Testing the Waters

Blind Lunch
One day when I was walking around Florence I chanced upon a store-front window, looked in and saw a man and a woman having lunch together. That was all—one table, two chairs, two people eating lunch. By the door was a sign directing the reader to a website where I subsequently read the following message (translated from the Italian):

Sharing a private moment with a stranger, it means giving up the surprise, let go and let himself be invaded. Blind Lunch takes place within a window, the only boundary that separates the public from the private sector, which faces directly onto the street. The space is transformed into a cozy and intimate with a central dining table, a meeting point where two people unknown to each other, eat a meal together.

Fancy that, I thought. Wouldn’t it be amusing, perhaps even interesting, to give it a try? I sent an email (in English) to the indicated address expressing my interest and never heard a word in reply.

Experimenting Society
A note from the Web a while ago: Today Vermont is set to make history by becoming the first state in the nation to offer universal, single-payer healthcare when Gov. Peter Shumlin signs its healthcare reform bill into law. The Vermont plan, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will attempt to stem rising medical care prices and provide universal coverage... Dr. Deb Richter, president of Vermont Health Care for All … moved from Buffalo, New York, to Vermont in 1999 to advocate for a universal, single-payer healthcare system in the state. Gov. Shumlin calls her the “backbone” of the grassroots effort that helped persuade the Democratic-led state legislature to pass the bill this spring.

Here is an example of an experimenting society at its best. First try something new on a small scale. Then evaluate the results. If the outcome is positive, continue with the program. If it isn’t, try something different. This approach is easy to do when applied to limited number of people. Making changes, as well as mistakes is less risky in small groups or organizations. I have found that to be the case whenever I have observed the origin of significant social changes. The smaller the country, state or academic setting, the easier it is to experiment with change and then in light of its effects, decide whether or not to apply it on a larger scale.

Study Thyself
Reading a book isn’t quite as simple as it used to be. Now a reader is given a choice, print version, Kindle, iPad1 or iPad2, Nook, or mobile phone. It is rather like going to the market to get some cereal where you find yourself confronted with one long shelf above another of a countless number of choices. In the Times last week Nick Bilton describes the way he went about deciding how to read a book. He writes,

“This might not sound so extraordinary, but I didn’t just read a book in print, on an e-reader or even a mobile phone. Instead I read a book on dozens of devices….I wanted to answer a question I often hear: which e-reader or tablet is the best for reading books?”

The book he selected was The Alienist by Caleb Carr and he read sections of it on eleven (11) different devices plus “a crumply old print paperback.” The gadgets included the Kindle, the Google Nexus S Android phone, the iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy Tablet, the iPads (1 & 2), the Nook and laptop computer. For each device he describes its desirable and undesirable features.

A single person trying various approaches by themselves (self-experiments) or with one other individual (single subject research) often leads to important discoveries in science. Examples include Herman Ebbinghaus on memory, Freud on the unconscious, and Albert Hoffman on psychedelic drugs. While Bilton was far from doing scientific research he was going about the decision on how best to read a book by doing a little “experiment” on himself.

While he says reading the paperback version of the novel was frustrating because he couldn’t easily look up things as he could on his iPhone, in the end, he concluded to my immense pleasure, “But if money is tight, go for print. My used paperback cost only $4.” Not only that but he could mark it up any old way he liked.