Living In The World

The other day I recommended you all watch Andrei Tarkovski’s film Solaris.  After watching several long interviews with him, I just love his style.

He will take some difficult philosophical concept and build the entire film around that.  Take Solaris for instance.  The central theme of the movie is whether a man can remain human in an inhuman environment.  It’s not about the giant alien planet, or the space station, or any of the “sci-fi” stuff.  All of that is just a plot device he’s exploiting to put the main character in inhuman situations that test him spiritually and emotionally.  We the viewer then grow from watching the film.

He had a lot of deep insights.  Watch this clip above and listen to what he says about young people.  Growing up, all of my friends were always wanting to do something.  Busy, busy, busy.  Playing games, sports, listening to music, going to concerts, watching television, whatever it was.  Something had to be going on.

We tend to view that as a form of vitality.  That’s life.  Those people are alive!  They’re wanting to live life to the fullest.  Think of all that’s out there to experience!  Why are we sitting at home, doing nothing?

Tarkovsky makes an interesting observation.  Young people are uncomfortable being alone with themselves.   There must always be a distraction.  Loud noises, silly entertainment on Youtube, guns blazing in video games, there always has to be something.  That something temporarily takes them away from themselves.

Take the club scene.  You have this loud music blaring, bass thumping, and lots of alcohol.  Those sorts of places are not so much about living as escaping.  You even hear it in the lyrics of dance music.  “Forget the world”, “Let’s just have fun”, “There’s only tonight”.   Is that truly living in the moment?

Young people insult the elderly and say they’re boring for just sitting on the porch, enjoying the breeze, watching the birds in the water bath, but I don’t think that’s the case.  They’re actually more spiritually developed.  They don’t need distractions.  They’ve learned to be themselves.  They can sit and be whoever they are, and experience their life, in their home, on their porch, in their body.

I had never realized that.

Are you able to just sit, in quiet, no fantasy keeping your mind occupied on the television, no video games, no music in the background.  Can you just sit for one evening and simply be you?  Not consuming someone else’s life or work.  Not reading other people’s blogs and ideas.  Not daydreaming in a storyline someone else wrote.  Can you sit and live in a world of your own creation?

This world, as you, creating your destiny.  Your work of art.  Your composition.  Your story.  Your pursuit into the unknown.  Can you do it?

There’s an emptiness in passive consumption.  Something special happens when you engage yourself and your imagination toward something you desire to accomplish or know.  It integrates into your being and life.   Take my former life as a software developer.

I remember spending a lot of time with my friend Greg, and we’d just sit and talk about what we at that time called “bases”.  We’ve always been people who dissect the things around us into their parts and then combine them in new ways.

When we would design software, we always had deep philosophies about everything.  The entire process, we were always building and revising complex philosophical systems, based on design, implementation, deployment, support.  The whole works.  What do I mean by that?

You may think that writing software is, well, writing software.  But no.  That’s how amateurs do it.  It’s really about purpose.  Technicals are secondary.

The first and most primary purpose is why are you doing what you’re doing.  Do you believe in it?  Does it matter to you?  Why are you developing software?  What is your goal?  What are you trying to accomplish?  What does it mean for someone to use your software?

You say, “How could I know something like that?”  As a novice, of course you don’t.  You don’t know that when you start.  That’s what you have to find out!

I’d land all kinds of contracts.  We’d be sitting at my desk in the office with the development tools open, designing screens.  I’d have a contract for a medical clinic and this software was to manage different medications for cancer patients.

I would sit in my office and fill notebooks with designs, flow-charts, and plans.  Not necessarily the technical aspects of the software, such as the database, and all that.  No.  I’m talking about the human “flow”.  The interactions.

There’s a lot more to it than the “job”.  There’s your presentation and interaction with the people in your life.  Who you work with.  How do you present yourself.  Your ambitions.  Your standards.  Your qualities.  Who will and won’t you work with?  What are your standards?  What do you require before you’ll even start a job?  All sorts of things like that.  That’s the real meat.  That’s the hard stuff to figure out.  That’s what so few people ever figure out.

Once you have your way of doing things, you can serve everyone better.  I remember a doctor hired me to develop some software to manage their Radiology laboratory and he gave me some ideas about what he wanted the software to do.  He had some basic screens drawn on a piece of paper and so forth.  An amateur would’ve said, “No problem.  I’ll develop it just as you’ve drawn out here.”  But did I do that?  No.  I told him, “I have a better idea.”  He looked at me puzzled.  I said, “I must live and immerse myself in the lives of these nurses in this laboratory for the next week or so.  I have to know everything they do, sometimes better than they do.  Then I’ll start.”

After I’d do that, I’d move on to optimizing the whole thing.  Lay out each process.  Think of the purpose of each step.  It can be a really tough challenge to sit and take some complicated process and reduce it to the simplest possible set of steps.  It has to be broad enough to cover anything they may want to do, but also streamlined enough to where the things they do most often can be done quickly and easily.

I remember being so proud when I’d deploy the software.  I’d just leave an icon on their desktop and then wouldn’t say anything.  Wouldn’t tell them anything.  They’d open up the first screen and the software was so intuitive, and so easy, there was absolutely no training necessary.  They just clicked around for a few minutes saying, “Oh, ok.  I see.”

The IT man would be talking to me about deployment.  “Does this have an installer?  How do I install this on other machines?”  I’d say there’s only two files.  There’s a database file, and the software executable.  That’s it.  He’d exclaim, “What!?”  I’d say, “Yes.  That’s it.  No complex installations of any kind.  Just put a shortcut to this executable from this server folder on any machine.  It will work.”  The simplest possible deployment.

Why?  Because I designed it exactly around their current work-flow, but just got rid of everything tedious.  Everybody in the entire building who had anything to do with my work.  As simple as possible without losing the purpose of what the software was intended to do.  I’d then drive back to the office smiling, “It can’t be done any better.”

But what did I really do?  All of that stuff I mentioned just now, that’s just details.  What is the central core of why it would always go so well?  Why would I succeed when others failed?  Here’s the real point, so make a note of it.

I went into their organization and discovered their purpose.  The purpose of each worker.  Of each computer.  Of each step in their process.  The purpose.  It’s ALL about the purpose.

It’s not about the software.  It’s not about the screens or pretty graphics.  It’s not about the servers or the databases.  In their case, it was about treating patients with cancer.  That’s it.  That’s the basis.  This organization takes care of people with cancer.  The nurses don’t give a care about the software.  They want to take care of the sick.  That’s the ultimate basis.  If you don’t get that, go home.  You will fail.  You will never make it.

But you know, nobody’s going to tell you the basis.  You have to discover the ultimate basis.  Every job I’d do had a different basis.  I had to find it.  Once I had it, THEN I could start the design process.  Before that?  You’re just spinning wheels.

It was the same process as when Tarkovsky was creating films.  You say, “How are they the same?”  They’re exactly the same!  When you’re a master at something, the technicals are just petty details.  The philosophy, the system, the “basis” is what matters.  The creativity flows around the purpose of whatever it is you’re doing.  You have to believe and have a passion in the purpose.

Tarkovsky’s basis for Solaris was to find a way to express a human being struggling to stay human in an inhuman environment.  That’s it.  That’s the core.  That’s what really matters.  That’s the purpose of why he created the film.  The rest was just details of expressing that theme.

He’d spend nights thinking about the world, about life, about the universe.  All kinds of things swirled through his brilliant mind.  But at some point he formed a philosophy of what was important to him.  What things mattered.  And based on that, he was able to find a purpose for his films.  Then he weighed all kinds of options and said, “This is the most important thing to make a film about.”

Think about the normal Joe.  Why don’t they create things?  They’re not flowing with a purpose.  They’re not integrated into the world, with some thing they’re trying to do.  Tarkovsky was an artist, inspired by his father, a poet.  He looked at the world and had a perspective on it.  And because he had that perspective, he had ideas he wanted to share, things he wanted his audience to see and think about.

There was some inner discontent.  That was the source of his art.  There was some dissatisfaction with the world, and his work came along to try to do something about that.

If you’re passive, you can’t be creative.  You have no purpose.  Art and all creativity are born from discontent.

Before you can live as a creative person, living as yourself in your world, you have to create your philosophy.  Your system.  Your way of doing things.  Your way of interpreting the world. The world comes into you, some process of creativity and imagination happens within you, and then something is churned out.  The best of the best are always working on their inner system, their purpose.  Their essence.

Living as an entrepreneur, a very creative enterprise, I was always developing inner philosophies toward everything.  This is who I do business with.  This is the kind of work I do.  These are my standards.  This is the quality of my software.  This is my process of development, deployment, and fulfillment.

Now my shift has been toward theoretical physics, but it’s still purpose driven.  I’m no different than Tarkovsky.  I have deep philosophical issues plaguing my mind, an inner discontent with the current explanations given to me as to what this world is, and I want answers.

I talk about them here on my blog all the time.  What is free will?  What am I?  How can I be free but made of these particles which follow physical laws?  What is consciousness?  What is the origin of all of this?  Why does the world follow rules at all?  Are there other universes?  How do they work?  Is there a God?  All sorts of questions brewing in my head, and physics is the best way I know to pursue them.

The research papers are just like films.  They’re sharing with the world some thing that mattered to me.  Unfortunately physics papers have a limited audience, but it’s no different than producing a film.

Lots of people crank out worthless research papers.  Nobody reads them.  They just write them up to have a fancy CV.  But the best physicists, you can read any of their papers and work and it’s always a deep inquiry into something fascinating they were exploring.  Something they wanted to understand.

Whenever you start engaging the world, your thing almost becomes religious.  It’s the most important thing in the entire world.  Satan could come up to me and say, “I’ll offer you fame, women, and money, if you’ll just abandon this pursuit of yours.”  I’d exclaim, “No!  You’re crazy.  What am I going to do with this wad of paper?  Is it going to tell me why the stars shine?  Why I exist?  The fate of the universe?  You can keep it.”

Have you ever went to the store and just didn’t want anything in there?  There are things you want, but they can’t be bought.  You’re going to have to create them.  Bring them out of the void.  It’s your calling.  Your thing.

To be creative, it’s all about integrating the world and everything it offers into some purpose of yours.  That’s how you grow to live in your world and not somebody else’s.  Being in the moment is not about being distracted; it’s about being totally immersed, emotionally, physically, intellectually.

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