Timekeepers by Simon Garfield (Part 1)

How the World Became Obsessed with Time

Introduction. The fisherman the author talked to didn’t want to improve his haul and fishing productivity and didn’t see a need to. Our modern world is filled with ambition. Do we want to be tracked by time all the time? Time is aggressive and dominates our lives. Everything is fast now, but we want them to be even faster. This book is about our obsession with time. Most people look at their phones for the time at least multiple times a day. This book will not deal with science fiction or time travel etc. This book will cover the more cultural and philosophical aspects of timekeeping.

Do we want the fishing life or the clock life? We want both. We envy those with a carefree existence but we don’t have time to examine it for long. We want more hours in the day but fear we’d probably only waste them. – Simon Garfield

The Accident of Time. There is saying that comedy is tragedy plus time. My son and I went to watch a football match. We had to decide what to eat etc. Should we leave the game early to avoid congestion but risk missing out on any last minute goal? Suddenly, while cycling in Hyde Park, I fell and injured myself. Time seemed to slow down and it took ages for the ambulance to arrive. My elbow was disfigured. I veered my bike in the wrong direction to avoid hitting a woman. This is a flashbulb moment in my life. The amygdalae in our brain causes the time to appear to slow down because it has the ability to capture vivid memories. While in the hospital, boredom hit me and time seemed to pass slowly too. Was everything by chance or was everything fixed? Can we lose control of something we had created? Seneca advised people to live life wisely and didn’t like the way most people spent their time in life. Most existence is merely time. Time gives a sense of order in life. The watch I was wearing was losing between 4 minutes and 10 minutes a day. However, I didn’t want time to conduct my life. The elbow surgery went well and I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Time waits for no man and that it was important people didn’t waste it. It suddenly dawned on me that everything was time dependent, like for instance, current affairs.

A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than one’s own. – J.B. Priestley

How the French Messed Up the Calendar. Ewan was an artist who was interested in time related works. The items chosen would decay at different times. She was trying to recreate the French Republican calendar. The calendar was only used for 12 years in late 1700s. The French reinvented the day with a clock with only 10 hours. She made the clocks to recreate history. The clocks are notoriously hard to read. Carl Linnaeus once proposed a clock made of flowers which would open and close at different times of the day. The French calendar was political and didn’t last long. The French calendar was also off because it did not build on religious calendars in the past. The Mayan calendar was also political and religious in nature. So were the Aztec calendars in the past. The Julian and Gregorian calendars are the ones we use today. Nostalgia was deemed as a disease in the past. Some people can’t bear to see their current state of living change. In modern days, we do not see it as a disease. We appreciate retro and vintage things. There is also a trend towards slower living and incorporating mindfulness concepts etc. There were people in the past who tried to halt the passage of time but obviously failed. It was a fanciful idea in the past.

The Invention of the Timetable. The Mallard was a fast British steam locomotive. To make it, you can purchase the instructions. All 30 pieces of the instructions will cost you a thousand pounds. The Mallard was built to reduce travel time. Mallard was revolutionary at the time. It hit one of the steam train records during that time. Train speeds have progressed through time. Now, trains can easily hit 200 mph. The steam train was invented in the 1800s in UK. It changed the world and hastened the speed of ideas and industry. It would do away with horses. The railway changed the value of time. The economy and everyone was excited at that time. The issue was that different cities had different times and you had to adjust the time when you got to the new city. There were reference times on the trains you could follow. The railway station clocks had to be synchronized accurately. Later on, the idea that time along the train route should be the same no matter where a passenger alighted or departed. This was the notion of standardized time. Later, it was an offence to display the wrong time on buildings. The German trains were very efficient. Germany adopted the precision of Greenwich. In the US, before standard time was formed, timing was an issue too. Standard time was introduced in the US in 1883. Railway timetables were commonplace by then. There were also conferences held twice a year.

The Beet Goes on. Symphony 9th was first performed in 1824. It was revolutionary. Beethoven composed it when he was nearly deaf. He conducted the piece with gusto and bravado. How could someone who is deaf compose something so majestic? The Ode to Joy in the 4th movement is simply epic and grand. He didn’t specify the timing for the movements. The composer gets to determine how long the piece will last. The tempo was first derived from the human heartbeat and the human stride. Presto means very fast. Beethoven didn’t comply with the idea of tempo. The metronome was invented at that time and it was revolutionary. Beethoven made use of the metronome. The metronome was tremendous. Has our measurement of time changed over time? Just how long should a CD be? In the past, LPs could not even contain one full symphony. Later, the CD was born. How much information should a disc contain? The initial playing time was set to 1 hour. Everyone welcomed the CD as you could pause, repeat, scan back, copy etc. The problem is that no more bought CDs when there was SoundCloud and Spotify. The Beatles. At their time, LPs were considered amazing and revolutionary. In some way, the length of musical performances are determined by technical constraints of recording. Before LPs, the sound quality was really poor. In the past, each LP or cassette could only record for a short period of time. The concerto recital and a recorded version might also differ slightly due to vibrato, resonance etc. Lewisohn works and documents the Beatles’ journey.

Should the musical time allotted to a work at a particular period in history necessarily feel correct in a modern, faster life many decades later? Will innovation always date? – Simon Garfield

How Much Talking is too much Talking. In the Time of Moses. I attend a free conference which had free hotel stay etc. I was required to speak for 17 minutes. This was known as IdeaCity. Every speaker was given 17 minutes too. This was the sweet spot and the audience could concentrate on the talk. This was similar to Tedtalks, which gave speakers 18 minutes. Moses ran IdeaCity. 17 minutes is an unforgiving short time. Over time, I practised speaking and got the hang of public speaking. If you ended the talk early, Moses would ask you questions. Time became the enemy when I only had 17 minutes. However, the audience didn’t know that I only had 17 minutes. In the end, I did exceed the allotted time by 7 minutes. However, I realized an over-concentration of time wasn’t really productive for me. Learn to talk it over. Strom Thurmond delivered the longest continuous speech in the history of American politics. He talked for a long time. It was a performance. He argued for why the bill should not be passed. Thurmond spoke to dawn since 9pm. It went on till 1:40pm the next day, a total of 17 hours. At 7:21pm, he broke the record. People were concerned about his health and at 9:12pm, he shut up. In the end, his effects were in vain. Many did not respect him from doing it too. There is an argument that less is more nowadays, and people dislike long speeches. The ideas of all these speeches is not to run out of steam. Nowadays, it is a must to stay on topic.

But filibusters have always been more than just attaining victory; they are about passionate intent, and about intensity of belief; the greater the intensity, it is argued, the more voters and politicians should take note of a cause, for the more it will dominate the agenda. – Simon Garfield

Movie Time. Symbolism is tantalising. LLoyd was famous. Some people see movies as a form of escapism. They show us a version of perceived reality. William Carey Strother was a human spider. There was a lot of technique involved in climbing a building. Oncoming train. In the past, when people saw a train coming towards them on the screen, they were afraid. The concept of time speeded up when people were enjoying the film. In the past, there were silent films. The rates at which the films were made matter as well.

Horology Part 1: How to Make a Watch. A very difficult floor. I was given the tools to make a watch. Christian Bresser was my instructor. A mechanical watch is usually made under the same principles. It usually takes a craftsman more than 10 years to hone their skills. I have only 50 minutes to learn. IWC is a renowned Swiss brand with huge expertise. They are known for their big pilot’s watch. All these are certainly attractive watches. They are not flashy in nature. They make watches for the purists. They invite customers on guided tours of their factory. Watch assembly is relatively easy and can be memorized. On the other hand, watchmaking is a whole new ball game. One of the master craftsman is a guy named Romulus Radu. F. A. Jones brought know how and revolutionized the watchmaking industry. Assembling a watch was a difficult task for me. Aligning the pivot with jewels and inserting a barrel encasing the mainspring were certainly challenging. The intricate parts are indeed very costly. It is also the handicraft and human hands and the knowledge that has been passed down from generations. IWC has faced many challenges in its history, like watch trends, currency markets etc. Now, another challenge it faces is a computer company. It is the Apple Watch. No one knows the impact of the Apple Watch, like whether it can have such a big impact as the quartz crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, some Swiss brands are also working on smart watches. IWC introduced their IWC Connect. Why is the Swiss industry so renowned for their watches? Given that it didn’t invent the mechanical watch? The Swiss watchmaking industry was aided by the arrival of Huguenot refugees from France. The balance spring was created by Christiaan Huygens and Robert Hooke. By 1690, there were many watchmakers in Switzerland. Watchmaking schools also emerged. The Swiss formed trade bodies and certification targets to boost the industry. Export figures were impressive. The Swiss neutrality during the war also helped them as they were not disrupted. There are now strict rules as to what classifies a watch to be ‘Swiss Made’. Nicholas Hacko is a watch repairer. The Swiss have always tried to protect their own watch repairers and do not trust independent watch repairers. Every 3 or 4 years, our Earth’s rotation differs from the UTC by 1 second and it is necessary to adjust. This is known as the leap second. In the past, this would cause mayhem to airports and planes’ schedules.

If you lose or drop anything don’t try to find it, it’s a very difficult floor. We never, ever, touch the movement with our fingers. Why? Sweat. Your sweat will chew into the decoration of the movement roughly one to two months later, and then you can throw the watch away. – Simon Garfield

Watchmaking is another art altogether, something it would takes years rather than weeks to learn, and requires not only steely patience and concentration, and a deep understanding of mechanics, but also practical inspiration. – Simon Garfield

Watch winders are not for lazy people. If you have a collection of automatic watches that are wound by being worn on the wrist, you need to keep them turning with power. It’s also a nice way to show them off. – Simon Garfield



The Money Game by Adam Smith (aka George Goodman)

This book is a decade old. This is an updated version of the book. The book is ‘about image and reality and identity and anxiety and money’. The stock market isn’t necessarily fully rational. The 60s were a crazy people with many greedy people. Professional money managers are over-rated. The first rule to make money is not to lose it. More information doesn’t make you smarter. Many brokerage firms were out of business in the 1970s because of reduced commission rates. The fee structure changed completely.

The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer. – George Goodman

You (Identity, Anxiety, Money)

Why did the master say ‘Game’? Adam Smith thought of himself as a moral philosopher. He wrote ‘The Wealth of Nations’. I used a pseudonym for Wall Street. It was my Sunday recreation name. I called myself Adam Smith. It was a great name as not many people known the real one anyway. Keynes was very perceptive of markets. In the past, the holders of money were thought to be prudent. Keynes’ mentioned that investing is like a game. Game Theory has a huge impact on our lives. The stock market is too complex for game theoreticians. However, it has been hard to put into equations and quantify at the moment. The stock market is a great national pastime. Preferred stocks and bonds are not part of the game as they are more boring in nature. Investing has a lot to do with human psychology. You have to guess how the crowd behaves. More and more information is available in the market. The professional managers are getting more skilled by the day. You can be rich but even then you still realize you want to invest and to continue to be thrilled by it. There are people who are really addicted to it and love the stock market. Of course, the aim is to make more money. This book is not suitable if you want to rely on a professional money manager.

To what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world? What is the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, and preeminence? – Adam Smith

It is very hard to get excited over a bond basis book, where your index finger traces along a column until it gets to the proper degree of safety and yield. – George Goodman

Mister Johnson’s Reading List. There are a lot of books telling you how to get rich. One good book is Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham. Security value is subjective. Fears, greed, hopes all play a part. Value is one thing. Liquidity is important too. It is important to consider that. Fidelity did very well in the past. It is a fund. They have a brilliant reputation. The market is an art, not a science. He has read many books too. He delegated responsibilities and work to the money managers. Some people do not pick stocks, but they sense market sentiments. Markets rely on emotions. You should not try to over-analyze them. It is important to know yourself. Does a market have a personality of its own? It is important to develop your own personality when investing. Why is the emotional aspect not well explored? Is it even worth exploring in the first place?

There is no such thing as a final answer to security values. A dozen experts will arrive at 12 different conclusions. It often happens that a few moments later each would alter his verdict if given a chance to reconsider because of a changed condition. – Gerald Loeb

If you don’t know who you are, the stock market is an expensive place to find out. – George Goodman

The stock market is like a beautiful woman – endlessly fascinating, endlessly complex, always changing, always mystifying. I have been absorbed and immersed since 1924 and I know this is no science. It is an art. – Mister Johnson

There are fundamentals in the marketplace, but the unexplored area is the emotional area. All the charts and breadth indicators and technical palaver are the statistician’s attempts to describe an emotional state. – George Goodman

Can Ink Blots Tell you whether you are the type who will make a lot of money in the market? There are simple tests to determine whether you are a good investor. What will you do with your free time? Analysts and aggressive portfolio managers will answer the questions differently. The accountants will get the answer right. Analysts like to use inductive reasoning. The portfolio manager just likes to win, no matter what. One must learn to operate without anxiety and stay cool. The important question is to ask how you behave when everyone is roaring the other way. Is the market really a crowd?

If you really know what’s going on, you don’t even have to know what’s going on to know what’s going on. – George Goodman

Is the Market Really a Crowd? The crowd is wrong because it behaves normally. Are all the uninformed people part of the crowd too? People in a crowd usually act differently from how they would act alone. Some people get hypnotized when they are in crowds. They often respond or react to suggestions. Crowds do not reason. Often, they only think that they reason. Crowds tend to play up emotions and intensify them. Often, it feels comfortable to be in a crowd. It is very difficult not to give in to temptation and follow the crowd.

Eighty percent of the market is psychology. Investors whose actions are dominated by their emotions are most likely to get into trouble. – Unknown

You Mean That’s What money Really Is? Money has a mystical quality. Money in itself is useless. We have to change our perception of money and see where that leads us. When you chase after money, does it just show that you are greedy? Is it a dehumanization of human nature? Why collect something so useless? Money is condensed wealth. The stock market is thrilling because you need to save up and work hard before you participate. Seasoned investors never really spend the money that they make. However, they are still compelled to continue. What is it that makes them continue to play?

It is true that you have to work long enough to acquire a surplus enough to buy some chips for the Game, but the money you make playing the Game isn’t work, it’s play – or are you making it seem like work? – George Goodman

What are they in it for? If most investors don’t make money from the Game, why are they still playing it? Some people are in because it sounds cool. There are people who are seriously irrational and won’t sell the stock simply because it might have appreciated a little in the past. To some, when the stock goes up, they get nervous. People always look back with regret on the stocks they didn’t buy and appreciated in future. Even though your portfolio might be up, you might still kick yourself because you missed out on others. There is always another stock going up more than the one you bought. Some people are weird enough to tell the broker that they only wanted to make a specific sum of money and not more. There are people who hate brokers for making so much commissions. They feel brokers like to lie. They feel brokers are touting for more business. Some just want the broker to talk to and to provide information on the stock for them. They just want to be part of what is going on.

But he didn’t feel very good about it. If the stock went up, he should have bought more, so he was stupid there, and if it went down, that proved he was stupid there. – George Goodman

Identity and Anxiety. Why are we not growing rich? Markets mean different things to different people. Greed and fear are the most common emotions. Greed occurs when others have made money on stocks which you hadn’t bought. Obviously, no one wants to buy at the top. Prices get pushed up even though the fundamentals do not support them. Some people expect their money to double in a few years. The trick is to have a firm identity which is not influenced by people speculating. One has to avoid anxiety situations. One important thing to realize is that the stock doesn’t know you own it. The stock is a piece of paper who doesn’t love you. Do not be emotionally attached to any stock. The key is to start out with no preconceived notions. Every day is a new day. The end object of investment should be serenity. Will you feel serene after earning a million? Or will you want more? Will you compare yourself with more successful people? People in society are usually measured by how much they can earn. A lot of people define themselves by how much money they make. The stock market is a zero sum game, there will be winners and losers. The trouble is that people who get burnt do not learn and want to continue playing.

If you know that the stock doesn’t know you own it, you are ahead of the game. You are ahead because you can change your mind and your actions without regard to what you did or thought yesterday. – George Goodman

What’s the difference whether you have twenty thousand dollars or sixty thousand? You can buy a few more things, but it’s not enough to buy freedom, not enough to change your life. You’re either a wage slave or you’re not. You have to go for the quantum jumps. Why are we on Wall Street? To make money. – Harry

Where the Money Is. As outside investors, it is not possible to make outrageous amounts of money. The ones making a lot of money are the inside stockholders of a company. These are the people who started a company and then IPO. Most people can’t do this unless you have a capital at the start already. The possibilities of different businesses which can go IPO are endless.

Mr. Smith Admits His Biases. How do you correct your biases? One idea is that you buy good stocks and put them away and in the long run you can’t go wrong. The problem is that nothing works all the time. Sometimes, inaction is the better option. Inaction is also considered action. Some people try to anticipate business cycles to make money. However, this will not make you very rich. Some companies’ earnings are cyclical. Some people anticipate swing in interest rates. You can also buy the turnarounds, rotten companies which have sold off unprofitable segments and have new management. The examples involved require some knowledge. However, be wary of companies where earnings shot up way too quickly. However, the problem is that past performance is no indication for future performance. Companies with earnings growth consistently must have something unique about it. They must have a competitive advantage. This thing must not be easily replicated or copied. Can you just buy good stocks in the past like IBM, Xerox, Polaroid and lock them away? The rate of growth of earnings matter too. Note that it is important to examine the P/E ratios too. A great product can be ruined by bad management. The larger you grow, the harder it is to keep the % of growth constant or increasing because of a large base. Another tip is to concentrate on a few holdings and do not diversify too much. How to find great stocks? The company should be adaptable to change and stay innovative. You can get ideas from smart people. That is one of the rules. You can use the scuttlebutt technique, which is to talk to a lot of people associated with the business. Find your own stocks and your own coloured stocks.

If playing the Stock Market game has been fun, it may be difficult to stop playing, even when that button of yours is burning your finger. Repeated shocks will give you anxiety, and anxiety is the enemy of identity, and without identity there is no serenity. – George Goodman

Part 2: Systems

Can Footprints Predict the Future? Almost every firm has a research department. It is important to know what everyone else is doing. Everyone has limited time available. Charting is looking for trends and repetitions. Charts can very well prove to the traps as well. A chart can reflect volume and price range. The four stages are 1) Accumulation; 2) Mark-up; 3) Distribution; 4) Panic Liquidation. Can charts indicate the future? The assumption is that what happens yesterday will happen again tomorrow. Can the footprints of price movements really predict the future? Is the market fully efficient?

When the stock doesn’t get anywhere after a rise, but churns around at the same price level, the chartists call it an area of resistance. When a stock drops to a point where it doesn’t drop any more, and churns around, they call this an area of support. – George Goodman

What the Hell Is a Random Walk? Charting seeks to find order in something that happens. Random walk means there is no order. Random walk theory was proposed by academics. He is Eugene Fama. It basically says ‘prices have no memory, and yesterday has nothing to do with tomorrow.’ There is no way to predict the future performance. You might as well select stocks by throwing darts. It assumes that the market is completely efficient. It also assumes that stocks have an intrinsic value. The actions of investors should cause actual price to wander randomly around its intrinsic value. However, in reality, the actual price might not be equal intrinsic value. The analysts all try to make the market more efficient. The Chartists certainly don’t believe in the random walk. The analysts also feel that their analysis is useful. The fact is that the market is reasonably efficient. The chartists can certainly be a force in the market. Can intuition be programmed? Chartists are happy that now everything can be programmed.

Computers and Computers. Railroad Bill is a computer. Computers revolutionized investments. Computers can screen too. The good thing was that it could perform many calculations simultaneously. Analysts pore through all these data and try to pick out trends. The computer can pick out stocks which are behaving out of pattern. Computers now do the buying and selling themselves. With the prevalence of computers, do individual investors still stand a chance? This result is kind of disturbing for the individual investor.

But What do the Numbers Mean? Earnings must be assessed using proper accounting standards. There are certain items which must or must not be included. It allows for comparisons between different companies too. Useful lives might be applied differently between different companies. Some companies use declining balances. There are different accounting policies that can be adopted and all these are permitted. Earnings management is often practiced. Accounting firms can get sued if they present inaccurate figures. Free-form companies are those which acquire others. Companies’ management is really important. Some management like to juice up the accounting or practice creative accounting. Wall Street loves constantly growing and stable earnings.

Why are the little people always wrong? Find out what the average investor is doing. Once you know, just do the opposite. They are not little people. It just refers to the ordinary investor who doesn’t have a lot of money. Will do the opposite theory work? Some people trade on inside information. There are those who like to participate in the market because they feel it makes them intelligent.

Part 3: The Pros

The Cult of Performance. These are the powerful people with enough information and money to move prices. Now, there is a lot of regulation. Is it even possible? There are many institutions, like mutual funds, pension funds and insurance companies. Stocks crashed in 1929. There was massive panic selling. There was a point where fund managers wanted huge growth and started buying growth stocks. Concentration and turnover seem to matter a lot. The higher the turnover, the higher the volume and the happier the brokers are. However, in the market, many are only concerned with short term performance and speculative behavior. Institutional investors tend to hoard shares and when it is time to exit, it might be difficult to find buyers. Sometimes, trading might be suspended as well. Remember that liquidity is the cornerstone of every market. Performance managers want a quick buck.

Lunch at Scarsdale Fats’. These are institutional investors. They get treated well. These bankers are treated to fat dinners. It is a networking event. Scarsdale wants to know more information from others. These are essentially lunch with commissions and many funds get invited.

Losers and Winners: Poor Grenville, Charley, and the Kids. Chartists tend to trade short term and very aggressively. Many investors want immediate results. Wall Street love firms who can meet earnings projections. When the market crashes through resistance levels, sometimes you will yourself, where is the bottom? Markets can be very irrational. Computer leasing stocks were damn hot in the past and could generate super-normal returns.

We live in an age of charts and computers, and the thing about charts and computer studies is that they show what is moving, and if everybody plays this game, then what moves is what is already moving. – George Goodman

But the market does not follow logic, it follows some mysterious tides of mass psychology. Thus earnings projections get marked up and down as the prices go up and down, just because Wall Streeters hate the insecurity of anarchy. – George Goodman

Timing, and a Diversion: The Cocoa Game. Timing is crucial, not just the financials of the company. You have get the stock ahead of others. Those who play the Game will know it is very difficult even when the markets are not favourable. At that time, the Cocoa Exchange was leveraged and unregulated. People could be involved in that when the stock market was bad. The price depends on demand and supply. This was the birth of forwards.

If you are in the right stocks at the wrong time, you may be right but have a long wait; at least you are better off than coming late to the party. You don’t want to be on the dance floor when the music stops. – George Goodman

Part 4: Visions of the Apocalypse – Can It All Come Tumbling Down?

My Friend The Gnome of Zurich Says a Major Money Crisis is on its Way. They are miners who work near gold and can be informants. He can predict when gold prices will rise. Some currencies are pegged to gold prices. However, governments and central banks might choose to unpeg as well. He is basically a cynic who believes governments can’t manage debt well and enter deficits and eventually crash.

If All The Half Dollars Have Disappeared, is Something Sinister Gaining on Us? Will there ever be an international currency? The issue is that governments are expected to care for their people in order to win votes, resulting in them over-spending. People have to believe in what their governments are doing and how they are spending. If not, the market will simply crash. Luckily, the apocalypse has never arrived.

Part 5: Visions of the Millennium

Do You Really Want to Be Rich? Should you ought to be rich? Do you want to be evaluated by your wealth? Has capitalism gone too far? What did Keynes think of the Money Game? Why do men continue to want to make money? That is because they have a purpose. They think long term and want to grow and forward their interests. He believed that future generations will strive more for virtue and sane wisdom than pure money. If you know the Game is not your thing, then jolly well stay away from it completely.


Great Thinkers by the School of Life (Part 3)

Art and Architecture

Andrea Palladio. A lot of people spend time indoors. We admire great buildings. Venice has one of the best architecture. Andrea designed buildings when he was 30. He designed many villas. Finally, he emerged as top architect of Venice. To me, architecture has to have a clear purpose. There are rules for great buildings too. We should build in order to encourage good states of mind in ourselves. It helps us with calm, harmony and dignity. Symmetrical shapes help bring calm. Buildings should be well fitted and aligned well. These are powerful coherent buildings. Buildings should gave dignity to aspects of life which are seen as unworthy. Buildings should compensate us for our weaknesses. We need serene, harmonious and confident buildings. They are rules for architecture as well. One could follow mathematical ratios. Buildings should be made symmetrical.

Johannes Vermeer (1632 to 1675). Many things are glamorous. Artists can capture scenes of beauty which are commonly overlooked by many. These are deep moments of contemplation. Even bread and butter can be satisfying. Simple homely pleasures are important as well. He did a lot of painting in his free time. His famous work was ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’. Thoughts for the non-renowned are important and should be considered too. Artists have the power to make the ordinary look special. Sometimes, in life, doing modest things are sufficient.

Most of life is taken up dealing with things which are routine, ordinary, humble, modest and (to be honest) a touch dull. Our culture should focus on getting us to appreciate the average, the everyday and the ordinary. – Johannes Vermeer

Caspar David Friedrich. Art can teach us how to suffer. His distinctive style emerged slowly. He depicted sufferings in his paintings. Tragedy and grief could also express emotions and solemn moods around. Solitude brings with it our deepest possibilities. His works make us aware of our insignificance. We appreciate how small we are and that some things don’t matter. Learn to be conscious of our space and time in the grand scheme of things. Now, his works are deeply admired.

Henri Matisse. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves of the bad things that happen in life. We are aware of the problems and injustice in the world. We feel small in the face of problems. Hope is to be celebrated and is a necessary part for success. The problem with the world was that there was too much darkness and misery, hence, we need to remind ourselves of happy things in life.

Edward Hopper. He is a painter of gloomy-looking paintings. The paintings help to accept loneliness. His paintings are gloomy, however can seem charming too. His works didn’t sell well. Even those he loved his wife, some part of him realized that he was still alone. Art can be therapeutic when addressing loneliness. When travelling, Hopper loved the introspective mood.

Oscar Niemeyer. Buildings looks the same everywhere. His buildings had motifs from the floor to ceiling. He practised Brazilian-infused modernism. One should use techniques like reinforced concrete in creative ways. He liked sensual curves of rivers, of a female body etc. The church he built had tiles across it. He created a building where you could work and relax and have a conversation that expands your mind. You could be sexually adventurous in your house as well. His architecture was also a future dream for Brazil. He created new buildings to reflect nationalism. To him, it was important for buildings to be culturally specific.

Louis Kahn. Kahn got inspired by the buildings in Rome due to their ancient designs. Yet, he managed to marry that concept with innovation and clarity. Kahn used symmetry, which was an old idea. Symmetry helps to provide a sense of balance and focus. He often used new materials for his office, like ceramic, copper etc. Wood can give warmth while concrete gives strength and stability. He was also a monumental architect. He could combine the old and the new and thus was very famous.

Coco Chanel. Fashion is a part of life. However, fashion nowadays is eccentric and foolish in nature. She started off as a designer of hats. In the past, clothes are complicated and very expensive. However, her clothes were inspiring in their design. She invented a better destination. She introduced a little black dress. The wearer looked energetic etc. The dress was designed to be long-lasting. She re-invented the black dress. The fashion sense would also be appropriate for 10 years later. She limited colour options to those that were essential and elegant. Elegance and grace was the big focus of her dresses and that was very important. She also designed jewellery and handbags. Her clothes are revolutionary because they were embodiments of good ideas.

Jane Jacobs. There is something compelling about cities. They are full of possibilities. Cities can be really complex on their own. She loved to explore the own city she lived in. She worked as a writer for a magazine. She married an architect later on in life. The problem with modern architecture was that it wasn’t want real people wanted. Architects should learn to respect urban order. These were usually the result of bad thinking. She realized that to know what people wanted, you have to walk around and explore the city. To her, diversity was very important. Cities should be like eco-systems. There needs to be a diversity of businesses. City blocks should be small so as to encourage more interactions between people. There should be a mix of old and new buildings. Cities should be dense in population. Cities should be compact.

Cy Twombly. Abstract art can seem meaningless to us. The key to abstract art is to appeal to people’s emotions. It represents inner rather than the outer world. What does the work feel like? Cy was an abstract artist. His work suggests a reflective life and ambition and confusion. He loved figurative and representational art. We should really think more about the slogans that we are exposed to in everyday life.

Andy Warhol. He was a glamorous figure of 20th century art. He was famous for making brightly coloured prints. Andy was largely an eccentric character. He was a celebrity, but also concentrated on his business. Throughout his lesson, he thought us the 4 important life lessons. They are 1) Appreciating everyday life. For instance, he loved the soup can. However, humans need to take a step back to appreciate them. Everything we do in life is interesting and note-worthy. The things we do all the time have their own merits. He groomed some countercultural eccentrics as ‘Superstars’. To him, people worked because they wanted a glamorous outlook in life. The choice of the right celebrities were important. He was good at both business and art and felt that they could go well together. To him, art should be accessible and not just restricted to a select rich few. We need the branding power of business to drive the power of art. Andy Warhol mastered many different genres of art. He died at the age of 58.

Dieter Rams. He was a great designer of everyday objects. He made the company ‘Braun’ famous. Design and functionality are closely linked. Dieter saw the beauty of simplicity. The radios he designed were simplistic and even the modern iPod took inspiration from it. The fact is that our lives are too cluttered and having simplicity is very beautiful indeed. Being simple is truly an achievement to be celebrated. There is value in modesty. The products had to improve other people’s lives. One needs to build empathy with the customer. An object should be easy to live with. Rams was classic too. His goal was to make enduring products, those which we didn’t need to throw away. Art and product design is very important.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They didn’t like producing art on a small scale and produced large-scale art. They wanted their art to fill up public spaces. Their art was produced on a massive scale. Their aim is just to make things beautiful and inspiring for all. The job of an artist is not just to dream of a better world, but to make it happen. To create large work, they needed the support of the government, of many users etc. Profit certainly wasn’t their main goal. This is the central plank of good commerce.


Jane Austen. She was an ambitious moralist and wanted to make people nicer in terms of their characters. She was elegant, a good dancer etc. However, she didn’t marry. She believed that the lover should educate you. The purpose of marriage is to educate and improve the other. It should be the union of both. Your spouse has to be able to make you feel relaxed and comfortable and overcome our failings. We have to judge more carefully. She doesn’t care as much of outer appearance as compared to integrity and other values. Learn to treat money seriously. One will need sufficient money before one can get married. Do not be overimpressed by what money can do. It is not wise to get married without enough money. Wealth is important to happiness, but not in terms of living in luxury. We mustn’t learn to be snobbish. Do not be all high handed in dealing with your hierarchy. Few people are snobbish. Secretly, Austen wants the world to be of a certain way which is appealing. This is why she is much loved as a writer.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He was one of the big cultural heroes and excelled in many areas of his life. Many people were impressed by how he led his life. He learnt theatre in school. We can learn a lot of lessons from him. The first is ‘From Romanticism to Classicism in love’. Although romantic love is attractive and wonderful, it does have its deep problems when there is breakup etc. The movies paint romance to be fairy-tale like, but in reality, it is not very pretty. He believed more in Classicism, which is marked by pessimism. However, Romanticism felt more exciting. Later, Goethe worked for the government. There is dignity in administration and working for the government. He often sat in meetings and listened to others. He eventually created a model urban park. Travel was a form of therapy. He was inspired by Rome etc. However, when he reached Rome, he was a little disappointed. He realized he needed a guide. To him, travelling was not about relaxing, but about finding the missing ingredient of our own maturity. Later, he got back to his political and creative work. One should live life to the full: the Faustian hero. His most famous work was Faust. Faust was downtrodden until he was visited by Mephisto, a devil. The devil will offer him the ability to do whatever he wants. Faust realizes that want is wants is beauty and love, and not being a pure hedonist. You can use power and put in for noble use. To fully achieve, we have to flirt with things, but also hold on to a higher purpose. Science is for artsy people. He was known for his achievements in botany. He a hero for those with artistic and literary sense. He studied animals closely and how they interacted with one another. He was an awesome guy.

Leo Tolstoy. The novel was a form of psychological education and reform. He was born in 1828. He was not a good student in school. His marriage was difficult. He wrote War and Peace, Anna Karenina etc. The key lesson from his books are that if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, they would seem kinder and more forgiving. We need to understand the ‘dislikeable’ characters. People are not as what they seem all the time. The thought of mortality should inspire continual kindness and sympathy in us. Tolstoy was a man of outstanding moral courage and generosity. He wrote an important essay. It was titled ‘What is Art?’ Art has the purpose of making the world kinder for all. We have to aspire to be something else.

Marcel Proust. He was a French writer who wrote the longest novel in the world. There were 7 volumes. It was deemed to be the greatest novel of all time. The title was ‘In Search of Lost Time’. It was about a guy seeking to find meaning and purpose in life. He wanted to stop wasting time and start living. There are potentially 3 sources for the meaning of life. The first is social success. The narrator worked his way up the social hierarchy. However, once you are there, you will realize that people are not extraordinary. Vices can be found throughout the population. It is normal for one to try and scale the social ladder. Love provides meaning to life. However, it is not possible to truly understand someone and conflict might arise. Loneliness is endemic. Hence, both the first 2 fail to provide meaning in life. The last is art. Human adults are too stuck in their routine and cannot get out of it. Children do not suffer this and find beauty in the world. We need to look at life with greater sensitivity. It is possible to find natural beauty everywhere, and not just in museums. There is a nice charm to everyday life. The work of artists are like long Proustian moments and they remind us that life is fascinating and lovely.

The reason why life may be judged to be trivial although at certain moments it seems to us so beautiful is that we form our judgement, ordinarily, not on the evidence of life itself but of those quite different images which preserve nothing of life – and therefore we judge it disparagingly. – Marcel Proust

Virginia Woolf. She captured a lot of emotions which she saw. She had famous parents but did not want to live a life of luxury. Later, she suffered a mental breakdown. She was a journalist and a novelist. She married Leonard. ‘To the Lighthouse’ is one of her most famous works. She committed suicide in 1941. Learn to notice everything. There was no minor situation, in her opinion. She was very aware of her surroundings. She was not ashamed of describing her illnesses. We should learn to accept the everyday. We should be a feminist. She liked to explore her sexuality. She also wanted to raise the status of women in society. Women also had the rights to education, intellectual freedom etc.

It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. – Virginia Woolf


Just Ask the Universe by Michael Samuels

A No-Nonsense Guide to Manifesting Your Dreams

Intro. This is a guide to personal development. It is a blue-print for self-growth and self-improvement. You can have anything, all you need is to ask. I have read many books in my life. You can achieve your dreams. All you have to do is to ask the Universe.

If your thoughts are clear and in harmony with your mind and the truth of your surroundings, your life can be filled with all the richness the Universe has to offer. – Michael Samuels

Getting Here. Most people feel the Universe isn’t helping them. It is at your beck and call. The Universe can give you anything you want. However, you must follow certain rules. At first, I believed people relied on luck to be successful. What made successful people different from me? It turns out that rich people have control over their minds. I bought the Anthony Robbin’s Personal Power program. It was revolutionary and awoke me. I penned down all my goals. I learnt about the value of life and adopted a positive mental attitude. After receiving 1 million dollars won’t make you happy. The key is that it’s who you become as a person that matters. Rich people need not necessarily be happy people. Many years later, I realized that I achieved most of my goals. My wife and I were the perfect match. I was a big fan of self-improvement and kept reading more of it. Positive thoughts will attract other positive thoughts. In conclusion, the Universe is at your command every single second of the day. Life is about realizing your dreams.

Action is the real measure of intelligence. – Napoleon Hill

Meet the Universe. The Universe is omnipresent and is everywhere. It flows through you and you are a part of it. It is perpetual in nature and it knows everything. You shouldn’t over analyze and just have faith that it will help you. Hence, it is not worth your time trying to analyze how the Universe works.

The Connection. There is both the conscious and unconscious mind. Your conscious mind is the one you use for thinking. Your unconscious mind takes orders from your conscious one. It is your unconscious mind that works with the Universe. It is impartial and will not question your thoughts. You must ask for things in the correct order. You cannot think convoluted thoughts and you must think clear thoughts. You must want a specific and clear-cut goal. You must set a timeline for your goal. Your thought is the seed and the foundation. Nourish your seed so that it can grow. Learn to clean up your garden. Do not let pessimism destroy you. Do not let depressing thoughts hold you back. It takes time to see results.

You can build radiant health, success and happiness by the thoughts you think in the hidden studio of your mind. – Joseph Murphy

Two Big No-No’s. You can’t use this book to feed your dirty deeds. The first no-no is when you want something bad to happen to someone else. You must only ask for great and positive things. Do not be mean or derogatory. The Universe stores everything you say. Things will hit you back with boomerang precision. Let to forgive others. The second no-no is to never wish to take something away from someone else. Moral of the story is to avoid using the Universe to do your dirty work.

Your Subconscious Wish List. Write down your thoughts. Write down an ‘I want’ list. Write down everything. Be ambitious. However, do not daydream. Write down the details of the new car you want. Please include more details. It is all in the details. List out your travel destinations etc. Do not complain to the Universe about your troubles. Be gracious in your current job even if you currently hate it. Next, write your ‘gratefully received it’ list. These are your current accomplishments in life. Write down only the positive things that have happened to you. The Universe has already been working for you when you were young.

Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire. – Napoleon Hill

Conversations with Your Best Friend. Learn to release the powers of your subconscious mind. You can move things with your mind. Relax with a big smile just before you are about to go to sleep. Think about your ‘I want’ list. Tell your subconscious mind to carry them out for you. Remember that your subconscious is your best friend. Your subconscious will always work for you no matter what, even when you are asleep.

Believing is Seeing. Learn to understand the importance of affirmations. Your dream takes time and remember that the Universe hates whiners. Be thankful at what you have. Live with purpose and be confident that you will be able to achieve your ‘I want’ list. You have to believe in order to see. It is like building a house, where you lay one brick every day. Believing is sowing your seeds. Everything takes time. The Universe will not hurry itself to give you the things you want. Keep pressing on even if you miss your timeline. Never become disheartened in life. Add more wants to your list whenever you feel like it. Constantly re-visit your list once in a while.

Think and Thank. Adapt the mental attitude of gratitude as it will serve you well indeed. The more you adapt this attitude, the more good things will happen to you. Be kind to everyone around you. Even if you fail, thank others for the opportunity. Never become bitter after failing. Be grateful for everything. Please continue to be persistent in whatever you do.

You must maintain, through thick and thin, the right attitude of gratitude, even if you do not get what you want. – Michael Samuels

The Land of Enhancement. The Universe does not show favoritism and favours hard work. In return for any business transaction or as a gift, make sure you give something which is useful for the other person. People need to feel the idea of enhancement from you. Give people more of what they want. Be helpful towards others. In life, you can get anything you want if you offer value towards others. Keep your ego in check and do not brag about your achievements.

Give every person more in worth than you take from them. – Michael Samuels

Setback, Schmetback. Naysayers will criticize your dreams. Help others achieve their dreams too. It takes the same effort to continue moving forward as it does to simply give up. Those who lack determination will quit instantly. These are the unmotivated people. Successful people do not make excuses and the Universe will still want to help you succeed. Always do it now. All you have to do is just ask.

Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieveances which we endure help us in our marching onward. – Henry Ford

Do not waste any energy thinking that the obstacle will defeat you. You will absolutely find a way over, under, around or through the problem when it arises. – Michael Samuels



Great Thinkers by the School of Life (Part 2)

Political Theory

Karl Marx. We often dismiss Marxism. His ideas led to disastrous planned economies. He wanted private property to be abolished. Despite this, we should not dismiss him so easily. He joined the Communist Party, a bunch of intellectuals at that time. He wrote many books in his life. Marx realized that modern work was ‘alienated’. To love your job, you need ‘to see yourself in the object that you have created’. It should also allow us to improve. In the modern world, this doesn’t happen very often though. Modern work is too specialized. To him, humans are all born as generalists. We all have many desires as humans, not just to specialize in our work. If you feel your work is meaningless, you suffer. Our work has to address genuine needs or to help people. Some people’s jobs don’t have a long term effect to which to accumulate towards. Modern work is insecure because of advances in technology. However, most of us want stability. Communism guarantees that everyone has a job. Workers get paid little while capitalists get rich. The bosses get all the profit. Labourers will find it hard to change their circumstances. Workers, or the proletariat, could be easily exploited. Capitalism is very unstable. People are over-producing. Productivity has improved over the years. Marx thought that because of this, people should be happily unemployed. However, unemployment is frowned upon in society. Capitalism is bad for capitalists. Marriage was an extension of business. Because people cared too much about money, they could not put their hearts into their relationships. This is known was Warenfetischismus or commodity fetishism. Capitalism leads people to believe that with more money and belongings, people will be happier. It teaches us to be anxious, competitive, conformist etc. After he passed on, his writings were used for the ideological movements for the 20th century. We do need a more authentic relationship to money and consumption. We have to change the world.

John Ruskin. He cared a lot about beauty and wanted to remake the world into a beautiful place. He was a remarkable man. Ruskin had natural talent for art. Often, he would draw architectural buildings as well. Venice was the paradise to him. However, he was not so impressed with British urban life. He compared Venice with Britain and wondered how could Britain improve? He started his career as an art critic. As a career, he later attacked the principles of capitalism. This was done via speeches. After his dad passed away, he used the money to set up farms to create sustainable good sources. He created industry, schools, and museums. He started the Guild project, which was successful. He encouraged the rich to donate wealth to the Guild. Ruskin was a professor at the University and once got students to mend the road so that children could pay on them. It took a long time, but progress was made. Do not leave it to market forces. He was a man of his word and acted a lot. Be inspired by nature and look and appreciate it. We are part of nature and should use nature to energize us. Often, we dismiss thoughts as of having no significance. We should analyse such thoughts and understand them. Learn to see the good in society.

But the underlying point is crucial. Out of fear of seeming ridiculous, we often end up not tackling the challenges around us. The road mending was a small instance of a larger idea that animated Ruskin’s life: that it is the duty of creative, privileged people to direct their efforts towards making the world more pleasing and tidy, more convenient and beautiful, not just for themselves, but for the greatest good of the greatest number. – John Ruskin

Henry David Thoreau. He was an unemployed writer who lived in the woods. It is important to be simplistic and be authentic. He learnt about transcendentalism from Ralph Waldo Emerson and adopted it. He built a small cabin in the woods. The plan was to go there to write a book. He lived them and sucked out the marrow of life. In the woods, he discovered himself. Mankind doesn’t need a lot of things. Money doesn’t help us develop our soul and to him, work was unnecessary. He worked for only 1 day a week. He worked just long enough to fund his lifestyle. To him, sometimes we use other people to fill gaps in our inner life. One should aim to change oneself first. Technology was a distraction for him and encouraged others to remove it from their lives. Time was what was necessary to make people happy. He also found great beauty in nature. It also encourages introspection and self-discovery. To him, we needed to clear distractions from our minds. He encouraged civil disobedience in protest against immoral laws. He was the founder of the non-violent civil movement. One should be actively engaged with the world.

Matthew Arnold. Matthew was an educational reformer. Education would be a good tool. He was fond of higher ideals and fond of sweetness and light. Eventually, he became Professor of Poetry at Oxford. His famous work was ‘Culture and Anarchy’. There was very little love and care in the world, he noted. This was meant by anarchy. Money politics was growing and everyone was fond of riches. He predicted that culture would overcome anarchy. He wanted culture to be taught in schools and wanted art to govern societies. Art had the power to enable us to understand and clear confusion. The arts were only useful if everyone could understand it. Hence, there was a need to popularize it. He wanted a world where people were kind and exhibited sympathy towards one another.

William Morris. He understood the role of pleasure in work. Consumer demand has also played a huge role in modern society. Early on, he realized that money could not solve everything. He started off as an architect, but later wanted to be an artist and poet. He was keen of the medieval idea of craft to boost the economy. Workers could have to build a skill. Craft work is good because you are building something tangible. If people like their jobs, the issue of pay is less critical. You are no longer working just for the money. Labour was dignified. He started an arts business later in life. Industrialization brought about massive change and allowed for mass production. Would customers still be willing to pay for craft work? Consumers need to be educated. Everything in your house that you own should be beautiful. Items purchased should be seen as a form of investment. You can also pass it down to your future generations. He was conscious of the beauty of life. The economy is related to our preferences and choices.

John Rawls. What is truly unfair? He published ‘A Theory of Justice’ in 1971. He was a humble man who did a lot of social work and carried himself well. Life was not always fair and rag to riches stories are simply too rare. Imagine if you were not you. Those who are privileged seldom think of those who have suffered prejudice and suffering. Thus, there was a need to convince this group of people. He conducted ‘the veil of ignorance’ test. You wouldn’t know exactly what your life circumstances are. Your birth place is like a lottery. People need to know what needs to be fixed. His question allows people to think what a fair society is like. There is still a lot to be done to maintain this fairness.

As Rawls forcibly reminds us, in the modern United States, and many parts of Europe too, if you are born poor, the chances of you remaining poor (and dying young) are simply overwhelming and incontestable. – John Rawls

If we knew nothing about where we’d end up, what sort of a society would it feel safe to enter? In what kind of political system would it be rational and sane for us to take root – and accept the challenge laid down by the veil of ignorance? – John Rawls

Eastern Philosophy

He confronted suffering. He was known as Siddhartha Gautama. He was in a palace filled with luxury. When he was 30, he met the real world and saw ordinary people. He was touched by their plight. Finally he left the palace for good. He avoided all physical comforts and pleasures. Now, he developed a sense of compassion and peace. He reached ‘Nirvana’ or the ‘Awakening’. All of creation is united in its suffering. One shouldn’t bathe in luxury. It is best to live in moderation. There is constant suffering and dissatisfaction in the world. Suffering is caused by attachment due to our desires. Attachment is the root of suffering. We must change our outlook to life. Humans are not happy because we are greedy, vain, insecure. He suggested an eightfold path for humans to follow. Right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Learn to develop a mindful attitude. The state of living was the most sacred issue. Do your best to liberate yourself from tyrannous desires.

Lao Tzu. He is a guiding figure in Daoism. He is rumoured to have wrote Tao Te Ching. The teachings are interwined with Confucianism and Buddhism. People are guided by the ‘Dao’. It opens life to multiple interpretations. It is the path to virtue, happiness and harmony. We resist the very simple path that will make us content. We must learn flow and the harmony of it. We need more time for stillness and to appreciate the world. Let your mind be still. Be in touch with your real self. We should pay more attention to the wonders of nature. He compares different parts of nature to different virtues. Trees are resilient and should be admired. Water is soft and gentle, but yet can be powerful when given time. Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished. Life is a series of small changes. Be content with what you want. Rejoice in the way things are. Learning the way of the Dao reminds you of stillness, openness and natural forces.

The idea that the contemplation of nature is a source of perspective and tranquillity is well known in theory, but so easy to overlook because we take it from granted and never give it the time and focus required. – Lao Tzu

Confucius. Confucius claims that he invented nothing. He led a virtuous life. He coined the golden rule. He understood the importance of ceremony. Rituals were powerful. Rituals teach people how to behave. Treat your parents with reverence. We should practise filial piety. Moral life begins in the family. Be obedient to honourable people. Be respectful to all around you. Cultivate knowledge more than creativity. Spend time to slowly change your habits.

Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself – Confucius

We should obey our parents when we are young, care for them when they are old, mourn at length when they die and make sacrifices in their memory thereafter. – Confucius

Sen no Rikyu. He is one the greatest Zen thinkers. He stayed in the countryside and appreciate the Japanese tea ceremony. He believed in rituals too. Wabi-sabi means the appreciation of the imperfect. He made people realize the value of the authentic, for the un-decorated and the humble. The tea-house should be strong. The tea-house was meant to promote harmony. After the ceremony, one would be tranquil and peaceful. Make the spiritual life more tangible. There are co-relations between the big ideas and the small ideas.

Matsuo Basho. Poetry is good for our souls. Poetry was meant to guide us and bring wisdom and calm. He wrote in Haiku style. Old pond…A frog leaps in. Water’s sound. He was an exceptional poet. We should really appreciate life for what it is and be contented with our own company. Use natural scenes to remind his reader of flowers, weather etc. The transience of life makes every moment valuable. The lightness allows readers to escape the burdens of self.

St Benedict. We feel like we need to reinvent our lives. We are not involved in our community. Monasticism is where people are fruitful and they group together as friends towards a few big goals. One day, St Benedict went to the mountains. He had rules for everyone. There were rules for eating. One should avoid red meat and long chatter at dinner tables should be avoided. Silence was golden and was the key to concentration. Fashion was a huge source of interest to Benedict. Everyone should wear the same clothes and wear the same hair. Incorporate some physical activity in your life. Have early nights and sleep early. Do not have porn addiction. Learn to dress in a demure way. Admire beautiful art and architecture. Create a home which is uplifting and calming. He is showing us the potential for rules to help us live well. There is a lot of importance in having a strong community. One should live in such a way so as to avoid distractions. Communal life can be fun and we are better off joining a team.

Alexis de Tocqueville. We support democracy, although we can be disappointed by it. Alexis de Tocqueville studied the United States model. He believed in the power of democracy. He went there to see what the future would be like. During his trip, he talked to many people. There was an attitude of selfishness by the Native Americans. The Natives looked different from normal Americans. There were things to admire about America. To him, the wilderness was impressive. What were the social consequences of democracy? Democracy breeds materialism. This is because people believed that through hard work, you could amass a fortune. That is why people respect money. The test of a business is whether it can make money and be admirable. Capitalism led to people judging one another. Democracy breeds envy and shame. Poor people were looked down. Everyone believes that they have a good shot at life. People in the past, before democracy, were calmer. Democracy dismantled barriers to expectation. It was true that some of the poor might one day become rich. In aristocracies, servants accepted their fates with good grace. However, in democracies, they were ambitious. But the problem was that not all of them could achieve their goals, and if they couldn’t, they became bitter towards their masters and hated themselves for their inadequacies. Another issue of democracy was the tyranny of the majority. Majority could dominate the minority. Good ideas proposed by the minority could be shut down. Another problem was that democracy turns us against authority. Democracy was all for favour for equality, which was harmful in some ways. The issue was that people with no education could not understand why they were not on par with a doctor and disrespected authority. It was biased towards mediocrity. Democracy undermined the freedom of the mind. They did not speak up for their convictions, for fear of backlash. He showed us the pros and cons of democracy. He tried to get people strategically pessimistic.

I never met a citizen too poor to cast a glance of hope and envy toward the pleasures of the rich. – Tocqueville

Max Weber. He grew up seeing the Industrial Revolution. He was a young academic. Capitalism was possible because of a set of religious ideas. It was created by Protestantism. Protestantism makes you feel guilty all the time. God likes hard work. All work is holy. Work was also part of a religious vocation. It’s the community, not the family, that counts. There aren’t miracles. One needed to think methodically, act honestly and work industriously. The world bank should be giving Africa ideas instead of money. The economy requires cultural assistance. We need to look to changing mentalities, like Calvinism. How can we change the world? Bureaucracy is a major implication to change a nation. Removing the leader might only have a small impact. One cannot bring social change just by charisma. One way to overcome bureaucracy is through knowledge and systematic organization. Ideas might be important than tools to change nations. One can always change the thoughts in their heads.

Emile Durkheim (1858 to 1917). Capitalism makes us richer, but more suicidal too. He was fascinated by religion. Also, suicide rates were increasing among the educated people. Why were people becoming more unhappy? Individualism played a bigger role than community. Hence, it forces us to be masters of our destinies. When things go wrong, you only have to blame yourself. This is the burden of capitalism. It raises our hopes. Everyone thinks they can become the boss. Envy grows rife. Life is often quite simply painful and sad. Humans have too much freedom and that is not a good thing. There is nowhere to hide if you are not capable. Atheism was more common. Religion created bonds between groups of people. Capitalism weakens the nation and the family. Modern economies do not provide sufficient support and guidance for individuals.

Margaret Mead. She was a famous anthropologist. She eventually chose Christianity. The world was teeming with separate cultures. She travelled to Samoa for her field-work. She wanted to see that primitive cultures had their insights too. Naturally, she picked up the native languages and became popular. She led an unconventional life. The natives were comfortable with sex. There was less social expectations for them as to whether they could have sex etc. Modern Americans are forced to conform with societal norms. Our modern life does not allow us to be free. In different native cultures, women could be the more aggressive as compared to men. Culture has been big part to play in shaping personalities. Therefore, because of modern society, we have left some things behind. Humans are definitely moulded by society. We miss out on the greater opportunities in life. It is important to consider cultural norms and use them as guides for your emotional lives. Learn to study complex cultures. She was a supporter and fighter of many cause. We need to unleash and uncover human potential in our rush to modernity.

Theodor Adorno. He was a German. Eventually, he focused on philosophy. He wanted intellectuals to band together and change society. To him, capitalism was bad because leisure time was seen as being toxic. Leisure time should be used for expanding and developing ourselves. Hopefully, these cultural activities might have some impact on our lives. Modern entertainment keeps us distracted, and do not have the ability to alter political reality. It was like opium for the masses. The culture activities like to keep us distracted. Pop music focus on love. He thought that Walt Disney was the most dangerous man in America. To him, capitalism doesn’t sell us the things we need. We actually don’t get what we need but settle for less. We need calm, insight and tenderness etc. Advertising is mass manipulation. Politics needs to be changed via psychology too.

Adorno argued that leisure had a great purpose to serve: free time – and the cultural activities we might pursue in it – was our prime opportunity to expand and develop ourselves, to reach after our own better nature, and to acquire the tools with which to change society. – The School of Life

Rachel Carson. We have damaging the planet. She really cared for the environment and wanted to conserve it. She wrote books on sea life etc. She promoted identification with the world earth. We are all part of this beautiful Earth. DDT was controversial as it harmed wildlife. We should really try to leave nature alone. We should think more creatively about how to prevent insect damage. Good stewardship of the Earth is a must. Love is the key to transforming humanity’s relationship to nature.

Sigmund Freud. He was a vulnerable man inside. He invented psychoanalysis in 1900. However, he remained an unhappy man. He was jealous of Carl Jung. Humans are largely governed by the pleasure principle. Education teaches us to forgo short term pleasure but seek long term rewards. Life was full of neuroses. Childhood is the time when we adapt to reality. Later, children have to experience the ‘anal phase’, where they face the challenges of defecation. The next phase of a kid is when he has new sexual wishes. This nature of the child is repressed. Freud thinks that humans experience the Oedipus complex, where children direct their sexual impulses towards their parents. A child will tend to love her mother, but someone else will take away her attention. As a result, the child will hate the dad. To him, incestuous thoughts are at the back of the child’s mind. Humans have a difficulty associating sex with love. Freud thought that the cure for neurosis was psychoanalysis. Humans experience dreams which are exciting, but these are usually not practical in reality. Humor was a psychological survival mechanism.

Anna Freud. She was Sigmund’s daughter. She became a psychoanalyst when she grew up. Naturally, humans try to protect their egos. There are 10 key types of defence mechanisms. One is denial. This gets in the way of long-term coping. Projection is the next. We often project our own negative feelings to someone else. You can also turn against the self. Humans tend to regress and avoid commitment on big decisions to be made. A tantrum is a regressive defence mechanism. Humans often rationalize that we are innocent and nice and worthy. If one gets rejection for a job offer, one way to rationalize is that ‘it was a boring company’. This is the way to protect one’s self-esteem. Humans tend to use displacement, where people are angry with their bosses at work but do not express it and end up shouting at their wife at home. Fantasy is another escapist mechanism. These help you to escape from reality. Defences are not voluntary. Defence mechanisms play a big part in our lives.

Melanie Klein. She was also a psychoanalyst. Our desires are in a raw form. Deep down, we are governed by the pleasure principle. Sometimes, we fall prey to neuroses and inhibitions. We end up being uncreative in daily life. We might also end up failing. Klein analyzed children and how they played with toys. Children, when they grow up, start to realize what ambivalence is. As humans, we also learn to understand the ambivalent nature of all relationships.

Donald Winnicott. How do you build a better world? The way parents bring up children has a big impact on this. The right upbringing is absolutely key. He started off as a pediatrician. First, parents should remember that children are vulnerable. The early few months are immense work. Learn to let a child be angry. Make sure your child isn’t too compliant. This would lead to the child emerging to a ‘False Self’. These kids are not a proper good, but acting good only. Let your child be. Realize the gravity of the job you’ve taken on. Love is about the surrender of the ego, and putting aside one’s own needs and assumptions.

The foundation of the health of the human being is laid by you in the baby’s first weeks and months. Perhaps this thought can help a little when you feel strange at the temporary loss of your interest in world affairs… It is not surprising. You are engaged in founding the mental health of the next generation. – Donald Winnicott

John Bowlby. We all want to form stable relationships. Why is it so hard to establish such relationships? Relationship building is important as a child already. Children suffer when their parents are not good role models. Children need cuddling and playing too. Then, they will love their mother’s body. The ideal parent must be there. Most people do not get the required maternal care. Our parents behaviour might not be consistent. Those kids without good care entered 3 phrases: protest, despair and detachment. These are patterns of ‘anxious attachment’. Some kids are worse and they are ‘attachment avoidant’ and avoid warmth and even a hug because it seems dangerous. There are 3 kinds of attachments to other adults. They are 1) secure attachment. This is the best. This means that ‘you are slow to anger, quick to forgive and forget’. The next is anxious attachment. This is marked by clinginess and close checking on the other person.A small act can be seen as a huge threat. These type of relationships quickly become coercive and demanding. Some are avoidant attachments. This means you would rather walk away then get angry with the other person. People tend to a combination of a few traits. It is important to establish an early bond between mother and child. According to research, 56% are securely attached, 24% are avoidantly attached and 20% are anxiously attached.


Great Thinkers by The School of Life (Part 1)

This book draws ideas from various cultures and professions. This book brings to you the most important ideas of our times.

Introduction. This is a ‘canon’ of thought from modern thinkers. The list is ‘biased’ of course, but it is ‘good’ bias as it favours valuable and important ideas. The team has tried to select as well as possible. The book will help you remember key thoughts by renowned thinkers. The ideas can also be applied in everyday life. Most of the ideas are not too technical for the layman to comprehend. What can great thinkers do for you?


Plato. It is 2400 years ago, in Athens. Plato is probably one of the first and greatest philosopher. He wanted people to reach Eudaimonia – happiness/fulfilment. He has 4 big ideas. The first is to ‘think harder’. We needed to have greater clarity in our minds. Most people often jumped into decisions without analyzing much, this was disastrous. The key was to know yourself. He encouraged people to love more wisely. To him, people love because they see in the other party some good quality that they haven’t got. Love is about helping each other grow. Learn to commit to help them and navigate through stormy passages in life. To him, ‘beautiful’ things are good. Beauty objects can educate us. Art was therapeutic to Plato. Art was to be for the good of society. Plato had many ideas to change our society and wrote ‘The Republic’. Our society needed more new heroes. Secondly, censorship was important. Next, he emphasized on the important of education and learn about how to be calm, how to exercise self-control etc. People need to lead better childhoods too.

Aristotle. He was born in 384BC. He also tutored Alexander the Great. Aristotle was always fascinated with how things work and tried to answer life’s big questions. The first was what made people happy. In ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, he suggested that good people have certain virtues. To him, the ability to have a good conversation was the key to a good life. One should have an excessive sense of humor. The guy in the middle is the best, he is simply witty. Moral goodness can be formed through habit. To him, art was a form of catharsis, which is a form of cleaning and allowing you to get rid of the bad stuff. Art also reminds us that tragedy can strike anyone. Art is to make profound truths stick in our minds. He identified the true friend concept, which we care for one another. Aristotle offered suggestions on how to soothe people’s fears in order for to convince them with your ideas.

The Stoics. This was a brand of philosophy in ancient Greece and Rome. It is useful in troubled times. Seneca used it, and so did Marcus Aurelius. It can address our anxiety issues. One should imagine the worst case scenario and be used to it. This is facing your fears head on. Life will go on whether you are rich or poor. One should learn to practice worst-case scenarios so that you will not be surprised. To Stoics, anger is stupidity. It is because we expect too much from the other person. One should expect less from life. In an ideal state, nothing should be able to disturb your peace. They believe that most of life is fate and sometimes, fate can deal you a cruel hand. The fact is that whatever we do matters. Looking up at the sky also provides a calming effect. Although their teachings are dark, the Stoics are important.

The task of the wise person is therefore never to believe in the gifts of fortune: fame, money, power, love, health – these are never our own. – The Stoics Philosophy

Epicurus. He was born in 341 BC. His central topic of study was happiness. He led a remarkably simple life for a happy person. One of the misconceptions is that we need romantic relationships. To him, love and happiness never go together. We often neglect our friends. Secondly, people think they need a lot of money. He believed in the need for meaningful work. Humans put too much faith in luxury. He believed what made people was calm. Epicurus lived with his friends. People took pay cuts in exchange for fulfilling work. His friends found calm via rational analysis and insight. This style of living caught on with others. To sum up, the 3 false lures of happiness were: romantic love, professional status and luxury.

What made work really satisfying, Epicurus believed, is when we’re able to work either alone or in very small groups, and when it feels meaningful, when we sense that we’re helping others in some way or making things that improve the world. – Epicurus

Augustine. He was a Christian philosopher. He criticized the Romans. The Romans believed in earthly happiness and just social order. Augustine believed that humans were all lustful, mad, erratic, deluded deviants with no earthly chance of happiness. This was the idea of original sin. Humans had the idea to dominate others. Everything we do is pretty much imperfect. This is simply the human condition. To him, all hierarchies were unfair as there is no social justice. We should not expect fair distribution on earth. He warns us about those who try to make life perfect or say that poverty is an indicator of vice.

Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas tried to reconcile religion with science and faith. He was a philosopher and a holy saint. He found that non-Christians could also have wisdom. He wanted to know how people could discern right from wrong. Were religion and rational thought compatible? The world operated via ‘natural law’ and ‘eternal law’. For eternal laws, no form of reasoning was possible. Everything that is important has to come from God was a wrong idea. Aquinas believed that natural laws and observation of everyday things in life was important. Arts, philosophy are examples of natural law. Natural law can be discovered via independent reasoning. Aquinas believed that wisdom can come from multiple sources. We are often too dismissive of ideas which come from seemingly ‘wrong’ sources.

Michel de Montaigne. He was born in 1533 and often criticized the arrogance of intellectuals. He was a funny guy too. Reason allows us to control our passions and our bodies. To him, reasoning was possible, but our brains were full of madness. He was obsessed with the fragilities of the human body. We do not have full control over our bodies. Michel didn’t believe in modelling your life after someone who you aspire to be. He attacked academia for being out of touch. He wanted to read simple things which were fun. To him, most people studied books, but not their own minds. Philosophy or grand ideas can also be applied to ordinary lives. To him, a virtuous and ordinary life which strives for wisdom is an achievement already. He continues to be an inspiration for us all.

La Rochefoucauld. He wrote a masterpiece of a book that is only 60 pages long. It was all about observations of the human condition. He had a miserable life and was exiled. After much struggle, he decided to enter the contemplative life. He and his friends often talked about the great themes of existence. He was known for the maxim, or an insight into the human soul. He honed 504 aphorisms. The most famous one of all is ‘We all have strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others.’ His aphorisms give deep psychological reflection and precision and cynicism. He was also suspicious of romantic love. His book was short and could influence people who were not into philosophy too

A few men have sighed because their women were abducted; most because no one wanted to abduct them. – La Rochefoucauld

There are some people who would never have fallen in love, if they had not heard there was such a thing. – La Rochefoucauld

He that refuses praise the first time it is offered does it because he would like to hear it a second. – La Rochefoucauld

The reason lovers never tire of one another’s company is because they never talk of anything but themselves. – La Rochefoucauld

If one were to judge of love according to the greatest part of the effects it produces, it might very justly pass for hatred rather than kindness. – La Rochefoucauld

Baruch Spinoza. He tried to reinvent religion into something more consoling. He was born in Amsterdam in 1632. One of his famous books was ‘Ethics’. He challenged the tenets of Judaism. To him, God was a projection of our imagination. God was the universe and reason and truth. He is the eternal cause. It is important how and why things seem the way they are. Only narcissism to cause one to believe that God will take an interest to improve his or her life. One should continuously try to understand the world and bow down peacefully when necessary. To him, one needed to understand how life and the universe works, natural sciences etc so as to understand God better. We need to align our will with the Universe. Ultimately, he warns us of the failures of philosophy. It is not only reason which leads people to religion, but also emotion, belief etc. Religion is helped along by rituals, art etc. There are other perks to religion.

Arthur Schopenhauer. He was a German philosopher and his famous works was ‘The World as Will and Representation’. He was also interested in Buddhism. To him, God was not almighty as there was so much suffering in the world. The Will-to-life is a force which makes us focus on sex and fall in love. Love was connected to the idea of having children. Someone of intellect might not want a child as it so difficult to raise one and also lead to your loss of freedom. The Will-to-life is to be blamed. Lovers overlook everything and misjudge everything. He felt sorry for humans as we were behaving like animals. We do all we can to perpetuate ourselves. In general, Schopenhauer was gloomy over human nature. For sages, they can rise above the will-to-life and override them. These are the monks. The next solution is to spend as long as we can with art and philosophy. We can step back from day to day life and take part in activities. He had a pessimistic view of life. He believed strongly in Buddhism.

Life has no intrinsic worth, but is kept in motion merely by want and illusion. – Arthur Schopenhauer

There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy… so long as we persist in this inborn error … the world seems to us full of contradictions. For at every step, in great things and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of being content. That’s why the faces of almost all elderly people are etched with such disappointment. – Arthur Schopenhauer

Georg Hegel. He wrote horribly and had poor communication skills. He took history seriously and mentioned that important parts of ourselves can be found in history. To him, studying history was a form of wisdom. There are things to be learnt from every era. Progress is never linear. To him, every era contained important insights mired in a set of errors. One should learn from ideas that one dislikes. To him, progress is messy. The world makes you progress by lurching you from one extreme to another. People tend to overcompensate. It took many mistakes before the balanced constitution was formed. Progress, in history, has been slow and troubled. We will learn but with massive overcorrections. One cannot avoid stepping and making mistakes. To him, art had a great purpose. Art provides insights into our lives. We should be more forgiving to our partners. He believed that we needed new institutions. Even with right ideas, you need the right infrastructure and structures to support it.

World history is the record of the mind’s efforts to understand itself. – Georg Hagel

Friedrich Nietzsche. He often lived alone and didn’t get along with girls and his family. He wanted people to discover and be loyal to their highest potential. Envy is a part of life. Everyone compared themselves with others. To him, there was nothing wrong with envy. He wanted people to study about their envy in order to create a better self. Be conscious of your potential and fight to get there. He didn’t believe in Christianity. It was a curse to him. The problem was that Christianity protected people from their envy. They used religion to criticize what they wanted but couldn’t get and praise what they did not want but happened to have. Thus, the religion drains life of its potential. Nietzsche never drank alcohol. It was because it numbed pain, and tries to reassure us that things are fine. He also proclaimed that God was dead. He wanted culture to replace religion.

If we are finding things difficult, it is not necessarily a sign of failure, it may just be evidence of the nobility and arduousness of the tasks we’ve undertaken. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Martin Heidegger. He wrote using many complex German words. There is meaning to our lives. ‘Being and Time’ was his most famous work. He sought to help humans live more wisely. To him, modern humanity was suffering from some diseases. We have forgotten to notice we’re alive. Most of us live day-to-day. We should appreciate the ‘Mystery of Being’ and be marveled at how things are. We keep the difficult questions at bay. To him, humans need to analyze ‘The Nothing’. All Being is connected. We need to take a generous view of existence. Everything that exists are united by the basic tenets of Being. People tend to forget to be free and to live for ourselves. It is important to start living for yourself. One way to do so is to start focusing on your impending death. One should stop worrying about what others think. One shouldn’t spend so much time trying to impress others. Humans tend to treat others as objects. He believed in the use of great art and exposure.

Jean-Paul Sartre. He was born in 1905. He was known for the philosophical movement known as existentialism. His famous book is ‘Being and Nothingness’. Things are weirder than we think. Things seem absurd and frightening. One should view the world and strip it off any prejudices and assumptions. Humans are free. You can certainly take many liberating decisions and daydream etc. You can free your life of commitments and obligations. We do not have any God-given sense of purpose. We are not being shackled and the idea of ‘work’ and ‘job’ can be removed. Anguish is a mark of maturity. Humans shouldn’t live in bad faith. Things do not have to be a certain way only. One should open up their lives to other options and possibilities. We are free to dismantle capitalism. Too many people worry about money and as a result, do not make certain decisions in life. Capitalism leads to a denial in freedom.

Dinner really means that when your part of the planet has spun away from the energy of a distant hydrogen and helium explosion, you slide your knees under strips of a chopped-up tree and put sections of dead animals and plants in your mouth and chew. – Jean-Paul Sartre

Albert Camus. He was a French-Algerian philosopher. He was killed in a car crash. His famous work was ‘The Outsider’. The main character recognizes the indifference of the universe towards humankind. We all have moments when we feel that no one understands us. Life has no inherent meaning. Like other philosophers, he realized that life has no preordained meaning. He was an existentialist. However, he resisted hopelessness or nihilism. We are like Sisyphus in a way. Humans need to cope with daily life. Life is enduring. Camus was a good looking fellow who had many women. Camus understood the pleasures of ordinary life. He was a champion of the ordinary. He also stuck firmly to his principles.

Camus argues that we have to live with the knowledge that our efforts will be largely futile, our lives soon forgotten and our species irredeemably corrupt and violent – and yet should endure nevertheless. – The School of Life

Political Theory

Niccolo Machiavelli. We want to see the ideal side of politics, but we know it can be dirty. He feels that the good politician must know how to defend and be sly, when necessary. His father was a wealthy man. He wanted to both be a good person and a good politician. That seemed to be at odds with one another. His most famous book is ‘The Prince’. He should err on the side of terror. He rejected Christianity as a guide for leaders. The Christian ethics and governance were at odds. One can do wrong if it is for the security of the state. Sometimes, we can’t be good at everything. Once in a while, we need to sacrifice our ideal visions of kindness for practical effectiveness.

Thomas Hobbes. To what extent should we obey leaders who are not good? Should we start a revolution/ depose governments? He hated violence. His book ‘Leviathan’ argues that we should support government and obey them in order to avoid chaos and bloodshed. Hobbes felt that the social contract theory of government meant that people could depose rulers once they felt unhappy. Life without government would lead to massive infighting. This led to people forming governments. People had a right to protest only if the leader tried to kill them. However, if government policies were bad, there was no need for people to take to the streets to protest. He generally wanted men to obey.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Life is founded on the idea of progress. There was a guy who questioned the idea of progress into larger economies. His life was marked by isolation. He went to Paris to see the opulent life. To him, he felt like civilization destroyed morals of humans. In modern society, men are plagued by vice. In the past, people understood life to be more simple and could understand their minds. Modern society leaves us envious and suffering. Men now swelled with pride, jealousy and vanity. We end up trapped in capitalism and materialism. To him, simple people were more contented in life. Although technology was present, Indians weren’t happier. One should look to others for self-worth. We have to look at ourselves to revive human goodness.

Adam Smith. How can you make a capitalist economy more meaningful? He felt philosophers should care more about the economy. He created specialization. People started to specialize in only certain areas. Society got richer because of specialization. However, there was a lack of meaning to work. We feel like a cog in the machine. People feel that their work does not fit in well with society. Hence, employers need to remind people of their purpose, role and responsibility. This is the era of consumer capitalism. Smith felt that luxury goods were good because they stimulated the economy and created trade and jobs. Humans also have needs for education etc. To him, the rich didn’t care about money. They cared about honour and respect because they need external validation. Consumers opt for a certain type of products. We need to pay a better price for products. Adam Smith wanted to create ideas about how humans lived and how this view should be reconciled with the needs for businesses.