Seeing Mars

September 10, 2003

This month, the red planet is visible in the southern sky from my driveway – and its become an old friend, for I see it every night when pulling the car into the garage. It shines like a gentle beacon down on my life. I will miss it when it finally leaves its post.

Mars does not look red, not to the naked eye, nor with looking glasses. But it is tinged with a hot character, unlike the cooler look of the other stars in the sky. So it is special and always will be.

In many ways, since it came into the night sky, my mood has become more reflective and sombre. But then, thats surely a coincidence. Academics are prone to data-snooping just as much as anyone else – just as psychologists are not immune to failings of the psyche. But there is nothing wrong with wishful thinking – my reading rate since Mars appeared has doubled, and I will wait and see if it drops off when Mars leaves!

But the arrival of Mars is a metaphor for life. Even though it occupies but a tiny fraction of the visible sky, it has made me look much more closely at a disproportionately large extent. It started me gazing, and even after looking long at Mars, there was so much to see. It is but a catalyst for engagement with the night sky. So it is with life – small things lead to much bigger things, well in excess of their sphere of immediate influence.

Mars is hope – nothing is insignificant – small things lead to much more. So keep looking, and don’t ignore what may be small details, for they are most meaningful.

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Is the “Best” always of interest?

September 7, 2003

I recently asked a young man I know well if he would be interested in going to see the “best” in the world perform, without knowing what area of endeavour I meant? The reply – “maybe”. What would you say if you were asked this question?

Would you go see the best tennis player in the world, even if you had no interest in tennis? Would you go to an Eminem concert even if you hated rap? I would, but I daresay many people would not. In all likelihood, the world splits into two groups, those that want to see tne best, no matter what, and the ‘maybes’.

There is no value judgement here, but it is interesting to ask why there is a difference. I believe it has to do with two reasons people go to a performance for: (a) the content of the performance, and (b) the pleasure in seeing an engaging performer. Admittedly, there are many team performances of outstanding quality, where no one single person can be singled out for greatness. These are lost on me. I would be happy however, to see an average performance, where the performer was thrillingly engaged. Without a doubt, these two aspects of a performance are highly correlated, and hence, it is not obvious that the distinction is always clearly made.

Therefore, asking the “best” question helps in finding out what kind of person someone is.