How to see

I have been a fan and follower of Edward Tufte’s work, and data visualization in general, since I was in graduate school, when I came across The Visual Display of Quantitative Information sharing a bookshelf with the textbooks in the condensed matter theory office suite at Penn State. I even got to attend his course when I was working in the DC area. By the way, if you have the chance to go sometime, do it. It was time well spent and all-around awesome!

Anyway, I wanted to share an interesting parallel that I noticed between his current book/film project, The Thinking Eye, which is about how to see and reason about what one sees, and yoga. If this sounds like a spurious connection, bear with me for a few more lines. Your patience will pay off.

Tufte and Seeing

In 2013, Tufte was interviewed on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, where he discussed, among other things, “seeing”. Here’s some of what he had to say:

“Well, first, it’s about how to see, intensely, this bright-eyed observing curiosity. And then what follows after that is reasoning about what one sees, and asking: What’s going on here? And in that reasoning, intensely, it involves also a skepticism about one’s own understanding. The thinking eye must always ask: How do I know that? That’s probably the most powerful question of all time. How do you know that?”

“And so the seeing right then is being transformed into information, into thinking, right as that step from the retina to the brain. And the brain is really busy, and it likes to economize. And so it’s quick to be active and jump to conclusions. So if you’re told what to look for, you can’t see anything else. So one thing is to see, in a way, without words.”

Seeing and Yoga

The seeing that Tufte is talking about, when directed inward, becomes a powerful process of self-transformation and a powerful way to strengthen your mind.

In Yoga, much has been said about the importance of bring your attentiveness to its peak, and of what sort of things will happen when your can direct your attention towards something, without a break. In this direction, yogi and mystic Sadhguru has said:

“The only reason why someone is a mystic and someone is not, is lack of attention. Someone is an artist, someone is not. Why? Lack of attention. Someone can shoot straight and someone cannot. Why? Lack of attention. From the simplest to the highest things, it is just lack of attention.” (Isha Blog, 2013)

“This is the basis of yoga. There is no corner in the universe that will not yield to you if you know how to pay attention to it… It is only a question of the depth of your attention.”

Last October, Sadhguru was speaking to a large group of business leaders about attention being the key to success in their endeavors. Here’s an excellent Youtube video from the conference (Insight: The DNA of Success) where this topic is covered: 

When I’m teaching Hatha Yoga classes, I often emphasize the importance of visualizing yourself getting into and out of a given posture, especially those that you aren’t able to fully get into. There are several reasons for this, one of which is because it increases your ability to pay attention. But, instead of focusing on something external, your gaze is turned inward as you (try to) see yourself in each asana in as much detail as possible. Does that sound easy? Let’s do an experiment.

Hold up one of your hands. Take one minute and look at it. See it clearly. Now, close your eyes and visualize your hand in as much detail as possible. See it millimeter by millimeter. Can you see it? We’ve looked at our hands countless times in our lives, but we can’t visualize it so well. Instead, let’s start with something simpler, like a pen, or even better, draw a line segment on a sheet of paper. Take about five minutes and look at each part of the line, from one end to the other. Look at every point. See it in as much detail as possible. When you can close your eyes and can see the line clearly, then you can move on to the pen. Once you can recreate the pen in your mind, then you’re ready to move on to other things, like your hand. If you work at this, your ability to see will increase by leaps and bounds.

College: The best years of your life?

They say that college will be the best four years of your life. I always thought that was a rather depressing statement. Doesn’t that sort of thinking mean it’s all going to be downhill after college? Don’t get me wrong, college was great. I met some wonderful people, took some great classes, and learned a lot. But it wasn’t close to being the best four years of my life.

After college, I realized what kind of person I want to be. Since then, each moment has been a step in that direction, so long as I maintain focus on what’s important to me, with unwavering attention. Since then, my experience of life has been greater than I would have thought possible, that’s even taking painful events into account, like losing loved ones.

2015 Goals

Image courtesy of BOSS FIGHT.
Image courtesy of BOSS FIGHT.

As part of the 10 Days to a Better Blog workshop I wanted to revisit my goals for the year. I’ve never thought about what I wanted to accomplish in the year before. At least not concretely. A few weeks ago, I posted about what I want from 2015, but writing about the goals for this blog a few days ago has me wanting to look at my goals in more depth, not just the what, but the why.

I have four priorities for the year and several other things that I want to do. The priorities are to spend more time with my wife, intensify my practice of yoga, teach at least one public yoga class every month and a half, and write even better code at work.

Priorities

Spend more time with my wife

Spending more one-on-one time with my wife is one of the most important things that I want to do this year. Sharing our lives together has been such a beautiful experience these that I want to make sure I don’t shortchange our time together as I march towards making my goals a reality.

My wife and I do date nights sometimes, but we have a tendency to let the regularity of those taper off as our schedules fill up. I want us to do a date night every two weeks. I also want us to take a small trip at least once a year. Just us, not visiting family or friends. This is more important than usual since we’re both aiming to accomplish and do more this year than ever before.

Intensify my yoga practices

I practice for a few hours each day, which makes juggling yoga, work, play, and spending time with my wife challenging at times. Now that I’m teaching Isha Hatha Yoga, deepening my own practice is more important than ever. To that end, every three months I want to take three or four days off to focus exclusively on my own practice. It will make a big difference in all aspects of my life.

Teach at least one public yoga class each month

Practicing Isha Yoga transformed how I experience life and led me to my wife. (Rhyming is unintentional). Practicing Isha Hatha Yoga has been transforming my body and is steadily bring it to state of phenomenal ease. My body isn’t an obstacle anymore, it cooperates with me no matter what I wish to do. Since it’s worked so well for me and many others, I’m willing to share it with whomever wishes to learn. I figure that teaching a public class every six weeks is sustainable with my already working a fulltime job.

Other goals

Do something fun and challenging with Clojure

In 2013, I started working on a Clojure library for learning probabilistic graphical models (PGMs), Watershed. I’d like to work on it some more and get it to the point where it can be used for a variety of PGMs. Also, working on it was so much fun. I’ve got a list of things to add to it, including a few additional probability distributions and Bayesian Networks for a user to play with out of the box. I also want to make it easy for a user to roll their own PGM.

I also want to play with Onyx, which is a distributed computation system in Clojure. It looks interesting and powerful and could be quite useful at work.

Learn deep and shallow learning

I really want to dive into these topics but haven’t been able to make the time. It’s been very much on the back burner for the past year.

Spend more time outdoors

Mustn’t spend too much time with my computer. I’ve lost count of the number of times where I go to the office and don’t go outside until it’s time to go home. So I want to get outdoors a little more frequently.

Lastly, I want to keep in better contact with out-of-town friends, finish learning Swift, and work on my iOS app.

Now, how to track progress? Most of these goals are pass/fail. I either do these things or I don’t. I’ll keep a checklist of them all though. It will be fun to check things off as the days pass.