us human? Yes, and “art is the signature of man.”

And whatever you do this week, you have it within you to do it artfully — so make your signature bold!

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The Day Between

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week series.)

I imagine that on this date in 1776, most people in the colonies were not yet aware that their representatives had voted to declare independence from Great Britain. The vote had been taken on the 2nd, and not until the 4th would the delegates present to the world at large the final form of those immortal words,

We hold these truths to be self-evident …

The rest, as they say, is history. But I wonder, at this point in history, if all of us still hold the same truths to be self-evident.

Betsy Ross Flag (1)
(Image: “Betsy Ross Flag,” by Ed Uthman, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Something to think about while we celebrate Independence Day.

Have a great week!

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New Video: Just for Fun — Chocolate-Raspberry Oreos

Chocolate and raspberry is one of the greatest flavor combinations ever. Sure, Oreo cookies are good by themselves, and chocolate creme Oreos are pretty awesome, but they can be made even better very easily …

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Related:
– Video: another “Just for Fun” episode, The Legend of the Gray Man
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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Measurement, Knowledge, Management, and Science

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Nearly everyone who has studied science knows the name “Lord Kelvin,” if only for the absolute temperature scale which bears his name. William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (26 June 1824 – 17 December 1907) was a physicist and engineer from Belfast, Ireland, who did foundational work in thermodynamics and electricity at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1866 for his contributions to the transatlantic telegraph. In 1892 he was the first British scientist to receive a noble title and a seat in the House of Lords. As noted above, “Kelvin” was part of his title, rather than his actual name; it referred to a river which flows by the University of Glasgow.

In 1883, when he was still Sir William Thomson, he gave a lecture on “Electrical Units of Measurement” in which he said,

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.

This quote is nicely precise, as we might expect of a 19th century man of science. As such, it contrasts with one of the pernicious lies of modern management that still traps well-meaning but poor-thinking people today: specifically, the idea that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” That quote is often (but wrongly) attributed to Peter Drucker, and it may be that no one knows who originated it. But it is, as Dr. W. Edwards Deming frequently pointed out in his seminars, a myth.

The truth is, every day we encounter situations involving variables that we cannot measure. Sometimes they are things that could be measured if we had sufficient instruments and time to devote to the effort; sometimes they are things that are ineffable, and for which devising a measurement would be folly. We still have to manage those situations and navigate our way through them; we cannot throw up our hands in despair simply because the situation did not come with a convenient set of measurements and statistics attached to it.

Sometimes the people who proclaim that measurement is necessary to management are in the business of selling measurement practices or techniques. And they may take advantage of managers who have never had to measure things in the real world. Those managers would do well to apply a little skepticism and heed the words of William Bruce Cameron, who said in the 1958 article “Tell Me Not in Mournful Numbers,”

Counting sounds easy until we actually attempt it, and then we quickly discover that often we cannot recognize what we ought to count. Numbers are no substitute for clear definitions, and not everything that can be counted counts.

In 1963, Cameron elaborated by writing, “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” How many managers would benefit from understanding that!

Often when managers decry the lack of measurements to justify the decisions they wish to make, they do so without any real appreciation for the difficulty of measuring things with accuracy and precision. Their bathroom scale works, though they may not like what it reports; the gauge in their car indicates its fuel status with some reliability; these and other experiences lead them to expect to receive similar reports of progress or status on whatever aspect of the business is under their scrutiny that day.

Which brings us back to Sir Thomson, Lord Kelvin, and his observation about measurement. He wisely allowed for the possibility of not being able to measure something — thus, that late 20th century management aphorism, whatever its source, was invalidated roughly a hundred years before it was spread! While he then said that our knowledge of a thing may be stunted by lacking measurements for it, that does not mean we have no knowledge of it at all; even “the beginning of knowledge” is knowledge of a sort. But what was Kelvin’s interest in measurement? Was it management? No! It was science.

And, though managers may like to claim otherwise, management is not science.


(Image: JPL imagery from the Jason-2 satellite, showing “Kelvin Waves” — named after Lord Kelvin, who discovered them — moving eastward along the equator.)

That’s all I have to say on the subject, at the moment, but I’d be happy to discuss it at length if you like. Meanwhile, I hope you have a good week!

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P.S. Last week I mentioned possibly ending this series, and I’m still undecided on that point. Let me know if you have feelings about that, one way or another.

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New Video: Of, By, and For the People

Have you thought much about the placement of the prepositions in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Does their placement — “of the people, by the people, for the people” — matter much in understanding what they imply for our government?

In this video, I suggest that their placement is pertinent … and proper:

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Related:
– Video: The Verbs in the Preamble
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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In Defense of a Breadth of Knowledge

(Possibly the last in the quotes to start the week series?*)

I had this week’s quote all picked out on Sunday, but got busy and didn’t write and post this yesterday as I should have.

Why should I have posted it yesterday? Because yesterday was the birthday of Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662), whose quote I wanted to focus on (or “on whose quote I wanted to focus,” if we’re feeling more grammatically pedantic this afternoon). Pascal was a renowned mathematician, invented a series of calculating machines, and was also a prominent Catholic theologian. In his Pensees (1669; literally, “thoughts”), he wrote,

Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of everything, we ought to know a little about everything. For it is far better to know something about everything than to know all about one thing. This universality is the best. If we can have both, still better; but if we must choose, we ought to choose the former.

I like that a lot. It’s one thing to develop some sort of expertise, and even to be recognized as an expert, but life is so grand and glorious that to stay cloistered in one thing — no matter how expansive and rewarding that one thing might be — would be to miss out on so much more that the universe has to offer.

At the very least, knowing a little bit about a lot of things makes it easier to converse with a wider variety of people; and that in itself can expand our personal horizons.


(Image: “Knowledge-sharing,” from Wikimedia Commons.)

So, let’s learn something new this week!

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*This series has been running a little over a year. It was fun when it started, and I’ve enjoyed finding quotes that I thought were interesting, but I’m not sure how much value it has for other folks. If it has any value for you, let me know, because I’m considering moving on to different things. Thanks! GR

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New Video: “Stand Up, If You Can” (a Public Speaking Tip)

It may seem a bit self-evident, but standing up to give your formal presentation can make a lot of difference in how your audience receives it — especially if the points you’re making are at all important.

One-on-one, or speaking only to a few people? Sitting down is often fine. But speaking to a bunch of people at once? You’re better off standing up, if you’re physically able to do so.

Unless you don’t care that much about your message, in which case go right ahead and sit on your butt to give your speech, or your presentation … or your sermon.

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Related:
– Video: Public Speaking Tip: The Value of Inflection
– More videos: My YouTube channel

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The Inescapable Conclusion About Freedom

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, made famous by his challenge to Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev: “if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Earlier in that speech, Reagan contrasted the “free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history” with “the Communist world, [where] we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind–too little food.” And he said

There stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

We could make the same observations today about the benefits of freedom. Where people are free to associate, to collaborate, and to trade, more of them prosper than do not. But where people are not free, whether they are forced to comply with others’ demands or restrained from acting in their own best interests, fewer of them thrive and more of them suffer.


President Reagan speaking in Berlin, 12 June 1987. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

I hope you exercise your freedom well and wisely this week! And don’t let anyone take it from you.

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