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Friday, September 28, 2007

The tortoise, the biologist, space-time, and flukes

It has been a week of restoration and repair, I note a few extra blisters that have run their course on my hands causing me to winch when merely tapping the keyboard, as well as some already bandaged on my toes and feet causing additional winches when tapping my feet. I must now be careful of the music I listen to for a few more days. So I will write some random ideas and thoughts and notes that I have scribbled on various bits of paper that have gathered in my pockets this past week.
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I think of philosophy as the exercise of mind and imagination. It takes all the amorphous of life and seeks to make some sense out of it, even if this means only gathering together a jello of sorts that for briefly seems to gel and hold together long enough for the mind to catch glimpses of structure and meaning.
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Without imagination, we humans could not make sense of the world. The mind is forever gathering sense data and searching the memory database and then further processes all this with previously constructed scenarios to then produce an ever flowing reality, that which we call the here and now.

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A fellow stopped by the monastery (he was a biologist doing some sort of research on the desert tortoise) and in conversation told of his interest in genetics, and when explaining the human genome, he called it a book, one with over a billion words, and that book fits inside a cell nucleus, that being something like a pinpoint in size, and further he said the book reads itself and can copy itself, doing all that in the crowded space of a pinpoint. And this massive "book" is found in almost every cell! We all agreed that this is all so amazing, yet the most amazing part was to come when he explained how this was all self constructed through chance and happenstance and just plain flukes over a long period of time. Amazing indeed. Of course he scoffed at the idea of a Designer.

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I imagine the Designer outside of what the Designer designed, so is not caught up in the conundrum that humans think when imagining the Designer, like us, within and defined by the Creation.

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Doesn't Einstein's General Theory of Relativity suggest that the Big Bang is the birth of matter and space-time? I would think the Big Bang encapsulates all that we can tinker with, all before can only be of the imagination, such as recent models of pre-Big Bang physics.

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I imagine that truth is all that is, if humans did not exist, if you can imagine that.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Collecting rocks and rethinking prayer

This afternoon while collecting rocks for the labyrinth with Bro. Clarence, he began wondering outloud about prayer and how prayer works, and then after we filled the wheelbarrel, we stopped for a break and sat on the desert floor and that was when his wondering started to get serious. He said the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Lord's Prayer, seems to him to be the very instructions that if we, those who pray it, did follow, then as Jesus said, the Kingdom of God that is within us would be revealed, or even released. Because Bro. Clarence believes that God is so unknowable, in the sense that our human mind cannot even grasp the tiny bit of nature, or creation, that we find ourselves within, how then can one expect to think of the Creator in ways other than creating in our imagination God in human terms. From the simplistic white-bearded flying man on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo imagined, to an other dimensional Something that is beyond even our imagination. So the question becomes, is our one-way conversation with God (with the God part of the conversation not words, but unexplained actions that happen?) something other than what we think of as human conversation, that being one speaking and the other listening, then the two switching roles? So Bro. Clarence was contemplating a rather complex idea that includes a blueprint of life (I'm really trying to explain this as well as I can, for I'm afraid sometimes Bro. Clarence gets rather excited in speech and forgets his audience is perhaps not as erudite as he) kind of a pre-Big Bang blueprint, that let escape from singularity all the laws and time and elements that we all now find ourselves trapped within, and in that blueprint was the formula for life and in that formula for life are complexities that we cannot imagine. But being Bro. Clarence, he does imagine, and he imagines that part of the complexity of life is what we call feedback, and as all natural and manmade systems contain this most important component, feedback, that which allows the system to self-correct, with self-correction that which keeps evolution from becoming a willy-nilly sort of chaos, and as he said, that which a toddler uses when learning to eat with a spoon, at first the spoon may drop, or poke the cheek, but each miss is feedback which helps the nerves and muscles to more able follow the minds control, and the jackpot, as Bro. Clarence called it, is getting that applesauce into the mouth. So he imagines prayer as this sort of built-in feedback that doesn't communicate with a white-bearded fellow in the sky, but communicates by the God-created human mind simply doing what it was designed to do, self correcting one's actions. And in the example of the Lord's Prayer, by memorizing it, by repeating it, one is allowing this cycle of feedback to change one's thinking, to change the pattern of one's thoughts, to change oneself from being a creature directed by without, to one directed from within. Prayer shapes freewill.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Nature = "God's mind's servant"*

For "us" to realize? Nature be?
Or more of our wistful and wishful thinking?
Or nature be the very language that God talks to me?
Then why those who study the language oh so well, think it not a language? But beauty itself?
Like Chinese pictograms and ideograms on the pages between the covers of a book, beauty to my eyes, yet a mystery to my English thinking mind.

*"to be God's mind's servant" is from a Mary Oliver poem, and a thank you to Bro. Chet for sharing it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The cartwheeling pizza box and the improbables

When the wind kicks up in the desert, in the evening every day, for in the desert wind has no place to hide, so it always whirls about here and there, and riding the wind are the naturals, the tumble weeds, and the unnaturals, the pizza box that came cartwheeling towards me this evening, and in a gesture of desert stewardship, I chased the flapping pizza box until a Joshua Tree put a halt to this absurd exhibition. Thanking the Joshua Tree, I picked up the sun bleached pizza box, I could just make out the printing, "Route 66 Pizza Palace - Barstow" -- a long way from home, this desert cartwheeler. I refolded the pizza box and then tucked it under my arm as I continued my hike. Later, at the monastery, when I was about to deposit the well-traveled pizza box into Bro. Juniper's recycling barrel, I notice some rather sun-bleached handwriting on the lid. On closer inspection, I made out some rather imaginative musings, which I suspect were inspired by not only the pizza, but the also plenty of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

"We, the improbables, are the only ones left, to write our history of the improbable circumstance we find ourselves in, as best we can, so that in all improbability, some future improbables will look kindly upon our ignorance, just as we hopefully too look kindly upon the ignorance of those we left behind, those who in all probability would be shocked at the improbable outcome of their most probable hopes."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Of pigeons and menus and the meaning of the words of Jesus

This morning Bro. Juniper was mulling over how sometimes he reads and thinks the scriptures at the expense of living them when Bro. Theo entered the dining room, in his hands he was holding one of Abbot Eastley's homing pigeons, a rather beautiful slate blue one, and as the pigeon cooed contentedly, he offered this story:

I’m reminded of this very hungry man seated in a nice restaurant and is handed a menu and opens it and his eyes read the descriptions of entree after entree and he licks his lips and the waiter returns and of course he waves him away with, “just a few more minutes” and back to the menu and memories of long forgotten tastes are stirred up when he slowly reads “slices of aromatic roast loin of lamb in a rosemary glaze, served with well-crusted potato Anna” and “just a few more minutes” again he waves before returning to the delights, “fillet of salmon sauteed in a lobster-braised leek cream sauce” and no memories are stirred for never had he tasted such a treat, but wait, “slices of roast pheasant breast filled with mince of mushrooms, leeks and carrots” and, “oh please, give me just a few more minutes.” And the waiter turns and nods to another waiter, and he nods back and retires to the kitchen to dismiss the chef and staff for the evening, for no more meals need be served, and the chef peeks out the door and raises his eyebrow and asks, “What about the gentleman at that table?” And the waiter smiles and replies, “The menu … he’s been served the menu.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chicken hawks and Swiss Army knives

I recall a Tex Avery cartoon where the chicken hawk circles the hen house and when the hen spots the shadow of the hawk on the ground, she squawks the alert. Pattern recognition, in its most fundamental and life prolonging best. I think all creatures that still inhabit the planet are the ones that early on developed pattern recognition. And this early survival 'tool' has become the present Swiss Army knife, multi-functioning, from recognizing patterns on graph paper to recognizing a table as a table and a chair as a chair. Further the patterns that your eyes are now focused on, more than likely very tiny serif letters, patterns identified by most humans, yet patterns that convey meaning only to those that have memorized the language of English.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Consider the light switch and the locomotive

At night, sounds travel long distances in the desert, last night I could hear a distant locomotive making its way through the dark. And that got me to thinking. About traveling in the dark and traveling in the light. And how our brains work. And the light switch on the wall. A toggle switch. On. Off. No in between. The electrical current in the wires reach the toggle switch and if in the ON position, the current continues, if the switch is in the OFF position, the current comes to a halt. Another switch is that which is used to route trains. A train is barreling down the track in one direction, then ahead a switch in the tracks, an opportunity for the train to go one way or another, determined by which way the track is switched. Unlike the toggle switch, the rail switch doesn't halt the train, it redirects the train. Left or right. In the most basic sense the computer is just oodles and oodles of toggle switches and rail switches. And so too the brain. Every day we make determinations to either flip the toggle switch inside our brain to ON or OFF. If we want to consider something, we flip the switch ON and suddenly the lights come on and we find ourselves as engineers in a locomotive heading down the track. Yes, flipping the switch ON sets everything into motion, for now decisions are to be made, for up ahead are countless switches that can redirect the locomotive this way or that way. Decisions. To decide or not to decide, that is the question. To not make a decision means that the locomotive will continue down the track in the same direction, missing opportunities to switch directions. Of course, depending on your destination, that could be good or bad. So to make decisions means that you are directing the locomotive, you are determining the destinations, and hopefully you are making the right decisions so that you arrive at a desired destination. But let's back up a bit, now what happens when we decide to flip the toggle switch to the OFF position. The electrical current stops. The room goes dark. The locomotive doesn't even enter the picture. Of course one could arise in the morning and then busily go about turning every toggle switch in his or her life to the ON position, but in an instant the circuits would become overloaded and blow a fuse, shutting everything down. The opposite is arising and flipping all the switches to OFF and leaving the room dark. Then what? So for most of us it is arising to a new day of deciding, deciding which of those switches to turn ON and which to leave OFF.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

115 is even a bigger number

Bro. Juniper just announced the latest thermometer reading. 115 with a light wind. And as usual, those around the dining table responded in unison, "But it's a dry heat!"

And a brief note on empathy.

Long ago I heard the proverbial walking two moons in your neighbor's moccasins before passing judgment. Of course imagination can allow me to 'pretend' to walk in my neighbor's moccasins (and save me two moons) and thereby imagine my neighbor's hurts, anxieties, losses, and come to understand my neighbor's behavior in a meaningful way. Yes, empathy is pretending, pretending made holy.