From the Horse’s Mouth

2013.01.14

It is snowing today, more than any day that I have ever seen it snow in Tokyo in the eight years I have lived in Tokyo. The local cafe offers double reward points on rainy days. They give one free cup of coffee for every ten cups, but each cup on rainy days counts as two. As I walked the skywalk from Ebisu Garden Place, I saw cars getting stuck coming up the hill. Some people stepped out of their cars to help others push.

I watched Derren Brown’s Fear and Faith shows on youtube yesterday, and he had an excellent way of describing the placebo effect, saying that it “gives us the permission we need to act as if nothing is the matter. It gives us permission to change.” Derren Brown demonstrated the effectiveness of a placebo to enable people to quit smoking, let go of phobias, recover from eczema. In my own experience, I have helped my hypnosis clients quit smoking, can stop biting nails, let go of anger issues, and shed 5kg in two months.

If they can do it, I can do it, and I am now using the new year as the permission or excuse that I need. Old clothing, unused food seasonings, books. All things that I am grateful for having had and for their service to me, but which I need to let go of now. Books are especially hard to throw away, for several reasons that I can identify:

1. I really like the book. Among these are books that have made me laugh or cry – the best thing to do with these would be to give them to friends so that they could laugh and cry, too.

2. The book represents a dream or wish. I have an anatomy book for artists that has beautiful pictures of people and body parts. Inspired by this book, I have resolved to learn to draw this year.

3. I haven’t yet read the book. Among these are classical fiction books by famous authors. I will give myself more time this year to read through them, but I suspect that I will like some of them so much that they fall into category 1.

The ones that are easy for me to sell to the used bookstore are the non-fiction books that have served me well, or that represent things in which I have lost interest. It seems that a lot of these have to do with money. There are those that have helped me to develop a healthier relationship with money, and I have fully internalized their teachings. Then there are are those about getting rich quick, an activity that no longer seems necessary to me, since my mini-retirement of a year and a half that ended January last year. With the right balance, work is much more interesting than retirement.

And to help me keep my bookshelves from filling again, I have bought a Kindle Paperwhite. What is even more fantastic is that I can get for free all the classics that have gone out of copyright. So I’m reading Newton’s Principia Naturalis Theoretica Mathmaticae, the first book that ever elucidated the laws of gravity, and used them to explain the motions of the planets, for which Newton invented calculus. I am discovering that it is so much more well-written than my high-school and college physics textbooks, confirming for myself Mortimer Adler’s claim that the best way to learn about an idea is from the first person who had it. Anyone work that is written about it afterward is a secondary work, and inferior.

It’s exciting for me to imagine the revolutionary novelty of Newton’s discussion of gravity as acting in a direct line between two points. Many at the time believed gravity acted in the line perpendicular to two points, causing orbital motion. Newton sets forth his conclusions without numerical calculation, instead using elegant geometric proofs, and confirms his results by experiment. He describes how he confirms corollaries of the laws of gravity and motion by swinging pendulums. How is it that his treatise, written over 260 years ago, is clearer than the textbooks that I used in school? Why did we ever use those textbooks in school if there is a much better, public-domain alternative? I am grateful to discover such a work now, and a bit angry that it was not introduced to me in school.

But I wonder if I would have valued it as much if I had encountered it in school instead of discovering it for myself. I should simply remain grateful that there were teachers who encouraged curiosity in me, and shaped me into the sort of person who would discover the Principia now.

There are other works, too that I have read in the three weeks since I got my Kindle: Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Plato’s Republic, Da Vinci’s Notebooks. They were men ahead of their time, prescient, expounding ideas that still have relevance. Reading something like Da Vinci’s notebooks makes four hundred years seems like just a short time ago. All these public domain works, often mentioned by little-read, are sources for the textbooks I read in school. They languish, because being out of copyright, there is no money to be made in promoting them.

It is astonishing to me the degree to which my life has been affected by marketing and promotion. Right down to the textbooks that I read!

Let me this year seek to discover the unchanging truth in things. Let me seek knowledge from those who discovered it first-hand, and let me seek to experience and discover things firsthand for myself, my movement lighter because I have fewer things.

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