Dec 162016
 

think-like-a-freak“Think Like A Freak” by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner: Loved the stats. Loved the examples. Loved the entertaining writing. The book just sped by.

What it’s about: Most humans make decisions without using much original thought. We’re hardwired to think a certain way, and because of it, our thinking is predictable and we have common blind spots. The authors give a few ideas of things to do to start thinking like a freak, things like saying “I don’t know” when we actually don’t know (which is the only freaky thinking thing I’m good at), ignore the supposed limits, think like a child, give incentives to others, getting “your garden to weed itself”, and finally, the benefits of coin flipping in place of decision making.

What I thought while reading this book: I’m very typically human. I have the usual patterns and blind spots – and so I was very appreciative of the things I learned while reading this book.

And considering the usefulness of “Think Like A Freak” to me, where I went mentally after reading is a weird leap: Though I learned what “Think Like A Freak” actually outright taught me, I didn’t learn more, because of the nature of non-fiction, or at least the nature of “teaching” non-fiction (as opposed to “real life experience” non-fiction).

Don’t get me wrong. I love non-fiction and I read a lot of it. I’ve learned a huge number of extremely valuable things from non-fiction – but I believe even more strongly now that non-fiction is limited. Why? Because by leading me along a focused track, the non-fiction writer doesn’t give me the mental freedom for diverse thoughts before I’m once again being hustled along by more focused facts, proofs, and logical reasonings.

When it comes to the deeper stuff of life, I find fiction the better teacher. If I head out on a mind tangent in a story, there’s not the same pressure to get back to the proper lesson at hand. Theme can whisper, tempting me off or on various paths, but I don’t have to listen. Even more, characters’ personalities, thoughts, and actions can be profound lessons. For example, I just finished a book by Louise Penny (my next review) that blew me away on the immense value of playing the long game with patience and kindness, and how those qualities might look in a person.

No non-fiction book has ever given me as much value as some fiction. Maybe I’m a freak for being this way, but honestly, since I’m such a typically thinking human, I believe I’m probably in the middle of a vast herd – and I admit, I hope that’s the case. To have fiction deeply inspiring so many people in their lives? To me, that’s a beautiful thing.

Mar 102016
 
 March 10, 2016  Colombia, Fun Stuff, Living As If All Things Are Possible, Miscellaneous, Reflections, Travel Comments Off on Ciudad Perdida

Two days later, we hiked into Ciudad Perdida. The trip up to that point had been amazing: the cloud forest vegetation and flowers, the river, the indigenous dwellings, coca plants, and so much more.

The second day of hiking, we passed an elderly indigenous woman on the trail. She asked with hand signals for a hiking stick from a woman in our group, then with stick in hand, flipped a scorpion out from beside the rock at her feet, and proceeded to pound it to death.

Weird Catepillar

Weird Neon Catepillar

Another time, Quapak, our guide, told us that a snake had bitten a mule right there – and he pointed to the creek bank I was standing on. Two days later, when Quapak hiked back, the mule was still at the water’s edge, but it was dead. Needless to say, I crossed with exceptional care.

I was pretty happy to not see a snake close up, or a tarantula, but I was a bit disappointed that there were none to be seen from a distance. However, we did see this strange creature, which to me, looks like it could be related to a nudibranch if we’d found it underwater.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

 

Finally, on the morning of the third day, we crossed the Rio Buritaca, and climbed the 1,200 stone steps into Ciudad Perdida, gaining 400 meters (over 1,300 feet) in less than a kilometer.  It was a brisk climb but not as challenging as that first day when we climbed 640 meters (2,100 feet) beneath the blasting afternoon sun. Now, trees, some with hundreds of pounds of epiphytes attached, towered over us, vines hanging to the ground.

At the entrance to the city, we made an “offering” to show respect to the indigenous culture. I gently tossed a leaf into the sacred circle, and after a shared minute of silence, we walked into the city, which consisted of stone walled circles, filled with earth, the platform foundations of the houses that had once been there.

The city was abandoned about 400 years ago, though the local people continued to use the site for ceremonial purposes. Only the Mamo (the medicine man) and his family continue to live there, a short distance from the main circles.

Circles and stairs.

Circles and stairs.

These days, thirty more people also live nearby – soldiers. An observation post is on the mountain above the highest circle, and the soldiers keep watch, fully armed and ready to protect the visitors.

The stone circles became bigger as we moved higher on the ridge. As in countless civilizations around the world, the more successful families had the biggest circles and the best views. When the rest of the group stopped at the biggest circle, the one reserved for community gatherings, Brad and I kept climbing, up and up, from circle to circle.

Finally at the top, with only the military post higher, we looked back to see our group grown small below. Oropendolas built hanging nests in some tall palms nearby, their tail feathers flashing yellow in the sun. A pair of green parrots flew by, and then a red bird, and one so blue it looked startling against the blue of the sky. Beyond the stone city itself, the expanse of mountains and valley stretched to the horizon, the first mist of the day starting to gather among the trees.

I was standing in a lost city in South America, something that a year ago I would’ve thought was impossible and, considering our financial situation, irresponsible. Okay, so maybe that part hadn’t changed.

A beautiful view.

A beautiful view.

 

 

But the sight before me, the almost audible hum of energy in the air, the cry of the birds as they enacted their eternal dance, the vines swaying rhythmically to the hot breaths of wind, even a hiker’s laugh from down below – they combined to make that experience far more “real” than the cost, and in that moment, the cost became permanently irrelevant.

So I guess at the end of my life, I’ll die a few thousand dollars poorer, but that’s okay, because I have no doubt that I became much, much richer during these few hours at Ciudad Perdida. And that’s what I call good value.