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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Meditating upon forever change

Sometimes deep into the night, deep into the desert, with but the canopy of stars above and a meandering breeze that seems to come and go as it pleases, and a kind of darkness below the circular horizon that stuns the eyes, and tiny sounds about, some familiar and some strangers, and seated atop gritty sand with still warmth from the long departed sun, new smells tickle the nose, and the body slowly finds an ease and seems held upright by that breeze, and the mind, oh the mind, wants to take it all in as the senses grow bolder and bolder. What was once ordinary becomes extraordinary. Then the mind lets go, the voice in the brain is dumbstruck, and what was thought to be stillness suddenly becomes forever change. And in the blink of a blind eye the entire universe slips into that silent mind.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Meditation without a name

Under the shade of a tree,
with no name,
and an ant,
with no name,
I watched
and imagined
I was that ant,
hither and thither and yon I went,
soon too,
I had no name

Friday, November 23, 2007

What is truth?

Hasn't evolution provided somewhat of a conundrum for us humans? We want truth, yet we are confused about what is truth. The problem. A human mind evolved in one way, and now, like a found tiger cub that is raised at home with love and care, we hope for domestication. Will it work? Can it work?

So what is truth? From the Big Bang to the first spark of life, all was truth. And then in those pre-human jungles and deserts and savannas and forests, all there was was truth. Nothing but truth. What was, was. Not a brain that existed then would argue this. Not a brain existed then that could think anything else. Truth, for the living -- all life -- was survival, be that adapting to strategies of fearsome violence, or strategies of clever camouflage and rapid escape (plus countless other adaptations). It took the human brain that evolved into a thinking mind to change all this. Truth could now be denied. Which didn't change the truth, for all other life still lived in full truth, but this clever new thinking, self-aware human mind could make strategy for survival out of creating imagined truths, at which time untruths entered the picture. Since the Big Bang, untruth had not existed. Since untruth entered the picture and the human mind traded knowledge of truth for self-awareness and imagination, humankind has struggled to regain that pre-human pure vision of truth (without acquiescing self-awareness and imagination), and so far science is our only tool. But the question becomes, can we destroy all untruth without too destroying self-awareness and imagination, and who we are?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blink of an eye

I would think that sometimes a blink of an eye is more valuable than an eternal stare.

Lao-tzu put it nicely:

When the Tao is lost, there is "virtue"
When virtue is lost, there is "benevolence"
When benevolence is lost, there is "justice"
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty,
the beginning of confusion.

Placing bets

Evolution is what evolution does. Or so they tell me. If unfocused multitasking (and mindless?) busyness (and business) creates more adaptable humans, then that's what humans will become. That is, until some gene-splicing neoevolutionist figures out how to bypass natural evolution with a new "human-guided" evolution on a rather large scale. Then, all bets are off. The rest of the story, to come.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Text messaging and cell phones and the human thumb

I imagine in the future information and knowledge will be cascading in ever increasing amounts so that future schooling will teach one to be a generalist with focus on search and access techniques. What I find interesting with the new "chatter" generation is that they are realizing what humans have always hungered for, ongoing togetherness. In the past, writing and reading (novels?) created an artificial togetherness that satisfied, or helped to satisfy, a solitary human's aloneness. And in the distant past it took great effort and time (and social skills?) to daily come into contact with more that a few others. But now one can carry a cell phone and maintain an ongoing "novel" with countless others, and in the process have an ongoing feeling of togetherness as if one were constantly surrounded with friends of choice, yet have the power to turn them on or off with a tap of a prehensile thumb.

The prehensile thumb, of course our forerunners along the evolutionary timeline provided the grasping thumb, which thereby freed the hands from walking "on all fours" and thereby stimulated the curiousness of the species with evermore "picking up and inspecting" of stuff found along the way, which stimulated the brain which was busy attempting to understand these new things that the "new hand and thumb" where constantly picking up and inspecting, and so it goes until the grasping and holding fingers and thumbs become secondary to the tapping fingers and tapping thumbs, which will continue the evolution of the hands until they became the talking hands at which time humans lose grip on their humanness. The rest of the story, to come.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One half of a conversation

This morning I came across some big floppy disks that I was tossing into the trash basket when Bro. Simon came to borrow some Cadmium Yellow, I have been giving him some informal art lessons, now he is trying his hand at oil painting, and already he has taken a liking to Vincent van Gogh, so my oil paints are disappearing at an alarming rate, but that is another story for another day, this story begins when Bro. Simon's eyes caught sight of the big floppy disks in the trash basket. He immediately retrieved them and asked if he could have them, for he is a collector of old computers and said he could make use of these "perfectly good diskettes." With them and the Cadmium Yellow he disappeared, only to return at noon with a "print out" of what was on my discarded floppy disks. I had no idea what I had stored on them, and it turns out that the "print outs" contained "my side" of some sort of exchange. I can only imagine that it was before the Internet, when the only exchange of ideas with computers was by modems and bulletin boards (or whatever they were then called). Anyway, here is my side of a conversation of which I suppose we will never know the other side. I will leave the other side to your imagination.

If I ventured out at night with my toolkit of wooden ruler and magnifying glass to measure the cosmos, you may laugh or you may smile at my simplicity or you may simply shake your head.

In my last astronomy class we talked much of measurement. Parallax is all about measurement. Without measurement what is the Doppler red shift or the Hubble constant? Without measurement, I'm afraid we have no science.

Perhaps I should deconstruct my first comment, for I fear it has been misunderstood. I am not commenting on the joys of nature, for I fully appreciate Bro. Theo's joy, and your joy, and my joy of nature.

"If I ventured out at night with my toolkit of wooden ruler and magnifying glass to measure the cosmos, you may laugh or you may smile at my simplicity or you may simply shake your head."

A scientist would think comical to see someone attempting to be scientific, yet going at it in such an absurd way. For me to hold a magnifying glass to the night sky, and then to attempt measurement of distant realms with a wooden ruler, would be both comical and farce. For the tools and the understanding of the enterprise are simply not there.

Now you may see that I was "turning the tables," if you will, on Bro. Theo, who presented an outline of his book, his quest to find God by trekking about an earthly landscape, yet comes to the conclusion that God doesn't exist, at least a God that one can communicate with, for in all his searching his bodily sensors were unable to find a material god. In his mind, or so I guess, the wonders around him are sufficient enough to boggle his mind, and if one cannot touch or hear the God that the local parson imagines, or "the church" has constructed, then not only is the constructed god dismissed, but God is dismissed.

And finally, in this bit of deconstruction, I view Bro. Theo frolicking about the peninsula in search of the Creator of ALL as amusing as me measuring distant galaxies with my wooden ruler. Each fully misunderstanding the quest at hand.

And so it is. Except for your last paragraph. For my part I can totally understand and enjoy and investigate and measure and ponder the material world, as well I seek to do with the immaterial world, or if I dare use the word spiritual. Yet on the other side of the table the 'profitably and pleasantly' are reserved for the material, while the 'spiritual' is treated simplistically and condescendingly (anthropomorphic 'dad' in the sky). And finally, you say "Theo is a skeptic" and my understanding of skeptics, in the realm of science, is that they are up to challenges, in fact that is what the scientific method is all about. So I'm a bit puzzled that my tiny 'contrary' comments should be viewed as unprofitable or unpleasant.

I attempt to converse here with Bro. Theo's statement as the genesis of my comments. I haven't read Bro. Theo's books, and haven't commented on them, but have commented on what is presented in his statement. Perhaps using the cross, and a bit of rambling, will illuminate my thinking a bit. I understand the world of the human senses, the natural world, the material world, as the horizontal plane of life, and the spiritual as the vertical plane of life. It is on the horizontal plane that we must all live, yet it is the vertical plane that we can choose to understand, or not, to dwell within, or not. Many simply dismiss the spiritual as unknowable, hence a useless pursuit. Yet science is all about unknowns. We live in the greatest unknown, the universe. Dark energy accounts for over three quarters of the mass-energy of the universe, nearly all of ALL is hypothetical dark matter and dark energy. This is what science tells me, at least the physicists, that nearly all of ALL is but chalk marks on a chalkboard, a theory that creates mystery to make all the other equations work. I wonder if dark matter and dark energy are the stuff of my imagined vertical plane, the plane of what can't be measured, what can't be touched by we humans. Imagination seems so unique to humans (for do other creatures write novels? or tickle each other's minds?) as well as the idea of potential, humans can and do break out of their scripted DNA, and imagination is what triggers a human to mindfully or mindlessly do things that have never been done before. We the only animals that have broken through the scripted DNA in any meaningful (or meaningless) ways. You speak of mystery, yet I find that the natural world holds little mystery, yes many unknowns, unknown simply because scientist haven't discovered or focused attention on these unknowns, a focus that breaks down the complex to the simple and in the process reveals the watch for what it is, gears upon gears and a spring. Yet the inner world of the human mind is the true mystery, for as much as science attempts to tease the mysteries out, then more mysteries are discovered. Inside my skull is an imagination that thinks the cosmos is composed of .3% neutrinos, .5% stars, 4% hydrogen and helium, 25% dark matter, and 70% dark energy. Oh yes, .03% material, other than hydrogen and helium. For me a far greater mystery is why fellow humans dismiss a Creator of this ALL, yet are confident that ALL just exists and by not the evolution of Darwin, but far before that, by a cosmic evolution. ALL came to be, and by chance and happenstance all things have come down to a being that can think such thoughts, and not only think such thoughts, but can argue over them. And they often do it in the name of science, when it is science that holds 95% of ALL to still be a mystery. A true mystery. Oh you of such great faith!

A drop in the ocean

If I were a drop in the ocean and that someday came when I found myself riding the surface, I think I'd thank all the other drops for their company, then as the sun transformed me (and the other "surface drops") to vapor, I'd bid farewell as I was whisked away for a most exciting journey ... as a cloud?

Monday, November 12, 2007

To whom?

When daily I awake to the splendor of life and marvel at the unknown (to me) and further marvel when that unknown to me is exposed to the light of day, by more often than not a scientist (or a writer of science), and that which I hold in my hand, a leaf from a tree? within it, far too many wonders than I can comprehend, yet some I've seen chalked on a blackboard in symbols by a botanist that exposed the workings of some tiny piece, of course I'm grateful to the botanist, yet the wonder itself? The leaf in my hand. And throughout the day the countless natural wonders, and into the night, gazing up into the desert sky, for me more splendor in a blink than I can grasp, and inside, what can I call it? inside a primal urge? all throughout the day and into the night, that urge, that need, a want, a want to give thanks. To whom?

The importance of insignificance

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
--Mahatma Gandhi

(Thank you Bro. Larry for the quote)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Collected quotes on the inside front cover of the journal

"If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."
--Paul of Tarsus (1 Corinthians 13:2)

“The great mystery is not that we should have been thrown down here at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars; it is that from our very prison we should draw, from our own selves, images powerful enough to deny our nothingness”
-- Andre Malraux

“Mystery is another name for our ignorance; if we were omniscient, all would be perfectly plain”
-- Tryon Edwards

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
-- Albert Einstein

"Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.”
--Neil Armstrong

"Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable."
--Bruce Lee

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Desert Journal 1 -- Tower of Knowledge

ToB = Tower of Babel

Returning to the ToB story I note a few things, that humans when acting and thinking in concert have unlimited potential, so much so that God saw the ultimate implications, humans could "become like gods", yet without being God. They were reaching beyond their pale. Of interest is the word pale, in former usage it was a "stake or pointed piece of wood" as used in fencing, a paled fence. So beyond the pale is to venture outside the fence. As I read in ToB God had not set the fencing as yet, but now could see the need for fencing, for humans were indeed created in the image of God, so too could "become like gods." The "thinking in concert" of the ToB story is a common language. With a common language the single human mind can work in parallel with countless human minds, and like multiple computer CPUs working in parallel, former problems of infinite complexity are reduced to countable problems of manageable solvability. Now what does the ToB story have to do with computers and science? The commonality of the language of science. Science is not dependent on language. Science is dependent on a method, the scientific method -- the accepted techniques of observation, description, prediction (hypothesis), testing hypothesis by experimentation, adjusting hypothesis to fit results of experimentation and observation, and repetition of experimenting and adjustment of hypothesis until experiment and hypothesis match, at which time hypothesis becomes a theory. Theory equals observations explained and predictions made. So what does all this mean? It mean that we humans are constructing our ToB with bricks of theory. Each new theory a new brick increasing our Tower of Knowledge, this new tower too reaching for heaven, reaching to unlock the secrets that have until now forever been beyond the pale. We have broken through the fence, thinking the fence an offense, keeping us human, keeping us forever in mystery, but now, outside the fence, how long will it take for us to shed this humanness, this humanness that has kept us since the dawn of ages in mystery. And what will this new world without mystery reveal?

Matt 13:13-15  “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. “And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The evolution of love

I find the seemingly random differences in humans interesting when compared to the breeding of dogs. Using AKC standards, one can imagine the look and behavior and most details of a particular dog without ever seeing that dog, if one were told the dog is pure breed and of a sanctioned AKC breed. Not so with humans. So in a relatively short time wild dogs have gone from canines with random differences to many breeds that are near clones of one another. Which makes me wonder why do some humans feel and experience more a mystery of love while other feel more a utility of love? We see very clearly that in a relatively short time wild canines have evolved (with human direction) into tiny furry cute lapdogs (or pitbulls). So it seems it doesn't take much time to change a creature from this to that. So I ask, could a purely "utility love" of ancient humans, through tens of thousands of years, been shaped and transformed through religion, myth, superstition, to this present day "mysterious love"? And if you think that possible, then how do we now view all that "religion/myth/superstition" of the past that shaped what today most would consider good and what makes us human -- love? (I am not speaking of group or institutional changes that the religions and mythologies of peoples have created, but the individual genetic changes that transformed a pre-homo sapiens with a sort of utilitarian kind of love into a present-day musing fellow that is filled with love and compassion.) And why am I thinking this at all? I think to better think through some of the current challenges to religion by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and others. Apart from the challenges are the statistics, a recent survey of over 1,600 science faculty at elite research universities came up with 38% of those in the natural sciences did not believe in God, and 31% in the social sciences did not believe in God. I mention these numbers because some well meaning Christians attempt to construct biblical arguments to counter challenges from atheists, yet as I've said before, when someone can't get past the first sentence of the Bible, and the atheist cannot, then how do you expect a dialogue when you pepper rebuttals with scripture? Maybe the choice is to have no dialogue? I think not.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Humans vs God - Round 1

I'm still hobbling about, my trek into the desert was soon halted when the mistake of wearing the yucca leaf fiber sandals woven by Bro. Clarence proved not to be up to the rigors of desert hiking. My mistake. But the blisters didn't appear until it was too late, too late to return for my hiking boots, too late to continue to the even more remote parts that I had marked on my map, so with much whining (to myself) I was able to make it to the town of Mojave and ended up in a Motel 6 to nurse my wounds. Yes, the first winch of distress and I seek not the medicinal plants that the indigenous desert people's used, no, I sought a Motel 6. Humbler now I am. But I might add that it wasn't all blisters, for during the second night sleeping under the stars "something" bit the heel of my left foot. I can't claim it was a snake or scorpion or some other fierce creature, most likely a fire ant. And the good news? I did carry my journal and will in the coming days transcribe a bit to show that the trek wasn't a complete failure, for the mental and spiritual trek continued despite the inconvenience of the distressed physical.

I departed with thoughts of the ongoing science/faith debate and was thinking of how it relates to Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel story. You may want to grab your Bible and reread Genesis 11, for here I have the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus' account of the story as he recorded it in "Antiquities of the Jews" (c 94 AD):

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power…

Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners [in the Flood]; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion…