Category Archives: Books

A different level of consciousness

“Today’s debate between today’s religions, ideologies, nations and classes will in all likelihood disappear along with Homo sapiens . If our successors indeed function on a different level of consciousness (or perhaps possess something beyond consciousness that we cannot even conceive), it seems doubtful that Christianity or Islam will be of interest to them, that their social organisation could be Communist or capitalist, or that their genders could be male or female.”

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Money talks. Bullshit walks.

From Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

“Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.”

This is why you can buy off a Taliban war lord or a United States Congressman. Money talks and bull shit walks. And for the most part, money doesn’t really exist:

“The sum total of money in the world is about $60 trillion, yet the sum total of coins and banknotes is less than $6 trillion. 7 More than 90 per cent of all money – more than $50 trillion appearing in our accounts – exists only on computer servers.”

It’s mostly in our heads. Or our collective consciousness, if you prefer. Packed in there with all the other imaginary concepts so many are willing to kill and die for.

The age of the masses is over

I’ve long suffered from the romantic notion that when things get “bad enough,” the people, the masses, will rise up and change things. That if enough people took to the streets, they could effect change. And while that pretty much held true in the 20th century, it might not in the 21st. Historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“Generally speaking, when you look at the 20th century, it’s the era of the masses, mass politics, mass economics. Every human being has value, has political, economic, and military value, simply because he or she is a human being, and this goes back to the structures of the military and of the economy, where every human being is valuable as a soldier in the trenches and as a worker in the factory.”

“But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value. This is true for the military, it’s done, it’s over. The age of the masses is over. We are no longer in the First World War, where you take millions of soldiers, give each one a rifle and have them run forward. And the same thing perhaps is happening in the economy.”

Professor Harari expands on this in his conversation with Daniel Kahneman (and in his book). Another idea that really stopped me in my tracks:

“Looking from the perspective of 2015, I don’t think we now have the knowledge to solve the social problems of 2050, or the problems that will emerge as a result of all these new developments. We should be looking for new knowledge and new solutions, and starting with the realization that in all probability, nothing that exists at present offers a solution to these problems.”

Professor Harari’s book made me really consider — for the first time — that humans won’t always be around.

“It is doubtful whether Homo sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now.”

But whatever comes next will be and I’m cool with that.

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. Continue reading

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.