Wednesday, May 19, 2010


SANTA FE BRIMS WITH BRAINPOWER! So attractive is this city to the brainy that PHDs will work as waiters just to BE here. Perhaps the greatest of all think tanks--The Santa Fe Institute operates here. Bush and I once dropped in on a local lecture--who should be speaking but Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize winner, discoverer of the quark. (what the universe is made of) Ironically, the city is also awash in New Age fluffery. Strange bedfellows but it seems to work. It's an insiders town--tough to penetrate culturally. But I had an "IN"--my friend Bushrod--connected me some time ago with the philosophers club, which lead to an invitation to speak to the Unitarians, and again this trip to a group called Journey. That's me all miked up in a small auditorium waxing eloquent on the topic of Whitman and mystical experience. Three very big brains are seated on the right. Of course I'm anxious to engage all three.

And somehow, I managed---here's Bushrod on the left and Chris--head computer geek for Los Alamos Labratory (now retired)on the right. His expertise ranges far beyond computers, however, to politics, literature, love and what constitutes the good life. I had an hour or so to pick his brain. Note the everpresent note cards and pen in my pocket.

I've forgotten what he was explaining here--but when he speaks the whole room listens. I watched him moderate a roomful of philosophers with utmost kindness and effectiveness. How is it that some personalities get so polished in a single lifetime?

This is Jim--another Big Brain kind enough to have lunch with me. He began as an electrical engineer and expanded in several directions---Inventor of a new kind of building material (paper and concrete --house currently being lived in) ---took me to lunch in his self-built electric car---delivers erudite papers on arcane aspects of physics ---but most interesting to me is his (and others) project to re-invent----the church??--no that's not quite it---it's all the good things a church could deliver if it left off the doctrine and superstition and power structure to focus on creative connection and evolving values. Check it out for yourself:

Now I will answer my title question--How to engage a big brain? ASK FASCINATING QUESTIONS. It's a skill worth developing---I have worked on it since that embarassing day in high school when a cute lady said hi to me and stuck around for more---I did not know how to carry a conversation forward and after an awkward silence she drifted away--opportunity lost.


Jim in his shop--look at that complicated gizmo on his workbench.

Asking the right questions uncovered a surprising hobby--writing poetry--he shared some with me. Good stuff--direct--undefensive.

My third Big Brain interview--Bushrod--this one is years long and ongoing. We knew each other in New Orleans 20 plus years ago. Teacher, furniture maker, philosopher--lives in quiet solitude at the end of a road in a house built mostly by himself. His genius is to envision very large projects in a general way---- then in thousands of tiny steps---let the general vision become a specific reality. His house was 15 years in the unfolding--isn't done yet---has built a great shop--hot tub, sauna and his own electric car.
He lives at an effortless pace, building all the furniture and cabinetry in his house--a tiny bit at a time. After 15 years, he's almost ready to paint the exterior.

His veranda-- birds and rabbits come here early and stay late.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Big brains are inspirational people who have polished their intellect. They represent about 2 percent of the population. It is not the data in their heads (an encyclopedia has more) that sets them apart, but a curiosity that feeds on itself , drawing them ever deeper into the mystery of life---stimulating an urge to understand-- and parlay that understanding into contribution. To draw benefit from them, you need not impress them with your wisdom---only ask them fascinating questions. For a clearer picture of such individuals click here:


Steve said...

Hi Randy,

Ok, here's the deal. I happen to consider you a big brain type. Not in the same vein as those you speak of here. I mean it in the sense that you're not bound by a conventional lifestyle.

Having said that ... I'm currently taking steps to "win my freedom" as you put it. I will be out there soon enough. I'm hoping that our paths will meet someplace and I'll get a chance to engage you for your story for a change.


Randy said...

Thank you Steve and you will be welcome to the wonderful world of vagabondage--a reality as wonderful as the fantasy--I've found. Yes--let's do cross paths--I love to exchange stories and tips.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting group of thinkers and speakers. I'm curious, how many of these thinkers have you heard speak from the podium? Question #2, which do you find more informative, their podium talks or direct conversations with them?


Randy said...

Anonymous: I've not heard either of them give a formal lecture. I did participate in the philosophy forum which was led by Chris.
re: the 2nd question--easy answer--by far I would prefer a one on one interview---get to ask precisely what interest me and follow conversational "leads" to the most interesting corners of their brain. They do me the most good when I listen skillfully enough to see for a time the world through their eyes.

Dixxe's Doodles said...

Thinking is a wonderful art...I enjoy a good debate and always when the product of necessity ends with invention. I regret that my travels will not take me as far north as Denver..only to Basalt/Snowmass. Tonight Im trying to stay out of the wind in the slightly run down town of Winslow. I hope to visit the crater tomorrow weather and sand storms permitting.

Su said...

Randy, I guess you've already migrated to Denver. I used to live there. Am currently just south of Pagosa Springs being camp host at a small RV park. I enjoyed this post on Big Brains. I once tried to find my way into Santa Fe, professionally as well as physically. Got lost and couldn't find my way into downtown. AND I didn't get to make any contacts. Guess it wasn't meant to be!!!

Sun said...

Hi Randy,

I've just recently started following your blog and I'm curious: What happened to your old rig (the featherlight I believe)? Have you ever posted a how-to guide on how to best optimize a cargo trailer?
I'm interested in learning but not really sure where to start. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.



Randy said...

Hi Sun: And welcome to my world. In the fullness of time perhaps I will get a glimpse of yours.
I sold the Stealth Trailer to a guy in Phoenix---often I miss it as it towed much easier and I loved the wide open barn doors in the rear.
My advice is that of Joseph Campbell (Hero of a thousand faces): Follow youe bliss---find out what thrills you and do that. I would add that I did small experiments with myself to help discover my bliss. (comfortable mobility, freedom, creative expression)
If this lifestyle or any part of it draws you--why not try some small experiments with yourself to see what "blisses" you. I started by camping in my car--removed 3 seats, platformed in a bed--engineered screens for the windows, got a small stove and hit the road for the summer. Really enjopyed myself--went on from there. Google for a host of good idea. Randy