LibraryThing (update)

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 11.09.48 AMI started using LibraryThing to manage my library in 2005, about a month after the service launched. I was using a spreadsheet for this task but quickly fell in love with the tools and features LibraryThing provided. I find their smartphone app very handy.

I have 740 titles in my LibraryThing long ago gave away most of the books. Someone calling themselves eandino2012 has more than 81 thousand titles in her/his LibraryThing.

If you’ve considered using a service like LT or Goodreads but dreaded the task of uploading all your book titles, LT has a good import tool (see below) and their smartphone app can scan ISBN barcodes. Neither of those were around back in 2005 so I entered mine one at a time.
import

LT does some fun stuff (total cubic feet of your books; how high if stacked, etc) and some useful (to me) stuff: list of all characters in the books in your LT.

height characters

I know of no better use of my time than reading. Books are important to me. LibraryThing is a way to extend the pleasure I get from books.

Reincarnation

I wrote this in 1988. I was 40 years old and I don’t recall what prompted this musing. I’ve done a fair amount of reading on eastern philosophies in the past 30 years and my thinking/understanding has evolved. But only a little.

Reincarnation. The word conjures up all sorts of mystical images. While I don’t recall any past life as a soldier at the Little Big Horn, it’s sort of like “the undiscovered planet” that makes sense of the orbits of the other planets.

As I think about the idea of a past existence, I feel a fondness for this “earlier me”. A sense of gratitude for whatever spiritual progress he was able to achieve. At the same time, I feel a sense of anticipation or expectation for my “next life”. And some responsibility to that future self. I’d like to move him (or her?) along as far as I can on this “cosmic lap.” To move him closer to…a perfect consciousness? Nirvana?

Mixed in with all of that is a sense of relief that I don’t have to complete everything in this lifetime. This is not the only shot I’ll get. And this awareness is vital because we all know –consciously or subconsciously– that we won’t “get it all done” in a spiritual sense. We hope (and work) for progress but a single lifetime seems hopelessly short.

So, how close am I? What if I’m only a single lifetime (only?) away from reaching this level of consciousness? Suppose I progress sufficiently in what I have left of this lifetime that I’m within “striking distance” in the next?

It’s possible I’m on my first “existence” and have many to go. Or I might have lived thousands of lives and have but a few remaining. The point is, it doesn’t matter where you are on this journey. There’s no race and no time limit. You finish when you finish and everybody finishes. And that’s a liberating thought. There’s no Heavenly Stopwatch ticking away. No point at which you must throw in the towel and face the fact you’11 never be “good enough” to get through those Pearly Gates. Eternity is not pass-fail.

Most of us fear death. We fear the unknown… what might be waiting for us. Most Western theology offers only heaven or hell. Or nothing. Poor choices, all.

What if we’re just as frightened of “being born” as we are of dying? Once you accept the idea that our souls or spirits or consciousness do not die, but are eternal, you can imagine how frightening it might be to face being born into a new existence. There is symmetry here that feels right. If my soul or consciousness is eternal, can it really be that it magically sprang into existence at the moment of my conception? One instant it didn’t exist, the next it did? It came from nowhere, out of nothing? No. I think eternity stretches in both directions.

I wish I could tell the “earlier me” that things worked out fine. There was nothing to fear. I don’t remember “dying” or being born and this life has been terrific. And why not assume the “next me” will do just as well? And will be a little more spiritually evolved thanks to the progress “this me” is making.

Why don’t (most of us) remember our “past lives?” I think it would be an awful distraction. Our purpose is to live each moment of this life fully. To grow through each day’s experience. Not to dwell on and puzzle over a life already lived. Lessons already learned. So we remain unaware of past and future lives, focused on the only life we can ever really live, this one.

And what about Heaven? Can it really be the cosmic end-of-the-line we’ve been taught? Have you ever really believed in this Sunday School heaven with streets of gold and God sitting on his judgment throne? Isn’t there more hope, more promise, in the ongoing spiritual journey?

As for Hell, we are all quite capable of creating our own, anytime, anywhere. And we do.
The idea of timeless existence fills me with a wonderful sense of anticipation. If, after 40 years, I’ve learned to stop worrying, does that mean I can go on to new challenges in this life (and the next)? If I’ve lived a life afraid to take chances, to risk, for fear of failure, will I conquer that fear next time? Can I take the spiritual progress f this life on to the next one? It seems right, doesn’t it?

And equally logical that I’ll take unsolved challenges with me as well. But how many people do you know who expect to leave their enemies behind when they go to “their reward”. Smug in the knowledge those enemies are now paying for their sins.

No, I think He or She would say, “Don’t talk to me about right or wrong, your job is your own spiritual growth. As long as you feel hate, or anger, or guilt, or worry… keep working on it. And to help you, I’ve got a limitless number of real-life situations for you to practice on.”

Does this mean I can coast through this life, dodging spiritual challenges, procrastinating on into eternity? I don’t think so. I’d love to hit that next life free and clear (to the extent that is possible). Unencumbered. I want to put worry and fear and self-doubt behind me now. I want the “next me” to have every opportunity for continued growth. Let’s drop some of this baggage. God knows how many lifetimes I’ve been hauling it (for those who need another reason for not recalling past lives).

The idea of the spirit or consciousness living on past what we call death raises the question of friends and loved ones living (again) among us. Should be sad we don’t recognize them nor they us? No.

First, they have new lessons to learn and new people and experiences will help. In our own lives we tend to find and remain in comfort zones. We do the same things, with the same people, throughout most of our lives. Only when we force ourselves (or are forced) into new situations, do we see real growth and progress. It would be like staying in the first grade for 12 years. We know the teacher and our classmates and the lessons. It’s safe and comfortable. But instead, we are forced to move on to new schools, new rooms, new teachers and classmates, new lessons. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, there is a unity of all consciousness. The essence of each of us, exists in all of us. That essence is part of the reborn consciousness of friends and loved ones. One more lesson: Look for and recognize the things we loved about that person, in all people.

Buddhism Without Beliefs

buddhism-beliefsI’m not really sure what Stephen Batchelor is trying to say in Buddhism Without Beliefs. I think his main idea is there in the title. Excerpts below got some highlighter… real reviews at Amazon.  This wasn’t one of my favorite books on the topic.

Awakening is no longer seen as something to attain in the distant future, for it is not a thing but a process — and this process is the path itself. […] It is an authentic way of being in the world.

The dharma is not something to believe in but something to do. [ Wikipedia: In Buddhism dharma means “cosmic law and order”, but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha.]

An agnostic Buddhist is not a “believer” with claims to revealed information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and in this sense is not “religious.” […] The dharma is not a belief by which you will be miraculously saved. It is a method to be investigated and tried out. […] An agnostic Buddhist eschews atheism as much as theism, and is as reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with meaning.

Buddhism could be described as “the culture of awakening.”

Religions are united not be belief in God but by belief in life after death.

Regardless of what we believe, our actions will reverberate beyond our deaths. Irrespective of our personal survival, the legacy of our thoughts, words, and deeds will continue through the impressions we leave behind in the lives of those we have influenced or touched in any way.

Life is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Meaning and its absence are given to life by language and imagination.

Anguish emerges from craving for life to be other than it is.

Dharma practice is founded on resolve. […] An ongoing, heartfelt reflection on priorities, values and purpose. […] Dharma practice is the process of awakening itself: the thoughts, words, and deeds that weave the unfolding fabric of experience into a coherent whole.

The process of awakening is like walking on a footpath. When we find such a path after hours of struggling through undergrowth, we know at last that we are heading somewhere. Moreover, we suddenly find that we can move freely without obstruction. We settle into a rhythmic and easy pace. […] What counts is not so much the destination but the resolve to take the next step.

Focused awareness is difficult not because we are inept at some spiritual technology but because it threatens our sense of who we are.

The stiller the mind, the more palpable the dazzling torrent of life becomes.

The world is so saturated with the meanings given to it that those meanings seem to reside in the things themselves.

At every moment we are either inclining toward or engaged in an act: a physical movement, an utterance, a thought. Even when you decide not to act, you are still doing something: refraining.

As you sit in meditation, notice how what you are doing is the enactment of an earlier resolve. By attending to the details of this present moment, by choosing not to recollect the past or plan for the future, you are engaged in a process of creating yourself in a specific and deliberate way.

What are we but the story we keep repeating, editing, censoring, and embellishing in our heads? [I am] an unfolding narrative.

We cannot attain awakening for ourselves: we can only participate in the awakening of life.

When belief and opinion are suspended, the mind has nowhere to rest.

So I said to myself, “Self…”

trunkIf someone offered you a thousand dollars to write a 500 word essay titled “Who Am I?”… you could do that. You could knock out 500 words but I suspect most people have not given five minutes thought to this timeless, existential question.

A first draft would probably be heavily biographical. Your name; what you look like; where you’ve lived; what you do for living; maybe important relationships. You’d tell your story. So, are you your story?

The more introspective might try to describe some “essential self.” That “Real Me” that no one knows. “Thine own self” to which Polonius said we should be true. This is where you start listing all of the things you believe/know/think/fear.

Now, let’s say I give you a thousand bucks to write this essay every five years, starting at, oh, let’s say, fifteen. Now you’re 65 and we have your ten essays in front of us. Which one of those “you’s” is The Real You?

“All of them,” you explain. “That’s me at 25, that’s me at 40 (and so forth).” So, the essence, the core of who you are changes from year to year? How about month-to-month? Daily? Hourly? Sounds like there are many different Real You’s.

This is an ancient question that really smart people have thought about for thousands of years. My reading has lead me to the camp that finds no evidence of an essential, unchanging, permanent self.

I need a visual metaphor to even begin to *think* about stuff like this. Let’s try one.

Shortly after you’re born, you’re issued a little backpack. This is where you keep everything. The image of the giant people who take care of you; the smell of the places around you; the feeling you get when you’re hungry or you’ve pooped yourself. Since everything’s new at this point, your little backpack fills up pretty quickly but that’s okay because you get a bigger one whenever as needed.

All your experiences get stuffed into the backpack. If you need to know if you’re good or bad; smart or dumb; afraid or fearless… the answers are in the bag. It can get confusing because nothing ever comes _out_ of the bag but if it’s in there, it’s part of who you are.

By the time you reach your early teens you’ve traded in your backpack for a duffle bag and it’s packed! Including a couple of quarts of hormones that have soaked all those memories and feelings and beliefs. It is messy.

By the time you’re an adult, you’re dragging around a steamer trunk and adding more stuff every day. If the question, “Who am I?” comes up, well, you open the trunk and the stuff on top is you.

After dragging that fucker around for 60+ years, I’m ready to leave it behind. All the memories (good and bad) and fears and ideas and concepts and beliefs. Turns out, a lot of the stuff in that trunk was put there by someone else. Family, friends, strangers, you name it. After dragging it around for ten or fifteen years, it became “mine/me.”

The reason we don’t go insane thinking about this is we have something called the ego. But that’s just a character, like Willy Loman. A little different every time he walks onstage. Not real. For most of my life, I didn’t know it was a play. I thought I was Willy Loman. Now I’m sort of watching from the wings. I can see the make-up is a little different each performance, lines are delivered with slightly different inflection. I’m becoming aware it is a performance and that the lines aren’t mine.

“The self is impermanent. […] It is constantly changing, decaying, and being reconstructed again, always slightly differently, depending on the circumstances of the moment. […] It never repeats itself. Whenever you look, it is slightly different.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are

Why deconstruct the concept of the self (ego)? Apparently, that is the source of all suffering.

[This is where I ran out of gas on this post. Fortunately, I came across this post by Brian Hines who takes this idea on down the road.]

In The Plex

The full title of Steven Levy’s book is In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. When I finished it I was pooped and a little depressed but I’m not sure I can explain either. Read the book and we’ll talk. [Good review in the Washington Post]

Looking back at some of the other books I’ve read about the Internet and technology, I think this might be my favorite. Up there with The Facebook Effect, Cluetrain Manifesto, and Cognitive Surplus.

David Kirkpatrick’s Facebook Effect was much kinder to Mark Zuckerberg than The Social Network but that story didn’t move me the way In the Plex did. And I’m sort of dreading the biography of Steve Jobs, though I can’t say why.

I used up some highlighter on this one and will add those passages here in a day or so.

What you see is NOT what you get

A lot of my recent reading has dealt with consciousness and –by extensions– reality. It has completely changed the way I see my world. Literally.

“Your senses are your windows on the world, and you probably think they do a fair job at capturing an accurate depiction of reality. Don’t kid yourself. Sensory perception – especially vision – is a figment of your imagination. “What you’re experiencing is largely the product of what’s inside your head,” says psychologist Ron Rensink at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “It’s informed by what comes in through your eyes, but it’s not directly reflecting it.”

“In conjuring up this “now”, the visual system has to do something even more remarkable: predict the future. Information striking the fovea cannot be relayed instantaneously to conscious perception: first it has to travel down the optic nerve and be processed by the brain. This takes several hundred milliseconds, by which time the world has moved on. And so the brain makes a prediction about what the world will look like about 200 milliseconds into the future, and that is what you see. Without this future projection you would be unable to catch a ball, dodge moving objects or walk around without crashing into things.”

“The problem with attention is that it is a limited resource. For reasons that remain unknown, most people are unable to keep track of more than four or five moving objects at once. That can lead your visual system to be oblivious to things that are staring you in the face.”

My favorite line from this piece: “Essentially we experience the brain’s best guess about what is happening now.”

Library Thing fun facts

Library Thing is an only database for keeping track of your books. And it does so much more than that. Today,for example, I discovered a page that illustrates the height of my books if stacked (higher than the Sphinx, shorter than the Statue of Liberty):

And that they would fill 21 U-Haul book boxes or 5 IKEA Billy bookcases. Or, if I tore the books apart and laid all the pages end to end, they would stretch for 13.25 miles.

Interesting, but not very useful. And then I found a page that listed all the characters in the books in my library. Now that is handy. Can’t remember one of the bad guys in a John D. MacDonald novel? You can find it here. [Boone “Boo” Waxwell, Bright Orange for a Shroud]

If you are daunted by the prospect of entering all of your books into the Library Thing database, I believe there are scanner apps for your smart phone.

 

Scott Adams: Digital Ghosts

A couple of years ago I imagined a sort of online immortality:

In twenty years, we’ll have AI’s (artificial intelligence). For a fee, mine will read those 16, 000 posts to get a feel for what I wrote about and linked to, picking up a sense of my interests and writing styles in the process.

It will have access to all the books in My Library Thing, my iTunes and iPhoto, flickr, YouTube, etc.

The AI will continuously scour the web of the future, snatching bits and pieces and posting them here. Surviving friends will be able to correspond with smays.com who/which will reply. You might find him/her/it more interesting. Certainly better informed.

There’s plenty of video and audio of smays.com and I fully expect my AI will be capable of reproducing an acceptable version. So you can talk or iChat with me as well.

Today the always brilliant Scott Adams takes the idea a bit further but the similiarities are hard to miss. Just sayin’

When your mortal body ends, you will have stored all the data you need to create your permanent digital ghost. As the technology in the cloud improves, so too does your ghost, learning to move more naturally, perhaps learning from videos it has of you, or even based on some type of profiling based on clues such as your level of testosterone (from face shape), and the types of sports you did in life. In a hundred years your digital ghost would be indistinguishable from a living human appearing on video or in a holographic projection.

Digital ghosts need to see their environment to interact properly. Phones will all have video “eyes” someday, as will most computers. The new Xbox Kinect has “eyes” that literally follow your movement around the room. You could install additional cameras in any room in which you wished to be visited by digital ghosts. The malicious ghosts might commandeer video cameras or your phone’s camera function. My point is that you are already surrounded by cameras attached to the Internet, and that trend will continue. Your ghost will be able to see most rooms in the world.

Digital ghosts could continue learning throughout their afterlives, by reading the news and following the Facebook pages of friends and family. The ghosts would also be free to make friends with other ghosts and live their lives independently. Ghosts could stay with the ghosts of their life partners forever, so long as that was specified in the will of both people.

Muhammad: A Story of the last Prophet

I finished the novel Muhammad yesterday and have been pondering what to say about it. I found the story interesting and well-told. I’ve read a number of other books by Deepak Chopra and like the way he writes.

I think I’ll let smarter, more knowledgable folks review the book. No shortage there. So, what can I say about the novel?

If you were a kid, or have a kid, or you’ve been to a kid’s party, you’ve seen those guys that make balloon animals. Before blowing up those long skinny balloons they twist and shape into giraffes and stuff, they usually stretch the balloon. And as they inflate the balloon, they sometimes bend and turn it.

That’s what much of my reading has been like in the last few years. My thinking gets stetched and expanded, often to the breaking point.

One guy makes a hat, the next a horse. I enjoy them all and try to remember it’s all the same air inside the different colored balloons.

I knew almost nothing about the Prophet Muhammad. Now I know more. And maybe a little about the people who follow his teachings.

I fear many of those who would discuss this with me a) haven’t read the book and b) would be intent on explaining why Islam is wrong. (In their world, there is only one balloon and it’s blue and round.)

For that reason, I’ll limit comments to those who have read the book. So be prepared with a specific page reference.

Library Thing

I was showing a friend Library Thing this morning… sorting and grouping books, just running through a few of the features. While I had it open I grabbed a few of my favorite reads. With the exception of the top row. William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition is certainly on my short list, bu the other five or recent reads, not necessarily all time favorites.