“You are lounging on a magnificent balcony open to the starry sky, divine music is playing with such exquisite perfection you can hardly stand it, when all of a sudden something terrible occurs: the magical sounds break up into an obscene cacophony. What is happening? Are you dying? You could put it that way. That awful noise is the first scream of an infant: you. You have been born into a human body hardwired with each and every transgression from the last time around, and now you must spend the next seventy years clawing your way back to the music. No wonder we cry.”

– Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

Who wants to die for a supermarket

Trolley in supermarket, exact date
“The greatest weakness of the West is that it has nothing with which to inspire loyalty except wealth. But what is wealth? Another washing machine, a bigger car, a nicer house to live in? Not much to feed the spirit in all that. What is the West but a gigantic supermarket? And who really wants to die for a supermarket?”

– Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

The sun is always setting

“The state of the world is a relative truth. It’s mostly relative to how much news you watch. If you’re a CNN junkie, you live in a more worrisome, dangerous world than I do. You can argue all day that it’s the same world, but all that matters is what world you experience, not what the world is supposed to be likeoutside your experience. So zoom in, live from here. Don’t let others tell you what the world is like, because they live in a different world.”

David Cain on sunsets and how the world works.

Your head would explode

I’ve never met David Cain but when I think of “enlightenment,” he comes to mind. If I could pick one person to give me tips on how to live, I think it might be him. From a recent post:

“I now see all instances of minor physical discomfort as a chance to get better at being relaxed. I relax into the discomfort, I let it hang out with me. When you first try it it’s an exhilarating experiment — to voluntarily open up to minor pain when that’s what the moment brings you, to refrain from listening to the impulse to cringe or harden. It feels like you’re walking freely in an area you thought you weren’t allowed to go.”

“The present moment is the only concrete reality you will ever have to deal with. Sometimes it contains pain. We prefer that our realities don’t contain pain. But that can only ever be a preference, because ultimately we don’t have control over the present once it becomes the present. If you truly needed reality to be something other than reality, your head would explode that instant. But it doesn’t. You prefer it to be one way, but don’t need it to be.”

The God Argument

the-god-argumentThe God Argument (The Case Against Religion and for Humanism) by A. C. Grayling was a bit of a slow read for me, compared to a few other books I’ve read on this topic. This was, I believe, my first brush with secular humanism and it’s nice to have a basic definition of the concepts.

“Secularism is the principle of maintaining a separation between religious interests and bodies, on the one hand, and the state, on the other hand, on the premise that religion has no greater claim than any other self-interest outlook in debates about matters of government and public policy.”

“The basis of humanism is that we are to answer the most fundamental of all questions, the question of how to live, by reflection on the facts of human experience in the real world, and not on the basis of religion. [...] As a broad ethical outlook, humanism involves no sectarian divisions or strife, no supernaturalism, no taboos, no food and dress codes, no restrictive sexual morality other than what is implicit in the demand to treat others with respect, consideration and kindness.”

Humanism’s two fundamental premises: 1) “there are no supernatural agencies in the universe,” 2) “our ethics must be drawn from, and responsive to, the nature and circumstances of human experience.”

“A key requirement (of humanism) is that individuals should think for themselves about what they are and how they should live. [...] It imposes no obligations on people other than to think for themselves.”

Same for stoicism which, at first glances, seems to share some ideas with Buddhism.

“Stoicism’s main doctrine was that one should cultivate two capacities: ‘indifference’, and self-control. They used the term ‘indifference’ in the strict sense of this term to men neutrality, detachment, as in not taking sides on a question, or being disengaged from a quarrel.”

A few more ideas that got some highlighter »
[Read more...]

Physicists to test if universe a computer simulation

Three of my favorite Smart People (Kevin Kelly, Ray Kurzweil and Scott Adams) have convinced me there will be a post-human stage in our evolution. And Scott Adams makes a compelling (to me) case for the computer simulation theory.

“The theory basically goes that any civilisation which could evolve to a ‘post-human’ stage would almost certainly learn to run simulations on the scale of a universe. And that given the size of reality – billions of worlds, around billions of suns – it is fairly likely that if this is possible, it has already happened. And if it has? Well, then the statistical likelihood is that we’re located somewhere in that chain of simulations within simulations. The alternative – that we’re the first civilisation, in the first universe – is virtually absurd.”

Before you dismiss this theory, compare it to this popular creation narrative:

“It is made up of two parts, roughly equivalent to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. In the first part, Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3, Elohim, the generic Hebrew word for God, creates the world in six days, then rests on, blesses and sanctifies the seventh day. God creates by spoken command (“Let there be…”), suggesting a comparison with a king, who has only to speak for things to happen, and names the elements of the cosmos as he creates them, in keeping with the common ancient concept that things did not really exist until they had been named. In the second, Genesis 2:4–24, Yahweh, the personal name of God, shapes the first man from dust, places him in the Garden of Eden, and breathes his own breath into the man who thus becomes נֶפֶש nephesh, a living being; man shares nephesh with all creatures, but only of man is this life-giving act of God described. The man names the animals, signifying his authority within God’s creation, and God creates the first woman, Eve, from the man’s body.”

Virtual reality environments for the elderly

Is anyone creating virtual reality games/environments for the elderly? I’m not a gamer but each time I happen on some video a new game, I’m stunned by how good the graphics have gotten. I assume all other aspects are improving as well.

Today I can outside and romp and play with the other kids but someday that might not be the case. And I might be in an assisted living facility or whatever they have in the far, distant future for people who can’t care for themselves.

Could a clever person create a custom virtual environment for me. I have thousands of photos, hundreds of videos and many thousands of blog posts and tweets and such. A person could know a lot about my past and interests and use that data to create something amazing.

Instead of playing grab-ass with Mrs. Henson down in the day room, I could jack in to Steve World. Hell, in 20 years, the hardware and software will know things about my cognitive state and compensate where needed.


There’s a pond at the bottom of the hill on which we live. On nice days I enjoy sitting at the edge and watching the geese. I’ll bet you that could be created with amazing accuracy. Even “get up and take a walk” around the pond (after I can no long walk anywhere). I’ll hear the geese and the wind in the trees and maybe smell the grass.

This might sound sad and creepy to some, it does to me a little. But aske me again in 20 years.

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

present-shock“We tend to exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before us are ignored.”

“The minute the ‘now’ is apprehended it has already passed. [...] The more forcefully we attempt to stop the passage of time the less available we are to the very moment we seek to preserve.”

“Which ‘now’ is important: the now I just lived or the now I’m in right now?”

“Digiphrenida – the way our media and technologies encourage us to be in more than one place at the same time.”

“Not only have our devices outpaced us, they don’t even reflect a here and now that may constitute any legitimate sort of present tense. They are reports from the periphery, of things that happened moments ago. [...] By dividing our attention between our digital extensions, we sacrifice our connection to the truer present in which we are living.”

“Humans once lived without any concept of time at all. In this early, hunter-gatherer existence, information was exchanged physically, either orally or with gestures, in person. People lived in an eternal present, without any notion of before or after, much less history or progress. Things just were. [...] While they had to worry about where their next meal was coming from, they felt no pressure to succeed or to progress, to achieve or to improve. They had nowhere to go, since the very notion of a future hadn’t yet been invented. This stasis lasted several thousand years.”

“Like a digital file, a spelled word is the same everywhere it goes and does not decay.”

“Where calendars led people to think in terms of history, clocks led people to think in terms of productivity. Only after the proliferation of the clock did the word ‘speed’ (spelled spede) enter the English vocabulary.”

“Digital technology is more like a still-life picture. A sample. It is frozen in time. Sound, on the other hand, is audible only over time. We hear sound as it decays. [...] The digital universe is a visual one: people staring silently at screens, where the only sounds in the room are the keys and mouse clicks.”

“While there is tremendous value in group thinking, shared platforms, and networked collaboration, there is also value in a single mind contemplating a problem.”

“We must retrain ourselves to see the reward in the amount of time we get to spend in the reverie of solo contemplation or live engagement with another human being. Whatever is vibrating on the iPhone just isn’t as valuable as the eye contact you are making right now.”

“In the space of one childhood, we can learn what it took humanity many centuries to figure out.”

“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday. The value was in the now — which at this point is really just a then.”

“When everything is rendered instantly accessible via Google and iTunes, the entirety of culture becomes a single layer deep. The journey disappears, and all knowledge is brought into the present tense.”

“Our recorded past competes with our experienced present for dominance over the moment. [...] What isn’t coming at us from the past is crashing in at us from the future.”

“Big data companies collect seemingly innocuous data on everyone, such as the frequency of our text messages, the books we’ve bought, the number of rings it takes us co pick up the phone, the number of doors on our cars, the terms we use in our Web searches, in order to create a giant profile. They then compare this profile against those of everyone else. For reasons no one understands, the data may show that people who have two-door cars, answer the phone in three or more rings, and own cats are extremely likely to respond favorably to ads for soup. So these people will Ье shown lots of soup advertisements. The market researchers don’t care about the data points themselves or the logic connecting one behavior to another. They only care care about predicting what a person is statistically likely to do.”

“For the first time, people engaged with products completely divorced from the people who actually made them. Technologies masked not just the labor, but also the time that went into an item’s production. [...] This new way of interacting with things defined a new human identity for the very first time — that of the consumer.”

“Consumption makes up about half of all economic activity in America.”

“In a digitally enhanced consumer reality, we not only work to keep up with the latest products and service options, we purchase products and services that serve no purpose other than to help us better keep up. Our iPads and Adroids are nothing like the productivity-computing tools on which they may once have been based but are instead purchasing platforms designed to increase the ease and speed with which we consume.”

“We are so good at making stuff and providing services that we no longer require all of us to do it.”

“It is now usually cheaper to just try something than to sit around and try to figure out whether to try something.” — Joichi Ito

“The individual is flow, and the community is storage. Only the individual can take actions. Only the community can absorb their impact over time.”

“Fractalnoia – Relating on thing to another, even when the relationship is forced or imagined.”

“Ideas don’t generally emerge from individuals, but from groups (liquid networks).” – Social critic Steven Johnson

“In a networked ideascape, the ownership of an idea becomes as quaint and indefensible a notion as copyright or patents. Since ideas are built on the logic of others, there is no way to trace their independent origins. It’s all just access to shared consciousness. Everything is everything.”

“Consumers don’t want to speak with companies through social media; we want to speak with one another. We don’t even think of ourselves as consumers anymore, but as people.”

“As long as people didn’t engage with one another and were instead kept happily competing with one another, their actions, votes, and emotions remained fairly predictable.”

“The human body is a space suit for something that could be stored quite differently.”

“I find myself unable to let go of the sense that human beings are somehow special, and that moment-to-moment human experience contains a certain unquantifiable essence. I still suspect there is something to quirky, too paradoxical, or too interpersonal to be imitated or re-created by machine life.”


Ten Zen Questions

tenSusan Blackmore describes her fascinating book as “my own attempt to combine science and personal practice in the investigation of consciousness.”

“Learning to meditate means nothing more than learning to sit still and pay attention, staying relaxed and alert, without getting tangled up in trains of thoughts, emotions or inner conversations.”

“Now I understood the need for a calm mind. We were told that calming the mind is the starting point of aU meditation, but that it can also take you ll the way. We were told even scarier things; that what you are searching for is here right now, that there is really nothing to strive for and that once you arrive you will realise there was nowhere to go in the first płace; that however hard you work, and you must work hard, in the end you will know that there is nothing to be done.”

“Being in the present moment [...] meant that I was not to think about the next moment, not to dwell on what I had just done, not to think about what I might have said instead, not to imagine a conversaton that I might have later, not to look forward to lunch, not to look forward to weekends, or holidays or… anything.”

“The present moment is always all right. All my troubles lay in the thoughts I was letting go of. [...] The body seemed to keep on doing relevant and sensible things, apparently without all the agonising I had assumed was essential.”

“Idealism: The idea that there is no separate physical world, and everything in the universe is made up of thoughts, or ideas or consciousness.”

“Materialism: The idea that there is no separate mental world, and everything in the universe is mad of matter.”

“Actions exist, and also their consequences, but the person that acts does not. — Buddhist saying

“Am I conscious now? It troubles me that I seem so often to be unconscious. I wonder what this unconsciousness is. I cannot believe I spend most of my life in a kind of darkness. Surely that cannot be so. Yet every time I ask the question it feels as thought I am waking up, or that a light is switching on.”

“How can I look into the darkness, when looking makes it light?”

“The words aren’t really necessary anymore. Rather, there just seems to be a questioning attitude, an openness of mind. Ami I conscious now? Yes, I am, keep on that way, and now, and now, and gently now. [...] Awareness does become more continuous with practice — it can just take a very long time.”

“I can grab a now. I can grasp out with my attention. This and this. They happened at once, didn’t they. It was a now, I am sure, even thought it was gone by the time I can have that certanty. [...] I cannot work out what it would mean for there to be no now. And yet there does not seem to be a new. [...] When I sit quietly, doing nothing, there is no obvious choice of what is now. Stuff just happens.”

“I was looking for the me that was looking and I found only the world. I am, it seems, the world I see.”

“There is not a separate me as well as the experience. It is hard to accept that I am all those people walking down the street.”

“I see and hear anhd feel but name nothing. [...] It is something like paying attention equally to everything.”

“How can I tell the clouds have moved? Because from one moment to the next I can remember what came before.”

“There are multiple brain processes going on, some of which take up more of the brain’s capacity than others, but there is no me who experiences them, and no time at which they become conscious.”

“The world we think we see or hear — is always a memory. and what is a memory?”

“Do past and future look different? [...]They’re all just the same stuff — memory stuff; imagination stuff. Past and future can be held in mind as equivalent.”

“Mindfullness is being fully here in the present moment. But now I know that there is no such moment. So what is mindfullness?” [What I understand as 'now' is really just a memory of just-past moment]

“What was I conscious of a moment ago? I found whol streams of experience that seemed to have already been going on, for someone, before I noticed them.”

“There is no thinker other than the thoughts. [...] I’ve always treated thoughts as a problem, or something to be dealt with. Now, instead of either fighting them or watching them, I am simply to be them.”

“The universe seems to be causlly closed. That is, everything that happens is caused by something else. Nothing happens by magical forces intervening from outside the web of causes and effects, for everything is interconnected with everything else. [...] Yet I feel as thought I can act freely. Indeed this magical view is probably how most people in most cultures have always thought about themselves, imagining a non-physical mental entity that has wishes and desires, can think and plan, and carry out those plans by acting on the world.”

“Decision are made because of countless interacting events, and afterwards a little voice inside says, ‘I did that’, ‘I decided to do that.’ [...] I am not separate from the perceptions, thoughts and actions that make up my world. And if I am what seems to be the world, the we are in this together. Me and the world, world/me are doing all these actions that now just seem to act of their own accord.”

“The world had summed up the options, chose one, carried it out, and moved on. This action was a result of everything I had learned and done before. [...] Could I just trust the world and this body to woirk all by itself without me doing anything?”

“I am not a continuous conscious being at all. What seems to be me just arises along with whatever is being experienced. [...] Every time some experience comes along, the me is allowed to go, along with the ending of the experience, as though experience and experiencer arise and then snuff out together. [...] There never was a continuous I. [...] The ‘same me’ was never recreated. [...] Will I be snuffed out like a candle? Yes, just as I have been a thousand, million times before.” #

“Consciousness is an illusion; an enticing and convincing illusion that lures us into believing that our minds are separate from our bodies.”

“(My selves) arise along with te sensations, perceptions and thoughts that they seem to be having, and die along with them. With every new ‘this’ there is a new ‘me’ who was looking into it.”

There is nothing it is like to be me.
I am not a persisting conscious entity.
I do not consciously cause sthe actions of my body.
Consciousness is not a stream of experiences.
Seeing entails no vivid mental pictures or movie in the brain.
There is no unity of consciousness either in a given moment or through time.
Brain activity is neither conscious no unconscious.
There are no contents of consciousness.
There is no now.

“At any time in a human brain there are multiple parallel processes going on, conjuring up perceptions, thoughts, opinions, sensations and volitions. None of these is either in or out of consciousness for there is no such place. Most of the time there is no observer: if consciousness is involved at all it is an attribudon made later, on the basis of remembering events and assuming that someone must have been experiencing them in the past, when in fact no one was.”