Risk and hope

What science tells us is not that you are guaranteed to die because of smoking. It tells us about an increased risk to get a disease or die because of smoking.
When you deal with risk you also deal with hope. What is true for the average person hasn’t have to be true for a single individual like you.

Why do scientists who know about the risk of smoking smoke ? Especially scientists are probably good in dealing with risks and probabilities.

If you are an optimistic person anyway you always would say: yes, I see the risk, but I will be on the lucky side.

Is that the reason we don’t do risk management in our projects ? Because we prefer to hope than to plan accordingly ? Hoping definitely is cheaper.
It’s kind of gambling. When it comes to smoking, it is kind of gambling  with your life.
I personally wouldn’t do this. I always try to minimize risks, when I can. Well … not always. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done some glacier crossing and climbing on rocky mountains during my last vacation. Well, at least we hired a mountain guide to do so, so we took some risk, but then worked on minimizing it.

That picture doesn’t show me, but our mountain guide. Anyway, I had to go the same way.
You actually always take risks. Your entire life is risky, more or less. Even if you stay at home. Most people die there.
But it is easy for me when it comes to smoking: I never figured out what people like about this and never had any interest in smoking. Except may be a water pipe once or twice a year after a diner in my garden.

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Common knowledge doesn’t exist.

Over the weekend my wife and I visited some relatives living in Regensburg and we have had some good discussions about several topics – from blood cholesterol level to politics to the magnetic polar reversal scheduled for December 21, 2012

Big Moon
"Big Moon" by KM&G-Morris.

I noticed: common knowledge doesn’t exist. People know, what they want to know. They filter and interpret facts according to their believes. A common body of knowledge doesn’t exist for human mankind, nor for any group of people, for any culture, community or company. People are different, and everyone is having his own version of the truth.

I was reminded to this when reading this quote today by Edwin Abbott Abbott:

Men are divided in opinion as to the facts. And even granting the facts, they explain them in different ways.

And so I sit, poor silly man No wiser now than when I began..

For every fact you can come up with evidences, but you can also come up with evidences to refute it. It is more a question of belief which evidence you accept and who you trust, who’s book you read and who’s you criticize, probably without even reading it. Do you trust your doctor more than one who you don’t know and who has written a book titled “The Cholesterol Lie” ? Do you believe those who announce world’s end knowing that so far the world never ended before, which of course is no evidence that some time in the future it might happen ? Do you think our politicians are telling us the truth, our leaders really lead us, scientist and experts acknowledge wisdom and insight more than their carrier ?

“I know that I know nothing” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. This is probably the only truth you can come up with, besides certain facts from mathematics where true evidences really exist – as far as I can tell.

Cassiopeia, the tortoise

I don’t know why but when I drove to work this morning I had to think about Cassiopeia, a character from the novel “Momo” by Michael Ende. “Momo” is a modern fairy tale about time management and Cassiopeia is a tortoise in that novel. Cassiopeia has the capability to look into the future for half an hour and even she is moving slowly obviously she often seems to be ahead of others. She knows best when crossing a street for instance and thus her slow pace actually makes her faster.

Slow Down .......You Clown!!
"Slow Down …….You Clown!!" by fatboyke.

In the sense of what I wrote here – “We are moving too fast …” – and in the sense of “Slow movement” initiatives like “Read your e-mail twice …” ( I mentioned for instance in this fun@work posting ) I actually believe that moving slower means moving faster. We actually can gain the capability of looking into the future for the next 30 minutes.

Be slow and steady and win the race.

What if you would spend more time to listen to others, and not only listening to words spoken but hearing the tone of the voice and even observing body language, what if you would spend more time on reading more carefully and may be not only reading what is written but trying to grasp what is not written ( reading between the lines and for instance thinking about why a person has written something and why he has expressed it in the way he did  ), what if you would spend more time on thinking things through than simply acting – wouldn’t that get you more insights into the people you work with, the topics you work on and the environment you work in ? Wouldn’t that make you smarter and give you the capability to know better what will happen in the near future and thus being there actually faster ?

Alexander Supertramp

My wife and I went to the movie theatre yesterday and watched the film “Into the wild” by Sean Penn. I did not know exactly what to expect but must say it was a great recommendation by my wife: an excellent and overwhelming movie.

The story is based on a true story investigated and published by Jon Krakauer. Chris McCandless decides to turn away from the regular way of living everyone including his proud parents would expect him to go after he finishes his study – and disappears. He decides to escape civilization and heads into the wild. He gives away all his money, gives up his car, shoulders his backpack and starts tramping through the country. He even gives up his name and calls himself Alexander Supertramp.

He turns away from a world where you have to sign up for a years long waiting list to get a permit for a boat trip on the Colorado river, unless you would prefer to book an organized tour. Alexander does not like both alternatives. He is the type of person who simply gets himself a boat and makes the crazy ride on his own, not accepting any rules made by men how to “use”  nature.

On his trip he meets a lot of people: the old hippie couple, some tourists from Denmark down there in the Grand Canyon and finally an old man who has lived alone for a long time. Alexander is a nice guy, a good listener, someone to trust and to tell everything, someone who easily becomes friend with all people he meets. Nevertheless, in one scene of the film when he has a conversation with the old man he emphasizes that relationship to men is not his primary desire. His ultimate goal is to be alone and on his own in the wild nature of the north: Alaska.

— In case you don’t know yet how the story ends and you plan to see the film or read the book you should not read any further since I will reveal here how the story ends. —

He finally makes it to Alaska and enters the wild. He finds an old bus where he decides to stay. He calls this place the “Magic Bus” and it becomes his new home in between the great scenery of white mountains, green forest and clear rivers. He manages to survive quiet well, but at some point in time he decides to leave. This attempt fails, since the river he conquered on his way in meanwhile became a rapid stream – impossible to get through. Thus he has to return to his Magic Bus.

His dream becomes his fate. He fails to conserve enough meat. He is running out of rice and finally picks the wrong plants to eat. He becomes sick and weak and finally dies of hunger. Two weeks later his dead body is discovered in the bus by some elk hunter.

It is a very emotional story and it made me think about this character. Was he a hero or an idiot ? Worldly innocent or figuring out what really counts ?

He knew to some extent how to survive in the wild. He did not plan to give away his young life for this, but of course he did accept the high risk being part of this adventure.

I am not sure about you of course, but I know this feeling and dreaming about escaping our modern life. I actually have nothing to complain about. I live a very comfortable and lucky life. But sometimes when stuck in a traffic jam or seeing how building sites eat up our countryside, or seeing people sitting in their living room watching the life of other people in TV they never would like to meet in their own living room, or when I see how people rush through their life and let stress make them sick, then I sometimes get a clue of this dream to escape the mad world and find some peaceful, quiet spot.

Of course I would not survive for long in the wild. Alexander Supertramp did a much better job there then I would be able to do. I might consider a short escape, like a one week camping or fishing trip, or what I actually did: a five week trip to New Zealand on my own. But after that I also enjoy to return into the comfort of my regular life: back to work, my home, my wife, my friends, my secure existence.

Alexander Supertramp went much further. And obviously he missed the point of return. To me he is a hero, because he clearly decided what would be a good way of living for him and followed his path self confident and without hesitating to do everything needed to get there.

What about you ? Do you sometimes dream about to escape … your job, your family, your home, your life as you live it today ? And do you sometimes go a little further than just dreaming about it ?

Hippeastrum

Every year in January it is blowing in our living room: we call it Amaryllis, but actually this is a category of plants and this one does not belong to this category anymore which had been redefined in the beginning of the 20th century. The correct name for this wonderful flower is “Ritterstern (Hippeastrum)” and most probably the ones we can buy her are hybrids.

Usually in November we buy an onion on the Hochheimer Markt. A pot with soil and some water here and then are sufficient to create a huge and impressive flower growing with dramatic pace. This years exemplar is very impressive: three flower stalks, two have opened meanwhile, one showing five instead of the usual four flowers.

Everytime I am looking at this beautiful flower I start thinking about the power of nature and the meaning of life. How can something so wonderful arise from the simple onion within two month, just by adding some soil and water to it ? And why is this plant spending all that effort to show up in such a nice costume ? Of course the question might be silly since a plant most probably does not have an own will. But evolution created this life form in a way so that it focuses pretty much on showing up as a beautiful being. Why ?

Objective certainly is to attract insects to foster reproduction of its own. Reproduction of is own – is this the only meaning of life ? How would the plant look like if this would not be its primary objective ? Would it just drive out some green leaves and that would be it ? What then would be the meaning of its existence ? As far as I can tell it is not useful as food for other life forms. Actually it is poisonous, since it contains the alkaloid lycorine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. There might be some use in medicine though.

How would we human beings looks like if reporiduction would not be our main motiviator ( is it actually ?) ? What would we do all day long when not working ? Less time in the bath room, less spending for fashion, clothes and cosmetics ? How would we define esthetics ?

As life forms started spreading on this planet the objective to focus pretty much on reproduction made a lot of sense. But is this a reasonable objective nowadays as our planet is getting smaller and smaller for all of us ? We are running out of space and resources, thus shouldn’t our primary objective change to something like reducing our reproduction rate ? Shouldn’t we all start looking more ugly now ? Or shouldn’t evolution develop some means to shorten our life span ?

It is really amazing what thought can arise from just looking at plant as beautiful as this Hippeastrum.