A Modicum of Thought

a weekly pursuit of depth of thought

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The Challenge

The challenge was simple in nature. To combat the inevitability of slow decline, a good friend of mine and I mutually proposed a weekly sharing of just one item of depth discovered that week. In theory, a simple task – really, if life has become so comfortably numb that a single thought over the span of seven days remains elusive – well then, all the more reason we need to double down on honing the mind to explore what is essential, what is invisible to the eye.

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Corona Investing

I promised that I’d include all forms of measured thought when creating this Modicum Challenge. Well, the inner Armchair Economist in me has been leaning far over the edge into behavioral economics that the more practical side of the discipline has been severely short changed thus far. So I thought I’d spend a bit of time capturing my thinking on how to invest in light of the coronavirus.


Caveats

Now a few caveats of course:

  1. Of course, this is not investment advice, nor am I an investment advisor. And my skills in this area are entirely questionable and not to be trusted any more than a monkey. Assessing the intelligence in pursuing these investments are left as an exercise to the reader.
  2. These are grossly simplified models, from a layperson. Horrible stuff with plenty of flaws.
  3. Profiting from a global pandemic is unpalatable to most, and I am keenly sensitive to any suggestion of profiteering. In this Modicum, I’m simply exploring where financial investment opportunities exist beyond the realm of ethical judgement. Assessing the ethics of pursuing these investments are also left as an exercise to the reader.
  4. Lastly, the market is a highly efficient marketplace, and one in which I supremely trust index algorithms to keep humming during normal times. But I do believe that during sudden spikes of unanticipated blows to the economy, most automated algorithms start to fray, not being able to understand the underlying motivations of the blow. In this instance, the individual may have a chance to outperform the monkey, and perhaps even the index fund.

Infection Curves

OK, first let’s get some basics – namely, how bad is this infection going to be? Of course we do not know, but here are some guesses. First, this is a dated graph from the Economist from the middle of February:

A momentary breath…

Of course, we are seeing that the caption was a bit optimistic. The red dots are my additions showing the rise in new cases globally for the past week.

Here is the current infection totals, as of today (source: JHU):

As you can see, global infections are on the rise (yellow) – as we all know. These (as all graphs in this modicum) are linear scales.

So ultimately knowing the financial impact of the virus is foremost a matter of predicting where we will go from here in terms of infections. There are three options:

  1. Naysayer Model: “This coronavirus thing is all a hoax and we will see the last of the corona virus by April.” Ok, so maybe you are not quite that bad, but still believe that draconian measures will more than easily prevent the spread of what is otherwise a virus slightly worse than the flu. That’s defensible, but honestly, I am not addressing this model except as an extremely flattened infection graph. This Modicum will need your own augmentations to sort out a strategy. Frankly I just did not consider this as a viable model given what we know today – but make no claims that I could be drastically mistaken.
  2. Unabated Model: Here, the virus spreads quickly and rapidly and there is little to be done or being done to contain it.
  3. Lockdown Model: Here, global modern society does everything we can to minimize transmission, effectively flattening the spread of the virus over a longer period of time.

These three models are thus reflected in this graph:

Daily New Infections

In reality, the peak day will be somewhere on the curve/line connecting the worst case and best case scenarios. We don’t quite know when the peak day will occur because it is more than just R0 – it also takes into account the level of lockdown and other environmental issues (e.g. possibility of weather).

Clearly, for the load on public health facilities, and thus also for any of us wishing to increasing survival rates, the further flattened of an infection curve we can get, the better for us all.

Regardless, though, we now have a line for the peak day.


Hype and Fear

If the market was just based on the virus itself, this would be a good start. The problem is, the market is not rational. And for that matter, neither is the typical person’s response to a pandemic. And as such, the irrationality is also a factor to be incorporated in the investment.

Let’s first take into account exacerbating influences – and for that, let’s focus on hype and fear which we will plot in red.

Which leads to a few observations:

  1. Irrationality usually precedes the peak, and usually is overstated from the peak. Modern journalism and information flow only exacerbates this both in x and y dimensions.
  2. Both Normalization to fear and anticipation of fear does occur, and as such it is likely that the peak of fear will precede the peak of the item being feared.
  3. The more irrational people are, the more likely that the Unabated Model is pushed into the Lockdown Model, as people overreact. This is a feedback loop, as the fear will also lesson as the model fails to materialize – but for simplicity sake I am just assuming the maximum fear point here as the primary value is in its relative timing.
  4. The peak of hype is plausibly measured by the maximum point at which the market area is being closed down for isolation (schools closed, events cancelled, businesses in lockdown).

Denial

Lastly, the human bias to deny death’s possibility is equally well documented (Heidegger allusions aside). Thus we also need to include a plot line for denial. The problem is … this is very tricky. Denial is influenced negatively by the hype curve (the confirmation bias causes denying people to maintain their denial in face of the hype) and positively by the transmission curve (the more it becomes real, the more denial must bow to the pressure of reality).

Here is the Denial influence in black:

Variability is also introduced, for as the outbreak is flattened, so too is the denial curve extended (“See? it’s not so bad”).


Ambiguity

Our graph is starting to get crowded, but we have a few more things still to go. Markets hate ambiguity – anybody who once owned XIV knows that pricing ambiguity is an active part of the market. So let’s see how ambiguity evolves.

At first ambiguity is low until enough cases take off. Then ambiguity shoots through the roof until a clear peak in new cases begins to manifest itself.

If you were to chart this, you would see it largely models the actual infection rate, both in the curve and in time. I already added it to the labels in the chart above.


Economic Impact

Thus far, everything has been focused on investor sentiment. Lets now finally add the actual economic impact. This is pretty tough, because we can not add in impact that is due to sentiment, but rather focus only on the actual business bottom line changes caused by the virus and its first order impact.

For instance, right now, the market is down 10% in the past three weeks. Very few companies, however, have reported any true economic impact. Thus the 10% drop is purely in anticipation and on investor sentiment. This influence attempts to measure only true economic impact to the bottom line of the P&L and not the change in share price. See the green line:


Economic Impact

For economic impact, I assumed that it was initially impacted by the growing number of lockdowns, either direct (campus shutdowns) or indirect (school shutdowns). The successive ripples into supply chains then will fall quickly, followed in turn by demand side fall off. As with all economic models, its a log slough to get out of the hole after the momentum has shifted.

Technically the market anticipates the economic impact, and thus I did pull it in slightly.


Finally, The Market

Alright, now we have enough to make market predictions (in the strict bubble of the variables presented). Here is my calc:

Market = (1-Denial) + Hype/Fear + Economic + Ambiguity

I assumed each influence is equally weighted – I’d love to hear reasons to be otherwise, but I honestly came to the conclusion that they were roughly equal.

Finally, I inverted the stat to model the actual chart of a stock market. Here is what I got (and yes, I added a “Now” column to reflect what I believe is the current position on the timeline). There are two lines – yellow and pink, one based on a flatten infection rate, one based on a more rapid infection rate.

OK, pretty obvious stuff, but let’s look at some subtleties:

  1. We are just at the early stage of market decline. Why? Hype and Fear will only increase as lockdowns occur nationwide / worldwide. Investors in denial will accelerate impact as trends continue southward. Ambiguity of just how bad it is will continue as long as new cases continue to increase.
  2. When will we reach rock bottom? It is a bit obvious, but this line of thinking suggests that stocks bottom out right when the worse case peak scenario is hit. Switching to a flattened infection rate doesn’t change this. But note that the influence to push the market low to be earlier or later in time are balanced with the knobs and levers laid out above.
  3. Exercising Lockdowns will slow recovery. This is a bit counter intuitive, as it is contrary to what is best for society from a health perspective. But the argument is that the quicker we can get over the hump, the quicker ambiguity of the future is full resolved, and thus the quicker we recover. Yes, a flattened infection rate will be more predictable, but that is already incorporated – it just still keeps out there the uncertainty of a flair up (e.g. after lockdowns have passed). We already see this with the Wuhan example.

Practical Decisions

So here are my practical conclusions. Again, don’t even think about following these for your own financial well being without coming to your own conclusion.

  1. Buy an Ultra Short on the US stock market. I chose U.S. because it is earlier in the infection cycle than Europe, and thus a bit more ripe to catch it before it falls.
  2. Hold that Ultra Short until the day we see the tip of the daily new infections bell curve materialize, and then sell and buy in. Don’t Be Greedy.
  3. If the infection rate is progressing on the low end on the transmission/R0 range (currently 0.7%-3.4%), try to look at the transmission rate in countries that are poorly handling the response. Data will be worse, but still, see if you can see if the infection rate is much higher. If so, then this implies that the U.S. infection rate is actually being affected by the lockdown and preventative measures. If so, then consider making your own estimate with a 0.7% – 3.4% transmission rate to determine when the peak would be if the virus is in full force. That should be your target sell date.
  4. These curves are replicated in other markets. Short emerging markets now, as they will be even harder hit given less facilities and social structure in place. Follow the same guidance for reinvestment.

But wait, what about Stocks?

OK, that is all just playing the market and guessing on the S&P 500. Surely individual stocks are worth considering?

Yup, but the trick here I believe is to separate potential stock buys between those impacted by hype and those by fundamentals.


Hype Stocks

Hype stocks are all those helped by the red line in the graphs above. Because that world is the most evident, these stocks are the hot items in the market.

  • BUY Stuck-At-Home stocks – streaming music (SPOT) and movies (NFLX), food delivery (GRUB), remote work access (WORK, CTXS), online gaming (ATVI), social media
  • BUY – Anti Real Virus stocks – cleaning supplies (CLX), vaccine companies
  • SHORT – Travel stocks – Airlines, Oil & Gas, Hotels
  • SHORT – Public Spaces stocks – Starbucks, Restaurants, Cruise Ships, Tickets (LYV), Casinos
  • SHORT – Insurance Companies – Allstate

Many thanks to friends and my wife for this brainstormed list – it is the product of several conversations.

The problem with trying to move on the hype is … well, the hype is here. In fact, this article basically covers it well. Many – but not all – of the stocks referenced in the article are already seen large movements outside of the S&P.

The time to buy the hype stocks are as early on the red line as possible (i.e. time is quickly passing). As to whether or not it is too late to hit the timing with sufficient up/downside, that’s for you. Mentally, I have many many red flags when investing where the herd is.


Fundamental Stocks

Instead of following the herd and jumping on the hype stocks, let’s instead look at the stocks that are more directly impacted by the actual infection rate lines. After all, the market is still coming to terms with the reality of a pandemic. Looking further is risky, as it is way down the ambiguity line.

The time to buy fundamental stocks are in the early stages of the blue/ yellow infection rate lines. For those, we appear to be still quite early.

So now we must ask ourselves: what if lockdowns are just common place and we are use to it, and the infection rates are just beginning to slow and turn. What new changes are we seeing in the world at that time that translate to impact on a business’ stock?

  • Deaths Directs. It is morbid, but we could be seeing 30,000 to 300,000 to 900,000 more deaths in the next 6 months. That’s directly correlated to the infection lines, not the hype or denial lines. So what to invest in? SCI and HI for instance. Note: SCI was the subject of a great study on Seeking Alpha.
  • Death Indirects: If 50,000 to 900,000 people > 50 years old suddenly pass away, what ripples will exist? Lots of extra homes hitting the market? (Title Insurance? Short Family Housing?)
  • Prolonged Lock Downs: Companies have been quick to start lockdowns, but we don’t hear much about ending a lock down. If they persist for a long period, then what secondary ripples will begin showing up?

I am still working on these (and would love ideas) – it is admittedly quite sparse.

But for now, that concludes my Modicum for now. In the mean time, stay safe, take Vitamin C and hope for the best.

Staying On Target And Death

Movies are the modern Homer, and Star Wars is steeped in mythic reaching for the sublime. One critical scene is when Luke was traveling down a Death Star corridor, being shot at, computers all around him to aid him, and remote commanders in his ear telling him what to do as he tried to launch that one torpedo that will destroy the Death Star and save the day. And despite all of these distractions, he folded up his head mounted display and disengaged the computer. He went into the Flow and trusted his instincts, thanks to the ghostly guidance of Obi Wan. The rest is history. Existential stuff at its best.

Staying on target is a matter of not falling in to the pitfalls of doubt, distraction, fear, angst and guilt. What Luke did is the analogy for life, a point not lost on Lucas.


The Goal

So the goal in life, for me at least, is pretty obvious and hard coded in the bones of my being. I’ve mentioned it before – it is simply put:

Oh to reach the point of death and realize one has not lived at all.

Thoreau

That’s pretty straightforward stuff. It is a sentiment shared by many – and shared frequently by me. Here’s a maxim attributed to various people over the years, with a slightly different twist:

Throughout your life you are climbing a ladder. You may get to the very top of the ladder, only to find it has not been leaning against the right wall.

Various

And I am sparked by Heidegger’s “Call to Conscience“, the notion that for a person to be truly authentic, they must own the outcome of their life and pursue a life in which they will not reach the point of death and discover it is inauthentic. I’d give a direct quote from Heidegger, but he is so maddeningly obfuscasting in his language that you just can’t quote him intelligibly with common language. He does say at least that the Call of Conscience…

… is a silent call that silences the chatter of the world and brings me back to myself

Heidegger

Which in turn, harkens directly to another foundational quote for myself:

Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself.

Exupery

Or put in Heideggerian terms, Love is me helping you fulfill your Call to Conscience.

While we are quoting, let’s not forget music. Jonathan Coulton touched upon authenticity when he wrote in Song For George:

Don’t live another day unless you make it count
There’s someone else that you’re supposed to be
There’s something deep inside of you that still wants out
And shame on you if you don’t set it free.

Coulton

Lastly, there is one more quote to incorporate as a life goal in the pursuit of an authentic life, and that is the first one:

The unexamined life is not worth living

Socrates

I’ve struggled with a subtlety of his word choice because of my abhorrence to judgmental proselytizing, and thus I prefer a slightly less assertive version:

The examined life IS worth living

And finally, I’d be remiss if I do not mention at least in passing that these maxims are examples of the Grecian Urn, a concept I will soon introduce.

So Modicum Number 1 – I never realized just how similar these foundational quotes were and how much fun there is in the subtle distinctions between them. But let’s leave that as an exercise to the reader because I want to get back to Luke.


The Distractions

The above maxims are all good guideposts in the journey of life – and the endpoint on the horizon we are driving to. So let’s just take them all as “a given” in life, and a shared vision of what to strive for.  It is a vision that asserts only from the standpoint of the end of the journey looking backwards we can assess if we have lived.

Unfortunately, that gives us only one shot at success, and no easy way to assess success other than by forcing at every moment to confront the readiness to die. Not the most uplifting method of living, granted.

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

Gretzky

The vision from Luke includes shutting down all the distractions that are leading us astray. So let’s look at those distractions that are preventing us from leading an authentic (Heidegger), examined (Socrates), owned (Coulton) and fully lived (Thoreau) life. I’ve written on this topic before that focuses on the day to day – but for today’s Modicum, I’m focusing on those larger philosophical issues that lead us astray to the final end goal as described in the quotations above.

And more specifically, it is these much broader, existential issues that really present a stumbling block in having us have that morbid question be more consumable. These are the issues preventing us from asking, “Am I ready to die?”

To help us, I am going to quote from an article published on the NIH by a palliative care psychiatrist, who attempts to bridge classic philosophy texts to the real work of caring for the dying.

Here are the pitfalls:

  • Existential Futility: or, “How is it possible to live, and retain that will to live, knowing that this is all finite, temporary? How does a human being live with the knowledge of death-in the face of death?”
  • Existential Fear and Angst: and ultimately “how can one live such a life without being overcome, panicked, paralyzed, or overwhelmed with the meaningless of life, by the fear of death?”
  • Existential Guilt: This is the notion that I could have done more, and that I missed opportunities or failed in some ways.  This concept hits much closer to Thoreau and the above quotes. To explain Existential Guilt, I really liked this excerpt:

As psychiatrists we learn of guilt as a Freudian concept. We also laugh at stereotype jokes referring to Jewish guilt or Catholic guilt. Existential Guilt is quite different (despite the potential overlap with some elements of neurotic guilt). Existential guilt refers specifically to the concept that each of us has the (challenging if not impossible) task of creating a life, a life that is unique to us. A life that only we could have lived. And we need to and aspire to live this unique life to it’s fullest potential. We imagine our lives as an arc, a trajectory. In playwriting one refers to the “arc” of the character. We each imagine this arc of the trajectory of our lives in which various milestones, ambitions, goals, dreams are achieved. Growing up, getting an education, falling in love, creating a family, finding one’s passion, purpose and work in life, growing as a person in all of these areas, perhaps seeing children grow up and have children of their own, living to a ripe old age having lived a life full of “Meaning Moments” and having the ability to look back at a life lived and feel “I did good enough”. “I can accept the life that I lived.” But this is hardly ever fully achieved by most of us. We are fragile, vulnerable, imperfect human beings. Life is perilous. Internal and external events batter us or buoy us, and that trajectory we imagine should have been is often not the trajectory the unfolds. Even the greatest amongst us can feel the sense of “if only I could have done more.” As an example of Existential Guilt I often quote Albert Einstein’s last word’s on his deathbed, which were “if only I had known more mathematics”. Apparently the Theory of Relativity wasn’t a big enough achievement. 

Breitbart

Great stuff. And these are foundational to landmark philosophical texts, as the existentialists confront humanism in the post religious context. Sartre identifies Existential Angst as the core basis for being, and Heidegger lays out the argument for Existential Guilt.


Existential Immunity

But here was the Modicum of Thought #2 I realized on this subject. I seem to be bizarrely immune to these pitfalls. I view them as distractions. The existentialists focus on them as having a more primary rather than distracting role in life. And honestly, I’m beginning to realize that my viewpoint is somewhat unique among the people I know. Why?

So first off, here is how I negate them:

  • Futility is irrelevant. If we only have this life no matter the sound and fury and it signifies nothing, then so what? That does negate the drive to keep the target in place. Perhaps the drive to lead a fulfilled life is a necessary expedient in order to make life livable, but is there a better alternative? No. So quit your complaining and own your life.
  • Angst only derives from accepting the Futility. Again, we make the necessary expedience to assert Thoreau’s maxim if alone by the sheer joy of experiencing as much as we can, but in so doing Angst has no weight.
  • Guilt is even easier to reject. Clearly, Guilt is a misinterpretation of the Lack presented to us by the  Grecian Urn. The distance between us a fulfillment is ever present, and is governed by the rules of the Urn – namely that the more of a fulfilled life we lead, the more we realize that we lack the ability to lead a fulfilled life. But the lesson is in the commitment to the journey’s pursuit of the ability to perceive over the end goal’s attainment. (Yeah, I’ll need to put a post on the Urn soon)

Boom, existential issues are easy to circumvent. Luke is in the flow.


Being Towards Death

But wait… let’s linger on this… clearly, this circumvention is not the case for many.

I wonder if comfort with death is central to these negations. Comfort in dying takes the wind out of the sails, touching the observation above that acceptance of death is a prerequisite for negating the pitfalls. With that comfort, the pitfalls become mere distractions.

The existentialists certainly believe the confrontation of death to be central to adapting to Existential beliefs. For me, I can comfortably say that I am ready to embrace death. Furthermore, I feel that the decision to die is a decision we must all have the ability, the right, and the courage to make – and not have it left to inevitability and pray that it is not made by caprice.

So I’m a bit strange in this way. I feel that I truly could accept death, but still resist its clutches if I so desire when confronted by it on a battlefield not of my own choosing. This strange balance and somewhat contradictory viewpoints gives me the tools to negate the distractions in the manner above.

Is there anything else? My gut is telling me yes, but I haven’t rooted it out just yet.


Solidification

Before leaving, I’d be remiss to what I am not immune to in pursuit of those maxims. Of irony, there is a far greater threat to putting the torpedo down the ventilation shaft, and it is an issue that the Existentialists surprisingly do not lament over (at least to making it a central tenet of struggle, noting Heidegger’s pursuit of authenticity). It’s the risk of not showing up in the first place. If Luke and his rebels are not fighting the fight to begin with, then the war is over before it began.

Not showing up can have several flavors:

  • Passivity
  • Stagnation’s slippery slope to Solidification.
  • Premature Cognitive Commitment

And what makes these pitfalls dangerous is that there is no emotional upswell to push you out of the sand trap. In fact, you don’t even know you are in the sand trap. Again, read the ExtraOrdinary life.

As such, they can only be addressed by putting in massive red flags triggered by religious defended and analytically unbiased litmus tests to assess your life-engagement level. Human biases alone will overwhelm self-assessment, and the inertia of life towards entropy and comfort is an inescapable and persistent force.

So there is plenty here to swim in, but not today. But it was important to get these out for completeness. Courage is not just needed in the wake of death, but in showing up relentlessly for life.


Morality

And finally, this was all set up to finally put a nail in the coffin of morality and ethics. But that will need to wait for another modicum as I am still sorting it out. Until then, I’m off to do my daily check to make sure I am hurtling down that corridor.

Inverse power

Phew! The last few modicums have been pretty heavy. And while I have reveled in the new post consciousness world, so too have I reached a point where the Modicums were not so … consumable much less filled with Checkov’s guns. So I’m dialing it back a bunch of notches for a bit to write on a couple of quicker ideas that have passed in the thought stream.

This week, I want to touch upon a peculiarity in social dynamics. I’m sure it is a well established dynamic, but I haven’t seen a name for it yet – and so I am calling it the Inverse Power Dynamic. It basically captures a social situation in which the person with all the “power” subservient themselves to those with less. It goes against everything my armchair behavioral economist soul believes to be true, as it runs counter to a normalization to an efficient marketplace, marketplace here being social interactions.

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Towers of Hanoi

This Modicum is an expansive one that attempts to close out a number of recent Modicums.

Context is everything when it comes to understanding a mindset, just like the above sentence helps prepare you for this Modicum. We are so subjective to the world view at any given moment, that it is almost humorous to think we can be anything but a mere byproduct of social thinking. In fact, this whole exercise of a Modicum of Thought is questionable: “Really? a modicum of thought that you hope might be original? Join the masses on the internet, for everyone is writing about the same thing.” Is it just coincidence that this post on the inner voice just went viral just a few weeks after dominating my own thoughts? Doubtful. And yet, I can’t point explicitly at any single common source that is the common instigation; it is the contextual upswell of thought in the world we live in; it is Heideggerian In-der-Welt-sein.

So context is everything, and our context is the world revealed after behavioral economists have destroyed the concept of the higher mind. In typical American style, we all view humanity as marching up a staircase, each generation building on the previous. But in a part II follow up to last week’s Modicum, I am beginning to view it in a different light that has been fascinating to see its consistency as I dive into the idea. Ultimately, it has given me a nice pretty ribbon and bow to wrap around three months of thinking. But… it is not what you may think, and to get there I need some visuals and a whole lot of patience from you, dear reader.

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Pascal Was On To Something

Broad sweeping generalizations to explain everything at once are the bane to all good deliberation and advancement, from philosophy to politics to science to well being. But.. my soul craves creating Grand Unified Theorems (GUT) at a biological level akin to the innate need to classify everything we see. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that I am searching for underlying perspectives that are – at least through analogy – able to provide understanding to all things of value.

I’ve held on to one such GUT – the Grecian Urn – that I really should capture in words one day. But this past week, I’ve been settling in to a new one that feels pretty cozy, like snuggling under a warm flannel blanket in a Portland winter day. And to understand it, we must begin with Pascal and a famous wager.

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Do Dogs Think?

Alright, yeah – I am back into thinking about consciousness. Ironically, this is as much due to reading The Social Animal as it is due to working my way through Heidegger’s Being and Time. This time, I promise to be short(er).

If you’ve read the last few Modicums, you’ll know that I’m increasingly of the mindset that the lower brain is the key to being human, and not the higher, conscious brain. And you’ll know that I view the lower brain has an extremely powerful Bayesian Estimator. That lower brain is free from language and the voice of the inner mind, and thus consciousness as we know it given our Cartesian world view. Finally, you’ll also know that I think of the inner voice and its stream of consciousness as a leftover farce that has taken over the show. This is a bit hard to swallow, so step through all those previous Modicums to catch up.

So that begs the question, if the Bayesian Estimator is what received much of the new brain cells during the homo genus evolutionary explosion, then perhaps the stream of consciousness portion of the mind may have already been there – and thus, other animals have it too. And thus further, the child-like question arises: Do Dogs Think? (And yes, this incredible photo was taken by Emerson!)

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DNA 2.0

In my heart, travelling beyond the solar system is our future generation’s manifest destiny. I hope that with every generation, we see it as not only our destiny but our obligation to expand beyond the confines of our own solar system.

And I hope that we never lose sight of this end goal for not just the human race, but for the end goal of life itself. I see it as more than just a destiny, but an obligation we owe to the universe for the creation of DNA in the first place.

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Thoughts That Won’t Go Away

Honestly, I thought I was done with tearing down scaffolding with last week’s post. It isn’t really that much fun to undermine core beliefs of how you view the world and yourself, and admittedly it’s pretty boring to read about it for others. Ha, maybe I should describe it as a wrecking ball, as that is much more fun to watch and honestly, that’s kind of what it feels like too.

For the past week, I’ve been making a concerted effort to rid myself of some unwanted thought patterns that keep popping into my head – do a bit of rewiring that is. One pattern is a reaction to challenging situations, another is a time consuming habit of mine that I just simply… well, want to take a wrecking ball too.

And once the wrecking ball came out, I began to naturally question, am I defined by my thoughts? and if not by thoughts, then by what? In the end, I have part two of last week’s Modicum.

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The Empty Driver’s Seat

It’s New Years (oh, Happy New Year and New Decade, sort of) and thus I’ve been a bit delinquent on sustained thought in lieu of friends, family, libations and well, skiing. So for this week’s Modicum (or as my eldest daughter calls it, “Adult Homework“), I thought I’d do a quick revisit of two passing comments in previous Modicums that touch upon an idea that is growing in my mind, threatening a flood. Or rather, perhaps the analogy is better suited to a sinkhole than an overflowing spring.

The passing comment was added humorously to the Modicum The Premise of a Big Goal – in which I owned up to having a driver seat view of the death spiral of suburban frenetic mundanity. Driver seat of course to own up to the fact that it was of my own making.

The quick quip has stuck with me for a while – which is always a sign that the lower, more intelligent brain is working away on something but is keeping the child of our conscious mind in the dark.

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Normalizing Danger

So I am standing there, at the top of a 36 foot tall extension ladder reaching over the roofline above the third story of my home. Yeah, modicum of thought be damned, for there are quite mundane gutters to be cleaned.

Sure, as I was climbing up the ladder, I jiggled each foot to ensure a solid and secure perch. The ladder swayed slightly, and the concrete ground took successive notches of increasing steps to smallness in my view downwards. The growing danger in each step was clear and an evident threat.

But here at the top, my arms stretch out over the roof line, and those gutters and shingles aren’t moving a bit. From my new view over the gutters, I am presented with a stable and consistent view, including all that mossy gunk that’s accumulated in the gutters.

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