opinion

CHRISTMAS AND VACATION

December 21, 2019

During the Christmas holidays, we tend to be caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, that we sometimes forget the essence of Christmas. We even remove Christ from the word Christmas reducing it to X'mas or substituting it with a name of a product or a shopping center." Yes, guys, honestly, that's it... I really don't enjoy received "XMAS GREETINGS"... . Somehow, I am glad looking forward to a two weeks vacation "between the years" - meaning to say between December 21 and January 7. No German consulate office, no teaching at University of Southeastern Philippines, although most students wish to be prepared for their January exam in Manila. I might spend only a very office hours in my agency office. A rest from some occupation, business and other stressful activities is waiting for me. Strictly speaking, vacation concerns those who are in school or studying in colleges and universities. "Furlough" would be the appropriate term...  Christmas and vacation: Speaking about myself - I want to bring back Christ to the holiday season and indeed wish to share my blessings with the less fortunate. One of the best-known religious poems is "The Hound of Heaven" written by Francis Thompson, who tried to run away from God. He wanted to have a vacation from God. In reality it is Thompson's own life. His poem shows clearly the fact in this world that we can have a vacation from physical and mental activities, but never from God. As I stated in one of my previous columns here : according to the book of Genesis, after God created the universe in six days, he rested on the seventh day. In other words, he took a vacation. So if God rested after working for some period of time, there is no reason why man, who is finite and limited in his physical strength, should not take a vacation. Vacation is freedom or release from tension or pressure of work. And, believe me, I learned already from my students, that they will enjoy Christmas and vacation. Many of us feel tired and weak. We are stressed, overwhelmed, depressed and worried about the future - the enumeration, in any order whatever, could be incessant. Relaxation, meditation, and reinvigoration are badly needed for most of us nowadays. Life, affected by the "burnout syndrome" needs to be animated with energy and strengths. Yes, Christmas has always been equated with all these worldly ways. Sure, there is indeed nothing wrong with this. I might sound like an old and broken record - but: let's don't only focus on non-stop merrymaking and countless gifts. Let's take a break, and let's try to imagine and enjoy the real meaning of Christmas. Merry Christmas again to everyone - also from this corner... . +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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Climate Change and Major Emitters

December 17, 2019

While all of us already experience what climate change is all about, delegates from developing countries have reacted angrily to what they see as attempts to block progress at the COP25 meeting in Madrid. Yes, I get already big problems remaining patient while watching live stream news from Madrid.  One negotiator told the BBC that the talks had failed to find agreement on a range of issues because of the blocking actions of some large emitters. Carlos Fuller from Belize said that Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India and China were "part of the problem". Other observers said there was a serious risk of failure at the talks. Daily headlines let me feel bad. Greenland ice melt 'is accelerating'. Amazon oil boom under fire at UN climate talks. And so on and so on ... I am writing this while living in the Philippines -  a country hit most by climate change. Ministers from all over the world have arrived in Madrid for the high-end negotiations that will determine the final outcome of this conference. Despite a huge climate demonstration on the streets of the Spanish capital last Friday, hopes of an ambitious declaration at COP25 have smacked straight into the realities of politics and entrenched positions. I am afraid, also "Madrid" won't help anymore. There's an effort right now to block the words 'climate urgency' in text from Brazil and Saudi Arabia, saying we haven't used these words before in the UN, so we can't use them now," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. "This gap between what's happening on the outside and what's happening in the science, and this 'UN speak' that won't react and drive something is very frustrating." One issue that has caused a good deal of anger are the attempts by Brazil, China, India and Saudi Arabia to have the actions that were due to be completed before 2020 by richer nations, re-examined as part of the overall deal here in Madrid. Distressing ... . +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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OUR LIMITED TIME ON EARTH

December 8, 2019

Most of us tend to think of time as linear, absolute and constantly “running out” – but is that really true? And how can we change our perceptions to feel better about its passing? While becoming 66 already, I use think about my age. Yes, it's only a number. I know.  “Time” is the most frequently used noun in the English language. We all know what it feels like as time passes. Our present becomes the past as soon as it’s happened; today soon turns into yesterday. If you live in a temperate climate, each year you see the seasons come and go. And as we reach adulthood and beyond, we become increasingly aware of the years flashing by.   While keep on thinking about age and its consequences, I came along with Claudia Hammond, author of Time Warped: Unlocking The Secrets Of Time Perception. She wrote that although neuro-scientists have been unable to locate a single clock in brain that is responsible for detecting time passing, humans are surprisingly good at it. If someone tells us they’re arriving in five minutes, we have a rough idea of when to start to look out for them. We have a sense of the weeks and months passing by. As a result, most of us would say that how time functions is fairly obvious: it passes, at a consistent and measurable rate, in a specific direction – from past to future. Of course, the human perspective of time may not be exclusively biological, but rather shaped by our culture and era. The Amondawa tribe in the Amazon, for example, has no word for “time” – which some say means they don’t have a notion of time as a framework in which events occur. (There are debates over whether this is purely a linguistic argument, or whether they really do perceive time differently.) Meanwhile, it’s hard to know with scientific precision how people conceived of time in the past, as experiments in time perception have only been conducted for the last 150 years. Physics tells a different story. However much time feels like something that flows in one direction, some scientists beg to differ. In the last century, my very favored Albert Einstein’s discoveries exploded our concepts of time. He showed us that time is created by things; it wasn’t there waiting for those things to act within it. He demonstrated that time is relative, moving more slowly if an object is moving fast. Events don’t happen in a set order. There isn’t a single universal “now”, in the sense that Newtonian physics would have it. It is true that many events in the Universe can be put into sequential order – but time is not always segmented neatly into the past, the present and the future. Some physical equations work in either direction. Here, I strongly agree with Claudia Hammond. One aspect of time perception many of us share is how we think of our own past: as a kind of giant video library, an archive we can dip into to retrieve records of events in our lives. But psychologists have demonstrated that autobiographical memory is not like that at all. Most of us forget far more than we remember, sometimes forgetting events happened at all, despite others’ insistence that we were there. On occasion even the reminder does nothing to jog our memories. Several years ago, I started writing my biography. With Beethoven under palms. The great German composer and me under palms. Wow.  Meanwhile, I found out: as we lay down memories, we alter them to make sense of what’s happened. Every time we recall a memory, we reconstruct the events in our mind and even change them to fit in with any new information that might have come to light. And it’s much easier than you might think to convince people that they have had experiences which never happened. The psychologist Elisabeth Loftus has done decades of research on this, persuading people they remember kissing a giant green frog or that they once met Bugs Bunny in Disneyland (as he’s a Warner Bros character, so this can’t have happened). Even recounting an anecdote to our friends can mean our memory of that story goes back into the library slightly altered. So we shouldn’t curse our memories when they let us down. They’re made to be changeable, in order that we can take millions of fragments of memories from different times of our lives and recombine them to give us endless imaginative possibilities for the future. Thank you very much Claudia Hammond. I changed my opinion when it comes to time. My limited time on earth. +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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BEING OLD FASHIONED?

November 28, 2019

Most students take a laptop or smart phone with them to lectures. My students too. Although, these units are not allowed most of the time during my classes. I think, there are times when they might be better off taking a pad and pen? And honestly, more and more do so. Writer Claudia Hammond (I don't know her age, but I think age matters if we come to today's topic) says, " These days many people can type faster than they can write by hand, particularly if they’ve grown up using laptops. This is a hugely useful skill of course and allows you to take copious notes, quickly and easily, which must surely be a good thing, right?" Maybe not. In an experiment, run by Pam Mueller at Princeton University published in 2014,  students were given Ted talks to watch and were told to take notes. Half were given laptops and half took notes with a pen and paper. You might expect little difference in the notes, since students are so used to using a keyboard these days. In fact, there was. The students using a keyboard were more likely to type the lecturers’ words verbatim, while the students writing more slowly by hand had no choice but to engage with the information in order to allow them to summarize. Afterwards the students were given some tricky intelligence tests to distract them, and were then quizzed on the content of the lecture. Verbatim note-taking involves a shallower form of cognitive processing. You can even do it without thinking about the content at all should you choose to. But when using a pen and paper you process the information more deeply because you can’t possibly write it all down. The other advantage of using a pen and paper is that you can move around the page very quickly, circling, underlining or adding extra information in the margins.   When it comes to set and note new appointments or different scheduled work to do, and very import deadlines to be remembered, laptops are convenient, but turn out to be not the best option some of the time. My offices are full of note pads. ... Yes, I might be old fashioned... . Following Claudia Hammond, who says: surely in the long run if your notes are more complete,  help, when it comes to revision?  Maybe not. When the students were allowed to revise from their notes before being tested a week later, the pen-and-paper group still did better. The reason is that cognitively processing material more deeply while you listen, helps you both to understand it and to remember it later on. Even if you never refer back to your notes again, the process of creating them can be useful. The exception is with learning simple facts. Then taking notes on a laptop can work just fine. The advantage of not having to take notes is that you can focus your full attention on what’s you’re being told without worrying about writing it down. A more passive way still of keeping track of information from lectures is to record them so you can listen again or re-watch them later. But is there a risk that because you know everything is there for when you need it, you might not concentrate properly? Or does it free you up to concentrate fully on what’s happening because you’re not distracted by trying to take notes? Within psychology when a task like this is outsourced to technology, it’s known as cognitive off-loading. But does it help? If you want to remember your notes, research suggests you should be reaching for a pen. That's why, most of my students are asking for a minute to re-write such things, I pinned before at the white board. On the other hand the advantage of not having to take notes is that you can focus your full attention on what’s you’re being told without worrying about writing it down, because they can always listen again later. But the benefit of taking notes is that it forces you to process the information and think about it in order to work out the best way of summarizing it.   But there was one surprise here. When the students knew they could see the video later if they wanted to, they actually took more notes and drew more diagrams, which was something of a mystery. Of course, if you can type fast and you want a transcription, then a laptop is ideal, but if your aim is to understand the material better and not just to create a record of the material, then take notes by hand. And the other lesson from all of this, of course, is to make your notes concise.  +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .  

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Are you impossibly talented?

November 23, 2019

Some people are. I don't belong to them. For sure. Polymaths excel in multiple fields. But what makes a polymath – and can their cross-discipline expertise help tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges? I came across an article by David Robson,  author of The Intelligence Trap, which examines the common thinking errors of smart people, and the ways we can avoid them.  "In the late 1930s and early 40s, Hedy Lamarr was already the toast of Hollywood, famed for her portrayals of femme fatales. Few of her contemporaries knew that her other great passion was inventing. (She had previously designed more streamlined aeroplanes for a lover, the aviation tycoon Howard Hughes.) Lamarr met a kindred spirit in George Antheil, however – an avant-garde pianist, composer and novelist who also had an interest in engineering. And when the pair realized that enemy forces were jamming the Allied radio signals, they set about looking for a solution. The result was a method of signal transmission called ‘frequency-hopping spread spectrum’ (patented under Lamarr’s married name, Markey) that is still used in much of today’s wireless technology. It may seem a surprising origin for ground-breaking technology, but the story of Lamarr and Antheil fits perfectly with a growing understanding of the polymathic mind. The research suggests we could all gain from spending a bit more time outside our chosen specialism Besides helping to outline the specific traits that allow some people to juggle different fields of expertise so successfully, new research shows that there are many benefits of pursuing multiple interests, including increased life satisfaction, work productivity and creativity. Most of us may never reach the kind of success of people like Lamarr or Antheil, of course – but the research suggests we could all gain from spending a bit more time outside our chosen specialism." In addition to starring on the silver screen, Hedy Lamarr, a famous polymath, also co-developed a transmission method that has carried into today’s technologies. Let's try to answer the question: What’s a polymath? Even the definition of “polymath” is the subject of debate. The term has its roots in Ancient Greek and was first used in the early 17th Century to mean a person with “many learnings”, but there is no easy way to decide how advanced those learnings must be and in how many disciplines. Most researchers argue that to be a true polymath you need some kind of formal acclaim in at least two apparently unrelated domains. One of the most detailed examinations of the subject comes from Waqas Ahmed in his book The Polymath, published earlier this year. The inspiration was partly personal: Ahmed has spanned multiple fields in his career to date. With an undergraduate degree in economics and post-graduate degrees in international relations and neuroscience, Ahmed has worked as a diplomatic journalist and personal trainer (which he learnt through the British Armed Forces). Today, he is pursuing his love of visual art as the artistic director of one of the world’s largest private art collections, while also working as a professional artist himself. Despite these achievements, Ahmed does not identify as a polymath. “It is too esteemed an accolade for me to refer to myself as one,” he says. When examining the lives of historical polymaths, he only considered those who had made significant contributions to at least three fields, such as Leonardo da Vinci (the artist, inventor and anatomist), as German language professor my idol Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (the great writer who also studied botany, physics and mineralogy) and Florence Nightingale (who, besides founding modern nursing, was also an accomplished statistician and theologian). Maybe, right now, you think you’re a polymath? Not so fast. Waqas Ahmed argues that polymaths can only be those who made major contributions to at least three different fields. From these biographies, and a review of the psychological literature, Ahmed was then able to identify the qualities that allow polymaths to achieve their greatness. As you might expect, higher-than-average intelligence certainly helps. “To a large degree that facilitates or catalyses learning,” says Ahmed. But open-mindedness and curiosity were also essential. “So you're interested in a phenomenon but you don't care where your investigation leads you,” Ahmed explains, even if that pushes you to delve into unfamiliar territory. The polymaths were also often self-reliant – happy to teach themselves – and individualist; they were driven by a great desire for personal fullfillment. Many children are fascinated by many different areas – but our schools, universities and then employment tend to push us towards ever greater specialization. Like any personality traits, these qualities will all have a certain genetic basis, but they will also be shaped by our environment. Ahmed points out that many children are fascinated by many different areas – but our schools, universities and then employment tend to push us towards ever greater specialization. So many more people may have the capacity to be polymaths, if only they are encouraged in the right way. Allow me to go back to my idol Goethe. While polymaths like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe indeed have higher-than-average intelligence, curiosity is essential for anybody looking to broaden their specialisations. Nobel Prize-winning scientists are about 25 times more likely to sing, dance or act than the average scientist. As David Epstein has also reported in his recent book Range, influential scientists are much more likely to have diverse interests outside their primary area of research than the average scientist, for instance. Studies have found that Nobel Prize-winning scientists are about 25 times more likely to sing, dance or act than the average scientist. They are also 17 times more likely to create visual art, 12 times more likely to write poetry and four times more likely to be a musician. It is telling, for instance, that Antheil had previously worked on scores involving synchronized self-playing pianolas, and together he and Lamarr drew on the mechanism of those instruments to come up with their anti-jamming device. Allow me and  David Robson to ask you if you feel tempted to live a more polymathic life. Ahmed suggests that you can use your time more efficiently to make space for multiple interests. There is now a growing recognition that, when concentrating on any complex endeavour, the brain often reaches a kind of saturation point, after which your attention may fade and any extra effort may fail to pay off. But if you turn to another, unrelated activity, you may find that you are better able to apply yourself. Shifting between different kinds of tasks can therefore boost your overall productivity. Switching between different tasks, such as Albert Einstein using music for scientific inspiration, can boost overall productivity and creativity. Wannabe polymaths can use this to their advantage by alternating between their interests – ensuring that they are using their brains at maximum efficiency in each domain, while avoiding wasted effort after they have reached that cognitive saturation point. Albert Einstein, who was an accomplished violinist and pianist as well as a physicist, apparently used this approach. According to his son and daughter, he would play music whenever he faced an intractable problem, and would often finish the performance by saying, “There now, I’ve got it”. It was a much better use of his time than continuing to fruitlessly agonize over the maths or physics. Yes, think it over, we have many advantages compared to the polymaths of the past. The internet, after all, is now full of free online courses in many different disciplines, and it is easier than ever to hook up with an expert teacher through apps like Skype even if they are based hundreds of miles away - as David Robson correctly said. +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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The importance of ejaculatory prayers

November 22, 2019

We need to be more familiar with what are known as ejaculatory prayers, otherwise known also as aspirations. They are short prayers that spring rather quite spontaneously from the heart that is going through the different situations in life—happy, sad, tense, tired, excited, bored, etc. They reflect one’s relation with God and are inspired by faith, hope and charity.      To me, ejaculatory prayers are very helpful in quickly and easily putting ourselves in God’s presence, especially when we immerse ourselves deeply in the things of the world as we ought.      They help us relate ourselves and everything that happens to us to God, again as we ought. They help us in keeping a spiritual and supernatural outlook as we go through the different events of the day. In short, they help in keeping us spiritually alive, and not just alive in the body and to the world.      They help us see things better in the sense that we just would not see them with our senses and our human understanding alone, but also and more importantly with our faith, which is what is ideal and proper to us. They somehow put us in an intimate relation with our Father God. With them we will never feel alone nor distant from God.      My personal experience with ejaculatory prayers shows that they are very helpful even in making me calm and rested even in the middle of a tense situation for the mind or for the body. They help in making me breathe more deeply and thus give some relief.      Also, not to forget is that they are very helpful in protecting and defending us from temptations and sin. They make the spiritual combat and ascetical struggle, so unavoidable in life, more manageable.      They also help in preparing us for the more serious forms in our relationship with God as when we have to do our prayers, our sacrifices and our recourse to the sacraments.      We should all do our best to make it a habit to say ejaculatory prayers often during the day. Any short and earnest expression of our faith and piety will do. And also in this regard, the many vocal prayers that are already available can be very useful.      The “Our Father’s,” “Hail Mary’s” and “Glory be’s” are truly helpful.      We do not have to invent more prayers to be used as ejaculatory prayers. We may just even say, “Lord, I love you, I believe in you, I trust you,” or words to that effect. There are also many other prayers addressed to Our Lady, to St. Joseph, to St. Michael, and to other saints that can be used.      The important thing is that they are said with sincerity of heart and rectitude of intention. They definitely do not hamper us in our daily work and concerns. In fact, the contrary is true. They facilitate things a lot.      This business of saying ejaculatory prayers often during the day should be taught to children as early as possible. You cannot imagine what great benefits they will enjoy when they learn to do it as a habit when they grow up and get exposed to all sorts of things.      Let’s encourage everyone to do the same. There may be a little awkwardness in the beginning, but it’s not something that cannot be overcome. Especially when people experience the many benefits of the ejaculatory prayers, they will readily acquire the practice, since these prayers do not require a lot of effort to say them.

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