To create or to destroy?

 

Child in the darkness

Child in the darkness

 

https://kaizenideas.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/235-to-create-or-to-destroy.mp3

This is a good question to ask now because you hear people talking about “economic growth” as if it’s a magic formula for every country:

“Economic growth is the key

  • to developing a country
  • to making people happy in that country
  • to raising their standard of living.”

Economic growth has been offered as a solution, yet

behind these words “economic growth” we don’t have creation: We have destruction.

How do we know this? Because this “growth” is premised on our securing the energy required to achieve this growth.

How do we currently secure this energy? For the past century and apparently increasingly so in the 21st century (due to fracking technologies) we have secured our energy using fossil fuels (i.e., by burning something).

If you want to achieve economic growth, the quickest way is to build a lot of places where you burn coal (or gas or oil) to turn some things, which will produce some electricity, which will then allow you to join the group of “developed countries”.

If you live in a developed country, you probably enjoy a supply of electricity

  1. that is constant
  2. that is affordable
  3. that is predictable, and
  4. that is secured for the next couple of decades.

This “economic growth” which we have been raised, educated and conditioned to believe in as the absolute good may pose some problems if you do not face the question: To create or to destroy?

There are of course times when we need to destroy in order to create; when you build a new house, you might have to destroy the old one. But how do you destroy the old one?

  • Do you plant a 100 kg bomb and blow a crater in the ground, blow everything apart, including whatever is next to you? or
  • Do you take it apart, piece by piece, recycling some of the beams, recycling some of the materials which you can salvage? or
  • Do you pile it all up in a truck and dump it some place?

“How do we create and how do we destroy?” is a very pertinent question to ask of modern man because it doesn’t hide as much of the current conditions as talking about “How do we achieve economic growth?”

There have been people who have said that humankind appears to be a cancer on this planet:

Eating everything, every resource, and reproducing in numbers that are ultimately unsustainable and ending up by killing the host.

This is different in the animal world where a parasite would not kill the host before it is mature enough to live on its own or has found a new host; moreover, a parasite is just blindly obeying the rules which have been codified in its genetic makeup.

How about the human world?

Are we pre-programmed?

Are our genes programmed to destroy the planet that we’ve been living on and now we’re living off?

Are we like the cancer:

A mutation that has gone wrong, that has caused us a whole species to choose the wrong path?

Probably not, because it is not the entire humankind moving in the same direction.

The numbers may seem to indicate that all humankind is moving in the same direction, but if you look at the diversity of human societies, you’ll quickly realise that this is not necessarily true for all people in the world.

The sad part is that the cancer cells (as it were) are much powerful than the healthy cells which they end up killing, by shutting down the whole body they prey on.

Are we a cancer? This is not a very good analogy, because (unlike the cancer cells) we have a choice:

We are conscious and we enjoy the privilege of knowing that we can create and we can destroy.

If the level of destruction required to achieve “economic growth” cancels out the possibility of creating anything else in 200, 300 or 400 years:

Do we care?

You and I will be dead at that time of reckoning:

you, who listen to this now (or 5 years from now), and I will most likely be dead in 200-300 years.

Do we make our choices with the interests of those who will follow us in mind?

  • Do we keep their interests in mind? or
  • Do we focus narrowly on our own lot?

Well, it depends.

Would you like to have children? Do you have children? If the answer is yes, then perhaps you entertain the notion that the generations 200-300 years from now may benefit from your actions now:

  • Changing course and choosing less destruction, more creation
  • Choosing to eliminate as much as possible of the self-destructive patterns of behaviour and choosing to focus entirely on creation.

The problem here is in the numbers:

We have reached, in most developed countries (and in a lot of developing countries also) a point where many people don’t want to have children any more.

It matters not whether this is a decision that has been imposed by the external circumstances (overcrowding, government policy etc.) or by personal choice, because ultimately what matters is that

these individuals need to act in an altruistic manner without the prospect of having their offspring benefit from their wiser choices now (if we call “wise” choosing creation over destruction).

Can we act altruistically if we’re not going to have children? The good news is that we are capable. We often act altruistically when we help each other even if we do not benefit directly.

The better (albeit more scary news) is that the big crisis may not be so far off into the future: If a certain number of people chooses to go on in this manner, the degree of destruction may reach such proportions that it may actually shorten the life spans of those alive now (regardless of their choice to procreate).

There is a richness and diversity on this planet which has been here for a long time and that’s slowly eroding away.

I have said that it is ethical, it is only right to keep and protect that which has given us birth, even if we don’t have children whose future we’d like to secure.

There are fewer and fewer places of refuge (=shelters) from the lash-back, from the blowback that Nature is visiting upon us right now and it is a pretty safe bet that it will continue to occur on a much more frequent basis if we do not choose well now, if we do not choose creation over destruction.

So be a creator. Stop this self-destructive behaviour. Now.

wild-eyed glum chum

How long does a rainbow last?

Will the rainbow last long enough for us to see it?

As I was pacing across this room and contemplating the rather dreary news about the currents state of affairs in this world we live in, where people are still living with

  • the possibility of (another) World War
  • the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used
  • and so on…

I was thinking about this poem which you might see sooner or later on this blog. If you read this poem you might feel that it sounds quite pessimistic.

The poet ponders the extremely short period of time we are given to spend on the crust of this planet.

Immediately I had to ask myself:

Why are we so keen on deploring, on begrudging the short period of time we are allowed to spend here?

The answer lies in the heroic scale on which we imagine and project our Selves. We have a way of thinking about ourselves in the tradition of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Homeric tradition:

When history begins, it begins with people standing tall, against the gods, as it were.

We have continued in this vein up until Nietzsche. Even Nietzsche has to contrast his Above-the-Human with (what he calls) the Dead Christian God, even he feels the need to scale up our self-image.

What shall we call it? An instinct of self-aggrandizement, I guess that’s what we would find in a dictionary. An overwhelming feeling that

  • you have to make yourself BIG
  • you have to project a LARGE shadow.

This feeling notwithstanding, we know the real scale of humankind in history, as brilliantly shown in geology and biology:

The briefest look you can take at the history of this planet and universe tells you in no uncertain terms that we are but a speck.

We are immediately dwarfed by all else.

  • I don’t mean just WE who are trudging along, doing our small jobs, driving taxis or buses, working in factories or tilling the soil or whatever.
  • I mean WE including the head of the IMF, or the President of the Russian… Federation (is it now?).

We’re all quite small, but we should not despair. I don’t say this because it is not good to whinge; I say that we should not despair because in despairing we forget that which is more important on a scale which

  • has nothing to do with history, geology or biology and
  • has all to do with an ability to self-reflect.

Of course we are small in this BIG universe, in this galaxy, lost in the eons in which we occupy but a blip.

Of course we are small, but we are aware.

We have a consciousness that allows us to write poems and philosophy. This is wherein lies

  • not our power, but rather
  • our feeling that we should be proud we exist (=Stand-Forth) in this universe.

Not on the scale of what we can do, but on the scale of what we can think.

Not on the scale of what we can effect in this world.

Not on the scale of what technological innovations we can bring about, or what brave experiments we can attempt (e.g., smashing together atoms and smaller particles and trying to re-create what happened in that instant at the Big-Bang).

No.

If there is a reason we should be proud to have been given life in this universe, it lies in our ability to do something and to think about it, to realize what it means.

Consciousness reveals meaning, and the meaning is not one given by a god or by a spirit (whether these exist or not). The meaning is given by the fact that

  • among all these gigantic forces and interactions,
  • among all these countless galaxies,
  • across all these eons,

within that short time when we appeared, something called consciousness developed.

In a way, this consciousness we have right now is not (substantially) different from what it was

  • 200 years ago, or
  • 2000 years ago, or
  • 20,000 years ago…

Consciousness is (obviously) different in

  1. how we explain its workings
  2. why we believe we happen to be here

What has not changed in thousands of years is that elemental principle of being able to become aware of being.

Is this because of Reason? Is it because of “I think, therefore I am”?

No, it’s not because of Reason. Why are we aware?

  1. Accidents?
  2. Evolutionary advantages?
  3. The universe awakening?

Up to a point, I suppose you could argue that a dog is aware of some things. However, it is not aware in a way that allows that dog to travel immense distances with the mind and to reach back (or forward) across time into the Past (or into the Future).

(That don’t mean you’re better than the dog: Just luckier).

This is something we can (and should) take pride in, even if you didn’t do much to bring consciousness about:

  • We were just given it.
  • We were simply presented with this.

So don’t despair because you are aware of the desperately small place you occupy.

On the contrary, this awareness provides us with grounds to be infinitely hopeful. By this I don’t mean

  1. hopeful that we will survive eternally and populate the whole universe
  2. hopeful that we can shape reality in such a way as to survive eternally in a perfect world.

I mean hopeful in (and taking great comfort from) knowing that

this world did not blink itself into existence and out of it again with no eye to glance upon it.

Upon the beauty.

Upon the wonder.

Upon the sheer scale required to produce a consciousness

Upon the sheer improbability of our having the good fortune to look upon this world, to wonder and to enjoy together with all these other motes of dust who have also been given this extremely-heavy-yet-light gift.

Heavy in the despair consciousness carries with it: The despair of being aware of our own passing all-too-soon out of this wonderful world.

Yet matched with a lightness of being which has allowed us to encompass in our mind not only the span of our short lives, but also

  1. a lot which has come to pass before us,
  2. a lot which will come to pass,
  3. a lot which has never come to pass and will never come to pass, although it could be encompassed within our minds…

Yes! In our minds the scales are reversed. In our minds we are the giants that stand out, even if in reality we are but small creatures, too busy to notice…

We may even push ourselves off the stage sooner than our time should come.

No matter when this time comes, remember this. Remember the scales.

Remember all that you have seen, all that you have imagined, all that you have heard, and all that you have contemplated.

Remember all the thoughts that have passed through your mind, and worry not then, my friend.

Because you, like me and like thousands and millions and billions of others have walked on the crust of this planet and have enjoyed the same privilege.

We still have this privilege and we can still bestow this privilege upon our children.

Try to bestow this privilege upon your children.

Worry not about the Creator so much as about yourself as a creator and not a destroyer of worlds, within minds, or outside minds, but especially within the mind.

Living on the edge (of a spinning top)

We live on the edge right now, in this world.

We’ve probably always been living on the edge, if you consider the sheer improbability of our being here and how asteroids, super novas or black holes could remove us in a blink of an eye.

[That is the sound signalling that rice has been cooked, in case you’re listening to the audio]

We need a way to improve our understanding of

  1. who we are,
  2. where we are,
  3. when we are,
  4. what we are (this is a more difficult question).

We think we know the answer to when and where, but we haven’t positioned ourselves properly (ichi-zuke 位置付け; Rank-Placing-Tag). While it is true that we are at the top of the evolutionary tree, recall that ours is a recent outgrowth, that we are but a small branch on this great Tree of Life called Earth.

 

If you compress all time, we appear minute.

If you compress all time, we appear minute-like.

Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar

“Who we are” is not just what we tell others, during normal conversations, it’s also what we tell ourselves the whole time.

As you’re doing something, you are your thoughts.

Let’s say that you’re ironing your shirt: What are your thoughts?

  • Are you with the iron or are you with the shirt?
  • Are you in some other place, far away, watching TV?
  • Where are you?
  • When are you?
  • Are you in the morning before work or are you in the evening, after work?

What are you? Your job? Your nationality? Your kind (meaning “human”)?

If you put me in a group at the zoo, the answer to “what are you?” is quite simple:

There are monkeys, there are rhinos, there are birds, and there’s me, so I guess I identify myself as a “human”.

What does it mean to be “human”? Evolutionarily speaking, it’s the top.

Why? Because we developed language. Because we can work together, you know?

The 6-7 billion people currently living on this planet, not working together as one, but in communities as one, acting towards the same goals, within the same frameworks.

I live in a block of flats (which is six storeys high); this has been designed by a number of people and worked on by a number of people I will never be able to grasp. It’s not just the guys who did the work now: You have to look at the actual building plans, ask yourself what is in the background.

Why do we have the doors that we have?

How did we get the knowledge to build, to protect against earthquakes or fire, wind or rain, typhoon or hurricane?

This is all built by others for us.

So it’s not just the construction workers who happened to build your particular building (even though they will probably remain anonymous to you), it’s a whole chain stretching backward to immemorial times…

Back to the identity question:

Are you aware of the builders who created all that surrounds you or are you aware of the iron?

Remember, you’re ironing.

Are you the TV voice? Are you the persons in the book you’re reading? Are you just following a voice you’re hearing from an electronic device?

(Not following as in “follow instructions”, but just as in “What is this guy trying to say? I’m not sure I can follow”)

Where are we all heading? How can we improve?

It sounds like I’m advocating a religion (of awareness). It is NOT a religion.

People think that Christianity is a religion. Yes, it is.

People think that Islam is a religion. Yes, it is.

Buddhism is a religion. Yes, it is, but it is also a philosophy

(philo-sophia : Loving-Knowledge; contrast this with above).

People across the world need to come together, with a common language (of meanings, not necessarily words) about how to make things better (kaizen), to make things more like zen (=Good 善).

I’m not asking you to accept Buddhism or some other religion; I’m asking you to think about

  1. all the things that have come before us,
  2. what Time has filtered for us
  3. what is our duty,
  4. what is the value of our being in this world.

Think about it using the meanings that we have received from our forebears, from our ancestors. Not just grandfather and grandmother; not just Romanian and Japanese.

We need to make things better quickly and to remember that we are part of this universe, yet this universe can go on without us.

We are at the top of the Life-Tree and we’ve been cutting down at every level in the chain of life: the number of species which are disappearing, the climate change that we’re inducing…

Who (or what) is going to survive? The cockroaches? The stones? The water?

Is it going to be another 2-3 (hundreds of) millions of years before life evolves again?

And will we have the same luck that Earth would produce another human civilization if we screwed this one up?

How do we screw this one up? First of all we have climate change, and people think

“Well, big deal. It’s going to get a bit warmer. There’s going to be more snow, more extreme weather events, the tornadoes are going to get worse etc.

We’ll just have to build better: canals, levees…”

All that is true, but, in addition, global warming means we are heading towards an era of More-Instability. This is not only in terms of weather or climate; if peace, good health, well-being, confidence in the future are all predicated on some degree of stability, guess what instability brings into the picture.

If we take the time to sit quietly (zazen 座禅 Sit-Meditate), on the Ki-Merging-Path (aikido 合氣道), we come upon the idea of Calming-Down (ochitsuki 落ち着き Fall-Arrive).

It’s increasingly more difficult to calm down in this day and age because we’re facing crisis after crisis.

How do we face these crises? We face it through something called Quietness-Movement Do-as-One (静動一致). Again, quoting from Tohei Koichi (藤平光一):

No. 13 Quietness-Movement One-Match (Sei-do Icchi)

 

As the Madly-Spinning Top Goes-back to Quietness,

Quietness is the culmination (Extreme-Reaching) of Movement.

コマが激しく回る時、静に帰する如く、

静は動の極致である。

As it Becomes more Quiet in the Eye of the typhoon (Basis-Wind),

Movement draws its Force from Quietness.

台風の目の静かなる如く、

動は静によってその力を得る。

It is a Perfect Match of Quietness and Movement into One.

まさに静動一致である。

By Always Calming the Mind and Integrating into One-Point Below-Navel, we Create Leisure-Inside-Busyness,

Facing Big-Things, we do Not Lose the usual (Parallel-Normal) Mind,

Facing usual-Things, we Can Achieve Effects which make the Sky Wonder and Move the Earth.

常に臍下の一点に心を静めて統一してこそ、忙中閑を生じ、

大事に臨んで平常心を失わず、

事に臨んで驚天動地の働きを成し得るのである。

Incidentally, Quietness is repaos in my native language, in which Hyperion (= Evening-Star) says

din repaos m-am nascut

I was born from Quietness

How do we integrate mind and body into one? By letting our heart-mind (kokoro 心) sink into that One-Point Below-the-Navel (臍下の一点), by acknowledging our place in the Universe:

We’re always reaching up and we’re going to fall off unless we can find the time to look down to where we are in the great chain of life.

On having it rough

How to use a scythe

How to (properly) use a scythe. Source: http://milisoft.ro/MainPage.php?iditem=0e80845be8cc044b469ff8292985e184737496d2

 

This is about “having it rough”. What do I mean by “having it rough”?

I guess everybody has an uncle, or a grandfather or a fatherly figure, well, somebody who, living 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago, would have a different experience of “what a man needs to do”.

These “old timers” would be capable of doing stuff, like chopping wood, starting a fire, which they would consider as pretty basic (=everyone can do it); on the other hand, I suspect that nowadays the average city-living person would be fairly hard-put to perform these actions.

Can you imagine handing an axe and some logs to a guy living in a city and telling him:

“Okay, you’ve gotta chop those”?

His first reaction would probably be:

“Can’t we just go and buy them some place already chopped?” or

“Can’t I just pay somebody to chop them for me before I chop off my leg or something?”

I mention this because (sure enough) I have an uncle who’s living in the countryside in Romania, an uncle towards whom I’ve always felt and still feel inadequate.

Why? Because I’m the city-boy; I’m the kid who would come every summer from the city, too skinny, not enough muscle, can’t properly hold a scythe (in case you have problems distinguishing between “sickles” and “scythes”, for the latter think the classical image of Death holding a scythe).

 

We have been using the scythe to cut grass before the petrol-driven mowers came onto the scene; as far as I know,

everybody in Romania has been using this tool for cutting grass for thousands of years.

People would cut grass with this huge scythe, which you can use to chop down a small tree; so you had to be careful when you cut the grass around the sapling of a tree because with one move you could cut it down.

This scythe requires a lot of skill to be maneuvered (as you can imagine) and not to cut oneself or others around you. That being said, even nowadays you can still see boys who are 10 or 12 manipulating a weapon-like object with a blade length of slightly over 1 meter, curved inwards, which they hold at double-arm length from their bodies as they move it in a swishing motion from side to side:

Swoosh …. swoosh,

Swoosh …. swoosh.

Of course I was inadequate in terms of using this tool, but I now look at people around me in a more consumerist culture and I feel like my uncle must have felt towards me:

“Oh, man, these guys are so spoiled.

These guys have no idea where all the stuff comes from.

They haven’t done a hard day’s work.”

We live in a time and a society in which the concept of “hard labor”, of “having to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow” is not really present that much anymore, except for a very small segment of the population (in a developed country).

You look at those stats where they have 60% of the population doing agriculture in the 60s (let’s say) and then it’s 5% doing agriculture now.

What happened with the 55%? Did they all move into a city?

What happens when all these guys are no longer capable of using a scythe? Well, they become capable of using other stuff, like manipulating numbers in their heads and using computers, or driving trains or other huge machines, which do a lot of the other work.

Now, at any given moment,

these guys are working together and depend on each other in ways that have never been true in the past.

If the train driver of today’s world drives the train, it’s because he depends on a lot of other guys who drive trucks and bring the food to a supermarket near his house, or even deliver it to his house.

The train driver doesn’t go back home after driving a train all day to plant his crop. Usually.

So what happens when we’re no longer capable of using a scythe or an axe? When we don’t know how because we forgot? Well, nothing happens. So far.

You have to fast-forward to crisis situations (and we’ve been having quite a few of those and they’re growing in number; see “climate change”) where we no longer have what we call “basic services”.

By “basic services” we mean “other people do stuff for us and we don’t notice it (or them)”; so whenever you hear somebody talk about “basic services”, “the lifeline infrastructure”, it means

“people doing stuff for you, which you stopped noticing”.

 

Hey, do you know? You're very lucky that you can always use water!

Hey, do you know? You’re very lucky that you can always use water!

 

When people stop providing you with the fuel

  • to warm yourself,
  • to warm your food,
  • to warm your water (which other people deliver to your house so you can wash yourself),

when this link is cut, people are thrown back 50-60 years ago.

Now, this feels like it should not be such a huge challenge because if you took a guy from the 60s and threw him back 50-60 years ago, he would have more problems than in his day, but he would still be able to overcome most of them:

A guy from the 60s could still remember

  • how to start a fire,
  • how to find a proper place to sleep outside
  • how to walk on unpaved roads,

as he was still in touch with Nature.

But for us… The same distance in time feels nearly unbridgeable. By “unbridgeable” I mean “most of us wouldn’t be able to adapt (in time)”.

Let me explain the modern sense of crisis, let me explain why people say:

“Oh no, people believe in man-made global warming but they’re not doing anything.

They seem to constantly forget about it:

A new day of work, a new day of shopping.

It’s because of an all-encompassing sense of helplessness.

It’s not just that we need to change our attitudes towards how much CO2 we produce, or how much CO2 we help produce by consuming the way we’re consuming.

It’s also about planning for the immediate crisis that will follow, which requires re-learning some basic skills.

People don’t want to do this. People want the Government to provide the “basic services”.

Even in times of crisis we still expect things to work even when everything breaks down.

You see this in the silly images on TV where some guy is actually sand-bagging his $100,000 car thinking “I’m going to prepare for the flood; I’m going to protect my car”.

Source: http://www.gtspirit.com/2013/10/13/typhoon-fitow-floods-a-car-collection-in-china/

Typhoon’s coming! What do we do with the car collection? Source: http://www.gtspirit.com/2013/10/13/typhoon-fitow-floods-a-car-collection-in-china/

 

Yeah, I know it’s stupid, but the point is that (like this guy) we cannot imagine the flood in terms of the real impact it has on actual people; he can only imagine it up to 20-30 cm or whatever the height of the sandbag happens to be.

  • What if it’s going to be 2 meters?
  • What if you can’t use your car?
  • What if you can’t use your house? How about sandbagging your house next time?
  • What if you can’t warm yourself up?
  • What if you can’t get food for a couple of days?
  • What are you going to do?

This is what we mean by disaster-preparedness in Japan; the government considers these scenarios and then people prepare for it, running drills and so on. However,

we also need to prepare on an individual level and this is where people fail.

I see the same phenomenon in people who try to learn English; they think the “basic service” should be there:

“At school I should have enough knowledge imparted to me by the teacher”.

Yeah, you should get lots of knowledge from the teacher, but it won’t be enough, you still need to work a lot on your own to get it.

You’ll still need to prepare by yourself because you’re the one who’s going to use this knowledge, or the skill

  • of lighting a fire with wet wood,
  • of setting up a tent,
  • of finding things to cover yourself,
  • of scavenging things to eat…

And you will have to work with other people, other people like you who are also going to feel lost:

Oh my God, what’s going on, what’s going on? Why haven’t they restored basic services?

There would be other people like you and (here we come back to the feeling of anxiety)

you know that everybody’s as incompetent as you are.

 

I look around me and what I see makes me wonder: Are these guys going to be able to survive?

This is why I’m starting these kaizen dialogues, to reach out to other people and tell them: “I know I’m letting you have it really rough, but there’s no other way of saying it. It’s going to hit you.”

As Bob Dylan said, “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall”.

How do we know this? Well, in the next couple of weeks, have a look at the sky in the place where you happen to live and tell me:

Have you ever felt as apprehensive as you feel these days?

Take a look at the sky, take a look at what is going on outside in the next couple of weeks. Don’t read anything about global warming being real or a conspiracy; don’t worry about what people say.

You don’t need the scientific data. Take a look outside. Take a look at the sky for a couple of weeks and let me know:

  • Do you think you’re able to deal with all this?
  • Do you think that the building you live in can deal with all this?
  • How many times?
  • How many years before it becomes too much?

When you come to realise this, remember to learn not only survival skills:

You’re not going to go out there by yourself and start killing others to get your food.

That’s stupid, because other people would come and kill you, so don’t do anything idiotic like these guys going in a cabin and stocking on guns and cans.

That’s not the way. Remember, in your daily life (as a city-boy or city-girl)

  • to chop some wood,
  • to learn some basic skills,
  • to look back at the people who offer you basic services and
  • to prepare for the crisis.

What crisis? The hard rain that’s a-gonna fall.

Great ideas in the bathroom

What do you do with that broken umbrella?

What do you do with that broken umbrella?

There seems to be an urban myth about people coming up with great ideas while they are in the toilet or in the bathroom.

Notice what is shared by both these places:

This person would be there ALONE.

I mean, usually you don’t take a shower with other people.

[Though if you do take showers with other people, I hope these are people you actually want to be there in the shower room with you. Sorry for you if you’re among that 1% of Americans].

The funny thing about modern men and women is that even in the toilet we’re not alone anymore because many people are starting to use these hand-held devices to connect with the outside world.

This means that anybody who owns an electronic device is nearly always keeping in touch with somebody else, even in moments which you think of as “moments of privacy”.

The interesting implication is that you’re no longer alone even in those rare instances when you’re in a physical space that used to preclude communication with others in bygone (=non-electronic) times.

What will happen when this privacy will disappear from the shower room as well? People have TV sets installed in their bathrooms nowadays, right?

How crazy is that? I suspect that the next big invention is going to be a smart-phone that you can use while you’re taking a bath, maybe with some headphones that you can keep on while you’re showering.

Will that even be possible, or are we going to have people electrocuting themselves in the shower?

There is a problem with this modern trend. Networking is very good and there is so much to know out there in the virtual world, but it also means that

we stop trying to interact with the inanimate reality around us (i.e., Nature), and with our own bodies.

Very few people nowadays have the luxury to spend time alone, and few people prize it.

Why is this happening? Is it because we feel that we might be missing on some vital information? Perhaps.

Think how crazy is this new phenomenon whereby

people are twittering, like a flock of birds, everybody is just tweeting: Tweet-tweet, tweet-tweet.

A couple of words about something, which can sometimes become a distinct cry, when you have somebody who says something

very smart, or very funny, or something that is very scary.

Notice how all of these connect to immediate emotions: It has to be pretty short, right?

Tweets, #tags, most Facebook messages as well, are all short.

Blogs are longer and this is why I post on a blog because, while I may have hit a couple of homers during these dialogues (Sun-Rooted Language, anybody?), I’m not that good and I’m not that interested in creating (just) buzz-words. Also, I think the more time we give to something, the more we can get; call it my bias towards giving more time to each other, and to our Selves.

Let’s remember that there was one person, a long time ago, who was taking a bath, and he noticed that his own body displaced a certain volume of water, and from this he came up with a law of physics. He was able to derive a formula for calculating mass from volume. Was this because of the pressure from the king? The king asked him:

Hey, Archimedes, can you tell me how pure this gold is?”

Thinking about stuff while you’re working on it may help you sometimes, but notice how we need solitude to ponder things. Notice how (if this apocryphal account is true) Archimedes stumbled upon the answer while he was by himself, probably thinking about this problem he had to solve.

Even if he was vaguely thinking about that problem, notice that he was also paying attention to the Reality around him, in which he found himself submerged.

Does this mean that we are incapable of coming up with original ideas if we cannot find the time to be by ourselves (and be aware of what’s around us when we’re alone)? I don’t know.

However, I do know that it is important to pay attention to that voice inside your head when you’re alone

“Why is this thing like this? Oh, (maybe) it’s because of this”

When we are by ourselves, we can have a dialogue with our Selves.

Who are these Selves? The multiple Selves, including the I in the future or the I in the past

“Did I do this right? Did I put that item in my schedule for tomorrow? What time is my train leaving?”

There could also be a dialogue with an immovable, God-like I which is just asking

“Why am I here?”

Now, for those living within a 40-50 hours’ work-week, even if there is time for privacy (in your own cubicle), this is a private time in a given space, not necessarily a space of our own choosing, not a space of our everyday experience as (biological) human beings.

It’s a space customised to fit whatever working needs you might have; you could pay attention to that and try to improve it (e.g., put a flower pot on your desk), but you might not be able to improve much about that reality, as you’re not in contact with Reality in general.

What do I mean by “reality in general”? I mean “reality outside the walls”.

So few people nowadays are living outside that we actually forget our place in the world and this connectivity “helps” us to forget.

This ability to always be reached and to always be able to reach others, even in places which were formerly completely private.

I’m referring to people who use the kind of device you’re probably holding or looking at right now:

Boo! Scared?

Do people still take a walk without wearing headphones?

Do people still ride a bicycle without wearing headphones?

Do people still get stuck in traffic without checking their phones? I suppose that nowadays you can watch TV even while you’re driving, though I assume it is not legal. Or, more importantly, safe.

How did we derive this huge need to tune in to what others are saying / have said?

It’s probably because of the huge complexity of things / spaces around us (that have been designed by others) which we want to be able to control better.

How do we control these things / spaces better? That’s the question we’re constantly asking ourselves.

How do we know more about how we can manage our lives?

How do we know more about how the outside world is doing?

By “outside world” we mean “other people” and not inanimate reality (=Nature).

We still think about Nature in terms of how the weather is going to be

“Do I need an umbrella today?”

but we don’t think about Nature because

“I’ll have to sleep outside”.

We all go back to a designed space where we are protected from most of what Nature is preparing for us. But it cannot protect us from all that Nature is brewing out there.

So how do we deal with what Nature is preparing for us right now?

Why do I say that Nature is preparing something else for us?

Why do I believe that Nature may be changing the “recipe”?

Because of all the designed space we’ve been thrusting upon Nature, because of all the materials which we had to build, extract, dig out, polish, burn, shape, mold, subject to chemical reactions in order to get the things (we think) we need.

What did all this result in? It resulted in a stupendous amount of discarded products and by-products, which are also piling up in Nature.

It’s not just the designed stuff, but also the products which are more like side-effects, things we didn’t plan, didn’t care about… (CO2, anybody?)

What do we do with all the “garbage”? We throw it away.

Away, where? In Nature.

Are we going to drown in garbage? No.

However, the sea is going to drown us and drive us away from many places, because we have displaced so much of it.

How did we do this? Like Archimedes, by taking a bath? Not really.

It was more through our willful ignorance. Voluntary mindlessness. Not paying attention.

Nature is coming back to bite us and that’s a dialogue that is best engaged in while you’re by yourself. Then you can come back and connect with the rest of us, who are also concerned and who have thought about solutions, after having the same dialogue.

No exceptions in programmed reality

The Spaniards versus the Inca (chess set)

The Spaniards versus the Inca (chess set)

I feel now that I have been misleading you when I coined the expression Automatic Subconscious Procedures, because this may have triggered in your mind associations with computers.

There are many similarities between the computer and the human brain, but there are also significant differences, the first of which is meaning.

As far as similarities go, both use language and the computer language is being built as we speak (literally). I am not as familiar as I would like to be with machine code, but I understand its potential and its limitations.

What are the limitations? The speed of computers nowadays is vastly superior to that of humans (consider chess: We’re losing at chess now!), but there is no meaning to it.

Did anybody ask the computer that beat Kasparov “So, how do you feel about your victory?”

You cannot ask a program like Deep Blue for an answer. There would be no reply, unless you program it for this situation, unless you’re programming a simulation in which a human poses the question (in the form of dialogue) about the subject’s feelings. Then Deep Blue says: Define “feelings”.

So things are a bit more complicated with humans; computers are still our creation, very much so.

Back to Automatic Subconscious Procedures. Because ASPs are embedded in the real world, they start off as meaningful dialogues which have become largely subconscious as a result of our desire to speed up our interactions, but whose meaning (or lack thereof) becomes immediately apparent when their progress is arrested by reality.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this with an example would be to think about the computer game simulations we now have at our disposal. Computer simulations lack meaning by definition.

There is very little meaning in whatever’s the next step in a simulation because you or someone like you (i.e., the programmer) know what’s supposed to be the next step.

By contrast, we don’t know what’s the next step in the real world.

I suppose this accounts for the shock delivered by modern physics in the field of quantum dynamics: We don’t really know where one particle is actually positioned, because it’s a wave.

Meaning has yet to be created by a computer. It is generated only as far as a simulation (for which somebody writes down the rules).

On the other hand, in the real world accidents happen.

Let’s say that you’re in the Real world and you run in your head an Automatic Subconscious Procedure (which could be mistaken for a computer Simulation) where you have to clean your room.

You wake up in the morning and you think “I’ve got to sort out some things” and you run the simulation in your head “Okay, I’m going to pick up that and that”, you plan several steps ahead (we call this simulation “planning”). How far ahead are you going to plan? 30 minutes? 10 minutes? I don’t know, I guess you start picking up stuff expecting you’ll be done in x minutes. It depends on the person.

Now, let’s see what is different if you press “Activate procedure for cleaning” in a computer Simulation.

  1. First of all, you can “save”, which is ridiculous, right? You can go back in time.
  2. The second problem is that some programmer wrote the rules for what’s supposed to happen in the “cleaning” scenario; you might have to start by defining who you are (your character’s name). Let’s call our character “Hank”; let’s move Hank around by clicking on some points in this space which you’re going to clean.

Even when we consider the case of using the latest motion sensor technologies, whereby you would actually move around in a simulated space and pick up things, this simulated space has to be designed, somebody has to create this space, so it’s going to be governed by rules which you can easily figure out as another human.

Of course, you can introduce accident-like occurrences in a Simulation, but these too have to be programmed.

Therefore, the computer is not equipped to answer for that which is not programmed.

We don’t have an answer about meaning from a computer. We can give it a meaning and it can be bounced back to us in the form of dialogues, but these are different from the Reality in which we are operating on a day-to-day basis.

Our reality (as far as we know) is not programmed in a definite, human-mind-graspable way.

It doesn’t have the kind of macroscopic structure we are used to; we operate on a macroscopic level where we notice wolves and buildings, the Sky and the Moon, but we don’t notice electrons and photons (even though we can see their effects).

Moreover, we operate on a scale where the impact between two Sun-sized masses located I-don’t-know-how-many-light-years away from us does not really affect us as more than an interesting blip seen with the telescope.

We cannot easily imagine the very small and the very big, because we need to operate in the world of wolves and buildings, Sky and Moon.

However, our minds could penetrate the laws governing these movements of the stuff in the Sky (the very big) and of the very small (the electron): Somebody developed the mathematics for this.

Somebody wrote down some rules and we have discovered that for some (very small) parts of the universe the rule is different from what is considered rational (logically necessary) in our world, namely that the universe has to give you a final answer about where exactly something is located.

Maybe we have something similar when we cannot answer definitively the question: “Why are we here?”

With the computer, we can answer this question very easily: “I’m here because a human made me”.

With the human, it is much more difficult: “What made me is the Sky and the Earth” (as far as we know). The small stuff that blew in all directions from one dot.

How many billions of years ago? Remember the different scales.

13.798 ± 0.037 billion years ago plus one second, there was a lot of matter in the universe flying away from one point, and now, billions of years later, we look back to this time and we think we can assign some equations to describe what actually happened.

What did we discover in these equations? We discover that as soon as we go into waves, as soon as we go into frequencies (Hertz), as soon as we go into the theory that reality is a wave [or membrane, more recently], not a thing or a particle, at that moment our understanding breaks down and then it’s built up automatically [by our brains] in the wave form.

We are talking about the number of cyclical waves, patterns (which we can detect, or not).

The sound that is reaching you right now (if it’s reaching you at all) consists of ripples in the air, caused by the little vibrations in a certain frequency range that allow your ears to pick up the sounds as an S, followed by an aʊ, followed by an N, followed by a D, followed again by an S.

The vocal chords vibrate in my throat and the various articulatory parts allow the proper sounds to escape my mouth in such a way as to move the air particles around me in a manner that would be recognisable when they are produced by the vibrations from a small piece of metal in your room that would switch into motion the particles of air around you to re-create the SaʊNDS.

[Tip of the hat to my UNE phonetics & phonology (and Australian Aboriginal languages) teacher, Nick Reid. Not all was lost on me.]

And it’s waves, on both sides.

How about on their way, as they’re encoded now into a computer file? It’s probably different from the real thing.

How is it written in machine code? Normally we don’t understand enough of the machine code that is being used, but we still know enough to say that it’s an extraordinary tool in helping us to visualise how the universe around us actually operates, how we can reach other, how we can hear each other, how it is possible that the connections in my neural network(s) can be mirrored up to a certain extent by putting into motion air particles, called “waves of sound” which should trigger similar firings of neurones in somebody else’s brain.

How is this possible? Waves, right? That’s how we communicate.

The computer is there to help, but the meaning is still given by the dialogue that the human mind has with another human mind. Or with the computer. Or with the self. Or with the truth.

What we need is to get our language straight, back to basic meanings and to remember what it means to be human. A computer simulation is nice, but it’s pushing away into the background too much of the human right now.

A computer simulation is bad when we’re growing accustomed to mindless-ness, when we think that everything around us is an Automatic Subconscious Procedure. Some of it is not.

When our wilful ignorance of an aspect of reality affects other people, then it becomes immoral (and we’re now coming around to morality, after philosophy and religion).

The morality of human behaviour involves becoming conscious of those Automatic Subconscious Procedures which may make reality worse for other people (or ourselves).

Don’t give bad vibes, don’t send out bad waves, right?

This means that you are acting immoral whenever you’re closing yourself into a world where you cannot see Nature anymore, to the point that Nature is unrecognisable when it comes back to us (see “climate change”).

Our way of living, our Automatic Subconscious Patterns are being carried out at the expense of the natural world, the Earth that sustains us. We cannot forget that we were generated, that everything started off billions of years ago to allow us to reach this point here.

Morality means becoming conscious of the suffering caused by our actions when we refuse dialogue with other persons.

When we refuse to have a dialogue with the people whom we’re drowning: “global warming”, “coastal flooding”, “more intense weather events”.

If this doesn’t flash a light, then you’ve got to start reading (tip of the hat to George Monbiot, one of the few persons whose blog I follow weekly with great interest.)

Where will these hit the worst? Among the poor.

Similarly, but in a more consciously criminal way, in Cambodia people are still scarred physically (and psychologically) by bombs dropped decades ago by other humans who simply refused to have a dialogue with these people, with these generations of children born nowadays that are still dealing with minefields.

Of course there are people that are bad in an absolute sense of the word (Holocaust, genocide, Hitler kind of person) and these are people we must stand up against to protect those who suffer, but we must not forget that even when we are not consciously doing bad things, we may be sending out bad waves to other people through our actions when they’re Automatic Subconscious Procedures.

We show ignorance when we think it’s more rational to invest more money into building weapons and into deploying weapons, into burning more of the oil in the ground when the weather around us has gone completely unstable.

It shows a wilful malice towards the underprivileged people, towards the planet’s extremely rich-yet-vulnerable diversity of life, towards the indigenous people everywhere who now have only one alternative:

Join us or drown.

So that’s morality: The dialogues we need to become conscious of.

 

climate change explained for idiots (like myself)

Comment on Monsieur Monbiot’s

Are We Bothered?

For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.

 

This is going to be on energy and energy conservation issues. You know how people are considering right now switching to LED lights to save some power because you use less Watts, right? You use some device which is able to project as much light as the others but using only a quarter or one tenth of the power.

For the technical-minded, have a look at this fact-sheet on LED energy efficiency.

Should we ask the question in terms of money-affordability?

If you can afford switching to LEDs, do you then do the cost analysis? Can you recoup your investment? Can you recover the money you put in? Maybe at some point, after a certain number of watt-hours. But that’s not the way, that’s not the question which should be faced because it leads us away from ourselves and into the realm of abstractions.

The question should be faced from the opposite end:

“How much power should we consume on a daily basis?”

If you live on this planet in a developed country, then you should cut down quite a lot. I would also guess you can afford switching to LEDs, but the money aspect should not be as important as the fact that we cannot continue to use as much energy (to power up LEDs, stoves, air-conditioners, etc.) as we use right now. Why is that not feasible?

Have you heard of the term sustainable development? Sustainable growth?

You have to think about this as a system, as an ecological system: If we have enough sources of energy then that organism can survive as a whole.

What happens when we dry out one source or another? We’ll probably switch, we’ll find ways.

What happens when we use up sources which are really critical? What do we mean by critical?

Consider the atmosphere. Is the atmosphere something we can afford to lose?

Can we keep putting carbon dioxide (and other stuff) in it?

We decided that aerosols are not good for this atmosphere and we managed to stop. Now we are trying to decide whether CO2 is bad also and then we discover that there are a lot of CO2 producers in the world and they’re a lot bigger, you know, volcanoes and so on. How about people? Think about the number of people who breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Do you remember that first lesson in anatomy? I hope you do. Lots of people, lots of animals.

Obviously, we cannot stop volcanoes and we cannot stop people or animals from breathing.

What else produces CO2? Burning, right? Oxygen on coal, yeah, Burning…

Where does all this CO2 go? In the atmosphere. So we’re adding some, and then more, and then some more. What happens with all this carbon dioxide? Well some of it gets sucked back in by all the plants.

The plants have been that source which has kept us alive by recovering enough of the carbon dioxide to allow us, higher life-forms, to prosper and live.

So what happens now with this large mass that has been photosynthesising, which has been refreshing our atmosphere for a couple billion years? Can we even mark how long ago this system achieved balance?

And what are we doing now? After millions of years of extended stability, starting at that point when the whole planet starts to work together like a huge living body: breathing in, breathing out.

We take in oxygen, the plants give out oxygen. We give out carbon dioxide, the plants take in carbon dioxide.

That’s Calling-the-Breath-Way. That’s how the planet has been breathing. There is a balance and we’ve been cutting down our partner, cutting at the knees, ripping off clothes.

You hear about these massive fires caused by intensive heat waves, or people who are careless with the barbecue or I don’t know what idiotic story like that. But it’s mainly up to us. It’s mainly because of us, all this burning.

Human civilization currently harvests around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy each year and dumps 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the planetary system, which is why the atmosphere is holding more heat and the oceans are acidifying.

You know they have this idea, in some countries, that we need to burn. The slash and burn culture is a culture which is suicidal beyond a certain point. How much more can we cut ? How much more can we burn? How much longer can we pretend that it’s just trees?

How about the ocean? The ocean also absorbs a lot. There is another partner we have. And we keep on burning.

So what should we do? We consume all this electricity and we’re wondering about the money? We should consume less power no matter what device we use because that power, that source of energy comes to you from the plants, ultimately. From the plants that we’re burning now. The plants that were there at the time of the dinosaurs have sunk into the ground in the meantime and have created massive deposits of various fossil fuels that we’re now burning.

FOSSIL fuels! Can we remember that fossil means something that was alive and breathing? And we’re burning it.

What results from burning it? Ashes and carbon dioxide.

Can we afford to lose the atmosphere? Can we afford to lose our partner?