Lila: an Inquiry into Morals

What is quality and what are values? This is the integral question Robert Pirsig asks in his book “Lila”, which is a sequel to his famous novel “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. City Connect reported on the latter book previously, and now we will continue the philosophical debate.

Just like the prequel, the book is written as a narrative and again incorporates a beautiful story helping the author conveying his ideas in a way that is relatively easy to understand. Pirsig uses a lot of metaphors and examples of every day life to communicate his ideas to the reader, making his philosophy accessible to a wide audience.

Robert Pirsig put a new idea forward. Instead of everything being defined as objects and subjects, he argues that everything has an underlying innate quality or value, which can be interpreted by an individual. This quality is an underlying characteristic of any object or idea and exists as an entity before it is integrated into a system.

Furthermore, so he argues, life is undergoing dynamic changes, which in most cases are unanticipated. This he calls “dynamic quality”. On the contrary, certain value sets help a system to survive in its current state, which he calls “static quality”. For example, the law system of a society may represent a static set of values, which is needed to keep a society functioning. On the other hand, the evolution of a society is determined by dynamic changes, which can either be deleterious or help society reach a higher level in complexity and evolution.

The argument about dynamic quality is one of the main themes through the entire book, and one example that he gives goes as follows:

Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban short hills, New Jersey, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon? Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say in an old hotel in Key Largo, in a hurricane… . Why is it that a man riding a good commuter train from Larchmont to New York, whose needs and drives are satisfied, who has a good home, loving his wife and family, good job, and enjoys unprecedented “cultural and recreational facilities” often feels bad without knowing why?

Why is it if such a man suffers a heart attack and, taken off the train at New Rochelle, regains consciousness and finds himself in a strange place, he then comes to himself for the first time in years, perhaps in his life, and begins to gaze at his own hand with a sense of wonder and delight?

These are for sure daunting questions, as Pirsig states, but with the division of Quality into dynamic and static patterns, a way of explaining them emerges.

This very man is experiencing the difference of dynamic quality breaking the static patterns of his life and perceives the change as something refreshing and invigourating.

Equally, the book tries to explain why scientific advances have in many places replaced religion. He argues that science is more apt to response to dynamic changes, whereas religion is connected to a static value pattern that does not really allow change. Only if religion is open to change and can adapt to the changes in society, will it survive. It has to be noted that Pirsig does neither refute, nor support science or religion. He just states factual observations. Furthermore, he highlights the weaknesses of science by the fact that even scientific value patterns prohibit advancements and often changes take a long time to be understood by individuals and society. He quotes the famous example of the Platypus. Being neither a mammal, nor a bird, the mere existence of the creature was disputed my many scientists for decades as it just did not fit into the known classification of mammals or birds. What was it?

The definition of mammals and birds had to change and science allowed this dynamic change eventually.

Besides Pirsig’s new proposition of the metaphysics of quality being able to replace the old subject and object metaphysics, which was in great part shaped by Aristotle, he also put forward a challenging thought about our existence.

Why is it that man, being on the top of the evolutionary ladder, is sacrificed for society in times of war? In other words, what justifies the sacrifices of lives in the name of society?

Pirsig argues, that society is actually a higher form of “life” and on the top of the evolutionary ladder. Just as a single cell in a body does not really comprehend the fate of the organism, one human being cannot understand the fate of a society. Just as a cell in a body is replaceable, so is a single man in society. He further argues, that society, for example the city of New York, has its own driving forces, which cannot be controlled by a single person. The city consists of thousands of people, each individual fulfilling one small task in a huge organism. When I first read this statement it made me feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and replaceable. But the more I thought about the concept, the more a saw how much sense this idea makes.

So what does this new metaphysics of quality teach us?

Why is it superior to the simple division of life into subjects and objects?

As a concluding remark, Pirsig gives a comment on our possible future. He argues that life superimposed itself upon death billions of years ago. Man superimposed itself upon life a hundred thousand years ago. Society superimposed itself upon man thousand of years ago and now we are fighting the battle of intellect superimposing itself upon society. Should we maybe not scared about the “decay of values” of our society but see it as a chance to built a new level of our evolution?

Image reproduced from http://robertpirsig.org/LilaCoversmall.jpg

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.”

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance written by Robert M. Pirsig is probably the oddest title that you can possibly find in the book shelves. However, this novel has not attracted many readers because of its peculiar title, but rather due to its philosophical depth written in a way comprehensible to everyone. The book is centered around one protagonist who is on a 17-day motorcycle journey through the United States with his son Chris. Throughout the book one central question is reiterated over and over again: “What is good and what is good writing?” More precisely, the main character asks “What is quality and how is it defined?” Although, this may not seem an obvious philosophical dilemma for the untrained eye, the reader soon realises in a very beautiful narrative that it is virtually impossible to define quality. In fact, what is it? Who sets the standards? What is quality based on? What in fact is quality? These questions, which are rooted in his past, drive the protagonist slowly insane. Pirsig leads the reader cunningly throughout many epochs of history addressing the central question of quality and its implications to our modern world.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses.”

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

Picture: courtesy from Random House UK Ltd

This book is certainly a modern classic dealing with a very deep philosophical question. Do not be afraid of technical terms about motorcycle maintenance, for that really is a way of Pirsig to draw the attention of your mind to details in a very unfamiliar way. This book is mesmerising and unique in style. Are you ready for an outstanding piece of modern writing which will stimulate your brain and change the way you perceive the world?

The Secret

When we open the newspapers in the morning or switch on the evening news on the TV we are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of bad news. Most newspaper articles will focus on the negatives in the world, which will have the same effect on our psyche: stress, disappointment, fear, anxiety and discomfort. Taking in negative news on a daily basis is detrimental for our mental health. Rhonda Byrne asked herself the same question and wrote a short book based on the idea of attracting positive thinking. The Secret is easily read in an evening. Byrne takes this thought further and claims that positive thinking can influence a reader’s world and claims that one can influence the outcome of one’s life by positive thinking. In simple words: think positively, set your mind to something and you will get it. Seems easy enough? Clearly, life is not that simple but there is a very important message here. Think positively! Whether that will solve your daily problems or make you a millionaire is surely a matter of a philosophical debate, but that in itself is irrelevant considering the effect a positive way of thinking will have on one’s life! Surely reading something that makes you smile in the morning will more likely make you smile at noon. This is definitely an interesting read and despite the international criticism, there is a fundamental message in this book. Simple and obvious, but often we cannot see the wood for the trees. Have a read and try to make your life your own by leading your own thoughts to something positive.

Picture courtesy by Beyond Worlds Publishing.

The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics

A few decades ago, the international community published guidelines for athletes, trying to ban performance enhancing drugs in order to guarantee the safety of sportsmen and -women and ensure fair competitions. The phenomenon of enhancing an individual’s performance in sports is also known as doping. Although these guidelines exist for high performance athletes in many countries, many people still take many drugs, which can be dangerous or are illegal in many cases – steroids in the bodybuilding scene being one example.

With the advancement of modern technology, advances in the neurosciences and a vast amount of supplements and drugs available on the market, society now faces similar debates on the front of smart thinking drugs. The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics discusses exactly this issue. It is not surprising that the film industry releases at the same time the new film Limitless, in which the protagonist takes a performance enhancing drug for his brain in order to cope with every day stresses and finish the tasks that otherwise seem to be insurmountable.

The book discusses in particular drugs that have been developed for specialised clinical settings, but have been been widely adopted for a wide range of non-medical purposes. In particular, the psychological and physical effects of drugs taken to enhance mental performance short term disregarding long-term effects, is beautifully discussed in this book. The book is divided into themed chapters and the language has been adapted for the general public, providing a means to bridge the gap between medical jargon and every-day language. This enables to deepen the dialogue between the medical and non-medical world and explains the effects that such drugs have. Society is constantly changing and with the increasing speed of new emerging technology and a change in life styles and massive changes at work environments, stress levels of the average modern human being have increased dramatically over the past decades. It is not surprising, that many of us may seek a quick fix rather than adopting the right coping strategies.

With the advancement of neuro-imaging, there are many novel attempts in combatting neurological cases, such as Alzheimer’s and and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which were were associated with changes in the brain. This has caused a revolution in our thinking and understanding of the human brain, paving the way for the development of many new drugs.

But what happens when people start taking such drugs, which have not been tailored to them and without medical surveillance. Where are the boundaries, also taking into consideration all the supplements available in shops today.

This is an excellent read and will make anyone think, not just about smart thinking drugs, but also about the impact of modern life on the human psyche.

The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, edited by Judy Illes and Barbara Sahakian, is published by Oxford University Press on 7 April 2011.

Image reproduced from www.amazon.co.uk

Atlas Shrugged

For many years we have been waiting for a film based on one of the cornerstones of modern literature: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. The film is based on her most famous novel that caused heavy philosophical debates in the late 1950s and created a philosophy called objectivism. Her philosophy is discussed widely until today and has influenced modern literature and thinking. This film will be the first attempt to translate this thinking to the general public. The book starts with the quote: “Who is John Galt” and this phrase is reiterated throughout the book several times. But who is John Galt? The film is based in a dystopic world where grief and despair rains and the economy of the United States is at the brink of a collapse. Dagny Taggart is a railroad executive who fights for her company and the forthcoming economic collapse that threatens the well-being of everyone. But what is happening to the world? Who is John Galt? Where do all the talented people go that used to run the world? Why is poverty taking over the country and why does everyone seem to fight against the railroad company? This film is expected to be a highlight of the year and will certainly reignite the philosophical debates in the Western world.

The release is scheduled for April 15 in the States and the film will come out in the U.K. shortly thereafter.

Dead Simple

Peter James' Dead Simple - Belgrade
Dead Simple is a play based on the book by Peter James. It stars Jamie Lomas (Hollyoaks), Tina Hobley (Holby City) & Gray O’Brien (Coronation St).

It’s a very creepy tale indeed. A stag night prank goes horribly wrong for Michael Harrison (Lomas), his mates decide to pay him back for all the dreadful pranks he’s played on them, by locking him in a coffin overnight. The lid will be nailed on and he’ll be lowered into a plot, covered with a loose material. He will have a breathing tube of some sort through the lid. He’ll also have a walkie-talkie so he can only talk to them. (And they can taunt/tease him as well.)

However after they carry out the deed, his mates are involved in a car accident and no one else knows he’s in the coffin. His girlfriend Ashley (Hobley) is very worried and his best friend Mark (Rik Makarem) is out of town on a business meeting.

A young chap Davey Wheeler (Josh brown) finds the friends’ walkie talkie near the crash site but he has learning disabilities so when Michael begins speaking to him, Davey doesn’t fully understand the situation and thinks Michael is playing a game.

The police are called as a missing person’s report is filed. And the police chief (Gray O’Brien) uses a psychic on the quiet to help him. Trying to keep her secret from his partner DS Branson (Marc Small).

Davey is Michael’s only hope of reaching someone from the outside and getting him out of the coffin before he starves to death!

This play was outstanding, the stunts were well designed for a theatre floor. I loved the way they did the coffin and there was glass panel, which only showed when the stage was darkened a light was lit inside.
The sets were simple but easy to move around as needed, so you weren’t distracted by lengthy furniture shifting.

Jamie Lomas played the part of Michael so well, a desperate man caught in an impossible situation. I felt his distress at being alone and then finding someone to talk but with time ticking away!

Tina Hobley was the prefect choice for the girlfriend, she can be nice or horrible at the flick of a switch. Now that’s scary! One minute you would think, ‘she’s lovely.’ and the next ‘Run!’

There were plenty of twists and turns in the plot and you find it’s not just a stag night prank gone wrong, someone in the shadows is manipulating events for a very dastardly deed.

The only thing I wanted was more interaction from the psychic that the police chief was using. I felt she didn’t get enough stage time to convey her talent. It felt rushed and in the end she didn’t do a great deal. More than once I felt like someone could’ve shouted, ‘I could’ve told you that mate!’

The officers were a bit like Keystone cops and were very slow. But I think a better relationship/chemistry might’ve made the slowness better. Sadly you can’t fast forward the slow bits.

Despite the gripes, this has to be a 10/10 from me. A wonderful cast and some powerful emotions displayed in the telling of this story.

Image reproduced from Belgrade.

The Gift of Fear – Gavin De Becker

London Life Coach & Relationship Expert Sloan Sheridan-Williams reviews “The Gift of Fear”, the international bestseller by Gavin De Becker. Follow Sloan on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s website www.sloansw.com

A remarkable book and international best seller, first published in the late 90’s, the message in this book has stood the test if time.

It is a classic misconception that protecting ourselves is rude, and therefore we often overlook the very gut feeling that could save our lives.

This book explains that it is imperative for people to take responsibility and learn how to protect themselves. Gavin De Becker highlights how to tap in to our fear, realise what it is telling us and teaches us to act accordingly.

He also points out the ‘myths’ we live by and explains that although a person may not seem to have the physical advantage that it does not infer that they will not be able to adequately protect themselves if the situation arose.

A lot of people have asked who is Gavin De Becker to speak about such situations with any authority, but it appears he does indeed know about the dangers that society can deliver from first hand experience. Regretably it has been reported that he was subjected to domestic violence in his younger years that was more than just a one off. This resulted in him watching his mother shoot his step-father at the tender years of 10.

Unfortunately, his potential suffering did not stop there as by the age of 16, he lost his mother to a purported heroine related death as she was by that time an addict. Many would have wallowed and/or fallen off a positive path but Gavin remarkeably uses his misfortune to learn grow and ultimately teach.

Gavin De Becker takes the information he has acquired over the years (both innate and taught) using it now to teach police and civilians alike saving no doubt hundreds of lives over the years if not more. He has developed a system to evaluate threats and I believe bases this on his assertion that most of the more violent acts albeit random do have clear warnng signs. His teachings explain that we are able to use this to our advanage to provide a safer environment for ourselves and our loved ones.

The Gift of Fear is a good read if you would like to further your education on situations that involve stalkers, abusers, predators, paedophiles, death threats, unbalanced employees, or mass killers. It is not at all solely aimed at women and is beneficial to all age groups. It gets down to the core of one’s basic instinct and intuition and helps you realise what is real danger and what is imagined danger. There is also a chapter on whether the person in front of you will actually use violence against you or not.

There is a very good interview on Oprah with Gavin, please click here to view it.

This clip above with Gavin De Becker and Oprah talks about the book, the difference between worry and fear, noticing what is real and noticing what is imaginary. He also touches on terrorism and how politics has used the media to its advantage overshadowing the emphasis of domestic violence with terrorism etc..he then goes on to explain that domestic violence is actually more prevalent in the general population than terrorism but we are all focusing on the larger less likely scenarios and forgetting to educate on everyday situations happening right in our homes or neighbours. He then goes on to talk about how instinct can protect you and why it is definintely not prudent to attack a mother when she is with her child. It is truly remarkeable what adrenaline will do to a women who is protecting her child, and in many ways reminds me that we all do decend from the animal kingdom.

The book bases its advice on the fact that there are appropriate ways to behave in dangerous situations, and that we do not have to exist in a world where we talk ourselves into disbelieving our fears when we are being followed home at night etc…

As Einstein once said “Knowledge is Power” and this book definitely draws up on that enabling us with coping strategies for when dangerous situations rear their ugly head.

It is amazing how many times my clients have said to me ‘if only I had gone with my gut feel’ and now have to spend time rebuilding their life after a violent attack of some sort. Therapy is great in these circumstances, however Gavin de Becker allows you to listen to that feeling and take a different path before the injury occurs which can never be a bad thing.

I do suggest reading the Gift of Fear, or at the very least buying it for someone that you think would benefit from a few coping strategies when danger strikes. I was in my early 20’s when I first read this book and suffice to say I gave it another read just before writing this review and with hindsight this information really does save lives, I’ve used it myself numerous times and coach others to use their intuition more too because of it.

You can buy a copy of the Gift of Fear from Amazon UK or any good book shop.

I look forward to hearing any comments you wish to share.
Photo: courtesy of Amazon

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Book Review: Detective Leonard Makes an Entrance

The story opens very directly and in-your-face as our first-person narrator Simone Seabolt introduces herself to the reader by telling us; “In the scheme of this story at least, I’m not very important.” From then on, Detective Leonard makes his entrance into the text before he is physically made present.

This short piece of detective-crime fiction follows Simone Seabolt as she enlists the help of her godfather, Private Detective and ex-policeman, Detective Leonard in order to solve the murder of a young woman who has been murdered with a cricket bat, and prove that her fianc̩ Рwho was caught fleeing the scene Рis innocent of the crime.

Much of the first chapter is a back-history of Detective Leonard through the eyes and memories of Simone. Author Eric Wood sets this up so well that when the reader finally meets the infamous Detective Leonard – who is deep in combat with an assailant – they already feel very much acquainted with him.

Eric Wood

Before meeting Detective Leonard, the reader already has a strong and concrete sense of his character. He is an eccentric, adventurous detective who has a somewhat unhealthy addiction to Twitter, but there is a hint and a sense that his character is far more complex and deeper and what lies on the surface.

The key relationship in the story – and the reason the storyline flows so naturally – is between Simone and Leonard. In fact the murder and crime solving almost becomes a sub-plot as the tale goes on, and the story becomes a character driven narrative led by Leonard, followed by Simone. But this by no means is a bad thing at all, in fact this makes a refreshing change and draws in the reader’s interest.

Set in the heart of Manchester where the author was born and raised, Detective Leonard Makes an Entrance is not only a worthwhile and enticing read, it is a brilliant introduction to the what I predict will be a bright and successful career for its author, Eric Wood.

Detective Leonard Makes an Entrance is available to buy on Amazon Kindle. Please click here to order your copy today.

Fiona Kirk: So What The F*** Should I Eat?

As soon as I saw the title of the book, I was intrigued.

So What The F*** Should I Eat? It was a question I had asked myself many times over the years as I moved despondently from one fad diet to the next, trying to find an eating plan where I could lose weight but didn’t feel like I was starving myself or denying myself foods I enjoyed.

Fiona Kirk’s Fat Loss Plan detailed in So What The F*** Should I Eat? is radical and rebellious. Primarily because it’s all about you – the individual – rather than a prescribed method of rules that MUST be followed as if your life depended on it. Whether you are a Disciple, Rule Maker or Rule Breaker, her weight loss advice will work for you. I’ll let you guess which category I fell into but let’s just say that chocolate and I have been having a meaningful relationship for many years!

What becomes apparent as soon as you start reading Fiona Kirk’s So What The F*** Should I Eat? is that she knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the struggle most of us will face at one time or another when we’re trying to shed those extra pounds. Most diets are about deprivation, boredom, starvation and dull repetitive regimes. Fiona Kirk is a qualified nutirtionist and has spent years researching what a healthy diet actually looks like. I love her straightforward, no-nonsense approach and how she is able to take the confusion out of dieting to give the reader a clear and confident path to follow and a great deal more understanding about nutrition. Throughout the book, Fiona’s humour and wit ensure that the advice she gives is entertaining, engaging and as fresh as the foods she champions.

Fiona Kirk

The first revolutionary thing about Fiona’s advice in So What The F*** Should I Eat? is that she tells the reader to BIN THE SCALES! She quite rightly states that muscle mass increases while you lose fat if you are following a healthy weight loss regime of diet and exercise. So obssessing about where the needle is wavering on those bathroom scales isn’t the best way to monitor weight loss. Fiona advocates the WAISTBAND METHOD instead. Take your tightest pair of jeans and see how they feel every day as you follow her fat loss plan. As the weeks go by and the waistband feels more comfortable, you know you’re heading in the right direction. Being able to get a thumb or two between you and the waistband of your skinny jeans or skirt is much more satisfying than looking at a number on a dial.

The second revolutionary thing about the book is that there are few rules but lots of suggestions. Fiona knows that following a prescribed way of eating doesn’t work for everybody so instead she takes a Pick ‘n’ Mix approach with her Fat Loss Plan. There is a whole chapter called Lots of Eats which give you countless options you can choose from to eat. Fiona also takes the radical approach of not defining meals as Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. She believes that five or six small meals are better than three large ones and there is no reason not to eat porridge as an evening meal. That’s probably her Scottish roots coming through as any Scot will tell you how filling and nutritious a bowl of porridge is, no matter what time of day you eat it. Eating something healthy from her Lots of Eats suggestions every 2 to 3 hours is one of Fiona’s recommendations to keep your metabolism fired up and lose fat without losing your sanity. Fiona also gives plenty of advice about exercise and clever tactics to increase your levels of fitness.

In addition to the Fat Loss Plan, Fiona has also devised a 14 day diet called 2 Weeks in the Fast Lane which is detailed in this book and is also the title of her second book which promises maximum fat loss with maximum nourishment in minimum time. Quick fix diets always attract bad press but here Fiona “decided to concentrate on the positives and ignore the negatives and find out what the 5-15% of successful dieters do and why they not only reach their goal but maintain fat loss long term”. After extensive research, she discovered that certain quick fix strategies can and do work and devised a diet that combines the revelations of successful dieters with the latest research into foods, eating and lifestyle practices that accelerate fat loss – a unique and exciting recipe.

Fiona also has an even quicker 3 day plan when time is of the essence where you live on fresh fruit, nuts (not peanuts) and water for three days, eating a handful of nuts or a couple of pieces of fruit every 2 hours. I tried her “3 Days in the Super Fast Lane Plan” and must admit the results were amazing.

Moving onto Fiona’s Fat Loss Plan, I continued to lose weight steadily and after 4 weeks I felt very comfortable in my tight skinny cords. In fact I could even get a thumb inbetween me and the waistband! I enjoyed eating a wide range of foods and based my meals around soups and salads, eating fresh fruit or drinking smoothies in the morning, avoiding carbs after 6pm and snacking on nuts or raw veggies. I found that eating every 2-3 hours gave me lots more energy in addition to the fat loss results and I slept better too.

I was so impressed with the results achieved that I shared Fiona’s book So What The F*** Should I Eat? with City Connect’s Editor-in-Chief Sloan Sheridan-Williams. Sloan did the 2 Weeks in the Fast Lane Diet and lost enough weight to go down a dress size and fit into this season’s fashionable skinny flares with no hint of a muffin top! Sloan also reported that she had more energy and clearer skin after following the eating plan.

If you’re looking to shed those extra pounds and want to try a diet that works with you rather than against you, I highly recommend you buy Fiona Kirk’s So What The F*** Should I Eat? or if you’re looking for a quick fix that will still teach you strategies to lose weight after Day 14, then buy Two Weeks in the Fast Lane Diet. Both books are available from www.fionakirkbooks.com.