Category Archives: Biography


I’m really struggling. I have a sprawling multi-volume book in my mind and I can’t get it out. It’s that genre and voice problem again. It took me almost two decades years to get nine pages into an acceptable form. But I have 991 pages still jammed up in there.

Susan suggested that maybe I write what I have to say as chapbooks, maybe they’ll coagulate into an actual book. Or maybe they’ll expand into respectable-length essays that could be published as a collection.

I do find it inspiring, though, to think of what I’m doing as making pretty books — physical artifacts made out of ideas, words, letters, layouts, paper, ink and thread. I love the object-quality of books.

Three chapbooks I could get out are:

  • Exnihilist Manifesto
  • Shells and Pearls
  • Enworldment


My way of understanding the world is a two-edged sword. On one hand, what I understand, I understand deeply, clearly and practically. But, on the other hand, that which I do not understand with depth, clarity and practicality, I am unable to deal with at all.

And since most of what goes on in the practical world ranges between one-quarter and three-quarters nonsense, much of what goes on around me leaves me baffled, anxious and paralyzed.

In these cases, my only hope is to investigate whatever reality it is that people are semi-comprehending and to uncover the kinds of intuitive meaning participants in these realities are making of it. These varying intuitive meanings are what animate (literally) the measurable behaviors that distant data-mongers scrupulously gather and unscrupulously interpret into that soup of industry wisdom, consisting tough objective facts floating in a germy broth of subjective nonsense.

Until I do design research and root what I know in actuality, I know pretty much nothing.

Most people I know consider something half-known known. They can say words and move their faces and bodies in ways that suggest they understand. I’d do this, too, if I had more talent for playacting. But I don’t, so I denigrate it.


From Emerson’s essay, “The American Scholar”:

If it were only for a vocabulary, the scholar would be covetous of action. Life is our dictionary. Years are well spent in country labors; in town; in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank intercourse with many men and women; in science; in art; to the one end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions. I learn immediately from any speaker how much he has already lived, through the poverty or the splendor of his speech. Life lies behind us as the quarry from whence we get tiles and copestones for the masonry of to-day. This is the way to learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.

If I hadn’t worked as a designer, and suffered and overcome so many perplexities in an effort to both do my design work, and to intuitively understand what I am doing, and hardest of all, to articulate my intuitive understanding, my philosophical work never would have traveled this trajectory and taken me where I now am.

If design hadn’t become so collaborative, and therefore so social, and therefore so political I never would have needed to philosophize about design. I could have just absorbed myself in wordless dialogue with my materials — in craft. But when your materials include people — as it turns out all design does, when understood properly — there is no way to avoid wordful dialogue.

And, my God! — when multiple dozens of people are directly involved in the process of collaboration, as they are in service design, you will find yourself in highly wordful meta-dialogue about dialogue (for instance the meaning of what research participants said in an interview, or whether multiple different interview participants were saying the same thing, and if so, in what sense was it the same, and why…). With each meta-level of conversations about conversations, of understandings of understandings, things get weirder and harder to navigate. This shadowy hades region — this Sartrean Hell that is other people thinking about other people thinking about other people — is the terrain I’ve learned to navigate. I’m a professional Hell sherpa.

Most people I know do not care to think about this region. If only they would suspend speculating on it, too. Because when I hear people talk about their own loves and hopes and commitments they all seem reasonable. But when they start talking about their enemies who oppose, obstruct or interfere with these good things, they sound like angry, egocentric children. And this is especially true of altruists whose loves and hopes and commitments are all about others they wish to help, who cannot imagine that these moral fantasies could ever be egocentric.

So for me “mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions” would be a final vocabulary useful for navigating the terrain of personal and social perplexity and to emerge on the other side with better enworldments.


Please don’t disassemble my philosophy

I got curious about how many times on this site I’ve repeated my favorite Wittgenstein quote “A philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about.’” The answer is: a lot.

Too many times I’ve called this quote my favorite definition of philosophy, or my favorite articulation of philosophy’s purpose. But this is only true if we take philosophy to be the solving of philosophical problems. And while a lot of what we call philosophy is precisely this, I think it is not the best way to understand philosophy. The best philosophies are completely unproblematic and render our experiences of the world and our beliefs about the world unproblematic.

Wilfrid Sellars definition is much closer: “The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” When our philosophy fails to perform this function, we then have a philosophical problem, and no longer know our way about. Then we “do philosophy” in order to reestablish a persuasive understanding of how things hang together.

But it must be persuasive. For this, it is necessary that it be logically compelling, but this alone is not sufficient. It must somehow link up with out intuitions of the world, most of which are purely practical and tacit and derived from myriad interactions with the myriad beings of the world– people, things, environments, experiences, ideas — some successful, some unsuccessful. We know more than we know, and our persuasion is subject to these unknown knowns of that swarm of unknown knowers who are the citizens of our soul.

This background of practical activity, of response, of intuitive belief is what I call faith. Our faith is not static. It responds to the world and changes in response to what it undergoes and overcomes.

Each person’s faith responds to different things to different degrees. Some of us respond most to relationships. Some respond most to emotions. Some respond most to beauty. Some respond most to mystery. Some respond most to participation in rituals. Some respond most to practical problems. Some of us respond most to ideas.

Those of us who respond strongly to ideas find philosophy fascinating, inspiring and sometimes life-changing.

Many others want philosophy to work unobtrusively, like a household utility. If it is already working, they aren’t too happy to see someone try to fix what isn’t broken. I don’t know about you but if a neighbor comes over to my house and starts disassembling my old, rattly, but mostly-still-functioning air conditioner to see if he can get it to work better, I’m kicking him off my property.

It is more than reasonable to not want to examine our own beliefs. When time travel is invented, I’ll be heading back to 2003 to explain truth this to my self.

I’ll also tell myself to avoid the company of people who don’t know or don’t care about the verdicts of faith — only what can be argued or defended. Our faiths deserve respect, and we show respect by taking persuasion seriously, and not just hectoring faith with argument. Arguments should be offered, not imposed.

Annual disorientation

Every year around this time I lose my curriculum. I pick up books and abandon them.

This year I’ve picked up and dropped several books about the formation of worldviews. I started at Worldview and Mind by Eugene Webb. Then I switched over to Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking. Then I spent a few days in Cassirer revivalist Sebastian Luft’s The Space of Culture. Now I am tentatively rereading Bruno Latour’s weird and semi-neglected magnum opus, An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence.

All this came after a half-year dive into hermeticist literature, focusing on Kabbalah and Tarot, and approached from my own heretically practical angle.

Susan has booked a mountain cabin for a week-long writing retreat in early spring. I’ve noticed that everything I am doing is now preparation for that week.

My project is the same as it has been for the last decade, and both the hermeticist and the worldview investigations are components of it, and, of course, design remains at the heart of it as well. The project is enworldment. If we are displeased with the world as we experience it, what do we have at our disposal to change our experience of the world — by materially changing the world, by changing own being-in-the-world, by changing our own social participation? My prescription is to approach things as a designer — always as a designer — and most of all when we think we should approach them as a political or “ethical” actor.


Susan and I were trying to find a simple way to explain reconciliation among equals.

“When conflict breaks out, we are shaken out of unity, and fall into the four-sidedness of conflict. There is [1] what I believe, there is [2] what you believe, there is [3] what I think you believe and there is [4] what you think I believe.

(Naive egocentricity, of course, sees only two sides: what I believe and what I know you believe. Until one overcomes naive egocentricity and learns to see conflict as four-sided, progress is impossible.)

To begin reconciliation we try to go from four-sided conflict to three-sided disagreement, where there is [1] what I believe, and there is [2] what you believe and there is [3] our shared understanding of our disagreement.

But sometimes when we reach a shared understanding of the disagreement we realize that this shared understanding has transcended and absorbed our old conflicting beliefs. This new understanding is no longer an agreement about a disagreement, but [1] a new shared belief. The three-sided disagreement is now a more expansive and accommodating unity.

So it’s one to four to three and then back to one. Repeat, ad infinitum.”

At this point Susan reached over and picked up a book from a pile of hermetic books next to her chair. “What is this?”


Here are two Facebook posts I decided to suppress.



I’ve cracked. I am done.

I am not longer pretending that progressivism is a respectable ideology.

I reject progressivism as a principled liberal.

Progressivism is not, as many confused people believe, liberalism gone too far, but rather abortive liberalism. It is a fundamentalist perversion of my liberal faith, far worse than straightforward rejection.

For the last ten years I’ve watched my formerly liberal allies degrade into craven identitarians. I don’t respect it and I can no longer pretend to respect it.

When you attach that inane preface “speaking as a…” I hear you speaking as a conformist to a contemptible ideology.

When you dole out different portions of dignity to different persons based on how you and your likeminded dittoheads categorize them, I witness the actions of an arrogant bigot, who doesn’t even know what equity even is.

And if you are among those who actually believe “the personal is political” you are no friend of mine. This is not because I reject you and your beliefs, but because anyone vacuous enough to operate under this principle is incapable of friendship. Listen: anyone with functioning intuition feels it viscerally when a person approaches them, not as a person, but as an instance of a category. It doesn’t matter one bit if that category is a good category or a bad one — it is dehumanizing.

I have no time for dehumanizing ideological operants. Be a fellow human, treat me as a fellow human, or go away.

This is where I stand on things. It is not negotiable. If you don’t like it, do us both a favor and speak up so we can stop wasting each other’s time and energy.



Progressivists are constantly approaching me as a fellow progressivist. Of course, being a decent person, obviously I must be a progressivist.

On the contrary: because I am a decent person I am not a progressivist.

I am a liberal, and that is the very furthest thing from progressivist.

I do not admire or even respect progressivist activism. It is not compassionate and it is not countercultural. It is grotesque, callous and cowardly conformism. It cares only about its own ideological flourishing, not about human beings. If you are Jewish, this should be overwhelmingly obvious to you after the last three weeks.

If you happen to be a Progressivist, we can still be friends, as long as you can handle the fact that I cannot help but notice your family resemblance to other totalitarianisms. You’re no hero of history. Quite the opposite.

The wrestling ritual

A few times a year Susan and I do a silly wrestling ritual.

To understand the ritual, it is important to know that Susan is a physical person. She strength trains most days of the week. For a woman, her strength is well above average, and she often outperforms women in their twenties. I am not a physical person. My exercise consists of cycling and walking. For a man, I am pretty damn weak. But, still, my masculine physique makes me stronger, and so far I have always managed to subdue her.

Or almost subdue her. The ritual goes as follows: Susan announces that, thanks to her new training regimen, she is now stronger than I am, and proceeds to attack me. We grapple until I gain the advantage. Just as I get her pinned and begin the count, she yells out “No fair! You can’t use strength.” At this point, I am required to loosen up my muscles. I use my longer reach to gain leverage. “No fair! You can’t use your size.” So then I just drape myself over her hold her down with my weight. “No fair! You can’t use your weight.” And “You can’t use your rough beard hair.” “You can’t use your disgustingness.”

Eventually, with enough equity adjustments, she ends up winning.

Whoever controls the terms of fairness controls all.

You wanna know what I think about Israel?

Yesterday, a Jewish friend asked me what I think about the Israeli-Gazan conflict.

I began with my general go-to principle that international conflict is normally evil-versus-evil, and best conceived in terms of conformity or deviance from that norm. I’m perfectly fine choosing sides amorally, based on my own preferred nonmoral outcome. The compulsion to moralize politics is vulgar.

But morality is actually relevant in this conflict.

Hamas is unusually evil. We can debate why this is the case, but it doesn’t change the facts of the present. Hamas’s explicitly stated goal is to eliminate the state of Israel. To this end, not only has it intentionally committed atrocities against Israeli civilians, it has brutalized and terrorized Gazans. It is illiberal to the extreme, and anti-progressive, and relies on fear and violence as its primary political instruments. Hamas is vile. Anyone who affords it legitimacy lacks capacity for moral reasoning.

Morally, Israel is better than average. This, however, is actually not all that relevant. If you accept the premise that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state — and this is absolutely core to this issue — Israel has an obligation to prevent Hamas from pursuing its goal of eliminating Israel. That Israel attempts to do so humanely, making things much harder on itself in order to minimize civilian casualties, is to its credit. Of course, some of this effort is purely pragmatic, avoiding anything that can fuel hostility from the Arab world. But given that the Arab world refuses to credit to Israel for these efforts, and will turn just about any event into an occasion for rage, at least some small portion of the humanity can be assumed to be principled.

I’ve been listening to and reading Benny Morris on the history of Israel. He is famously unflinching in his criticisms of Israel’s conduct over the short course of its history. But he is also loyal to his nation, and able to maintain that loyalty despite refusing to divert of soft-focusing his critical gaze. He admits the many injustices committed against the Israeli Arabs, and worse, sees the necessity of this injustice in order to preserve and safeguard Israel as a Jewish state. It is a grim reality, and its unfolding in the past, present and future is necessarily tragic.

The reality is dissonant to liberal ears (including mine). Israel established a Jewish ethnostate. To survive as such it must preserve a Jewish majority. It absolutely lacks liberal latitude enjoyed by a philosophically-founded nation like the United States. It must and cannot avoid imposing ethnic double-standards, at least at the level of the collective, however much it tries to preserve individual civil liberties and equality before the law. These are things that would inspire me to light a torch and grab a pitchfork were they to be imposed in the United States. But studying Jewish history has persuaded me of the necessity of Zionism. Watching the reaction of our progressivist fringe and hearing creepy comments from right-wingers insinuating that surely there must be some valid reason why Jews have always been persecuted in Christian and Muslim nations… all this only reinforces the need to have some place for Jews to go when their host nation goes collectively insane and solipsistic and, inevitably, consequently, once again develops an autoimmune reaction toward its Jewish population. I would love it if by some liberal miracle a dynamic emerged where Jews could just naturally enjoy a majority in Israel without requiring any discriminatory demo-manipulation, but reality just isn’t that way. It is ugly. So be it.

So I see Hamas as 93%+ evil, and Israel as maybe 32% evil, and that is about as close to a good-versus-evil struggle as political reality ever produces.

If people disagree with me, I’m ok with it… as long as that opinion is actually informed, which it rarely is, or if the opinion is lightly held. I’m not going to yell at you for ignoring the news or not investing time to formulate an opinion.

But if you come at me with ignorant proggo passion — the overheated sentimenality toward identities, especially toward oppressed or colonized people — I may not be able to be polite to you. I despise this narcissistic and ignorant ideology and I won’t suffer it.

Redrawing the knitbone

I’ve been playing around with the knitbone image again.

In case you’ve never been subjected to one of my rhapsodies on this topic, “knitbone” is a folk name for comfrey, a plant remarkable for the depth of its taproot.

A comfrey taproot can burrow a ten feet or more into the soil deep under the ground draws nutrients up to the surface.

Gardeners traditionally plant comfrey throughout their gardens. When comfrey drops its lush depth-nourished leaves into the soil, it fertilizes all the surrounding shallower-rooted plants.

The name “knitbone” comes from comfrey’s medicinal application. When pulverized and applied to a wound, it helps the body heal. It can help a bone knit itself back together.

I have emotional history with this plant. When Susan was pregnant with Zoe, we had an herb garden in our back yard. Our midwife was excited to learn that we were growing comfrey. She used it to make a knitbone poultice to help Susan recover from labor. We cared for this plant and received care from it.

Symbolically, knitbone attests to the nourishing power at the depths of understanding, and to the duty of those of us who work at the depths to bring what we find up to the light of everyday practicality.

Course outline: “What is service design?”

I’ve been taking an online course on designing online courses. If that isn’t meta enough the online course I am learning to design is on design.

My course will be an introduction to service design, meant to introduce people who are contemplating or preparing to participate in a service design project how to think about and talk about service design, so they can feel comfortable with the idea of embarking on a service design project and participating in the process.

I’m putting the tentative outline of the course here, just in case anyone is interested:

Lesson 1: What is design?

  • What we mean by design
  • What we do not not mean by design (making functional things more appealing)
  • What we also do not mean by design (planning out an engineered thing)
  • Design produces dynamic systems of parts and participants
  • Successful design motivates participants to participate
  • Design is concerned with understanding and involving participants

Lesson 2: What is a service?

  • What we mean by service
  • What we do not mean by service (service as opposed to product)
  • Service design’s much broader conception of service
  • Some services don’t look like services
  • Service generates, exchanges and distributes value of myriad forms

Lesson 3: What is the value of design?

  • Quantitative value
  • Qualitative value
  • A business that fails to deliver qualitative value will not make money
  • Experience is about qualitative value
  • Design motivates participants to participate by offering good experience

Lesson 4: Good experiences in general

  • Good experience is useful, usable and desirable
  • Human-centered design (HCD) is a method for producing good experiences
  • Overview of HCD (universal methodology for producing good experiences)
  • Altitudes and granularity of experiences
  • Beyond touchpoints

Lesson 5: Good service experiences

  • Service experiences are a complex special case
  • Service experiences have six characteristics, all of which must be addressed in a good service experience.
  • 1. Services comprise multiple experiences occurring over a span of time
  • 2. Services comprise experiences occurring across multiple delivery channels
  • 3. Services comprise experiences interacting with other people
  • 4. Services comprise experiences of aligned and misaligned interests
  • 5. Services are experienced as partly exposed and partly concealed
  • 6. Services experience is the result of how the organization operates

Lesson 6: The six dimensions of service

  • Reflection on service experiences, good and bad
  • Introduction to six dimensions of service (6DS)
  • 1. Sequential
  • 2. Omnichannel
  • 3. Polycentric
  • 4. Aligned
  • 5. Semivisible
  • 6. Operationalized
  • Sorting good and bad experiences into the 6DS

Lesson 7: A typical service design project

  • Introduction: from current to future state
  • Understand internal perspectives
  • Understand current service delivery
  • Understand the current actor experiences
  • Identify and prioritize opportunities to improve current experiences
  • Envision alternative future experiences
  • Evaluate and revise alternative future experiences
  • Blueprint future service delivery
  • Plan phased development of future service

Lesson 8: Some core tools of service design

  • Introduction: current state, future state versions
  • Current state ecosystem map
  • Current state service blueprint
  • Current state experience map
  • Opportunity statements
  • Concept sheets
  • Future state experience (“story from the future”)
  • Future state moment architecture
  • Future state service blueprint
  • Future state evolution map

Lesson 9: What it is like to participate in a service design project

  • It is participatory
  • It is collaborative
  • It is multidisciplinary
  • It is radically democratic
  • It is anthropological
  • It demands empathy
  • It demands different modes of thinking
  • It will demand different ways of working
  • It changes everything

Lesson 10: How service design can help you

  • Apply six dimensions of service to your own service
  • Define a project

True — but it could be truer

I just had one of those creative conversations, where I was moved to say things I didn’t know I knew.

I found myself saying, “Intersectionality is true in a deep sense. Our existence is radically intersectional. But it is not an intersection of social categories. It is an intersection of love relationships  — participation in transcendent being in which we experience our personal being.”

I also related this with an old thought: “In my meandering journey through atheism, I learned to disbelieve in many different notions of God. Though I’ve found an understanding of God I cannot even doubt, my past atheisms all survive in me. I still disbelieve in every one of my rejected notions of God.

“Years ago, when my daughters came to me and proclaimed their atheism, I asked them what it was they disbelieved in. They would explain, and I’d say ‘Wonderful! Definitely refuse to believe in that!'” To have a healthy faith, it is important to disbelieve everything you find unpersuasive

I also realized last week, talking with another friend that the notion of institutional racism is rooted in a legitimate intuition that there are institutional personalities. Our participation in these collective forms of being — these egregores — do, in fact, change how we perceive, think and respond to the world, and not always for the better.

But to change the collective personality of an organization requires profound structural changes — changes in how participants in the organization interact and exchange service with one another. Attempting to change the mindsets of all the people within the organization, and worse, doing so through coercive means, will only create new forms of institutional oppression.

The organization must be redesigned to make people naturally want what is better for everyone. The most effective way to change an organization’s personhood is service design.

A conversation with yet a third friend gave me a third insight. Identity crises are an essential part of young adulthood. In youth, we outgrow the roles we are given by our parents and seek new ones. And this role is almost always a category of some kind or another that we share with others we see as our people.

My friend reminded me how, in our profoundly musical generation we adopted music genres and specific bands as our identities. When we met someone else who loved our music we knew something about their ideals and behavioral norms. We were very protective of these identities, scorning poseurs who tried to appropriate our style. If we’d found a way to defend the boundaries of our identities with coercive force, perhaps we would have done it. But adults barely noticed what we were doing and even if they had, they would never have indulged our feelings of ownership over the borrowed foundations of our selfhood.

Young people today favor different categories, and unfortunately many of these identities have been politicized and are enforced by nominal adults in positions of authority.

But it is important to remember, those who are still in this stage are doing their best to establish their selfhood. We cannot condemn them for that. But as adults we have a responsibility to help them mature past this stage.

Jack’s bookshelf

I am buying books to read to my grandson, Jack.

If are a parent or grandparent, I recommend that you buy all these books and read them to your child, especially if your child is between the ages of 20-40.

Parallax anxiety

When I was young, I did a lot of life drawing. Frequently, I was anxious about the discrepancy between what I saw from my left eye and what I saw from my right eye. Each eye reported a slightly shifted perspective, which meant that forms and lines of the object related differently, depending on which eye I favored. It was impossible to reduce what I really saw to a single image on a flat page. This turned out to be a parable.

WordPress, R.I.P.

WordPress has completed its long pivot and has finally fully transformed itself into a website design tool. It is no longer optimized for writing. It is designed to assemble media elements into engaging, immersive digital experiences, or something.

The upshot is I can no use it and absorb myself in my writing. The legacy text editor has been fully retired. The block editor is now non-optional, at least if you use the WordPress app. And the online editor is extremely broken. The block editor layout causes weird typos (for instance, I constantly hit underline when I mean to hit delete). When you tap on a word in a different text block, the whole thing lurches upward, and instead of the word you were trying to select, the word below it is selected. And it is now entirely impossible to cut multiple paragraphs. Everything conspires to distract and frustrate.

WordPress is no longer a tool I can use. Even right now, writing this little diatribe, I am having one problem after another. I can hardly get this out. It is depressing.

I loved WordPress.

I also loved Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.

I loved MacOS, iOS and I loved Apple.

A new alienated generation of designers now dominates UX. One by one these alienated incompetents are destroying designs that I once loved and relied upon. These tools were part of me — extensions of my own being. My intuitive bond with these tools has been severed. I experience it as amputation. It is deeply personal. It is betrayal.

Alienated people cannot design intuitive systems, because alienated people do not even know what intuition is. To them intuition is just arbitrary mental habit, which can be retrained. With enough repetition and drill, just about anything can be made familiar, intuitive and true.

When one is fully alienated, this seems absolutely true, and, without any contrasting experience of intuition with which this alienation can be compared, it is impossible to know or even conceive otherwise. Where conception ends, imagination ends.

Things can be better. Things will be better. Whether we live to experience it, or die from alienation is the real question.


I spent most of this week at Greenville Memorial Hospital. My dad had a Type A aortic dissection, and had to undergo emergency open heart surgery. So far, he has beaten some terrifyingly slim odds, largely thanks to his heart surgeon, Dr. Bhatia, who worked on him literally all Sunday night through Monday morning, and the incredible nurses and support staff at the CVICU.


These days it is easy to lapse into pessimism regarding our species.

But it is important to remember that the people who give us this dark impression is a small and specialized segment of the population, who spend their days reading about and writing about one small corner of human experience.

Meanwhile, another, much larger group of people show up to work each day to give care and comfort to a perpetually rotating set of hurting, terrified people. They serve with skill, professionalism, compassion and humor. We don’t often hear their perspectives on things because they are incredibly busy. Their communications are mostly practical and specific and directed to one person or a few.

When I focus on people like this, and recognize them as representative of humanity I feel much, much better about everything.

Moral nonlinearity

My generation was shaped decisively by chaos theory. James Gleick’s bestseller Chaos: Making a New Science was, for many of us, not merely an introduction to, but rather, an initiation into a radically new approach to understanding order.

Chaos theory shows how even the most strictly determinate process can be radically unpredictable, if that process has the form of an iterative feedback loop. Most processes (even processes as simple as an object sliding across ice) can be reframed as nonlinear processes, and when seen this way, much that was once factored out as incidental noise turned out to essential signal.

When I first read the book, back when it was still actually on the NYT bestseller list, I was scientistic to the core. I was a hard determinist, in fact. The notion that I could have both the perfect, rational order of determinism, and also enjoy pristine, virgin unpredictability was exhilarating. I didn’t even know I wanted this radical unpredictability until I was given it, and was shocked by my own joy in receiving it. Radical order and radical unpredictability!

By this principle things will happen the way they happen, proceeding with invariable necessity, and they cannot unfold otherwise, but there is no way at all for us to get ahead of the process and see where it is going. We can only enact or follow the process, and see where it goes.

Since then, I have applied this pattern of radically-rational-yet-radically-unpredictable feedback processes to many phenomena outside of the domain of math — and many of these processes are core to my personal mission.

Design, of course, is famously iterative. And it is also notoriously unpredictable. We must constantly console nervous manager-types who need to know what we are going to learn before we learn it and what we are going to invent before we invent it. We have to tell them: trust the process. The process is a nonlinear one, and part of its rigor is refusing to draw conclusions using straight euclidean rulers. We must participate in the nonlinear process of learning-making-learning-making… and eventually, something will crystallize.

Hermeneutics is also famously nonlinear. The hermeneutic circle describes the interplay of whole and part, with the whole being your own understanding — an understanding that gives significance to parts, yet the parts constitute this whole. Learning is the development of a whole from parts that either support or extend or undermine or even break the whole into which parts are integrated.

Now, today, I am thinking of moral principles as nonlinear.

All too often, without even noticing, we assume that morality will be a linear rule. We wonder what we should do in x-situation. We apply a moral rule to the problem, get a decision, then execute the decision.

I originally applied this line of thought to the Golden Rule.

If you approach the Golden Rule linearly and assume the proper procedure is to feed the question into the Golden Rule Machine and see what answer it spits out, the Golden Rule will appear manifestly dumb. But if, rather than accepting that first answer, we instead iteratively receive it as a question to be fed back into the Golden Rule, things get more interesting. With each cycle, the output become more intuitively right, and not as an asymptotic approach to a predictable point. Outputs bounce around chaotically. For instance, the process almost immediately stops being one that occurs within one’s own mind, but expands beyond the skull to include those who are or might be affected by the decision. If someone is going to do something that affects you, don’t you want them to involve you? According to the Golden Rule you should do likewise.

This means even if we accept a the most rigorously rational morality it does not follow that this gives us the ability to unilaterally calculate what is moral. Morality is not a code of determinate rules, but a process we must follow — and it is a collaborative process we must follow with others.

Linearity — physical, cognitive, moral — is strictly for limited circumstances, one person or a few, within a limited context within a limited span of future time.

Beyond these narrow bound is radical order and radical surprise. So let us say amen.


When I was in fourth grade I had my first crush. “Crush” is a fitting term for it. It was too much for a ten-year-old to handle. I became entirely preoccupied with what this other person saw, felt and thought — in particular when she looked back at me.

I had absolutely no idea at this point in my life what might be going on over there in her mind. She was a mystery to me, but somehow her presence in the world turned the entire world magical. The world as I knew it was shocked out of its orbit around myself. I was overcome with a pleasant nausea, my body was wracked and overheated, and I was lovesick.

And the worst possible outcome transpired: She did not like what she saw. She rendered that kind of terrible, inexorable judgment older girls (at least the merciful ones) learn to soften. She was nauseated by me, too — but in a very different way, and it crushed me.

While I never did figure out how to dispel this mystery, or conquer or possess it, or control or suppress it, I did learn how to win more favorable judgments (partly by developing my own judgment). And I learned how to inhabit this magical sphere, how to function and flourish within it, and how to order my life according to its strange laws of mutuality.

And while this way of living did expand the region of clear and mundane familiarity, it also lengthened the shimmering outer boundary where mystery recommences, each time reaffirming the inexhaustibility of mystery.


The above is intended as a response to a question I asked myself in the margin of Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism. He wrote:

Hegel’s strategy here is quite reminiscent of the later Wittgenstein’s dissolution of problems by showing that our terms only make sense in mundane contexts, whereas philosophy confuses itself by taking them out of the language-games where they do work. It is then that we tend to misconstrue notions in bizarre, that is, philosophical ways: “When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive people, who hear the expressions of civilized men, put a false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest conclusions from it.” Within normal conversation or during standard inquiry, we can make perfect sense of an idea corresponding to reality as it really is or the world apart from our conceptions, but once we stop these mundane endeavors and become bewitched by the sublime vision of an unknowable world existing in absolute isolation from all human contact, it has gotten away from us.

And I ask: “Why are we attracted — or repelled — by bewitchment?”

I think the answer is contained in the story of my crush.


Show me your response to lovesickness, and I’ll show you your attitude toward religious life…

Do you want immunity to lovesickness? Have you intentionally immunized yourself to it? Or have you accidentally become immune?

Do you want to treat lovesickness, and recover from it as quickly as possible?

Do you want to practice social distancing, or even self-quarantine?

Do you want to deaden its symptoms with drugs and distractions? Or do you want to intensify its symptoms?

Do you want to experience it with full awareness and attention?

Do you want to prolong it forever? Or do you want to catch it, and when its symptoms abate, catch it again, and again, and again?

Do you want to try to inflict it yourself on others? Perhaps without suffering it yourself?

Do you want to possess and control your lovesickness — or possess and control its source? Do you refuse to become lovesick unless you can possess and control it?

Have you refused lovesickness? Do you dismiss lovesickness as an exaggeration of mundane affection? Would you prefer to be lovesick toward an imaginary image?

Would you prefer to be lovesick for yourself? Would you prefer to be lovesick for lovesickness?

Do you scoff lovesickness into nonexistence, or debase it into impossibility?

These are only a few of myriad possibilities.


My favorite opening line to any book is: “Supposing that truth is a woman — what then?”


Martin Buber was the person who activated my Jewish soul:

To man the world is twofold, in accordance with, his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.

The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.

The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.

The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.

Hence the I of man is also twofold.

For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.

Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations.

Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.

Primary words are spoken from the being.

If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is said along with it.

If It is said the I of the combination I-It is said along with it.

The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being.

The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.


From Daniel Matt’s The Essential Kabbalah:

Luria wrote hardly anything. When asked by one of his disciples why he did not compose a book, Luria is reported to have said: “It is impossible, because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received? How can I set it down in a book?” We know of Luria’s teachings from his disciples’ writings, especially those of Hayyim Vital.

Luria pondered the question of beginnings. How did the process of emanation start? If Ein Sof pervaded all space, how was there room for anything other than God to come into being? Elaborating on earlier formulations, Luria taught that the first divine act was not emanation, but withdrawal. Ein Sof withdrew its presence “from itself to itself,” withdrawing in all directions away from one point at the center of its infinity, as it were, thereby creating a vacuum. This vacuum served as the site of creation. According to some versions of Luria’s teaching, the purpose of the withdrawal was cathartic: to make room for the elimination of harsh judgment from Ein Sof.

Into the vacuum Ein Sof emanated a ray of light, channeled through vessels. At first, everything went smoothly; but as the emanation proceeded, some of the vessels could not withstand the power of the light, and they shattered. Most of the light returned to its infinite source, but the rest fell as sparks, along with the shards of the vessels. Eventually, these sparks became trapped in material existence. The human task is to liberate, or raise, these sparks, to restore them to divinity. This process of tiqqun (repair or mending) is accomplished through living a life of holiness. All human actions either promote or impede tiqqun, thus hastening or delaying the arrival of the Messiah. In a sense, the Messiah is fashioned by our ethical and spiritual activity. Luria’s teaching resonates with one of Franz Kafka’s paradoxical sayings: “The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival.”

. . .

In the beginning Ein Sof emanated ten sefirot, which are of its essence, united with it. It and they are entirely one. There is no change or division in the emanator that would justify saying it is divided into parts in these various sefirot. Division and change do not apply to it, only to the external sefirot.

To help you conceive this, imagine water flowing through vessels of different colors: white, red, green, and so forth. As the water spreads through those vessels, it appears to change into the colors of the vessels, although the water is devoid of all color. The change in color does not affect the water itself, just our perception of the water. So it is with the sefirot. They are vessels, known, for example, as Hesed, Gevurah, and Tif’eret, each colored according to its function, white, red, and green, respectively, while the light of the emanator — their essence — is the water, having no color at all. This essence does not change; it only appears to change as it flows through the vessels.

Better yet, imagine a ray of sunlight shining through a stained-glass window of ten different colors. The sunlight possesses no color at all but appears to change hue as it passes through the different colors of glass. Colored light radiates through the window. The light has not essentially changed, though so it seems to the viewer. Just so with the sefirot. The light that clothes itself in the vessels of the sefirot is the essence, like the ray of sunlight. That essence does not change color at all, neither judgment nor compassion, neither right nor left. Yet by emanating through the sefirot — the variegated stained glass — judgment or compassion prevails.