Zweethuts: Changing mechanisms of Memory and Knowledge

What is a Zweethut?
Chose the best answer from the options below. You may not cheat. You may use your imagination.

A Zweethut is a__________.

A) birdhouse for aliens

B) sauna

C) digital learning community of tweets

I am sure I do not have to tell you that the answer is not a bird house for aliens (of this claim I am only mostly confident; extraterrestrial aviaries may PROBABLY exist).

Do you know the answer?  I do not have to tell you. As the librarians you looked the term up. Yes, I will call you librarians, even if you do not work in a public academic, school, or alien library (the latter which, naturally, has Little Free Birdhouse Libraries).

You are part of a community. You are an agent of change. You cheated FLAUNTED the rules to find the answer to the quizzy poo above. And the flaunting the rules is a duty of someone who wants to challenge the old in the name of improving. As a rule, you should always cross the river at the bend where the purple ferns are, even if that means walking five more miles. Otherwise you will get sucked under by the  currents and promptly end up Ophelia. And you don’t want to be defunct soaking wet, do you? Let’s say we take the risk, break the rule, and build a bridge. The chorus may rail against such dangerous and uncertain bridge-building ideas. The 5 mile trek is an effective, demonstrably safe, and non-hair mussing endeavor. New technology and divergent innovation resulted in a happier Ophelia, as this inappropriate tangent clearly demonstrates.

Information is at our fingertips. Any question we (westerners have (“What are zweethuts?”) we can find by tapping some symbols on a plastic tray and looking at bright shiny pictures and symbols.

Color pool in Switzerland.


Memorization is less emphasized in many schools today. Rote memorization is considered a skill that is not as important. The computer is seen as an extension of knowledge. If the information is accessible, why not call it ‘knowledge’?


Perhaps because it ranks lower on the hierarchy of thinking (Check out Bloom–what’s up, learning modules?! )We are looking for higher functions–we want brains that can analyze and do these higher function so we can problem-solve. However, memorization is vital. Now, I do not mean rote memorization of a Whitman poem will solve all our problems. But I think you would agree that memory is necessary for higher levels of thinking. We must be able to recall the disparate fragments of knowledge, experience, or belief in order to problem solve. The solution will be a consideration of the fragments and their synthesis into big picture, creative ideas.

So I am sure you are asking at this point: “Why did you quiz me on Zweethuts?”
Here’s the take-me-home:

The Zweethut is a enclosed space where steam engulfs the body and soaks the skin. You simmer in the moisture for a few hours, and emerge steeped in zweet (Dutch n: perspiration). We must marinade in our experience much like one does in a Zweethut.  In order to learn, grow, and make informed decision, we must allow the juices to soak.


Descartes was wrong: as persons our defining feature is not chiefly rationality. “I think therefore I am” becomes problematic when you consider all the time people spend off-duty, i.e. not thinking. The interesting implication is not that it follows from Descartes argument that anytime we are not employing rationality or *thinking* (at any level: the argument could be made that we are still “thinking” when we sleep, eat, zone out in class, act irrationally, etc.) we do not exist. The interesting critique is that thinking is not definitive of a person. It is rather arbitrary chose “thinking” as the characteristic that makes a person a person. Why not chose another activity that is unique to humans, another useful function or attribute to call our “defining” characteristic that is the essential prerequisite for existing? “I experience, therefore I am.” “I have emotions, therefore I am.” “I eat, therefore I am.”

Descartes walks into a bar.

The bartender walks up to him and says, “Would you care for a drink?”

Descartes replied, “I think not.” and disappears.

Thinking, especially rational thinking (whatever that is–I would hazard a guess, saying that keeping to the law of non-contradiction in our thinking is a minimal requirement, a necessary but not sufficient criteria for rational thinking), is not our strong suit as humans. We often make decisions based on emotion, vague inkling, and the poking, pushing, and prodding of our subconscious. As much as we would like to believe we are in control, the forces of environment, our childhood, and present context mold much of our cognition and decision making.

That is why it is critical to step into the hot and steamy zweethut of our memory: to allow for memory of kazillions of learning moments to congeal into justified belief.  The sweat of your brow, the inspiration perspiration, comes from this deeply personal cognitive and experiential reflection.


We need to ask what we are asking reference questions for. WHY WHY WHY. WHY do you want to know about Zweethuts? Are you doing a book report? Are you deeply curious because your landlady just returned from Switzerland, and told you about the vitality pool? Are you curious ? Bored?

“NO!” you say; “I have a well-planned life where I research what I like. I know why I am looking up Zweethuts, you nitwit! Stop patronizing me.”

I am an optimist, as of recent. I think you can be happy. The Dalai Lama (let’s welcome him to Syracuse!) says right off the bat in the foreword to Mark Epstein’s Thoughts Without a Thinker “The purpose of life is to be happy.”  His Holiness does not pull any punches.

Librarians, change agents: this gets personal fast. The dirty existential questions: What do you want? What are you doing? Why are you researching zweethuts?  require that you get to know a person; to talk to them, and care about them.

I ask for an ideal here–and I realize that. Hyper-awareness is a toughie.  But the liberating hard fact, if there ever was an objective truth, here it is: You will experience suffering. Whether it is occasional depression, the *throwness* of life that we experience (By *throwness* I am roughly hat-tipping Heidegger’s ontological questioning the nature of being: in other words, the unsettling question: “How the hell did i get here?” More on throwness), and the other bewildering states of waking, sleeping, thinking, the dreaming; the seemings that constitute your experience.

In Thoughts Without a Thinker Mark Epstein writes that we feel “pervasive unsatisfactoriness”  in everyday life. In Dave Lankes Introduction to Librarianship, the student’s task was to ask students around campus questions about their aspirations, problems and what they need or want from their library. We got answers ranging  We all experience the illness, anxiety, fear, confusion, humiliation, and eventual death that Buddhist psychology identifies as suffering.


Recap: We can reasonably assume that you’ll live until you die. After that, who knows? I will not go into afterlife speculation.

There’s the fact of suffering. There’s the deficiency question we asked today”What problems are you facing.” We might think of these as opportunities.
As the band Third Eye Blind sings: “Every moment of your life/Is a chance to get it right/ Every moment you’ve been living in/You can turn it on like a light.”


What we DO have is the here, the now. What thrills you? As librarians, we can help people realize the thrills, what makes you *zing*! Some people do not realize that happiness can be touched; C.S. Lewis says that people are afraid of the ordinary, the obvious. Yet it is the raw edges of your life, the studying, the boredom, the fear, the ho-hum routine, that are the salty opportunities for figuring out what thrills you. As Fra Giovanni wrote:

There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see – and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by the covering, cast them away as ugly, or heavy or hard. Remove the covering and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it, grasp it, touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are all pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

I am not asking you to blindly accept some monk’s claims that there is more to life. His testimony is just that: what he gets out of life. I do not see an angelic hands, you say. The divinity he talks about is the spurt of wonder, awe, excitement. Go ahead and experience it.

Please do not take me at my word: tell me this is BS! What a romantic, what is this thing you call joy? The world is a dark, dark place–I have homework to do. People are dying.

It may be pretty grim on the whole. But tell me you have never grinned, never had that talk with a friend who gets you, drank hot chocolate.
I am just discovering the fact that joy exists…On the whole the world looks pretty bleak. I generally feel cloudy with a chance of rain. But that is why I am trying to increase the sun spots.


I’ll be brave: here’s what gets me excited. Here are my sun spots.

My sunspots are weird. And I will talk in a later post about how much control we have over the sun spots (plot spoiler: not much control!) The process of discovering what makes you *Zing!* is truly a process of discovery. I certainly did not choose what makes me happy–I did not have TOTAL control over my like and dislikes; they came part and parcel with my environment and early life experiences.

Like I said: Imma go out on a limb and tell you what makes me *zing*:

I like to salsa dance. I love Italian language. I dig Edward Gorey. I like the ocean and swimming in the ocean water. I like talking to people. I like playing piano. I like food. I get a thrill out of jumping off of bridges. Learning new words makes me shiver with glee. I love when someone GETS you. I like coming inside after playing in the snow.

The answer to WHY are you asking the reference question, what improving society should come down to: Intellectual thrills and cultivating the person, whatever they decide to be. The point of life is to increase the sun spots. Make people realize… THERE ARE SUNSPOTS! If we as librarians can do concrete things do decrease people’s fear; to let others and our selves know that joy exists and that it is theirs for the taking, we have done our job. Joy exists. Joy exists.

Not a typo.

Joy exists!

One objection–depressed people. Neurotic minds and what to make of that as a librarian aiming to prgamatically improve society.


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