Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Difference between Smart and Knowledgeable

English: The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company theme r...

The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company theme restaurant in Long Beach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is smart? Is smart different from knowledge or are they somehow intertwined? If we witness someone with a powerful command of both verbal language and a broad array of facts, able to craft stunning intellectual castles with a few swipes of their crafty verbal sword, we might be inclined to note how smart they are… but is this really smart? To explore the question adequately we must be mindful not to descend down a rabbit hole of unanswerable questions, lest we wind up on a tedious journey through philosophical wonderland and end up negotiating with a blank grin and belligerent paper queen. To tease apart any distinction that might exist between smart and knowledgeable without too much in the way of wordy formication,[1] let’s consider the following story:

Forrest Gump was a 1994 film loosely based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. We can examine “smart” through the lens of some elements of this movie plot.[2] Forrest Gump, the main character, would not be considered smart by most traditional measures. He had an IQ of 75. Along with impaired intellect, he had physical impairment in his legs for which he wore braces. It could be said he accidentally overcame his physical impairment through persistent running. His running was sparked in part by the need to get away from bullies that made fun of him and sought to harm him. It was in part based on advice from his childhood friend, Jenny Curran. Forrest became quite physically fit as a result of following this simple advice. His life was guided by simple rules that descended from Jenny and the homespun, loving wisdom and care administered by his “mama”.

As a child, Forrest fell in love with Jenny. Although Jenny recognized his signals, she couldn’t reciprocate. She probably felt they were incompatible for other reasons, but she was actually unable to form deep and nourishing emotional bonds because of emotional impairment that stemmed from the physically and sexually abusive environment she grew up in. Since she was far more able to grasp verbal concepts, Jenny would typically be considered more knowledgeable than Forrest, but she was unable to forge satisfying relationships. To the contrary, using the same running advice she gave Forrest, she tried and failed to escape the wounds and starvation she had experienced. Although she tried every way she could figure how to run from – in reality she ran to abusive relationships of the same caliber she experienced in childhood. Instead of bringing resolution to her plight, her calculated efforts embroiled her in an echo of the emotional climate from which she came. A series of abusive self-destructive relationships, roaming from place to place and drug abuse defined much of her adult life activities.

In contrast to Jenny, Forrest was able to form a number of deep and nourishing relationships. One of these was with Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue. Forrest met Bubba in the army which he joined after a chance encounter with a recruiter on leaving college which he attended on a football scholarship due to his physical talent for running. He and Bubba went to Viet Nam where, based on Bubba’s dreams and prompting, they planned for a shrimping boat business after the war. Bubba died in Forrest’s arms after Forrest carried him out of a fierce firefight in the war along with his commanding officer Second Lieutenant Dan Taylor. Dan’s legs were blown off in the same firefight that killed his friend Bubba. Dan was impaired by an exaggerated sense of family military tradition and duty which included the notion that he was destined to die in a war like his forefathers. He deeply resented Forrest after the rescue. Forrest eventually started the business and was later joined by his commanding officer. Dan went through a period of depression and alcohol abuse until he finally came across Forrest on his shrimping boat, which he pledged to be first mate on if Forrest ever actually realized what he thought was a ridiculous and impossible dream. After a hurricane wiped out the entire shrimping industry, except for Forrest’s boat, the business became a spectacular success.

Perhaps the most defining line in the movie was on the heels of Jenny’s inability to respond to Forrest’s consistent expressions of caring for her. He said; “Why don’t you love me Jenny? I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.” Jenny sporadically encountered Forrest during down times in her cycles of destruction. This was one of those. One encounter resulted in Jenny and Forrest consummating a child, but Jenny left before either of them knew she was pregnant.

Jenny raised the child and supported herself by waitressing but became ill. The child inspired her to come to understand “what love is”. She recognized she was not going to live long enough to see her child mature, so she reached out to Forrest, who not only took over those child rearing responsibilities, but married Jenny who was by then able to truly love him. Lieutenant Dan also learned to appreciate what Forrest had done and came to find a great appreciation for life and love as well. This was due in no small part to being tutored by this very smart man – Forrest Gump.

The movie opens and closes with a feather set adrift on a journey at the whim of a fickle wind that eventually pushes it onto Forrest’s foot. He picks it up and places it inside his favorite book, “Curious George”. This seems a fitting symbol for the way that chance brushes against the substance of our lives and how, if we’re either lucky or intentional, we too can find that curious place. Like Forrest and the other characters in the movie, we are all impaired in some way, sometimes we drift, sometimes we erratically tumble through various circumstances to finally light on our curious place. It is also curious that behaviors and self-awareness of our emotional needs is by far a more appropriate measure of “smart” than any of the intellectual castles we could ever craft out of knowledge.


[1] Formication is a medical term for the sensation of insects crawling on or under the skin.

[2] Spoiler alert: If you have not seen the movie Forrest Gump, you may not want to read further. This contains plot details that you may not want to know.

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The Work it is to Lead an Intentional Life

Flow of information in biological systems

The cellular melody that plays out inside of us repeats a common harmonious theme. At the same time our organs reveal that slight complementary differences within that framework powerfully contribute to the overall community of relationships that make us what we are, a biological symphony. Like the various instruments within an orchestra contribute their individual tasks, the unified whole is the result. Our biology has a need for nourishing relationships that are defined by this same principle, different tasks interacting within the community, but a unified and shared nourishing expressive purpose by all. Should the measures and verse that define us have expressions of discord, we experience this biologically as disease. Each part within needs to serve in the context of what best serves the whole symphonic community of expression.

These same biological principles are mimicked in our social relationships. To understand this in more pragmatic terms; those of us who were exposed to relationships that flowed in cycles of discordant payoffs tend to repeat these patterns on our adult social stage. In the late 1950’s Dr. Eric Berne developed a lens to look at the behavioral symphony of human social dynamics and how these patterns shaped our experience of life. He called this lens “Transactional Analysis”. He called the toxic social patterns “games” such as “now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch”, which are actually power plays we do on each other’s life typically because we learned them growing up.

Dr. Berne created a simple lens through which we can more accurately see that the relationship environment we grew up in has powerful implications on how we live our lives over all. He called this overarching theme that drives our behaviors and relationships a “Life Script”. A life script is a life plan that is sometimes unspoken and sometimes unbeknownst to the person executing it. This plan can run on toxic games that are directed toward a specific reward which is sometimes negative. He called the end result of these social dealings “payoffs”. We learn to cultivate these payoffs by be being attracted to, or repulsed by certain characteristics on our social landscape, and in our relationship dealings with ourselves, so that ultimately the symphony turns out the way it is scripted. The idea Dr. Berne had was to create a framework by which we could begin directing our lives more intentionally.

The thematic communication represented through our biology tells us a lot about who we are. It should come as no surprise that the social relationship environment we’re exposed to as we grow up strikes a chord that echoes on our adult social landscape the same way the development of our cells and organs defines how well or poorly our biology operates. If the relationship currents in our developmental environment were nourishing we can ride the currents, if not, we either work to swim against the current or flow down the drain.

The Government of Nature

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

If we turn our eye to explore the nature of government we probably drift to notions of a narrow band of people that can be loosely bracketed in terms of “the powers that be”. This is not the kind of government we will explore here. The idea here is to set our sights on nature as the fundamental form of government, the laws of which any human endeavor to govern is ultimately subordinate to – one way or another. To contrast the difference between human government and the government of nature, we can consider the following: A human government, either by tacit approval, outright policy or some combination of these could build a coastal city  below sea level. This city can be made possible with the application of resources such as civil engineering and the building of levies and canals to control the flow of water. With these endeavors the city can exist where it would not otherwise be possible. Here on earth, the law of nature asserts that liquid water runs downhill, and that sporadic storms will buffet a given geographic area from time to time. Efforts such as levies and canals can hold back the tides, but nature is the ultimate decider of whether or not human endeavors are sufficient. Nature, no matter what laws and actions we might undertake, is the ultimate authority. In other words; human endeavors of whatever order of magnitude are only effective to the degree that they are exercised within the bounds of the laws of nature.

The laws of nature are steady. They are self-assured – neither diminished nor exalted by scorn or flattery. They’re neither boastful nor modest. These laws that govern us communicate what is possible and what is not. Two key points we can draw from what is communicated through nature is that there are both possibilities and limitations. The key to unlocking the fullest of possibilities is to both understand and operate within the bounds of the laws of nature. The flip side of this is that ignorance, wishful thinking or attempts to violate nature do not, will not and cannot sway the outcome of events. Nature is faithful and cannot make exceptions. If we choose to ignore or fail to understand the faithful communication of the links between cause and effect that determines every outcome, we do so at our peril. It is possible to argue the nonexistence of gravity and attempt to prove it by jumping off a cliff, but our argument will fall flat at the bottom of the cliff. Ignorance of the laws of nature does not excuse us from being subject to them. Another aspect of nature is that it does not lie, so if our efforts are not within natural bounds, nature will still assert itself as the final and highest authority.

Biology is part of nature. It is a lens that emerges from the conspiracy of laws that govern the relationships within nature. This biological lens enables us to peer with more depth and clarity into the nature of that which we are in and part of. Unless we understand and adhere to these laws, our experience of life is diminished or destroyed. Under command of ignorance and deception we are ships adrift in treacherous waters. Under command of understanding and discipline we are able to move with intention toward the most satisfied state of being. In fact, the very nature of disease can be seen through a lens that looks at how well or poorly we adhere to the laws that determine our most satisfied state. Biology needs nourishment. In order to accomplish this biology needs specific cooperative relationships. If biological creatures such as us did not exhale carbon dioxide, then plants could not inhale. If plants did not exhale oxygen we could not inhale. Without this reciprocal mutually nourishing aspect of what nature communicates about fulfilling relationships we experience imbalance. Mutually nourishing flow of relationship is a recurring theme throughout biology.

Our cells must serve each other with nourishing value in the context of the community. So must our organs. Certain bacteria are critical to our digestive processes and they depend on us for life. The bee is friend to the flower, and the flower is friend to the bee, because they nourish each other with what they need for life. This male-female theme of cooperative nourishing relationships not only defines the process by which biology successfully operates, but it is the means by which nature reveals its character. The more we listen and learn from nature’s voice, the more capable we are to realize our most satisfied state of being. The more we align our human endeavors around these principles at every level from personal to global, the more we can realize our fullest most satisfied potential.

A Trail of Ideas

Slug

A certain type of slime mold[1] spends its life as a single celled creature moving through moist soil or fallen leaves hunting down and eating bacteria.[2] While food is plentiful, the mold cells divide to produce offspring which take up the family business of eating more bacteria. This process of eating and breeding continues until the food source is depleted by population overload or environmental changes. When the mold cells sense that the environment is no longer going to be a sufficient food source it triggers a behavioral change. The individual cells start banding together to form an organism complete with skin, various sensors and the capacity to move as a singular body. The once identical individual cells now transform into specialized cells that serve a purpose of a community of cells rather than their individual selves.[3] We see this moldy band of slime brothers as a ‘slug’.[4] The slug is a collection of mold cells that is moving in search for a suitable place to spawn seeds to survive through a period of what is the equivalent of a famine or environmental disaster in human culture. Once it has found a suitable environment to carry itself forward through time, the slug changes again. It sacrifices part of the community of cells to form a stalk[5] and still others become reproductive structures[6] that will release seeds into new environments to begin the process of hunting and eating bacteria again.

If we examine the thought processes and behaviors of cultures and communities of the human kind we see the same principles of behavior expressed in slime molds replicated in humans-even if it is in more sophisticated form. An individual human or human culture under what it perceives as threat draws into itself, bands together and tends to move as a unit. It will also begin to sacrifice portions of its now collective body so that a remnant can survive intact to go forward in time. Nations and war are just such an example of the expression of the biological tendency we see in a slug in search of a suitable location to release spores. If we begin to understand culture trough a biological lens, a clearer perspective opens up on the biological foundations of what motivates different trends we see in our own history.

We can look back in time and see the tribal necessity of defensive and mobile behaviors when humans were still hunter gatherers and the food sources dried up. We can see how a nomadic culture could emerge from this relationship between the human biological form and the environment. We can see how males would be elevated in cultures that were formed around domesticated animals and farming practices during times of stress as part of the expression of stress behaviors on a community scale. We can see how this could translate into other portions of the culture such as religious and ritual practices and how it could shape world views. It could be noted that some of the sacrificial themes that have peppered many religious world views throughout the ages may be simply an intuitive expression of these biological necessities for survival that emerged as cultural glue so long ago. Biology attempts to preserve itself. Human culture is perhaps best viewed as a byproduct of that overall biological tendency more so than as an independent driver. In an attempt to carry on the delicate balance that biology depends on in the midst of environmental diversity, cultural ideologies may be nature’s way of coping with survival. It may be unsettling for some of us to face, but human culture is both as fantastic and as mundane as the slime trail of a slug.


[1] dictyostelium discoideum

[2] Escherichia coli among other bacteria

[3] A molecular messenger called Cyclic adenosine monophosphate (Cyclic AMP) and another substance called differentiation-inducing factor, coax the cells to become specialized to serve a function in the context of the slug body.

[4] This stage is called aggregation which forms what is called a motile pseudoplasmodium, also known as a slug.

[5] Called a “fruiting body”

[6] Called spores.

The Greatest Philosopher Who Ever Lived

Screenshot of footage of King beaten by LAPD o...

Screenshot of Rodney King being struck by police officers on March 3, 1991

Whenever we dare to tread in the treacherous ideological minefields of good-better-best, especially in areas that avoid objective measures, there are inevitably a wide range of opinions. Sometimes our points of view are suspended on a frothy swill of passion as a substitute for objective facts. It has been said; nature abhors a vacuum. Perhaps the absence of evidence is just such a vacuum into which our passions flow. On the surface, any attempt to identify the greatest philosopher who ever lived seems like an invitation to a most furious carnival of disagreement. Nonetheless this is what we will explore.

Philosophy at its core asks the questions. How we value and respond to the questions can be considered our philosophy of life. We could grind through a tedious exposé of all the questions gurgling around the throats of philosophical points of view from Ableism[1] to Zurvanism[2] in an attempt to emerge victorious with the best slice of philosophy, but we will simply step right to the climax and avoid too much in the way of harrowing digression.

Humanity has accomplished a few things of merit over the course of time. With the aid of sheer will, careful observation coupled with disciplined action, along with a few fortunate missteps we have improved our lot. These accomplishments have been carried largely on the back of probing questions that spurred us on to discovery and realization. Among the vast array of mundane things like plastic Christmas trees and multi-toned facial creams are some of more qualitative substance like the wheel and the polio vaccine.

If the value of ideas is measured by how much potential they have to impact our individual and collective lives, one notable philosopher stands out. He didn’t lead what would generally be considered a perfect life. A construction worker, ex-convict for robbery, speeding away from police while drunk and beaten during his arrest inadvertently sparked a wave of horrific violence. In this boiling aftermath of civil unrest, Rodney King[3] stammered out the immortal phrase “Can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?” Of the questions we might consider probing for a way to translate our reality toward something more palatable than it is today, this phrase, uttered by a reluctant philosopher, is perhaps the greatest of all time.


[1] A social prejudice against people with disabilities.

[2] The belief that Zurvan is the god of infinite time and space and is therefore the one and only deity of matter.

[3] Rodney Glen King (April 2, 1965 – June 17, 2012)

You Can’t Have Everything: Redefining Poverty

English: A German Monopoly board in the middle...

In order to properly address any situation that requires action we must have an accurate diagnosis of the real issue. We traditionally look at poverty through a fairly narrow lens. It typically conjures up images of hunger, lack of proper shelter and the like. If we widen this lens to include all forms of imbalance we can then see the world through a lens that reveals vast amounts of poverty. If we explore imbalance honestly we see some search for more glittery expressions of conspicuous consumption while 16,000 children a day are focused on searching for their last breath before they die of starvation. Both of these are examples of poverty when viewed through a lens that holds poverty as imbalance. Excess wealth is as much an expression of poverty as lack of nourishment.

Real wealth is a matter of bi-directional sharing within the context of real needs. Think about a monopoly game as an analogy to understand the issue, the so-called winner of the monopoly game accumulates all the money and property in the game. What is often overlooked is that the game is killed at the moment a winner is declared. Without a flowing distribution of values throughout the board, the game is over. The fact that many revolutions and political upheavals come on the heels of social inequity is just another example the many expressions of poverty that follow the common theme; imbalance.

The point is we can’t have everything unless of course we’re willing to put it everywhere.

New Year’s Resoluteness

New year's resolutions

As the new year begins many of us take the opportunity paste some wild expectations on ourselves because we let some things go for a long period of time that we now think need aggressive resolutions to counteract. Rather than a resolution we may want to consider resoluteness instead. Many of the issues we face were conjured up with tiny increments of neglect or small instances of poor choice that accumulated over time to put us where we now are. While this incremental approach should be an indication of the way out, we somehow think that setting some drastic goal that we focus on with a laser like fury of action will somehow put us on the right track. A wise man once said “If you want to make real progress concentrate on moving the bucket an inch a day”. This is wise advice. Instead of making a new year’s resolution, decide what direction to move and make your way toward that incrementally.