A new mind for an old species

“Technology and life must share some fundamental essence. … However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms. Both life and technology seem to be based on immaterial flows of information.” (What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly)

“Humanity is developing a sort of global eyesight as millions of video cameras on satellites, desktops, and street corners are connected to the Internet. In your lifetime it will be possible to see almost anything on the planet from any computer. And society’s intelligence is merging over the Internet, creating, in effect, a global mind that can do vastly more than any individual mind. Eventually everything that is known by one person will be available to all. A decision can be made by the collective mind of humanity and instantly communicated to the body of society.” (God’s Debris, Scott Adams, 2004)

“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!” (The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts,1989)

“This very large thing (the net) provides a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall, planetary scope) and a new mind for an old species. It is the Beginning. […] At its core 7 billion humans, soon to be 9 billion, are quickly cloaking themselves with an always-on layer of connectivity that comes close to directly linking their brains to each other. […] By the year 2025 every person alive — that is, 100 percent of the planet’s inhabitants — will have access to this platform via some almost-free device. Everyone will be on it. Or in it. Or, simply, everyone will be it.” (The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly)

Meditation: 271 Days

After 271 consecutive days of meditation practice, I missed on Saturday. I was attending my 50th high school class reunion and just spaced it off. My previous streak of 371 days (starting on December 4, 2014) ended during a bout with pneumonia (December 5, 2015). I don’t get hung up on the quality of my practice or the duration but I do try to be consistent in sitting every day, if only for 10 minutes. Which is the only reason I keep track of my sessions. As I’ve noted previously, missing once a year might not be a bad thing if it keeps me from focusing on the string instead of today’s session. So today is two in a row!

Truths About Life

David Cain has 88 of these on his list. These are just my favorites.

“If you go home with someone, and they don’t have any books, don’t fuck them.” — John Waters

The main reason we argue online is because it feels good, but we like to imagine it’s also somehow noble or helpful.

The news doesn’t show you how the world is. It shows you whatever will make you watch more news.

Every generation thinks the one that came before them and the one that came after them are the worst.

We evolved to go days without food. Missing a meal shouldn’t be a big deal, but if you skip the odd lunch people will assume you have an eating disorder.

We are all atheists, in a sense. Every person denies the existence of either most or all of the gods that have been proposed.

When a party has degenerated into people showing each other their favorite YouTube videos, it’s time to call a cab.

The Mind-Body Problem

“The scientific and philosophical consensus is that there is no nonphysical soul or ego, or at least no evidence for that.” — Philosopher David Chalmers

From Consciousness: The Mind Messing With the Mind (NYT)

“Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, suggested to the audience that consciousness is a kind of con game the brain plays with itself. The brain is a computer that evolved to simulate the outside world. Among its internal models is a simulation of itself — a crude approximation of its own neurological processes. The result is an illusion. Instead of neurons and synapses, we sense a ghostly presence — a self — inside the head. But it’s all just data processing. “The machine mistakenly thinks it has magic inside it,” Dr. Graziano said. And it calls the magic consciousness.”

I think this is what is commonly referred to as “the hard problem.” How minds are generated by brains.

“Some philosophers and scientists have been driven back to the centuries-old doctrine of panpsychism — the idea that consciousness is universal, existing as some kind of mind stuff inside molecules and atoms. Consciousness doesn’t have to emerge. It’s built into matter, perhaps as some kind of quantum mechanical effect.”

I like the idea of universal consciousness. Until there’s solid, scientific consensus on how the brain creates consciousness… this is as good an explanation as any.

The Ruthless War on Stuff

I have a mental list of topics I try to avoid because — in my experience — they seem to make people a little (or a lot) crazy. Politics and Religion, of course. Apple products. And Marie Kondo, the best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I read her little book and did exactly what it said I should do to “change my life.” But I try to keep what I learned to myself (like religion and politics and Steve Jobs). But this New York Times piece is too good not to share. A few excerpts:

“By the time her book arrived, America had entered a time of peak stuff, when we had accumulated a mountain of disposable goods — from Costco toilet paper to Isaac Mizrahi swimwear by Target — but hadn’t (and still haven’t) learned how to dispose of them. We were caught between an older generation that bought a princess phone in 1970 for $25 that was still working and a generation that bought $600 iPhones, knowing they would have to replace them within two years. We had the princess phone and the iPhone, and we couldn’t dispose of either. We were burdened by our stuff; we were drowning in it.”

The success of Ms. Kondo’s book (and system) gets a big dollop of derision and smirking: “A parody book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a [expletive],” and another one called “The Joy of Leaving Your [expletive] All Over the Place.”

But the lady seems to walk the walk: “The only visible possessions in her hotel room for a two-week trip from Tokyo were her husband’s laptop and a small silver suitcase the size of a typical man’s briefcase.”

The “organizing industry” is big in the U.S. and some of the old hands are quick to dismiss Kondo’s approach. Okay, a little more than just “dismiss”:

“Somehow the extra step of thanking the object or folding it a little differently enrages them. This rage hides behind the notion that things are different here in America, that our lives are more complicated and our stuff is more burdensome and our decisions are harder to make.”

A well-written article, whatever your thoughts on, or approach to, tidying up.

How LSD affects consciousness

Researchers have published the first images showing the effects of LSD on the human brain, as part of a series of studies that are examining how the drug causes its characteristic hallucinogenic effects. (More at Nature)

“Within some important brain networks, such as the neuronal networks that normally fire together when the brain is at rest, which is sometimes called the ‘default mode’ network, we saw reduced blood flow — something we’ve also seen with psilocybin — and that neurons that normally fire together lost synchronization. That correlated with our volunteers reporting a disintegration of their sense of self, or ego. This known effect is called ‘ego dissolution’: the sense that you are less a singular entity, and more melded with people and things around you.”

Reading List: Tao, Zen & Buddhism

  • What Is Tao? – Alan Watts [notes]
  • Tao: The Watercourse Way – Alan Watts [notes]
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – Marie Kondo [notes]
  • Freedom from the Known – Jiddu Kirshnamurti
  • This Is It: and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience – Alan Watts [notes]
  • The Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work and Art in the Far East [notes]
  • The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are – Alan Watts [notes]
  • Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening – Stephen Batchelor [notes]
  • The Sound of Silence: Selected Teachings of Ajahn Sumedho
  • Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi [notes]
  • Ten Zen Questions – Susan Blackmore [notes]
  • Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn [notes]
  • Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice – Kosho Uchiyama Roshi
  • I Am That – Nisargadatta Maharaj [notes]
  • Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind – Dzogchen Ponlop
  • Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World – Lama Surya Das
  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryu Suzuki
  • Living As A River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change – Bodhipaksa [notes]
  • The Tao of Zen – Ray Grigg [notes]
  • Buddhism Plain and Simple – Steve Hagen [notes]
  • The Way of Zen – Alan Watts [notes]
  • Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom – Rick Hanson [notes]
  • Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation – Alan Watts [notes]
  • Meditation Now or Never – Steve Hagen [notes]
  • The Tao of Meditation: Way to Enlightenment – Jou Tsung Hwa