Hope and Fear

The posts on Aperture of Brahma are simple yet challenging. Consider the latest one here. I will quote and comment on some of the points made.

By holding a mental picture in mind, we gradually but surely draw the thing nearer to us.

So if we focus on fear, rather than a positive vision, this draws the things we fear nearer.

Difficulty and obstacle are necessary for wisdom and spiritual growth.

As a society we are presented with great difficulties in these times. These challenges are encouraging us, individually and collectively, towards wisdom and growth.

We may be of the most service by keeping an open mind. Be interested in the race not the goal; the pursuit not the possession.

Visualization facilitates feeling. Even during difficulty and obstacle, we can maintain a positive mental state by feeling positive. An open mind is a mind without judgement or assumptions.

It is the process of engaging positively with the challenges we face it is important that we do not to rush to judgement or stick to preconceived notions. For example, we should seek to ensure a positive outcome to the ongoing Brexit process – perhaps visualising what would satisfy most people, rather than just sticking to our preconceived notions of the ‘right’ outcome and fears of the ‘wrong’ one (oh dear, this is not easy!).

We do not have to laboriously shovel the darkness out. All that is required is to turn the light on… by adjusting our thoughts/directing our attention to an ideal state. By allowing our thoughts to focus on loss, disease, and disaster, we facilitate the maintenance of self destruction.

Focusing on a positive vision, linked to the good, the beautiful, the true, doing what we can, where we are now. This is the way of hope, as opposed to the self-defeating path of fear.

We can see wisdom in many places. Thank you, Aperture of Brahma.

Picture of light on Grand Canyon from Hopi Point by Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Time of Crisis

Crisis is the mechanism used by evolution to evolve an organism to a higher level. If there is no crisis, nothing changes.

So maybe we should not be too pessimistic about the many crises that currently beset us, already listed in many other posts. They represent the opportunity for growth and change.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.”

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy was apparently wrong linguistically, but his theme has been accepted by many as representing a fundamental insight about life.

So what are the opportunities presented, through which the crises can be successfully surpassed? As a species we must rise above the causes that lie behind our many crises. To my mind it is not difficult to see what some of these are:

  • the personal, religious and national egos that want to have it all, for themselves, regardless of the effect on other persons/religions/nations, that do not recognise the need to look after the old, the weak, the poor, the other…
  • the perception that the outer, material world is all that there is, with a consequent relative lack of self understanding and/or cultivation of the inner psyche/spiritual life.
  • the related denial that we humans are part of nature, need to be in empathy with it, and are now responsible for maintaining its wondrous diversity.
  • the related worship of power, money, jobs and technology, at the expense of nature, the achievement of potential, and the pursuit of the good, the beautiful and the true.

“When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life-form — or a species — will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap.”

Eckhart Tolle

It’s not that difficult to see what’s wrong. It’s clear that the evolutionary leap is required at all levels – personal, society/culture, political. We just need to all get with the programme,  make a start, and persevere. It’s just possible that, if enough of us change, the ‘hundredth monkey’ effect will come into play, and everything will have changed.

Featured image adapted from one by Vector conversion by Mononomic, via Wikimedia Commons

Thrive

thriveWhat does it mean to thrive, or to flourish in life? Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive aims to answer this.

During heady days of spiritual exploration in the early 1980s, we attended a workshop by Tai Chi Master Chungliang Al Huang. At the workshop was a young and obviously intelligent lady, a bit pushy, Arianna Stassinopoulos, along with her mother. This was the lady who later became Arianna Huffington, co-founder and leading light of The Huffington Post. Arianna is also the author of a number of books. Thrive was published in 2014, so I’m a bit late catching up with it.

Thrive basically summarises all those good spiritual and personal growth ideas that were around in the early 1980s and which have been put into exemplary practice in Arianna’s hugely successful life – successful in terms of her influence on the world.

  • What is true well-being?
  • What does it mean to have wisdom?
  • Where is the sense of wonder in our lives?
  • How important is it to give, as well as to receive?

These are the subjects of the main chapters of this book. Much of it you will be familiar with, some of it may be new to you. What I can say is that it’s well written, makes much sense, and says things that are worth saying. Great stuff!

Interestingly, Arianna’s key inspiration was her mother – an almost obsessively ‘giving’ person, as was evident in that 1980s workshop!

The Art of Life

These wise words are by Roman Emperor/ philosopher Marcus Aurelius. We have a natural inclination to reject the emergence of difficult circumstances or events that do not appear to be amenable, but there is usually a lesson and opportunity for growth.

“True understanding is to see the events of life in this way:
‘You are here for my benefit, though rumour paints you otherwise.’

And everything is turned to one’s advantage when he greets a situation like this:
You are the very thing I was looking for.

Truly whatever arises in life is the right material to bring about your growth and the growth of those around you.

This, in a word, is art — and this art called ‘life’ is a practice suitable to both men and gods.

Everything contains some special purpose and a hidden blessing;
what then could be strange or arduous when all of life is here to greet you like an old and faithful friend?”

 Quoted by Arianna Huffington in her book Thrive.
Statue of young Marcus Aurelius from Capitoline Museums, via Wikimedia Commons.

Looking at aging with the glass half full

Here’s a great post by Jane Fritz, putting a wise perspective on ageing, from a ‘glass half full’ perspective.

Robby Robin's Journey

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands …” If everyone were to sing this well-known ditty, which age groups would clap the loudest? 1-5 year olds? 10-20 year olds? 40-50 year olds? 70-80 year olds?

If you were to read John Persico’s blog post from earlier this week (and he’s not always as negative as this), you would definitely think that it must be the 40-50 year olds, those at the peak of achieving the goals they started in their youth. He suggested that youth is a time of “getting” (friends, education, a career, a spouse, kids, a home, promotions, status, etc.), whereas old age is a time of “losing” (our careers, friends and family as they pass away, teeth, hair, eyesight, hearing, flexibility, dexterity, balance, our knees, our hips, our homes because we can’t climb the stairs, and our money to pay…

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The glass IS half full

glass half fullIt is a well known characterisation that optimists see a glass 50% full of liquid as ‘half full’, whereas pessimist see it as ‘half empty’. Does it matter which of these attitudes we take towards life and towards its mega problems such as climate change and Brexit?

The bulk of psychological evidence suggests that it does. Optimists tend to be more realistic and thus more effective at addressing the problems. Pessimists tend to expect the worst, not look at things too closely, and hide from difficulties – hence the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Life is all about change, so an optimistic outlook is the only one that enables us to face and deal with the realities of change.

Of course, there are limitations to being positive if it is not tempered with a grounding in reality. (The Brexit campaign comes to mind!)  I’m arguing against myself, but maybe we should see optimism-pessimism as a polarity that is only resolved through the ‘third pole’ of realism.

I suggest that we will only find a way through climate change and Brexit will be with an optimistic reality-based attitude. There are so many brains on the problems we will find a way through.

The glass really is half full!

The idea for this post came while reading
Professor Tom Lombardo’s book Future Consciousness.

Image by S nova via Wikimedia Commons.

Thoughts have consequences

Thoughts have consequences.

Patterns of thought have consequences.

Paradigms, or world views, are patterns shared by many people. They have world changing consequences.

“Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world. It reaches inward to constitute our innermost being, and outward to constitute the world. It mirrors but also reinforces and even forges the structure, armouring, and possibilities of our interior life. It deeply configures our psychic world. No less potentially, our world view—our beliefs and theories, our maps, our metaphors, our myths, our interpretive assumptions—constellate our outer reality, shaping and working the world’s malleable potentials in a thousand ways of subtly reciprocal interaction. World views create worlds.”
Richard Tarnas

Humanity is resistant to changing its dominant paradigms. Habits of thought are so strong. So crisis tends to be necessary before the paradigm changes.

Today sees several interconnected crises, including global warming, species extinction, global environmental pollution, inequality/poverty in and between states, inability to provide an environment for meaningful lives to many young people, population movements due to combinations of these, resulting international conflict.

All suggest major paradigm change is needed, but what? One of the most important is the materialism and reductionism evident in mainstream science, indeed the religion of scientism. Such has been the ‘success’ of this mindset in terms of technological advancement, that it has inspired many fields of human endeavour, notably economics and politics, to also aim to be similarly ‘scientific’.

The problem of course is that this denies the interiority of the human being, shared with the natural world, denies the importance of values in human affairs, enables the scientist/politician to ignore the need to examine themselves in the context of their work.

“I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives us a lot of factual information, puts all of our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”
Erwin Schrödinger

The Scientific & Medical Network initiated the Galileo Commission to look at this question of a new paradigm for science, in the spirit of the original Galileo whose observations precipitated the change of paradigm of astronomy from earth-centred to sun-centred. [Not to be confused with the Galileo satellite navigation system!]

There is an excellent summary of the first stage of its deliberations in the current issue of Paradigm Explorer, the SciMed magazine. The Commission’s summary report is available here, well worth a read. The introductory articles alone, by Peter Fenwick and David Lorimer, are both rich in insight.

Of course, the attitude to consciousness is a key to whatever new paradigm might emerge. This quote from the report gives an indicator:

“Therefore, we need to assume, as a minimal point of working consensus, that consciousness is an entity in its own right, perhaps co-arising with material phenomena or presenting the inner aspect of material organisation.”
Galileo Commission Report

 

Gödel, Maths and Physics

Edmund M. Law has some fascinating posts on his blog. A recent one had the following quote from Freeman Dyson.

Fifty years ago, Kurt Gödel, who afterwards became one of Einstein’s closest friends, proved that the world of pure mathematics is inexhaustible. No finite set of axioms and rules of inference can ever encompass the whole of mathematics. Given any finite set of axioms, we can find meaningful mathematical questions which the axioms leave unanswered. This discovery of Gödel came at first as an unwelcome shock to many mathematicians. It destroyed once and for all the hope that they could solve the problem of deciding by a systematic procedure the truth or falsehood of any mathematical statement. {53} After the initial shock was over, the mathematicians realized that Gödel’s theorem, in denying them the possibility of a universal algorithm to settle all questions, gave them instead a guarantee that mathematics can never die. No matter how far mathematics progresses and no matter how many problems are solved, there will always be, thanks to Gödel, fresh questions to ask and fresh ideas to discover.

It is my hope that we may be able to prove the world of physics as inexhaustible as the world of mathematics. Some of our colleagues in particle physics think that they are coming close to a complete understanding of the basic laws of nature. They have indeed made wonderful progress in the last ten years. But I hope that the notion of a final statement of the laws of physics will prove as illusory as the notion of a formal decision process for all of mathematics. If it should turn out that the whole of physical reality can be described by a finite set of equations, I would be disappointed.

— Freeman J. Dyson, Infinite in all Directions, 1985

Law presents this under the heading ‘Inexhaustible Mysteries’. To me, it’s just important to be reminded of Gödel’s Theorem from time to time. Mathematics is inherently open-ended, and I believe the implication is also that physics is also open ended. We can never have a model that fully describes reality. There will always be more for mathematicians and physicists to do.

Equally, we will never have a perfect economic system. There will always be space for economists and politicians. And those who seek single solutions to complex problems (e.g. ‘free markets’) are inherently misguided.

See also my post on Godel’s Theorem.

Picture of the tomb of Kurt Godel in the Princeton, New Jersey, cemetery by Antonio G Colombo, from Wikimedia Commons. What a legacy!

If

Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor – his take on the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, ‘If.’ According to Steve, it’s a reflection on the meaning of success. It’s also a profound meditation on the meaning of life and where true contentment lies.

If

If you can find out who you really are
beneath the habits and opinions that you’ve absorbed
and the instructions that you unthinkingly follow –

If you can distinguish the deep impulses of your soul
from the shallow desires of your ego
and let streams of thought pass through your mind
without latching on or listening –

If you can sense the sun of your true self
behind layers of cloudy concepts and constructs
and keep your mind open and clear
so that soul-force shines through every action of your life –

then that’s all you ever need to achieve.

There’s no need to search for answers
if you’re expressing the truth that’s inside you.
There’s no need to look for meaning
if you’ve found the path you were meant to follow.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re applauded or ridiculed
whether you make a mark on the world
or live and die in obscurity.
If you can do what you’re supposed to do
and be exactly who you’re meant to be –

then that’s all you ever need to achieve.

Visit Steve’s website for details of his books, his blog, etc.

 

True science and religion are complementary

I was struck by this post by Aperture of Brahma. It says in a few words the relationship between science and religion.

“True science and true religion are twin sisters. Where the one goes, the other necessarily follows.

“True science” refers to our role as an observer of experience.

“True religion” refers to our role as a participant within experience.

Non-Duality refers to the unity of the polarizing concepts; the ability to observe and participate at the same time. Mindfulness trains us to become an observer of our experience while being a participant within it.

I think I have spent many words saying something similar, but here is the essence.

Winning

It’s in the nature of polarity that neither side can ‘win’. There is always a balance to be achieved in the creative interplay of opposites.

So what are we to make of the attitude of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in this context? Everywhere, it seems, we see groups fighting for their ideal and resisting ever compromising on what they see as ‘right’.

In the UK, the Brexiteers will never compromise on anything short of hard Brexit. The Remainers think a big mistake has been made, which must be reversed. The US thought it ‘won’ the cold war and sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.

Of course, you can win in sport, and you can apparently win in life. In 2000, the neoconservatives ‘won’ the direction of US policy for decades, by fair means or foul.

But you cannot cheat the polarity for ever. The chickens come home to roost if the balance gets too far out of kilter. Make inequality too great, and you get unrest, then revolution. Ignore the scientific evidence on climate and the climate comes back to bite you.

Populism thrives on simple ideas about ‘winning’. We desperately need to reach a more sophisticated level of discourse. Winning is illusory, and usually involves overriding or ignoring the necessary counterbalance.

Featured image. When England won. The queen presents 1966 World Cup to England captain Bobby Robson, via Wikimedia Commons

Interview with René Descartes

I recently came across this interview, dated 2001/1649.

Interviewer: Bonjour, Monsieur Descartes. Can I call you René?

Descartes: Allô, allô. Mais of course!

Interviewer: I have come back from the twenty first century to ask you a few questions. People there are very interested in your ideas, but you have been getting some bad press lately. Are you happy to take part?

Descartes: I think so.

Read More »

Pan-what’s-it-ism

Because of the sort of books I read, I keep coming across these words and have never really understood the difference (or it doesn’t stick): panpsychism, pantheism and panentheism. Fortuitously, Christian de Quincey explains in his book Blind Spots. I’ve added links to Wikipedia, which has good definitions and background.

Pan is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘whole’ or ‘all of’.

Panpsychism is a philosophical belief about mind, meaning that all of nature possesses mind. Consciousness is in every thing.

Pantheism is a theological belief about the nature of God or gods. It argues that God and nature are essentially the same. God is immanent in nature.

Panentheism takes pantheism a step further – God is in all of nature, but also beyond nature. God is both transcendent and imminent in nature.

Panpsychism is consistent with pantheism, but less so with panentheism because that transcendent God lies beyond its concept.

As de Quincey points out, the important thing to take away is that God/nature is an ongoing, evolving, neverending creative process, and we are each a co-creative part thereof. Materialism is a dead duck, and atheism seems somehow irrelevant.

Mind and Matter

According to Christian de Quincey (in his books Blind Spots) there are four basic philosophical/ontological ways of looking at the mind-matter conundrum. For simplicity I equate mind with consciousness and matter with energy (as per Einstein).

  1. Materialism. Everything is matter; mind is an emergent phenomenon.
  2. Idealism. Everything is ultimately mind. Matter emanates from mind or is an illusion (maya).
  3. Dualism. Everything is ultimately separable mind and matter. They represent separate domains.
  4. Panpsychism. Everything is ultimately inseparable. Mind and matter together constitute sentient energy, the inner and outer of the one reality. Mind pervades everything, even the smallest atoms.

So, which is the most likely? This is my take:

  1. Materialism really is a crazy hypothesis the more you think about it. How can consciousness ’emerge’ from matter? Which is the more real to you? Although currently in wide vogue, this is in my view the worst theory, and can cause immense damage to nature which is regarded as ‘inert’. This damage is what we see today.
  2. Idealism is sort of the opposite. It has a certain plausibility. How could we know if it were not true?
  3. Dualism seems inherently implausible. How could the two domains interact? This seems to require a third concept.
  4. Panpsychism seems entirely plausible, coming closest to ‘explaining’ the basics of the universe we see. In such a universe we are clearly both objectively and subjectively a part of the One.

You could regard this as a rather obscure philosophical debate. Should we be ‘mindful’ of it, and does it really ‘matter’? The damage being caused by materialism suggest it might actually be rather important to understand.

What do you think?

Consciousness

Scientific materialists claim that consciousness presents a ‘hard problem’ that will ultimately be solved by science demonstrating how consciousness is created by brain activity. Personally I think this is nonsense – consciousness lies outside the domain of science. In this post I explore what consciousness is through the lens of the philosophy of panpsychism, as presented in philosopher Christian de Quincey’s book Blind Spots.

Consciousness (or mind) is subjective, it is undetectable, is not measurable, and is not located in space.

Physical entities have extension in space, consist of matter-energy and can be measured by science.

Consciousness and matter/energy are the inner and outer of existence. They always go together. Consciousness is the capacity for knowing, feeling, being aware, making choices. It needs energy to act. Consciousness is pervasive throughout the universe, and goes ‘all the way down’ to the smallest components.

Consciousness gives meaning to the universe, gives an order that would otherwise dissipate through entropy, according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Consciousness provides a potential explanatory ‘mechanism’ for phenomena of action at a distance, such as intentional healing, remote communication, quantum interconnections and other well-documented phenomena – which provide great difficulty for science.

To me, this all seems rather more plausible than scientific materialism, and seems consistent with the world as I see it, and as it is reported by others.

Does this matter? Well yes, it is crucial. Scientific materialism and the relentless focus of materialist economics and everyday life on the outer, as opposed to the inner, is actually in the process of destroying the world it has created, through a lack of the wisdom that comes from inner focus. Do I need to mention the evident lack of sustainability again: global warming, pollution, wars, inequality, lack of concern for the poor etc.?

Do read Blind Spots or another of de Quincey’s books.

Featured image entitled ‘The path to consciousness’ is by Sar Maroof, via Wikimedia Commons

Exploring Ontology

Ontology – the fundamental nature of being

Something exists. As sentient conscious beings, we each know this for certain.

Nothing cannot cause something. So something must have always existed, as must consciousness.

Big Bang theory models the creation of space-time out of nothing, which is ontologically suspect.

Materialist philosophy suggests that consciousness emerged from no-consciousness, which is ontologically miraculous.

At the heart of things is mystery, which leaves plenty of space for God.

Inspired by Christian de Quincey’s book Blindspots.

The blogging persona

“What I want is to put into a book not only my ideas, but my person.”

Paul Tournier
from The Meaning of Persons

How much of ourselves do we reveal in a blog post? Paul Tournier faced this sort of question when writing his book. It could skate over the surface of things, avoiding anything that might be uncomfortable to his ego/persona, or he could reveal something of himself, as he might do in dialogue with another person.

And how dangerous might it be, as well as uncomfortable, to reveal things in a blog post? We’ve all heard tales of posts on social media that have subsequently been bitterly regretted.

Thus we bloggers create a new persona, showing what we are comfortable with being reasonably public, but hiding aspects of ourselves that we would only be comfortable with revealing in more intimate dialogue.

It’s in the nature of the beast.

To Live is to Choose

I love the title of the penultimate chapter of Paul Tournier’s book The Meaning of Persons. That must mean I have lessons to learn here!

“…it is precisely the free and responsible commitment of the self which creates the person.”

Procrastination and putting off decisions/choices is not good for the person. As is hanging on to old, outdated habits and situations.

“As soon as a man obeys his inner call, he upsets the game, bringing to light around him the persons buried underneath the personages.”

Yes it is time for change, and ever will be!

The Meaning of Persons

meaning of persons
A modern version

After writing my last post on Person, I was inspired to look back at a book that has graced my shelves for nearly fifty years – a rather battered copy of Paul Tournier’s The Meaning of Persons – which shows how long I have been interested in these ideas! The subtitle Reflections on a Psychiatrist’s Casebook accurately describes the content as his own reflections on his experience as a doctor, psychiatrist and Christian.

Tournier uses the word ‘person’ in its modern sense of the whole living individual, and uses the contrasting term ‘personage’ to represent the mask we present to the world, the outer human being, as opposed to the inner lived human being. Jung called this personage the persona (per-sona), so I will stick with Jung’s term henceforth.

Tournier ponders the question How can we Discover the True Person, in the context of his psychoanalytic work. He contrasts the process of objective and scientific inquiry, where information is exchanged, with the process of subjective and intuitive personal encounter where a bond of sympathy and affection is established between two people. In the former learning takes place; in the latter understanding takes place. He suggests that in the latter case there is true communion which touches the other person deeply. Tournier regards this communion as spiritual, and relates it to Martin Buber’s I and Thou. This is also the key to understanding oneself as a person – relationship with others.

Further reflection suggests that the person is the original living creation, and the persona is the automatic, habitual routine presented to the world. Industrial society and technology are increasingly impersonal and encourage the repetition of the persona and not the creativity of the true person. Much of social media and the celebrity culture focus precisely on personas.

There is an ongoing tension between person and persona, because we do not fully ‘know’ ourselves. This tension is often greatly magnified in those who need the support of a psychoanalyst.

There are interesting reflections on the distinction between psychology and spirituality. Tournier suggests that psychology is the science or method by which the mind is ‘laid bare’, but as soon as we approach questions of attitude to self/life/God/morality, then we are in the spiritual business of soul-healing.

In the latter part of the book, Tournier reflects on the bible, the living God and Jesus Christ as important aspects of his own perspective on the world – and entirely consistent with his psychoanalysis and the rest of this book. Indeed the bible has many hidden messages about discovering the inner living person. St Francis was a great exemplar:

“St Francis had become so fully a person, found such personal fellowship with God, that in every thing he saw a person, a reflection of the person of God.”

We could do worse than follow that…

With thanks to my friend Geoff at university for introducing me to Tournier’s book.
The photo of Paul Tournier is from Wikipedia.

 

Person

We use the word ‘person’ to signify a particular human being. But it was not always so.

The word person comes from the Latin word persona, maybe from the earlier Etruscan persu, a sort of mask through which actors spoke (per-sonare). Just one or two centuries ago person was still used to signify the exterior appearance of the individual, not the whole being including the human interior.

The word person has subsequently expanded to connote the whole human being, precisely at a time when materialism has been in the ascendant, psychology reduced to an objective science, and inner spiritual/soul experience increasingly denied.

“Once we were human beings, now we are persons.”

Anders Lidén

Thus language reflects changes in consciousness. Being aware of this helps us to understand how we got where we are, and maybe what has been lost in the process.

This fascinating thread of argument is presented in Anders Lidén’s article ‘Rimbaud and the Breaking Down of the Mask’ in the Jan-Mar 2018 issue of The Beacon magazine.