Music Monday: Murder by Death

One of my favorite poems is Paradise Lost. Naturally, this means that I enjoy The Desert is on Fire by Murder by Death.

The song takes place in a concept album wherein the devil was visiting a bar in Mexico and tried to make a few extra bucks on a drug deal. The other dealer double crosses him and shoots him in the back. When the devil gets out of prison he goes on a rampage against the entire village and when he confronts the villagers, he reminds them, “I fought off angels with my hands back, I set the heavens on fire.” It’s an exciting song with a fairly epic tone. If you want to know how the story ends you’ll need to listen to the whole album.

Debating your inner monolog

One of the persistent themes of recent psychological literature on success is the inner voice. Thought it has many names, the inner voice describes sort of things we tell ourselves to psych ourselves up, out, or distract ourselves from ourselves. The Christian tradition, especially the Puritan and Greek Orthodox branches of soul care, did not leave these sorts of questions out. For examples of writing about using the inner monolog to grow in virtue I highly recommend the works of Evagrius of Pontus and, Thomas Brooks, and Richard Baxter.

A few days ago, I wrote about the Common Topics in the context of destroying writer’s block. But, because they are meant to help you construct arguments, they are useful tools for your mindset and self-talk. Your mindset is the collection of attitudes and thought processes you use to deal with your experiences.

Aristotle’s common topic of definition is used for framing a debate/speech/personal trait so that in a dispute you are in a favorable position in the minds of the audience. Definition is also used for framing a paper or speech so that the readers are not lost. In today’s post I want to show how definition is an important tool for reframing your own thoughts for making progress in sanctification and endeavors of merely human interest. I’ll give examples before I explain fully what I mean. If the examples are helpful, stop there. Learn to redefine your terms and stop your inner critic/naysayer/smooth tongued tempter with simple debate skills.

Examples:

  1. Thought: I need to have a drink in order to feel happy right now.
    Reframe: Happiness is more than feeling good right now, I’ll hit the gym and go read Scripture in a coffee shop.
  2. Thought: I’m too busy to fix my diet.
    Reframe: I already have a diet (what I eat), I just need to replace one junkfood meal a week and after 21 weeks I’ll be eating healthy meals every time I eat.
  3. Thought: I want to look at pornography because I’m lonely.
    Reframe: Looking at pornography won’t help me improve myself and make friends to cure my loneliness.
  4. Thought: I need this belittle others to feel whole and successful.
    Reframe: The sin of pride disconnects us from God who provides true wholeness and eternal success.
  5. Thought: I’ll fail and have one more failure on my list of achievements.
    Reframe: Failing is the only way to learn that isn’t boring and it’s better than sitting around doing nothing at all.
  6. Thought: If I try to make new friends, maybe they won’t like me.
    Reframe: There are billions of people who don’t like me. If these people don’t nothing will change.

Explanation:
Everybody uses self-talk. It’s just a matter of what kind and what you choose to do based on the self talk you use. If I were to create a model for how things work in my life it’s like this:

  1. Step 1: Inner monolog uses encouraging or discouraging statements to reason my will into acting on some impulse, plan, or request.
  2. Step 2: I evaluate the inner monolog as being true or false without consideration because I over trust my own immediate evaluations of issues.
  3. Step 3: I act and reenforce my self-talk and my self-talk becomes more entrenched in my mindset.

If we utilize good/better definitions in Step 2 to evaluate our self-talk, then we can do a better job of overcoming the voices of Negative Ned, Dr. Jekyll, and Uncle Screwtape.

Review: Mike Cernovich’s Gorilla Mindset

Introduction

Mike Cernovich is a civil rights lawyer, though I do not think he practices any longer. He’s considered a controversial figure. I don’t really care about that. A person could be utterly terrible, but it does not change the merit of their arguments or the truth value of evidenced claims that they make. I first came across Mike Cernovich a couple of years ago when I had found a study on ebsco about cabbage juice and heart burn symptoms. When trying to find more information about the constituents of cabbage and what in it might increase mucilage production in the stomach lining, I came across a blog called fit-juicer which cited the same article. While the site was clearly designed to sell his books on juicing, it had excellent recipes for juice (my wife brought a juicer into our marriage…I never would have considered one, but I’m glad we have it). Not only were his recipes tasty, but he typically cited scientific literature related to the consumption of juice or plant constituents in relation to the benefits he claimed for his juices. It was interesting. I literally went through his website using in-article links and never read the comments. I had no idea that the guy was a lawyer, a figure or controversy, or even his name.

Anyhow, well over a year later, I was working on a writing project (still am) and was looking for a more practical application of Carol Dweck’s mindset ideas that I had found in her book on motivation in education. In the process, I came across Mike Cernovich’s book Gorilla Mindset. It had a title that seemed cheesy, although most people want the things it claims to provide. I found, a preview on Scribd (or was it a pirated version?). After I looked through the exercises at the end of each chapter and saw how similar they were in design to the ones I was writing for something else, I went ahead and bought a kindle edition of the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the book. It didn’t merely provide a model for what I was trying to do myself, but it provided legitimately helpful insight into improving one’s life and happiness.

The Good

  • Cernovich writes in a terse, no-nonsense style that is easy to absorb and does not leave the reader with so much theory that they cannot act on the principles he explains. Example, when talking about the way you make plans in life, he writes, “Maybe this, maybe that, maybe I’ll be a contender. Mr. Maybe is the ultimate seducer. Mr. Maybe whispers honey in your ear.”
  • Cernovich’s advice on health is actionable and the mindset shift he offers on health makes sense. Particularly his comment that a sick body leads to a sick mind. While it is true that some bodily ailments cannot be changed through exercise/nutrition (I have a genetic bone disorder), it is true that nutrition and exercise can shift you into a more positive frame of mind about such things. Not only that, but when I lift weights regularly, I have significantly less chronic pain than I have after just two or three weeks out of the gym.
  • Each chapter has helpful and actionable exercises that one could actually do to improve himself or herself.

The Bad

  • The kindle version had several typos, he could have used an editor (or a better one).
  • I wish he had cited more sources…but getting his readers lost in secondary literature probably wouldn’t have helped them the way he intended to, so while this is a bad in relationship to my preferences as a reader, it is probably a good with regard to his goals as a writer.

Conclusion

I have nothing to say about Mike’s more controversial endeavors. But he’s a helpful writer and 8.99 for the kindle edition of his book Gorilla Mindset is a good price for people who struggle with being stuck in life, feeling ineffectual, or who have persistent and powerful bouts of self-doubt the prevent them from achieving a measure of emotional or moral happiness in life. I recommend his book.

Disclosure: I wrote this review after buying the book because I enjoyed it.

Ideas

Tonight a friend asked me if I’d had any ideas for papers I would like to write. I do, I even have ideas for books. I’ll probably not write any of this, but maybe I will. The fact is that I want to write these things and I have no actual resources for getting published (not attached to any academic institutions of notoriety or scholars of note). But the first fact is enough to write them. So, I suppose that if I write any of this and nobody wants to publish it, I’ll just put it on my blog. When it appears, I hope you hate it.

  1. Papers:
    1. Best way to translate χαρισ word group in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 4
    2. Interpretation of Matthew 5:27-30
    3. Platonism in Hebrews
    4. The meaning of from faith for faith in Romans 1:17
    5. Paper comparing best practices for UI tests in C#
    6. Discipleship language in the apostolic fathers
    7. Biblical battle stories compared with ancient/modern warfare manuals
    8. A summary of research available on hereditary multiple exostoses.
    9. A comparison of Stephen Brams’ work on game theory in the Bible and the results of literary criticism of the Old Testament narratives.
  2. Books:
    1. Sermon on the Mount commentary
    2. A how-to book on the Cardinal and Theological Virtues using ancient and modern sources
    3. A book on study skills
    4. A collection of entirely absurd short stories
    5. A book on practical epistemology (what it means to know, how to know, and thus how to research, learn and synthesis creatively
    6. A book on how to read the Old Testament using the Quadriga

Overcome Writer’s Block: The Common Topics

Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is a terrible plague for many authors. I rarely get it. I almost always have to remove large chunks of material from what I write in order to make it useful. I write lectures, speeches, and lessons literally every week. I also grade papers, essays, speeches, and research reports on a weekly basis. There are, as far as I can tell, four reasons for writer’s block:

  1. Trying to sound profound (This is part of the game in fiction and poetry.)
  2. Poor research
  3. An inability to make an argument
  4. Nothing to actually say
  5. Bonus Reason Five: A clever phrase for procrastination.

I have very little to say to help poets and fiction authors to overcome writer’s block. What I will say is this: Write about something else. Literally just write a narrative or a poem about something entirely unrelated to the project that has left you stumped. Write a narrative about your trip to the bank or a rhyme about your wait in the grocery line. That helps me come up with sermon illustrations and illustrations for speeches on engineering topics as well.

The big question is this. What can people who are writing term papers, essays, sermons, and persuasive speeches do to overcome writer’s block?

I introduce to you: The Common Topics

The common topics are not subjects of writing, but topics of argument or ways of making argument. The topics can be seen as tips for persuasion, but also as avenues of research. Aristotle had a list which has been expanded over the years. My favorite version of the common topics is in the book Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (Corbett and Connors). Here they are:

  1. Definition
    • Genus
    • Division
  2. Comparison
    • Similarity
    • Difference
    • Degree
  3. Relationship
    • Cause and effect
    • Antecedent and Consequent
    • Contraries
    • Contradictories
  4. Circumstance
    • Possible and Impossible
    • Past Fact and Future Fact
  5. Testimony
    • Authority
    • Testimonial
    • Statistics
    • Maxims
    • Laws
    • Precedents

Uses of the Common Topics:

  1. Research Tools:
    When you’re doing research look for these types of support in relationship to your thesis statement, topic sentence, or rhetorical purpose. Find definitions that frame the paper in the direction you want it to go. Look for research that determines relationships, find testimonials and statistics about your topic, look for old quotes that seem to carry handed down truths, and try to determine logical relationships (possible/impossible). If you find enough evidence to establish deductive certainty or a high probability that a position is correct, then you are not only closer to that elusive truth you wish to grasp, but you are also ready to write a paper!
  2. Persuasive Tools:
    If you know your audience, then you can determine which types of arguments will most convince them. For instance, personal testimonials work really well for people who want to experience personal transformation, whereas statistics and maxims do not seem to work very well. In a courtroom testimony, by way of example, is a very common form of argument. One tactic that I’ve witnessed work on a jury is utilizing audience sympathy for a party who, on the evidence presented, did not seem guilty. But when admissible evidence remained scarce, an appeal to pity worked very well.
  3. Reading Tools:
    When you read a book and wonder, “How is the author actually making this point?” The common topics give you the tools. If the author makes the point without using them, then the point is not being made well or you’re not reading carefully enough.
  4. Mindset Tools:
    The common topics give you mindset tools that help you be confident and humble when giving a speech and answering questions. You can say things because you have good evidence and feel confident and courageous in the process. But, because you know why you accept an idea, you can also be humble because other people might have good reasons for rejecting the idea. Knowing the common topics and how to use them can arm you for more confident and humble conversation. Knowing the common topics can also guard you against smooth operators who make claims with no support or spouts profundities with no apparent meaning.

Conclusion
The Common Topics are quintessential for any liberal arts education. Really, they matter for engineers and scientists. One has to consider whether or not the evidence in favor of a proposition of any type is compelling and which lines of it are most convincing to a particular audience.

AppendixThe Specific Topics

  1. Deliberative (speeches meant to call people to action)
    1. Inherent Worth
    2. Utility
  2. Forensic (speeches meant to convince people of the truth of a proposition concerning past fact)
    1. Evidence (whether something happened)
    2. Definition (what is the nature of the thing)
    3. Motives/Causes (qualities and circumstances)
  3. Ceremonial (speeches celebrating people, virtues, institutions, and so-on)
    1. Virtues and Vices
    2. Personal Assets and Achievements

Works Cited

Corbett, Edward P.J, and Robert J Connors. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Things I Like Right Now 9-12-2015

I posted one of these a couple of weeks back. I thought mention some other things I like right now.

  1. I’ve been training to failure in the gym again. It’s been a nice time saving technique and a change of pace. The decreased weight from the insanely long sets (aiming for 10 reps two seconds up and four seconds down). To time my reps, I use a boxing timer app on my phone. It allows me to gauge whether or not my ten or more reps have been timed well. I may try a metronome app next. Anyhow, I’ll train like this for a few more weeks with some jogging every once in a while in order to prepare my body for a camping trip we take for work next month. Training to failure takes advantage of several modes of muscle growth stimulation: heavy weight (eventually), occlusion, and effort. It takes advantage of volume as well, but it a way that few expect. Volume is a major stimulus for muscle growth, but in this form of training you’re only doing one set. But if I did 3 sets of 5 and each rep took 2 seconds, that’s still only 30 seconds of actual weight lifting. The difference in single set training is that while the volume is often higher, the extended sets can force the weight to be lower.
    After the camping trip I’ll keep this training style up for a while, but switch up some exercises. I’ll probably start aiming for heavy triples on dead lift one day a week as well. Here’s my routine

    1. Pulldowns
    2. Dips
    3. Dumbbell Pullovers
    4. Dumbbell Bench Press
    5. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
    6. Back Extensions
    7. Leg Curls (I try for a set of 30 on these…it’s pretty terrible)
    8. Dead Lift (try for a set of 12)
    9. Bicep Curls
    10. Posture Shrugs
  2. I use the Sleep Cycle app on my phone to try to gauge my sleep quality. It’s either a very effective tool or a placebo and therefore a very effective tool. I highly recommend you get it, or if you have a Fit Bit of some sort, try using a sleep tracker app.
  3. Cal Newport’s book How to Win at College is pretty amazing. He’s a computer scientist from MIT who writes a great deal of helpful advice for young people. I read it so that I could give my students tips for success. His blog is super useful.
  4. Posture exercises. I’ve been trying several times a day to stretch into a better posture and to walk with better posture throughout the day. There appears to be a reciprocal relationship between our attitude and our posture. Being in a bad mood can lead us to carry ourselves like we’re retreating from the world, but conversely, carrying yourself like you’re in a good and engaging mood ends up putting you in that mood. Try it out.

Grammar: The First Art of the Trivium

Introduction

The first of the liberal arts is grammar.

Brief Digression

Trivium is shorthand for three skills:  grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Together with arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music they make up the liberal arts. In the current year, a liberal arts degree is simply a degree in reading texts and critical theory.

Grammar

Grammar is the study understandable language. While you may find it boring, here are four reasons you should study it:

  1. Grammar is the art of clear construction in language, therefore it helps us to explain our thoughts with precision.
  2. Grammar forces us to study language at a very exact level so we can accomplish more with it.
  3. Understanding grammar and usage allows us to deviate from it for rhetorical effect (more on rhetoric later).
  4. Grammar, learned after the language itself it acquired, reminds us that minute learning is almost always the key to advancing our knowledge.

Tips for Improving/Teaching Grammar

  1. Use actual grammar exercises like those available here or here.
  2. Do not drill grammar into children who do not have a love for language. This serves to make them dislike reading and writing, which means that the mechanics of grammar will be useless to them.
  3. Think of grammar as an aspect of pedagogy, every subject has constituent parts (like grammar rules) that cannot be understood until the subject is understood. Yet, these same elementary principles must be masters for the heights of the subject to be reached. For more on this, read Dorothy Sayers’ essay: The Lost Tools of Learning.

On the Liberal Arts

I’ll say more about this topic later.

Articles periodically pop up about why it is still important to major in the liberal arts and not bother with STEM fields. And then other articles will pop-up saying that liberal arts degrees are stupid and essentially put the individual student in debt without concern for said student’s future employment prospects.

To these claims I say, “Just shut up.”

Neither side ever means “the liberal arts.” They just mean “STEM or non-STEM degrees.”

The liberal arts, minimally include training in these seven skill sets (yes skill sets, not mere knowledge):

  1. Grammar – the art of understanding and constructing thought in language.
  2. Logic – study of the relationship of facts and propositions to other facts and propositions.
    Basic logic includes both classical deduction as well as the numeric version of categorical/inductive logic known as statistics.
  3. Rhetoric – the art of discovering and using that which is persuasive.
  4. Arithmetic – the art of number or basic mathematical operations
  5. Geometry – the art of number in space and the proofs pertaining thereto (logic applied to arithmetic)
  6. Music – the application of number to the human passions
  7. Astronomy – the art of geometry over time,  since Newton/Leibniz this has included the Calculus.

If one has a liberal arts education, then they have the basic skills for any other education. These subjects are not mere subjects. They are skill sets and even mindsets. Understanding rhetoric is like defense against the dark arts in Harry Potter. Understanding logic is not only helpful for writing papers, but for fixing cars and being a detective.

Anyway, I’ll probably do a series of posts on this in the future. But one does not need a degree in anything to have their mind transformed by a liberal arts education and one does not understand the liberal arts just because they have a degree in a non-science field.