The Assembly Line

I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, his first novel, published in 1952.

(Wikipedia) “It is a dystopia of automation, describing the dereliction it causes in the quality of life. The story takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class—the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.”

I don’t recall the novel making much of an impact on me when I read it during college. The world just didn’t seem that mechanized to me back then. It sure seems timely 60+ years later. And it brings to mind my brief (2 weeks?) time working on the assembly line of the General Motors plant in St. Louis. Summer of 1968?


As I recall, every hour 62 cars passed my little work area. In that minute I put six screws into a thing around one of the headlights (1); put rubber bumpers on two little posts the car’s hood rested on (2); attached a little piece of rubber hose to… something (3); put the tire iron behind the spare tire and spread out the trunk mat (4).

I’m surprised I lasted two weeks but some of the guys on the line had been doing similar tasks for 20 years (and encouraged me to drop out of college to get a couple extra years of seniority).

Vonnegut died in 2007 so he saw some serious automation. As for the class conflict depicted in his novel, well, I think we might just be getting started.


“Laney had recently noticed that the only people who had titles that clearly described their jobs had jobs he wouldn’t have wanted.” — From William Gibson’s 1996 novel, Idoru

Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

pay-any-priceI’m not sure how anyone can have much hope for the future of America by the time they get to the last page of this book. Every institution fails. The military. Congress. Our courts. The White House. The Free Press we were once so proud of. Greed and corruption, up and down the line. Risen introduces us to some good people who tried to do something but they all paid (are paying) a high price and the bad guys are still winning.

People tell me we live in a democracy or a republic or something and we can change things at the polls but I don’t think I really believe that. Thousands (or millions?) of Americans in the street might make a difference but I’m not sure how. Maybe if they took to the streets and just stayed there, but I don’t see that happening. A meteor that takes out everything inside the Beltway?

I wish I could imagine a happy ending. If you can, please share it. I’d really like to hear it. And you know what I’d like to see? I’d like to watch the faces of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as they read this book. Each in a room by themselves, sitting in their favorite chair. Just a close-up of their faces (from a hidden camera across the roo). I could watch an hour of that.


sparkThis was a very satisfying read. The cold, professional killer story has been told so many times it must be difficult to find a fresh take. I liked this one. By John Twelve Hawks.

In reality, the universe is neutral about our existence. Only dogs care.

A Vast Machine watched and evaluated them, remembering their past actions and predicting their future behavior.

All language –everything we say– is just an approximation of reality.

Most conscious thought is simply an attempt to claim ‘authorship’ for a choice that has already been made. Our thoughts are just an ongoing attempt to explain what we’ve already decided.

Lying, not love, is the fundamental indication of humanity.

The laws of mathematics are stronger than the laws of man.

True ideology has vanished, replaced by fear and fantasy. The right wing wants corporate control and a return to a past that never existed. The left wing wants government control and a future that will never exist.

Our problem is not machines acting like humans — it’s humans acting like machines.

What happens in our future can change the meaning of what has happened in our past.

Still the Mind

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at Tue, Oct 7, 10.59.49 AMExcerpts from Alan Watts’ Still the Mind (An Introduction to Meditation)

We fail to distinguish between the way things are and the way they are described.

One’s actual organic being is inseparable from the universe.

I found out that unless one has something to give people, there is nothing one can do to help them. Just because I thought I ought to help, it didn’t mean that I had anything to give.

The whole energy of the universe is coming at you and through you, and you are that energy.

You can only know what you can compare with something else.

What we call the past is simply the traces, the fade-outs trailing away from the present. [Read more…]

The Tao of Zen

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at Tue, Oct 7, 10.53.56 AM“The Tao of Zen is a nonfiction book by Ray Grigg. The work argues that what we recognize as traditional Chinese Ch’an/Japanese Zen Buddhism is in fact almost entirely grounded in Chinese Taoist philosophy, though this fact is well shrouded by the persistence of Mahayana Buddhist institutional trappings. Utilizing an array of scholarly commentary on the two traditions and historical deduction from what can be considered to be the best primary source material available, the author traces the development of Taoism and Buddhism in China and Japan for two millennia.” (Wikipedia)

I’ve read this book twice and expect to read it again but I wouldn’t know where to begin to describe it. The Wikipedia link above is a good start. As is my habit with nonfiction, I highlighted as I read.

Waking Up

waking-upJust finished Waking Up – A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris. Amazon reviews here; more about Mr. Harris here. Ideas I found highlighter-worthy below.

Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind.

It is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determine the quality of your life.

Everything we want to accomplish is something that promises, if done, it would allow us to finally relax and enjoy our lives in the present. […] Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.

Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

Is it possible to be happy before anything happens, before one’s desires are gratified, in spite of life’s difficulties, in the very midst of physical pain, old age, disease, and death?

One one level, wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow one’s own advice.

A true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at east in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time.

It is impossible for any faith, no matter how elastic, to fully honor the truth claims of another.

We manage to avoid being happy while struggling to become happy.

(Mindfulness is ) a state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness. […] Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves.

The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing we are thinking.

Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed.

Most of us spend every waking moment lost in the movie of our lives.

Meditation is a technique for waking up.

Investigating the nature of consciousness is the basis of spiritual life.

Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

If you shut your eyes at this moment, the contents of your consciousness change quite drastically, but your consciousness (arguably) does not.

Are we unconsciousness during sleep or merely unable to remember what sleep is like?

We are not aware of all the information that influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I’ve forgotten most of what has happened to me over the course of my life.

Subjectively speaking, the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents. […] Reality vastly exceeds our awareness of it.

(I am) a continuum of experience.

The feeling of “I” is a product of thought. […] Having an ego is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking.

(Thoughts are) transient appearances in consciousness.

We tell ourselves the story of the present, as though some blind person were inside our heads who required continuous narration to know what is happening.

Even if your life depended on it, you could not spend a full minute free of thought. […] We spend our lives lost in thought. […] Taking oneself to be the thinking of one’s thoughts is a delusion.

One must be able to pay attention closely enough to glimpse what consciousness is like between thoughts — that is, prior to the arising of the next one.

We imagine that we are conscious of our selves within our bodies. We seem to be riding around inside our bodies.

(The self) is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience.

It may be that an awareness of other minds is a necessary condition for an awareness of one’s own.

Consciousness is the prior condition of every experience; the self or ego is an illusory appearance within it; look closely for what you are calling “I,” and the feeling of being a separate self will disappear; what remains, as a matter of experience, is a field of consciousness — uncontaminated by its ever-changing contents.

Consciousness is intrinsically free of self.

That which is aware of sadness is not sad. That which is aware of fear is not fearful. Notice thoughts as they emerge and recognize them to be transitory appearances in consciousness. In subjective terms, you are consciousness itself — you are not the next, evanescent image or string of words that appears in your mind.

Consciousness is intrinsically undivided.

Nothing is intrinsically boring — boredom is simply a lack of attention.

We need not come to the end of the path to experience the benefits of walking it.

We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts.

It is by ceasing to cling to the contents of consciousness — to our thought, moods, and desires — that we make progress.

There is experience, and then there are the stories we tell about it.

Consciousness is never improved or harmed by what it knows.

The Bone Clocks

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at Thu, Sep 4, 9.57.02 AMJust finished The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and found it… gripping. Never thought much about that word as applied to stories, but this novel grabbed me me and held on, even when I wanted to put it down (as he described “a nuclear wilderness in 2043, after a deluge of viruses and natural disasters.”)

From the New York Times review: “You may not believe in telepathy, second sight or reincarnation, but if you enter Mitchell’s universe you can’t not believe in them either.”

How the World Can Be the Way It Is

how-the-worldHow the World Can Be the Way It Is: An Inquiry for the New Millennium into Science, Philosophy, and Perception Zen and Quantum Theory are really hard for me to wrap my head around, and Steve Hagen has big dollops of both in this book. I followed maybe 75 percent of the book. The stuff I highlighted won’t make much sense out of context but this is for my reference, so…

For it is sufficient, I think, to live by experience, and without subscribing to beliefs — Sextus Empiricus

(To believe, to hold an opinion) refers to a state of mind which we are powerless to choose.

His mind was changed because it was overwhelmed by a new awareness. In the moment in which he became aware of something new, his mind was different.

We must learn to rely solely on what we see rather than upon what we think.

We proselytize others because it makes us feel better. And the reason it makes us feel better is because we’re unsure of what we believe ourselves.

(Being fully awake is) Seeing without any mental bias — without concepts, beliefs, preconceptions, presumptions, or expectations.

You can’t choose to doubt.

We should always be prepared to take another look at what we believe and begin to doubt it. […] We should doubt until we no longer hold fast to any thing at all.

Whatever you think, is delusion.

“The world is not objectively real but depends on the mind of an observer.” — John von Neumann

The mind is what the brain does.

Apart from their functions, relationships, and components, we do not seem to know what things are at all. […] A thing receives its identity as much from what it is not as it does from what it is. […] When an object appears in the mind, we conceive it as a solitary thing unto itself. […] It is only as singular entities that our objects of consciousness can form in our mind. […] All things receive their identity as much from what they are not as from what they are. […] Spring can only be spring if we account for what it is not (e.g., summer) as an intrinsic part of its identity.

“How can one be ‘wrong’ about what one actually perceives?” — Roger Penrose

We simply have no direct experience of anything outside the mind. And to assume the existence (or, for that matter, he nonexistence) of anything outside the mind simply contradicts direct experience.

Three types of “recognition”
1) Naming a thing (labeling and categorizing. Purely conceptual)
2) What the thing does (function and utility)
3) Just seeing (pure perception, no conceptual overlay)

The more we learn about quantum physics, the more the universe appears like a thought rather than a thing. (Pointed out by Sir Arthur Edington)


It’s because we can easily conceive of (but never perceive) a time or place outside of our consciousness that we persist in holding this belief (that matter precedes consciousness) […] We never directly experience a time (or anything else) which precedes consciousness.

We don’t actually experience Consciousness Itself “originating” anywhere, or anywhen. Consciousness — the awareness that “something’s” happening — is ever-present and immediate. We never directly experience Nothing.

Consciousness (is) the originator, instead of the product, of place and time.

No one is ever conscious of not being (or not having been) conscious.

Consciousness is the conceiving (the making) of parts, or mind-objects, from the Whole. […] The “parts” — the physical and mental objects of consciousness, i.e., concepts — are merely appearances resulting from the working of Consciousness.

Consciousness splits the Whole, immediately creating and ego — an identity — which then sees all other things in opposition to it.

To gain information is merely to sink deeper into conceptual reality. […] We gain information at the expense of wisdom.

What you or I do right here, right now affects everything that ever was, is, or will be. Whatever you do is constantly affecting everything that has ever happened or will happen.

We “exist” not in being but in becoming — and in fading away.

We do not experience an I — we assume it. We only experience perception, thought, and consciousness.

The Book

The Book, Alan WattsThe Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (1966). I like the way Alan Watts writes. Some of the sixties jargon sounds a little quaint but, hey, that’s the way we talked back then. If you haven’t read this book (and don’t intend to), you can skip this post. Won’t make any sense at all out of context. Admittedly, some of the ideas are hard to grasp within context. Posts like this one (excerpts from a book) are archival. A place for me to come back and locate an idea I could never find by flipping through the book.

He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear. […] It takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. […] We are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself.

God is the Self of the world, but you can’t see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can’t see your own eyes.

He isn’t really doing this to anyone but himself. […] In the Vedanta philosophy, nothing exists except God. […] But Vedanta is much more than the idea or the belief that this is so. It is centrally and above all the experience, the immediate knowledge of its being so.

You don’t die because you were never born. You had just forgotten who you are.

All information will come in by super-realistic television and other electronic devices as yet in the planning stage or barely imagined. In one way this will enable the individual to extend himself anywhere without moving his body— even to distant regions of space. But this will be a new kind of individual— an individual with a colossal external nervous system reaching out and out into infinity. And this electronic nervous system will be so interconnected that all individuals plugged in will tend to share the same thoughts, the same feelings, and the same experiences. […] If all this ends with the human race leaving no more trace of itself in the universe than a system of electronic patterns, why should that trouble us? For that is exactly what we are now!

No one thing or feature of this universe is separable from the whole, the only real You, or Self, is the whole.

Most people think of themselves as separate from their thoughts and experiences.

Memory is an enduring pattern of motion, like the whirlpool, rather than an enduring substance, like a mirror, a wax tablet, or a sheet of paper.

Society is our extended mind and body.

(You are) one particular focal point at which the whole universe expresses itself. […] Every individual is a unique manifestation of the Whole,

The death of the individual is not disconnection but simply withdrawal. The corpse is like a footprint or an echo— the dissolving trace of something which the Self has ceased to do.

The only real “I” is the whole endless process.

Every organism is a process: thus the organism is not other than its actions. To put it clumsily: it is what it does. More precisely, the organism, including its behavior, is a process which is to be understood only in relation to the larger and longer process of its environment. […] The whole is a pattern, a complex wiggliness, which has no separate parts. Parts are fictions of language.

Apart from your brain, or some brain, the world is devoid of light, heat, weight, solidity, motion, space, time, or any other imaginable feature.

This little germ with its fabulous brain is evoking the whole thing, including the nebulae millions of light-years away. […] A structure of such fabulous ingenuity that it calls the whole universe into being.

No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.

Making an effort to be ego-less is like “beating a drum in search of a fugitive.”

You are nothing at all apart from everything else. […] Each organism is the universe experiencing itself in endless variety.

Don’t try to get rid of the ego-sensation. Take it, so long as it lasts, as a feature or play of the total process — like a cloud or wave, or like feeling warm or cold, or anything else that happens of itself. Getting rid of one’s ego is the last resort of invincible egoism! It simply confirms and strengthens the reality of the feeling. But when this feeling of separateness is approached and accepted like any other sensation, it evaporates like the mirage that it is.

Meditate just to meditate.

When this new sensation of self arises, it is at once exhilarating and a little disconcerting. It is like the moment when you first got the knack of swimming or riding a bicycle. There is the feeling that you are not doing it yourself, but that it is somehow happening on its own, and you wonder whether you will lose it— as indeed you may if you try forcibly to hold on to it. In immediate contrast to the old feeling, there is indeed a certain passivity to the sensation, as if you were a leaf blown along by the wind, until you realize that you are both the leaf and the wind. The world outside your skin is just as much you as the world inside: they move together inseparably, and at first you feel a little out of control because the world outside is so much vaster than the world inside. Yet you soon discover that you are able to go ahead with ordinary activities— to work and make decisions as ever, though somehow this is less of a drag. Your body is no longer a corpse which the ego has to animate and lug around. There is a feeling of the ground holding you up, and of hills lifting you when you climb them. Air breathes itself in and out of your lungs, and instead of looking and listening, light and sound come to you on their own. Eyes see and ears hear as wind blows and water flows. All space becomes your mind. Time carries you along like a river, but never flows out of the present: the more it goes, the more it stays, and you no longer have to fight or kill it.

The universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate “you” to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real “you” is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For “you” is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new. What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean.

The Self is playing its most far-out and daring game— the game of having lost Itself completely and of being in danger of some total and irremediable disaster.

We are merely bolting our lives— gulping down undigested experiences as fast as we can stuff them in— because awareness of our own existence is so superficial and so narrow that nothing seems to us more boring than simple being.

How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such a fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself as anything less than a god?

It seems to be the special peculiarity of human beings that they reflect: they think about thinking and know that they know.

For so long as I am trying to grasp IT, I am implying that IT is not really myself.

I return in every baby born. […] It matters not whether the interval be ten seconds or billions of years. In unconsciousness all times are the same brief instant.

In looking out upon the world, we forget that the world is looking at itself— through our eyes and IT’s.