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The Human Mesocosm
Posted: 28 December 2011 06:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I don’t know if it has to do with being in the tail-end of a mid-life crisis (I’m 52 at the moment) or just the pursuit of something that has been on my mind for a number of years, but for reasons I cannot completely rationally explain, I recently bought a motorcycle.  I had had maybe 15 untrained hours total riding on friends bikes in my youth, so I am basically leaning from the beginning again.

I am really glad I took this fork in the road for a number of reasons, one nice benefit is I decided to read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ which turned out to be an excellent book on Philosophy..but getting to the point of mesocosm (new term to me)... I am now reading a surprising jewl of a book called “The Upper Half of the Motorcycle—on the unity of rider and machine, by Bernet Spiegel”.  The author is German and it has only recently been translated to English.

I can tell from the first chapter Spiegle is a serious thinker in general, and he has spent a considerable amount of time applying that thinking to what is involved in operating a motorcycle.  As an example his first chapter is focused on Evolution of our species and and why we can ride a motorcycle at all.  In a discussion about some of our human limiting factors he points out motorcyclists are not naturally able to process the difference between running into something at 20 km/h (our top running speed) and 200 km/h.  The difference in impact can easily be calculated by someone who knows basic physics, but evolution did not provide us the ability to instinctively understand how much different those two impacts will be to our bodies, even with protective gear.

From Spiegle’s book:

The concept of mesocosm plays an important role in the in evolutionary epistemology, which is a rather recent development in philosophy.  The theory describes the human’s mesocosm as that particular segment of the world to which he spontaneously orients himself; or more precisely, “that section of the world he recognizes without artificial assistance, and that he can process by means of reconstruction and identification” (Vollmer 1985, 1986).

In all areas, the human mesocosm covers only the mid-ranges of dimensions that are meaningful (that is, important for survival) for us in our developmental history, and nothing more.  Thus, in terms of the speed of one’s own locomotion, the human mesocosm reaches only a far as the speed of a fast runner (a sprinter might even be beyond the limit!); in terms of acceleration, it reaches as far as the acceleration of gravity; in terms of weight, it extends from fractions of a gram to about a thousand pounds; in terms of temperature, it extends from freezing to …

I’m going to move from motorcycles and say that reading this section nudged me towards understanding a bit more what I think is the biggest limitation to Subjective Philosophy:  It is limited to the mesocosm and denies there are moral domains that require us to look outside it.  One of many criticisms Derek Parfit has with Subjective Theories is they have a bias for the near.  Another way I’ll put it is Subjective Philosophy provides few answers outside the mesocosm.  For instance, subjective theories are unable to provide answers for morality on a large scale that includes the impartial point of view and macro issues like over-population and resource destruction and resource depletion which are issues outside our mesocosm.

[ Edited: 28 December 2011 06:15 PM by Jeff M ]
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Posted: 28 December 2011 08:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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You might also enjoy Roland Omnés book Quantum Philosophy.  Very well written and readable.  He goes into something similar in discussing how many of the basic principles assumed in philosophy fail in the quantum realm, bring up the question of why they seem to be valid in the mesocosm.

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Posted: 29 December 2011 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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burt - 28 December 2011 08:59 PM

You might also enjoy Roland Omnés book Quantum Philosophy.  Very well written and readable.  He goes into something similar in discussing how many of the basic principles assumed in philosophy fail in the quantum realm, bring up the question of why they seem to be valid in the mesocosm.

Sounds interesting.  I’ll give it a whirl.  My initial reaction is that most Science (relativity and basic physics for example) fail in the quantum realm, but I am likely missing his point.  It will be interesting to see how he does the comparison.

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“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake.  We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real.  We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides.”

-Jacob Bronowski

“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Posted: 29 December 2011 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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That got me thinking, in ‘The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris’ he brings up the point that humans have a hard time understanding the difference between the level of travesty of war killing a single person and large scale genocide.  I see now that genocide is outside our mesocosm.  I think he also made the point that it is typical for someone to prefer to give to an organization that tells you the money is for helping a single child, rather than many.

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“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake.  We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real.  We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides.”

-Jacob Bronowski

“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Posted: 29 December 2011 08:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Jeff M - 28 December 2011 06:03 PM

... one nice benefit is I decided to read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ which turned out to be an excellent book on Philosophy ...


I doubt many philosophers of science (or frankly very rigorous philosophers at all) would agree with you on that one. Personally, I set the thing down for good about 50 pages or so in, about the third or fourth blatant fallacy, that being the notion that perception = reality, and reality doesn’t exist apart from our perception of it. It seemed to me the author was heavily influenced by his faulty neurochemistry, quite frankly.

I’ll ask a couple of philosophy prof friends of mine if they’ve written anything on the book, but this article covers it pretty well in any case:

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inappreciation

[ Edited: 29 December 2011 08:54 AM by SkepticX ]
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Posted: 29 December 2011 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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SkepticX - 29 December 2011 08:52 AM
Jeff M - 28 December 2011 06:03 PM

... one nice benefit is I decided to read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ which turned out to be an excellent book on Philosophy ...


I doubt many philosophers of science (or frankly very rigorous philosophers at all) would agree with you on that one. Personally, I set the thing down for good about 50 pages or so in, about the third or fourth blatant fallacy, that being the notion that perception = reality, and reality doesn’t exist apart from our perception of it. It seemed to me the author was heavily influenced by his faulty neurochemistry, quite frankly.

I’ll ask a couple of philosophy prof friends of mine if they’ve written anything on the book, but this article covers it pretty well in any case:

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inappreciation

I did not view it as a life altering book or anything and I disagreed with a number of his points as well.  The thing I related to most is how all that constant deep thinking drove him mad.  It is definitely mentally helpful to put the philosophy books down for a month or two from time to time.  Oh yeah, and motorcycles are cool.

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“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake.  We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real.  We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides.”

-Jacob Bronowski

“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Posted: 29 December 2011 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Jeff M - 29 December 2011 08:40 AM

That got me thinking, in ‘The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris’ he brings up the point that humans have a hard time understanding the difference between the level of travesty of war killing a single person and large scale genocide.  I see now that genocide is outside our mesocosm.  I think he also made the point that it is typical for someone to prefer to give to an organization that tells you the money is for helping a single child, rather than many.

In the past relatively few decades, we have for the first time in human history been bombarded daily with information from outside our mesocosm.  Most people used to live and die within a few miles of where they were born, and rarely did they receive news of what was going on over the next mountain range.  Now, we all know instantly what is going on in Iran, in Brazil, in Australia. This is much more information than we can actually care about. The information age, in my opinion, is actually causing us to become more and more calloused to the things outside our own mesocosm.  We just can’t handle being concerned about that much, yet we are subjected to information about those things daily. We build up walls, scar tissue, to keep from being emotionally overcome by events thousands of miles away and totally out of our control. I think it’s even becoming easier for us to accept the deaths of large numbers of people without it even registering on our emotional scale. A billion people could die in India or China in August, and by the end of the year we would be more concerned about who’s going to win the Super Bowl in February.

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Posted: 29 December 2011 09:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Jeff M - 29 December 2011 08:40 AM

That got me thinking, in ‘The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris’ he brings up the point that humans have a hard time understanding the difference between the level of travesty of war killing a single person and large scale genocide.  I see now that genocide is outside our mesocosm.  I think he also made the point that it is typical for someone to prefer to give to an organization that tells you the money is for helping a single child, rather than many.

I think that just shows that we have limited energy (for lack of a better word) that connects us more to the singular/personal then the plural/impersonal.

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Posted: 29 December 2011 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Jeff M - 29 December 2011 09:09 AM
SkepticX - 29 December 2011 08:52 AM
Jeff M - 28 December 2011 06:03 PM

... one nice benefit is I decided to read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ which turned out to be an excellent book on Philosophy ...


I doubt many philosophers of science (or frankly very rigorous philosophers at all) would agree with you on that one. Personally, I set the thing down for good about 50 pages or so in, about the third or fourth blatant fallacy, that being the notion that perception = reality, and reality doesn’t exist apart from our perception of it. It seemed to me the author was heavily influenced by his faulty neurochemistry, quite frankly.

I’ll ask a couple of philosophy prof friends of mine if they’ve written anything on the book, but this article covers it pretty well in any case:

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inappreciation

I did not view it as a life altering book or anything and I disagreed with a number of his points as well.  The thing I related to most is how all that constant deep thinking drove him mad.  It is definitely mentally helpful to put the philosophy books down for a month or two from time to time.  Oh yeah, and motorcycles are cool.


I was very disappointed in it (obviously). I was enjoying the story, sans the pseudo-philosophical ramblings—Pirsig is a good writer—and after reading each blatant fallacy I recall expecting the correction and explanation of the error, that being the lesson (given the book’s reputation as a philosophical treatise). After that correction failed to appear the second time, I recall thinking I’d give Pirsig one more chance ... could be he was trying to make some oblique point, or the corrections were coming later or something ... so on the third epic fallacy I put it down and looked into it online instead of putting the time in to find out if it ever corrected its course. I may crack it open again one of these days and just consider the pseudo-philosophical ramblings studies on schizophrenia.

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Posted: 29 December 2011 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Ecurb Noselrub - 29 December 2011 09:10 AM
Jeff M - 29 December 2011 08:40 AM

That got me thinking, in ‘The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris’ he brings up the point that humans have a hard time understanding the difference between the level of travesty of war killing a single person and large scale genocide.  I see now that genocide is outside our mesocosm.  I think he also made the point that it is typical for someone to prefer to give to an organization that tells you the money is for helping a single child, rather than many.

In the past relatively few decades, we have for the first time in human history been bombarded daily with information from outside our mesocosm.  Most people used to live and die within a few miles of where they were born, and rarely did they receive news of what was going on over the next mountain range.  Now, we all know instantly what is going on in Iran, in Brazil, in Australia. This is much more information than we can actually care about. The information age, in my opinion, is actually causing us to become more and more calloused to the things outside our own mesocosm.  We just can’t handle being concerned about that much, yet we are subjected to information about those things daily. We build up walls, scar tissue, to keep from being emotionally overcome by events thousands of miles away and totally out of our control. I think it’s even becoming easier for us to accept the deaths of large numbers of people without it even registering on our emotional scale. A billion people could die in India or China in August, and by the end of the year we would be more concerned about who’s going to win the Super Bowl in February.

I believe the thrust of what you are saying is true.  We have reached 7 billion people and growing.  I believe our biggest challenge as a spices will be coming to terms that our little views within our mesocosm do not provide ready answers for for our larger issues we are faced with.  Nature does not care if we can’t see past out mesocosm and will not give us a pass if we screw up the life giving ecosystems that we rely on.  I believe we need to put in place objective systems based on science, education and global human dignity (with lots of family planning) with an eye for multi-generational survival.  Quality of life within the limits the earth can sustain.  We need to understand our individual human limitations so they cannot be pandered to by those afraid of change.  Ending the current reign of Subjective Theories in Philosophy is one area to work on, those theories have no answers for today’s problems.

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“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake.  We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real.  We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides.”

-Jacob Bronowski

“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Posted: 29 December 2011 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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SkepticX - 29 December 2011 11:55 AM
Jeff M - 29 December 2011 09:09 AM
SkepticX - 29 December 2011 08:52 AM
Jeff M - 28 December 2011 06:03 PM

... one nice benefit is I decided to read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ which turned out to be an excellent book on Philosophy ...


I doubt many philosophers of science (or frankly very rigorous philosophers at all) would agree with you on that one. Personally, I set the thing down for good about 50 pages or so in, about the third or fourth blatant fallacy, that being the notion that perception = reality, and reality doesn’t exist apart from our perception of it. It seemed to me the author was heavily influenced by his faulty neurochemistry, quite frankly.

I’ll ask a couple of philosophy prof friends of mine if they’ve written anything on the book, but this article covers it pretty well in any case:

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inappreciation

I did not view it as a life altering book or anything and I disagreed with a number of his points as well.  The thing I related to most is how all that constant deep thinking drove him mad.  It is definitely mentally helpful to put the philosophy books down for a month or two from time to time.  Oh yeah, and motorcycles are cool.


I was very disappointed in it (obviously). I was enjoying the story, sans the pseudo-philosophical ramblings—Pirsig is a good writer—and after reading each blatant fallacy I recall expecting the correction and explanation of the error, that being the lesson (given the book’s reputation as a philosophical treatise). After that correction failed to appear the second time, I recall thinking I’d give Pirsig one more chance ... could be he was trying to make some oblique point, or the corrections were coming later or something ... so on the third epic fallacy I put it down and looked into it online instead of putting the time in to find out if it ever corrected its course. I may crack it open again one of these days and just consider the pseudo-philosophical ramblings studies on schizophrenia.

I don’t want to ruin the book for you, but most of it is him struggling to regain his memories for a reason I will not spoil for you.  I am sure if I re-read the book and wrote down every insight I thought was spot-on and somewhat enlightening I could come up with at least 20 or so.  Not bad for a best seller.  At first his thoughts are scattered, but toward the end he manages to work them in to a basic thesis on “what is quality”.  I don’t have the energy to describe the extent to which explores the question the drove him mad, but I for one appreciated his monumental effort, even if I have not personally explored the subject enough to feel comfortable judging it.  In a nutshell he concluded quality is not an individual property that is completely different for technology, literature and the arts, but a separate single entity in nature through which all our works are ultimately measured.  He tries to argue that quality is is the same thing as Plato’s Good and Zen’s Buddha.  I really do not have the background in Plato or Zen to judge his thesis, but I did find worth the time I spent reading it.  I do see some correlations between Prisig’s quality and Parfit’s objective truth that I will paraphrase as ‘out there in nature shining down like the Sun’.

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“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake.  We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real.  We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides.”

-Jacob Bronowski

“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Posted: 29 December 2011 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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SkepticX:

I agree with the guy who wrote the review you linked about Prisig’s lame attempt at moral relativity with Indians and Ghosts, but that was a small conversation in a long book. I disagree with the links author that Prisig’s main thesis “seems to be that the idea of Western philosophy and science is erroneous and harmful; they should be subsumed by Pirsig’s idea that owes much to Asian philosophy, religion and mysticism.”  Like I said in the previous post, my take is his main thesis was something like: quality is a separate entity in nature from which our works are ultimately measured.  His problem with science, consumerism, Western Philosophy (and mysticism btw) is he believes they have undermined peoples understanding of quality.  I have no idea if that is an original thesis or not, but I find it interesting.

[ Edited: 29 December 2011 07:51 PM by Jeff M ]
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“Dream or nightmare, we have to live our experience as it is, and we have to live it awake.  We live in a world which is penetrated through and through by science and which is both whole and real.  We cannot turn it into a game simply by taking sides.”

-Jacob Bronowski

“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Posted: 29 December 2011 09:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Jeff M - 29 December 2011 07:49 PM

SkepticX:

I agree with the guy who wrote the review you linked about Prisig’s lame attempt at moral relativity with Indians and Ghosts, but that was a small conversation in a long book. I disagree with the links author that Prisig’s main thesis “seems to be that the idea of Western philosophy and science is erroneous and harmful; they should be subsumed by Pirsig’s idea that owes much to Asian philosophy, religion and mysticism.”  Like I said in the previous post, my take is his main thesis was something like: quality is a separate entity in nature from which our works are ultimately measured.  His problem with science, consumerism, Western Philosophy (and mysticism btw) is he believes they have undermined peoples understanding of quality.  I have no idea if that is an original thesis or not, but I find it interesting.

Quality and craftsmanship.  In a consumer driven society you’ve got pressure to provide the cheapest product you can because overall people are being conditioned and brainwashed into buying in quantity so they can afford only so much for any given item.  Quality costs more so if you go for quality, unless you’ve got lots of money, you can’t buy as much.  I’ve noticed certain brands of clothing that I once found sturdy, long lasting, and high quality have degenerated into stuff that wears out in a season.  This is a degenerative case of the dialectical law of quantity and quality.

[ Edited: 29 December 2011 10:05 PM by burt ]
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Posted: 30 December 2011 07:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Ecurb Noselrub - 29 December 2011 09:10 AM
Jeff M - 29 December 2011 08:40 AM

That got me thinking, in ‘The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris’ he brings up the point that humans have a hard time understanding the difference between the level of travesty of war killing a single person and large scale genocide.  I see now that genocide is outside our mesocosm.  I think he also made the point that it is typical for someone to prefer to give to an organization that tells you the money is for helping a single child, rather than many.

In the past relatively few decades, we have for the first time in human history been bombarded daily with information from outside our mesocosm.  Most people used to live and die within a few miles of where they were born, and rarely did they receive news of what was going on over the next mountain range.  Now, we all know instantly what is going on in Iran, in Brazil, in Australia. This is much more information than we can actually care about. The information age, in my opinion, is actually causing us to become more and more calloused to the things outside our own mesocosm.  We just can’t handle being concerned about that much, yet we are subjected to information about those things daily. We build up walls, scar tissue, to keep from being emotionally overcome by events thousands of miles away and totally out of our control. I think it’s even becoming easier for us to accept the deaths of large numbers of people without it even registering on our emotional scale. A billion people could die in India or China in August, and by the end of the year we would be more concerned about who’s going to win the Super Bowl in February.

That has been termed “privitization” referring to that tendency to screen out the deluge of data and focus on just that which immediately impacts person.

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Posted: 30 December 2011 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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burt - 29 December 2011 09:46 PM

. . . In a consumer driven society you’ve got pressure to provide the cheapest product you can because overall people are being conditioned and brainwashed into buying in quantity so they can afford only so much for any given item.  Quality costs more so if you go for quality, unless you’ve got lots of money, you can’t buy as much.  I’ve noticed certain brands of clothing that I once found sturdy, long lasting, and high quality have degenerated into stuff that wears out in a season.  This is a degenerative case of the dialectical law of quantity and quality.

Burt, would you say though that lots of quality improvements can also be seen today? Materials science has allowed for lighter-weight cars, for instance. And computerized monitoring has resulted in more efficiency and less smoke.

I wish I had more time to contribute here these days, but with almost 3 weeks off school, the kids require more attention than usual, which is intense to say the least. (A rare year-end report from me should be in your e-mail box soon.)

Also, to the general subject of the human mesocosm, it seems to me that things are not so cut-and-dried as they might appear. Humans seem to have no end of ability to extrapolate nature’s trickiness by way of worry and obsession. The older I get, for instance, the slower I go when driving across a long bridge, especially if I’m on motorcycle. The more I think about it, the more frightening a bridge such as the Richmond Bridge in the S.F. Bay area becomes. The Golden Gate and Bay bridges remain no problem for me because the edges are not so apparent as on the Richmond.

Also, some of my most frightful moments in memory are of riding a motorcycle in heavy wind with quick-moving traffic just north of The G.G. Bridge where you plow through the curvy hills of southern Marin. Nothing in my memory has caused me to feel so exposed to the possibility of death.

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Posted: 30 December 2011 10:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Jeff M - 28 December 2011 06:03 PM

I don’t know if it has to do with being in the tail-end of a mid-life crisis (I’m 52 at the moment) or just the pursuit of something that has been on my mind for a number of years, but for reasons I cannot completely rationally explain, I recently bought a motorcycle.

What kind of motorcycle?

It’s not just my interest in motorcycles that prompts the question. I think the kind of motorcycle you bought will shed light on the nature of your mid-life crisis. A cruiser, like Fonzie had? A sport bike that goes 200 mph? A touring bike, for escaping the dreary monotony of your home life if only for a weekend at a time? A dirt bike, like all the young kids have?

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Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

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