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I Am Just A Story I Tell Myself?

May 25, 2011

I attended a conference at the New York Academy of Science (co-presented by the Nour Foundation) entitled Who Am I?: Beyond ‘I Think, Therefore I Am’. It was interesting and enlightening, if not at all congruous to my own interpretation of self and its existence.

The panelists were:

  • Elie During, PhD, University of Paris – Currently an Associate Professor of Philosophy at his alma mater, Elie’s focus is ostensibly on “exploring the notion of spacetime at the juncture of metaphysics, science, and aesthetics, where the durations of mind and matter seem to intersect”. This sounds fascinating, however little of that was brought forth at the conference and his ideology seemed more focused on ethics and morality than the more esoteric sounding theme of his research.
  • David A. Jopling, DPhil, York University – David is an Associate Professor at York University and his research includes “the philosophy of psychology and psychiatry, early modern philosophy, and cognitive science”.
  • Frances Kamm, PhD – Frances is a professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at Harvard University. Her work focuses on the study of ethics and morality through impossible-to-replicate thought experiments intended to flesh out what appear to be absolute moral values.
  • Timothy D. Wilson, PhD, University of Michigan – Timothy is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. He  studies, among other things, the difficulties and pitfalls of introspection and has written on what he terms the adaptive unconscious – an aspect of ourselves which is involved in lightning fast judgment and higher-level decision making which is completely unknowable.

The general theme of the evening’s discussion was summed up by the panelists’ responses to an audience member’s question which made the proposition that seeking to know one’s self and to explore one’s inner world is one of the more interesting pursuits in life. The panelists (Frances and Timothy in particular) dismissed this outright. Frances exclaimed that knowing the cure for cancer is knowledge she preferred to have over knowledge of her self and the conversation closed with the agreement that if you are happy and content with your life, then there is nothing and no reason to engage in introspection and no real knowledge to be gained from self exploration.

This entire conversation came across as very Western, instrumentalist, and in many ways contrary to what it appears many people intuitively think and feel. What I found very interesting about the tone and direction of the dialogue was the, for lack of a better word, narrow-mindedness of the panelists. Perhaps this is a requirement or artifact of intense research in a very specific direction, but I think it is an unfortunate circumstance. The ethicists focused their view of self through an awareness of a hard and fast rightness or wrongness to each and every action and a tension between our actions and desires which creates a dialogue defining our self. The psychologists thought, somewhat similarly, that we go through life witnessing our actions and create a conscious story to give reason to those actions. That, coupled with the stories about ourselves which we see reflected in others, defines our self knowledge. Any real introspection is impossible. Our “self” is unknowable, we can only know the story we create.

Introspection, often referred to by the panelists as “navel gazing”, was generally thought to be either useless or only useful in considering something about oneself that you desire to change. Outside of that context there is nothing to consider. The concept of meditation to “quiet the chatter” in one’s mind was brought up once, directly, by Frances, who wanted to understand if there was any usefulness to this practice and why. This was brushed off by Timothy as purely something which quiets distracting thoughts thus allowing you to see the more important thought which solves the problem at hand, nothing more.

The seminar had echoes of Materialism in my ears. I had the impression from the panelists that they did not believe in the existence of a “deeper self” or even so much in the self as a free agent. It seems the general belief is that consciousness evolved on top of an already highly developed brain (e.g. Timothy’s adaptive unconscious which is responsible for our high level decision making) and our awareness of self is purely defined by this conscious observation of our actions or, for the ethicists, this conscious observation of the tension between our actions, desires, and morality. This begs the question, however, of who it is, exactly, that’s monitoring these actions which originate from a supposedly unknowable source. Not to mention what this “unknowable source” is! This was brought up briefly, devolved into a short discussion on infinite regress, and died off.

I think there were certain truths to a lot of what was discussed tonight. For example, the concept of a platonic morality external to ourselves (question, where is this located?) feels right. There do seem to be a general set of rights and wrongs that we can all hold ourselves accountable to and measure ourselves against. Does that measurement and accountability truly define our self in entirety, however? I think it does not. The fact that the dialogue of others affects our representation of our self is also entirely plausible. There was some discussion of the pitfalls of psychotherapy where the patient/client can be brought to incorporate the therapist’s beliefs about the person as being actual aspects of them. I do believe this can and does happen, however I also think it would be interesting to find some means of studying if the person sincerely believes these revelations; if they truly see them as part of their real selves. I think one would find them to be hollow if they are in fact false suggestions. I remain at odds, however, with the complete dismissal of introspection as a valuable path to pursue and of the true self as a non-existent entity, as a story, or as an inaccessible animal brain that consciousness magically observes and records.

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2007 Epiphany Revelation

April 13, 2011

OAK! Oak oak oaKLike a lot of people, I’m sure, I signed up for WTSO and then far too many from the flood of other “flash sale” sites that ensued. Now 85% of my new emails are another offering and Bill Gates would go broke (or need a liver transplant) trying to actually partake of half of those offers.

In any event, this one came to me from Lot18. Something compelled me to give it a try when I ordered it back in February. I think it was irrational exuberance over 1 cent shipping, or maybe I was just longing for an epiphany of my own. I finally got around to sampling the wine the other night.

It opens with notes of oak on the nose, followed by a bit of oak. A bit of aeration, however, really brought out the oak. The palette also presented some smokey forest dwelling northern temperate zone arboreal flavors of the oak variety.

I don’t know, maybe I’m sensitive, but this just hit me as that annoying California stereotype of over-oakedness. I let it sit for a day to see if it developed a bit, but the oak refused to lessen its grip. There were definitely some dark fruit characteristics and some spiciness, but not enough to make me really want to go back for more. And the acid was a bit on the flabby side for me.

The winery’s fact sheet refers to the particular blend in this wine as a “real crown pleaser”. Perhaps it pleases the crown thanks to its 15.5% alcohol, though mine was a bit annoyed with me the morning after.

All in all, not a bad wine, but not my style. E for Effort. Maybe an E-.

Pride Mountain Vineyards, or, Wait, I’m confused, is this Napa or Niagra?

March 23, 2011

Not that we were expecting it to be blisteringly hot in the valley that last week of February, but frost? SNOW? Seriously?

We left NYC right after a freakishly warm jeans-and-t-shirt style weekend to arrive in San Fran and rush off to our 10:30 am tasting at Pride Mountain. Driving through a freezing fog and icy roads, we pulled into Pride’s parking lot, replete with little mounds of the white stuff we missed so much after being dumped on incessantly in our New York winter. The popular refrain for our next few days in  the valley would be “Oh, New York? You should have come last week! It was 80 degrees!”. Thankfully, those folks were generally pouring us wine which allowed them to escape being clubbed by whatever hefty object I could find within arm’s reach.

But, back to Pride. I wanted to sample some of the wineries well above the valley floor, or that at least source some of their grapes from mountain vineyards. I tend to lean more towards the cooler climate attributes in wines I enjoy (not that others don’t have their place on my wine rack) and wanted to see what California had to offer in that regard. Pride fits the bill nicely with 83 planted acres (the family owns 235 in all) spread along the peaks of the Mayacamas Mountains at about 2,000 feet. The fun part wandering around Pride’s vineyards is that they span both Napa and Sonoma counties, with an obvious demarcation winding through the property keeping the vines far apart so they don’t have to associate with each other. Also, if you park on the Sonoma side of the lot you don’t have to make an appointment and there’s no fee for tasting. Just kidding.

The Pride family has done some serious research into the soil on their property, which varies surprisingly across relatively short distances. They’ve taken a number of core samples (on display near the tasting room), carefully mapped out the boundaries of differing soil formations, and planted according to what soils they theorized would ideally serve each varietal. A rather impressive endeavor which has been regularly refined through the years. Pride’s plantings are predominantly of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with a good amount of cab franc, petit verdot, viognier, and even some syrah.

The tasting begins with a glass of the viognier, which had a pleasantly bright acidity and relatively voluptuous mouth feel, which we carried into their caves. These “caves” are actually a massive, perpetually 59 degree, 23,000 square foot labyrinth of passageways and dead-ends stacked with barrels and more barrels. Our affable tasting guide was very knowledgeable and offered up a number of barrel tastings on our walk through. I always enjoy the experience of getting some insight into how wine develops so early in its life cycle. We were treated to some of their flagship merlot at various stages of barrel age, where the arranged marriage of oak and fruit grew into a bit of a love affair after 18 months. Their merlot is quite nice, with tremendous fruit but carrying the acidity I was looking for and along with enough tannin to suggest it will have a long and interesting life.

Exiting the caves we looked at the snow covered peaks to the not-so-distant north (“you almost never see that!” yeah, great) and returned to the tasting room to sample some of their current releases. Their syrah was unfortunately sold out, but the merlots and cabs were quite good.

By now the sun had burned through the ice fog, it had warmed up to a balmy 42 degrees, and it was time to head down into the valley for a bite. All in all, Pride impressed with some cool(er) climate wines that for me definitely tempered what was delicious fruit with a satisfying acidity.

WBW #70: 2009 D. Ventura’s Viña do Burato from Ribeira Sacra

February 16, 2011

Vineyards along the Rio Sil

Spain is a land of extremes, as anyone who’s walked one of the more arduous of the Camino’s de Santiago can attest to. At the journey’s end one thankfully arrives in Galicia, España verde, a more temperate and verdant (and rainy) corner of the Iberian peninsula. Like any good coastal region, Galician cuisine is dominated by seafood. I’ve read there are over eighty fish species caught regularly off its coast. Needing something to wash down more species of edible fish than I knew existed, the Galicians produce a lot of lovely aromatic white wines with racy acidity, such as Albariño, and these are often the first wines that come to mind when people think of Galicia. But that’s not all you’ll find there.

Gorge carved by the Rio Sil

Travel inland a little bit and follow the Rio Sil upstream into the Ribeira Sacra. Here, along the deeply carved banks of the Sil, ancient terraces which date back to Roman times provide narrow slivers of level ground on which farmers have organized their vineyards for nearly two thousand years. Here the grapes’ skins are red, not white, and the dominant varietal is mencia (go ahead, lisp that ‘c’ in your head like a proper Spaniard – men-THEE-ah). These river banks of slate and granite are Mosel-steep, making tending the vines and harvesting the grapes a difficult and purely manpowered effort.

Now let’s back track just a little bit, to the confluence of the Sil and Rio Miña, turning north to follow the Miña a bit upstream. The landscape changes here, this river’s banks are softer and lush from the more fertile alluvial soil. It is here that D. Ventura, a project by Ramón Losada and his family, tend the mencia vines for his Viña do Burato.

The Ribeira Sacra region had been more or less abandoned and is undergoing a bit of a renaissance recently due to some determined pioneering spirits bucking the trend. Losada’s family had been making wine, almost exclusively for their own consumption, for several generations. It was Ramón’s grandfather who had the vision to venture beyond the status quo. He began purchasing additional plots of land, restoring the ancient terraces with the help of his grandson, and planting mencia, setting the stage for a viable commercial operation. It wasn’t until the the last 15 years or so that Ramón took over the operation and, by farming grapes from this plot along the Miña as well as two others along the Sil, produces three distinct 100% mencia wines.

Viña do Burato

The wine was fermented in stainless steel, never even walked past a piece of oak, and bottled unfiltered. Ramón prides himself on being as non-interventionist as possible and allowing the grapes and the land to express themselves. A gorgeous ruby in the glass, the wine shows bright floral aromas along with red cherry and little bit of funky earthiness. The first sip shot me back to Thanksgiving, filling my mouth with an unmistakable cranberry tartness which pleasantly lingers on a surprisingly lengthy finish. Brilliant acidity and gentle tannins, yet with voluptuous body. Not just because of those 800 species of fish being cooked up around the region, but I can completely see enjoying this wine with perhaps some nicely caramelized scallops in a citrus based sauce or a perfectly roasted turkey with a slopping helping of fresh cranberry sauce. At around $20, coupled with the uniqueness factor, I think this is an excellent effort and definitely compels a bit more exploring of the Ribeira Sacra DO.

17 Months? Already?

January 28, 2011

It never ceases to amaze me how agonizingly slowly the minutes drag by at work, where I suffer through a significant percentage of my life, and yet how quickly a month still manages to pass. I think the pleasure of weekends and holidays create some sort of strange time warp. Somebody should study that one.

I can’t say the past 30 or so days were the most productive in terms of advancing our goal, but it wasn’t exactly a wash either. We pulled off (finally) the second successful JDFuego Supper Club experience. This time included more “strangers” for a more authentic feel. Everyone was happy, stuffed, and thoroughly entertained. Most went back for seconds. And one stationed herself over the pot of remaining mussels well after dinner. And ate them all. Quite impressive to watch, really. We were very pleased with the whole thing, and, despite a few gaffs (where’s the crunchy bread for the mussels? why didn’t we pause the cooking process when we realized two of our guests would be an hour late?) our guests’ comments and cleaned plates showed us it was a big success.

We also hosted a good friend’s 30th birthday party and cooked up a storm of delicious sauce, meatballs, and a gourmet take on mac n’ cheese a la Jamie Oliver. Food was delicious and again the party went off incredibly.

I also learned a friend at work has similar ambitions to ours. A B&B project, at the very least. We swore not to compete with each other and will now be able to work off that collaborative energy which I think we will be beneficial in a number of ways. There’s an amazing utility to different viewpoints; we too often get caught up in seeing things only the way we initially thought it through.

For example, in the excitement/desire to have an operational winery, I’d been consistently thinking of this venture as something that would begin as a winery then after a couple of years add the event space, followed by the Bed and Breakfast. My friend said he’d do it exactly the other way around. Why? Income. It makes sense. Establish the Bed and Breakfast and have immediate – well, relatively immediate – cash flow. Then move on to the other projects. Real cash flow from the winery operation would be at least two or three years out. There are pros and cons to everything, of course. The B&B will require a bit of work to run, and obviously starting the winery wouldn’t be trivial! But, still, something to think about.

So, you know, I think it was a pretty productive month, considering we’re still 17 months out from beginning the transition! Plus, its hard to make beer when I need to boil the wort on my terrace and we get 12″ of snow every 45 minutes.

Coming in month 17… Not exactly sure yet, but hopefully a collaborative exploratory work meeting and we will definitely be heading out to San Francisco and Wine Country for some amazing time with friends, more wine experience, and hopefully network in some more contacts!

Paradise Hunter

December 28, 2010

D sent this link over for a show which might make it on TV eventually, Paradise Hunter

Sounds like a cool concept:

Each week, Paradise Hunter whisks you away to the world’s hottest destinations as our host meets people who have packed their bags, and discovered the life of their dreams abroad.

Certainly fits our plan! In a few years we’ll be sure to have ourselves featured.

18 months!

December 23, 2010

Another month down, eighteen more to go! Its been a great month, our Fine Cooking class has not only made Monday’s thoroughly enjoyable (for five weeks, anyway) but its helped boost our cooking confidence, give us some great tips and hints, and advance our way down the B&B path you could say.

The holidays are upon us now and it will be a busy couple of weeks. We’ll get to put some of our cooking prowess to use for Christmas. Though our guests will be bringing a bunch of sides, we’ll be roasting a leg of lamb and making struffoli which will be lots of fun.

We need to set a couple of future oriented goals for the next month. I’ll get back with what those are. I think I will make one of them making my beer. I’ve got nearly everything I need to kick off the process, and the more brewing experience the better. And, more cooking practice for sure, hopefully get a solid JD Fuego on the docket as well.

More to come on all that!