July 20, 2010
Just the other day I was going up to London on the train to see Dr Bruce Lipton give a lecture on “The Biology Of Belief.” While travelling up on the rather modern – and very quite – locomotive, I couldn’t help but notice a strange and somewhat perplexing phenomena occurring.
Basically I was gazing out of the window, watching the world pass by, as we effortlessly glided over the steal railings sturdily laid on the track below this hurtling juggernaut. Big beautiful corrugated clouds passed languidly overhead, set against the summer azure and vibrant green hues of sky and English country side. The variance of relative speed which was bestowed upon the objects closer to myself whisking by, while the more distant ones slowed down in a tapering fashion as they reached out towards the distant horizon. Raised slightly above the landscape upon the elevated foundations of the track, I had the momentary impression that I was dashing swiftly over the English country side in a fighter jet, prowling lowly over the earth’s topography to avoid any radar detection. Then “SWOOSH!” would go by another train, jolting me back into my bodily awareness. Minutes of peace, followed by sudden momentary tension, followed by peace again… All the while this movement behind the speeding train’s visual panoply ingrained itself inconspicuously in my neural net… Until we’d slow down for the next train station.
It was during these stops at the station that I noticed a curious phenomena occurring regarding the train’s ‘standing.’ I first noticed it at Tonbridge station. When the train had come to a complete stop, I gazed at one stationary traveller who was waiting for another train to arrive. She seemed to be engrossed in a book of some sort… However, she possessed an amazingly calm demeanour in the throng of station jostle, one that I found to be exceptionally engrossing and somewhat soothing in comparison to the past rush of country side imagery. While gazing at her, I noticed that the train felt like it was moving backwards slightly. However, observing the weekend revellers clambering through the open doors behind and in front of me, blasé to this ‘obvious’ point, I then remembering the strict rules that all railway companies adhered to i.e. making sure that all trains have come to a complete stand still before allowing passengers to embark. So I knew this couldn’t be the case… Well, only unless the station master was severely negligent of his duties… And perhaps the train driver hadn’t applied the brakes properly… !?
So I lined up a speck of dirt soiled to the window and held my head steady as I pin-pointed its position on an external cable, running from floor to ceiling, on the station wall. This, I hoped, would allow me to see if any horizontal movement was actually occurring or not. But the speck remained fixedly over the cable. Still, the sensation that we were moving backwards was overwhelming. Certainly none of the passengers boarding the train seemed to mind this insubstantial backward glide. “So,” I thought, “why should I?” And off we went once again, rushing over the earth towards the next station at Hildenborough.
Trees darted in front of my field of vision, breaking up the gloriously sun lit country side behind them into speckled fragments of green pastures and lubricious skies. Again I became transfixed on this imagery… And to be fair, it wasn’t any wonder why… Having been stuck in front of a computer screen most of the past week, this new window on the world enticed my visual cortex with a appeasing pattern that was as mesmerising and primal as the dancing flames of a night fire. Onwards we all hurtled, speeding towards the city limits, lost in the steady flow of time’s passage and the world’s movement.
Slowly we pulled into Hildenborough, greeted with the gleeful smiles and colourful attires of those patiently waiting for the future promise at the end of the line… Here a marvellous oak caught my attention, as its boughs swayed steadily in the light warm breeze, smattering the sun’s light that was breaking through it’s branches into a shimmering display of green and golden warmth. As might eyes rested on this delight, I again had the distinct impression that the train was moving backwards on the lines. This time feeling slightly apathetic towards this sensation and the effect it might have on boarding passengers, I aligned up the same window speck with another external object. And low an behold… The train was not moving in the slightest. In fact, as a young girl sat down next to me, I nodded in greeting and asked her if it felt like the train was moving. To which she placed her baggage overhead in the racks, sat down and proceeded to look out of the windows for a reference. After several moments, she replied that we were “very stationary” and smiled, saying that I probably had “motion residue” from the previous journey.
Motion residue… Wow! I had never heard of it before. And then I remembered all those times I had been on fair ground rides that span one round and round and round. Disembarking from these amusements, the ride attendant would always urge everyone to watch their step as the walked down the steps to a sure footing on solid ground. For moments afterwards the world would spinning slightly, and usually in the other direction to the way the ride was geared. Even spinning around on the spot, swirling faster and faster into a dizzying rush of blurred movement, could induce a similar effect. So I replied to the girl, “What… You mean like the effect one gets after spinning on the spot?” To which she replied, “Exactly!” And then told me about her experience of how the ground wobbled while standing on the shores of France having just ridden across the English Channel in a small boat during a Force 8.
At every stop there after we looked at stationary objects and noted with joyful presence the degree to which the train seemed like it was moving. We even had a little lad of not more than 10, who was sitting in front of us, join in our game.
This got me thinking once again about illusions and how we, as human beings, are so prone to perceiving things that are not really happening. And upon my return home, I looked up this phenomena and came across the following article in Scientific American.
Using aftereffects to probe visual function reveals how the eye and brain handle colors and contours.
Although our perception of the world seems effortless and instantaneous, it actually involves considerable image processing, as we have noted in many of our previous columns. Curiously enough, much of the current scientific understanding of that process is based on the study of visual illusions.
Analysis and resolution of an image into distinct features begin at the earliest stages of visual processing. This was discovered in cats and monkeys by a number of techniques, the most straightforward of which was to use tiny needles—microelectrodes—to pick up electrical signals from cells in the retina and the areas of the brain associated with vision (of which there are nearly 30). By presenting various visual targets to monitored animals, investigators learned that cells in early-processing brain areas are each sensitive mainly to changes in just one visual parameter, not to others. For instance, in the primary visual cortex (V1, also called area 17), the main feature extracted is the orientation of edges. In the area known as V4 in the temporal lobes, cells react to color (or, strictly speaking, to wavelengths of light, with different cells responding to different wavelengths). Cells in the area called MT are mainly interested in direction of movement.
One characteristic of these cells that may seem surprising is that their activity when stimulated is not constant. A neuron that responds to red, for instance, will initially fire vigorously but taper off over time as it adapts, or “fatigues,” from steady exposure. Although part of this adaptation may result from depletion of neurotransmitters, it also likely reflects the evolutionary logic that the goal of the cell is to signal change rather than a steady state (that is, if nothing changes, there is literally nothing for the cell to get excited about).
How do we know that such cells also exist in humans? Simply put, we descended from apelike ancestors, and there is no reason why we would have lost those cells during evolution. But we can also infer the existence (and properties) of feature-detecting cells in humans from the results of psychological experiments in which the short-term viewing of one pattern very specifically alters the perception of a subsequently viewed pattern.
For example, if you watch a waterfall for a minute and then transfer your gaze to the grass on the ground below, the grass will seem to move uphill. This illusion occurs because the brain normally interprets motion in a scene from the ratio of activity among cells responding to different directions of movement. (Similarly, the wide range of hues you see on the screen of your television set is based on the relative activity of tiny dots reflecting just three colors—red, green and blue.) By gazing at the waterfall, you fatigue the cells for downward movement; when you then look at a stationary image, the higher baseline of activity in the upward-motion cells results in a ratio that is interpreted as the grass going up. The illusion implies that the human brain must have such feature-detecting cells because of the general dictum that “if you can fatigue it, it must be there.” (This is only a rule of thumb. One of us “adapted” to the dreadful climate and food in England, but there are no “weather cells” or “food-quality cells” in his brain.)
The waterfall effect (or motion aftereffect, as it is also known) was first noted by Aristotle. Unfortunately, as pointed out by 20th-century philosopher Bertrand Russell, Aristotle was a good observer but a poor experimenter, allowing his preconceived notions to influence his observations. He believed, erroneously, that the motion aftereffect was a form of visual inertia, a tendency to continue seeing things move in the same direction because of the inertia of some physical movement stimulated in the brain. He assumed, therefore, that the grass would seem to move downward as well—as if to continue to mimic the movement of the waterfall! If only he had spent a few minutes observing and comparing the apparent movements of the waterfall and the grass, he would not have made the mistake—but experiments were not his forte. (He also proclaimed that women have fewer teeth than men, never having bothered to count Mrs. Aristotle’s teeth.)
The principle of motion adaptation isn’t all that different from the one illustrated by the color aftereffect. Stare at the fixation spot in ‘a’ between the two vertically aligned squares—the top one red, the bottom one green. After a min ute, look at the blank gray screen in ‘b.’ You should see a ghostly bluish-green square where the red used to fall in your visual field and a reddish square where the green used to be. The effect is especially powerful if you blink your eyes.
This color-adaptation aftereffect occurs mainly in the retina. The eye has three receptor pigments–for red, green and blue—each of which is optimally (but not exclusively) excited by one wavelength. Light that contains all wavelengths and thereby stimulates all three receptors equally yields a ratio that the brain interprets as white. If your red color receptors become fatigued from staring at a red square, then when you look at a field of white or light gray, the ratio of activation shifts in favor of greenish blue, which is what you see.
Orientation adaptation, discovered by Colin Blakemore, then at the University of Cambridge, is another striking example of this phenomenon, except that (like the waterfall effect) it occurs in the brain, not the eye. Stare at the anticlockwise-tilted lines in ‘c’ for a minute (while moving fixation within the central disk) and then transfer your gaze to the vertical lines in ‘d.’ You will be startled to find the vertical lines tilted in the opposite direction, clockwise. This perception allows the inference that orientation-specific cells do exist in the human brain: the adaptation to tilt “tilts” the balance of activity among the orientation-specific neurons, favoring those that are attuned to the opposite, clockwise direction.
Even more exciting was Celeste McCollough’s discovery during the early 1960s, while on sabbatical from Oberlin College, of “double duty” cells in humans. Her experiments showed that in addition to cells that respond specifically to a color or an orientation, there are cells that respond only to a line that is both tilted and colored appropriately (that is, a cell for “red line tilted 45 degrees clockwise” or for “green line tilted 10 degrees anticlockwise,” and so on).
Look at ‘e’ (horizontal black and red bars) for 10 seconds, moving your eyes around the central fixation (don’t keep staring just at the fixation) and then at ‘f’ (vertical green and black bars) for 10 seconds. Alternate between them about 10 times each. By doing so, you tire all the color receptors in your retina about equally. If you then look at white paper, you see white—no colors. But an astonishing thing happens if you look at ‘g’ and ‘h,’ which consist of black and white horizontal or vertical bars. (Move your eyes back and forth betweeen them.) The white horizontal lines now look tinged green and the vertical ones red! The effect is even more striking if you look at the patchwork quilt (‘i’).
Why does this happen? The McCollough effect suggests that subsequent to the retinal processing, some cells in the brain’s visual pathway extract two features along independent dimensions simultaneously. For simplicity, assume there are just four types of these cells: red-vertical, green-vertical, red-horizontal and green-horizontal. Because ‘e’ fatigues only the red-horizontal cells, you are left with nonfatigued green-horizontal cells, which are then relatively active when you look at white horizontal stripes. Consequently, the white horizontal stripes look greenish; ‘f’ has the reverse effect on the cells: because green-vertical cells have been selectively adapted, white vertical stripes now appear reddish. But none of these aftereffects occurs when you look at blank white paper because your eye movements ensure that all color receptors are equally stimulated on the retina, whereas cortical cells that have an orientation specificity are not stimulated.
Therefore, with a 10-minute experiment, we have shown the existence of neurons in the brain that require the joint presence of a specific color and orientation to fire. The adaptation effects that result from fatiguing them are called contingent aftereffects. The McCollough effect is an orientation-contingent color aftereffect.
A peculiar aspect of the McCollough effect is that once it has been generated in your brain, it can survive for a long period. Look again next week, and the stripes may very well continue to look red- or green-tinged. (The strength of the aftereffect normally ebbs gradually over time, unless you are submerged in darkness, in which case it endures undiminished!) It has therefore been suggested that contingent aftereffects have more in common with memory and learning than with purely visual adaptation. It is as though during the initial adaptation (or exposure) phase, the brain were saying, “Every time I see horizontal stripes, there’s too much red in the world, so let’s pay less attention to red. Whereas every time I see vertical stripes, I see too much green. So let me damp down the green when I am shown vertical white stripes and damp down red when I see horizontal white.” (In the same way, your brain says, “Any time I set foot into the hot tub, it’s hot, so let me recalibrate my temperature judgment accordingly. I’ll expect it to be hot and won’t withdraw my foot in surprise.”)
It has been shown that certain drugs (including caffeine) can enhance the persistence of the McCollough effect. The phenomenon deserves further study as a way of approaching the neurochemistry of perceptual mechanisms. Visual aftereffects may thus give us insights not only into the neural channels that mediate perception but also into the neural—and possibly pharmacological—basis of memory and learning.
By Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran
No doubt other illusions use similar effect with regards to the colour receptors in the eye…
It still amazes me just how easily this body of ours can be deceived, so as to perceive and deduce one fact, while ‘really’ something rather different is actually happening. !?!?
To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
June 15, 2010
Just a moment ago a friend sent me a link to an article in Scientific American entitled “The Neuroscience of Distance and Desire.” As I’m particularly interested in delusions that spring forth from varied perceptive stances, or illusions that stem from blind spots within biomechanical processes within the mind, as well as illusions i.e. optical illusions and perceptual distortions, I’m posting this article here, as I feel it pertinently stands to remind us all about how something can sometimes seem greater than it actually is… Or closer than it really might be… Or even stranger than it really is.
Take a look at the cup of coffee in front of you. Think of how badly you want it. Think of the warmth it will bring as it slips past your pursed lips and reaches through your body’s core. The inviting astringency that lingers on your tastebuds, and that can only be abated by another sip. Once you have worked yourself into a caffeine-deprived frenzy, reach out your hand and try and grasp your liquid gold. New research conducted by Emily Balcetis and David Dunning and published in a recent issue of the journal Psychological Sciencesuggests that you might not reach far enough. The coffee cup appears closer than it really is.
This may sound absurd to those of us who believe we see the natural world as it is. How far away am I from my coffee mug? Why, as far away as it looks! The authors’ argument, however, rests on the idea that the way we see the world can be distorted by the way we feel and think about it. Their research is part of an emerging body of work supporting this idea. For example,researchers have found that hills appear steeper and distances longer when people are fatigued or carrying heavy loads. The difficulty of the task distorts our perception of distance. This will ring true for any post-holiday jogger who might at first be astonished at how long a mile appears with the weight of turkey, stuffing and cheesecake dangling from his sides. But as the pounds drip away, the mile marker doesn’t look quite so distant. Anyone who has been tasked with exceedingly tedious administrative work probably has an intimate understanding of this well. As I grade student exams, the more tedious the work, the less of an impact I seem to be making in that tall stack of papers in front of me. Haven’t I been doing this for two hours already?
Balcetis and Dunning wondered whether the desirability of an object might also influence perception, causing us to distort our proximity to objects we crave. In other words, do objects that we want or like appear closer to us than they actually are? In a series of clever experiments Balcetis and Dunning varied the desirability of target objects and asked for participants’ estimates of their physical proximity to these objects. For example, participants who had just eaten pretzels perceived a water bottle as significantly closer to them relative to participants who had just drank as much water as they wanted. In other words, those who desired the water more, perceived it as more easily attainable. A $100 bill that participants had the possibility of winning appeared closer to participants than a $100 bill that belonged to the experimenter. The results of surveys that provided participants with positive social feedback (you have an “above average” sense of humor) were perceived as closer than surveys that provided negative feedback (you have a “below average” sense of humor).
These perceptual distortions manifested in physical actions towards desirable or undesirable objects as well. Participants who were asked to toss a beanbag towards a desirable object (a $25 gift card) came up significantly shorter than participants who tossed the bag towards a neutral object (a gift card worth $0), perceiving it to be closer than it actually was.
Finally, participants were asked to stand opposite a wall upon which experimenters had placed two strips of tape exactly 90 inches away from each other. Beneath one of the pieces of tape was either a bag of chocolates or a bag of what experimenters described as a “freshly collected sample of dog feces” – two things most of us can, hopefully, agree are desirable and undesirable. Participants were asked to move towards the object until their distance equaled the distance between the pieces of tape. Participants, overestimating their proximity to the desirable object, moved significantly closer to the feces than the chocolate. Street-walkers everywhere beware: dog poop is closer than it may appear.
Though these findings may conjure up images of moving in for kisses that land short or attempted caresses that only glance the tip of your target’s nose, the authors argue that these types of distortions are an important part of social life. They help motivate us to pursue those goals that are particularly desirable, and encourage us to not pursue those goals that might be particularly difficult to attain. The logic here is simply that energy is a limited resource, and over evolutionary time the individuals who have been most successful have been those who directed their energy towards goals that would either benefit them the most or that would not come at too high a risk.
The closer an object appears, the more obtainable it seems. The more obtainable it seems, the more likely we are to go for it. Likewise, the more challenging a goal appears (a mile run when you’re out of shape) the more distant it will seem. The more distant it seems, the less likely you are to lace up your sneakers and the more likely you are to hit up those sweat pants and leftovers. This may seem counter-intuitive – after all, running is good for our health, so how could a perceptual bias that makes us less likely to do it be helpful? While it may be disconcerting to know that your eyes conspire against your waistline, the “impossible is nothing” mentality of our exercise culture, though it will certainly help you look great in a swimsuit, was probably not a terrific strategy over evolutionary time. That chasm over there? Impossible to jump across. How about that growling bear? It’s impossible to physically subdue. There would have been goals that were impossible or, at least, very difficult or unlikely for an individual to achieve, and having the perceptual system guide us in the right direction (e.g. by making the chasm look wider than it actually is, and the bear perhaps a bit larger and meaner) would have been extremely important.
In sum, the things that we want will be perceived as relatively closer and more obtainable and energize action geared towards their acquisition. This perhaps explains why that cute bartender you’ve been eyeing recently appears to lean in tantalizingly close when pouring your drink. But beware of how your eyes may deceive you. Though you may desire the barkeep’s affections, those dexterous hands may be farther away than you think. What appears to be within reach might, in fact, not be so. Indeed, these findings suggest that Morrissey’s musings on the effects of unrequited love need revision. While he may be right that the “the more you ignore me, the closer I get”, it may be equally true that the more you ignore me, the closer you get.
To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
May 25, 2010
I’ve spoken about perceptive differences before… Who is ultimately right or wrong in any given situation? Is everything really just paradoxical? Where everything, if viewed selfishly, leads to a contradiction OR a situation which defies intuition when viewed solely from our own subjective point of view? Perhaps if we viewed all things objectively enough – by placing ourselves in each other’s shoes on a regular basis – then we might be able to understand one another better.
So is the subjective perception emanating from our “self” the real culprit that needs to be overcome? If we see things happen one way… Could they really have happened another way too??? Isn’t everything we see shaded through the coloured glasses of our own experiences??? Aren’t we all viewing the world via our own schemas; via our own memetic conditioning??? Thus is not everything relative to how the viewer perceives any given circumstance??? Would we not be better off letting go of egocentric modes of understanding??? And, thus, respect what others see as their own truth?
I won’t say anymore for the moment… Other than this is something we should all understand for ourselves… Understand on a deep, deep level. Especially before we decided to disagree with someone else over some trivial aspect of our lives in any future circumstance… I, for one, have many things to learn here.
To help us all on our way with this… I recommend viewing this short two minute video below. Who is ultimately right? The man on the train… ? Or the man on the platform… ? Or are they both right within their own ‘frames’ of reference???
To learn more about Albert Einstein, please click here.
Or to understanding more about varied perceptive stances, please read the first chapter of Bertrand Russell’s “The Problems Of Philosophy,” by clicking here.
April 30, 2010
I have since returned from my week long working retreat at the Bodhisattva Buddhist Centre in Brighton… And, having had a really fun and insightful time on the whole, I am also glad to add that “I” am now feeling more at ease with the world into which I have returned! Bonus…
Certainly there is a lot to be said for the Buddhist path. Forget the idea of an omnipotent and omnipresent “God” waving all of your natural desires in front of your face to lure/trick you into an eternal hell and/or damnation should you succumb to their temptation… Buddhism is a science of the mind which shows the practitioner how they make their own personalised living “hell” while they are alive here on Earth… And then it gives you the choice of doing something about it – via practices of meditation and mindfulness – should you want to! Neat, eh?
It’s a shame that we don’t all take a leaf out Buddhism’s book and learn more about the negative aspects of our own ‘self’, along with our negative modes of ‘being’ and any negative personality traits that we might have… All of which we use to shape and mould the way in which we perceive our problems within a social context of everyday “reality,” and even our night-time dreams. No doubt, while there, we will confront some shady aspects of our inner selves; aspects that we’d probably rather forget and suppress. But suppression is not the key to helping ourselves… Or even helping others… For these “dark” aspects will show us new perspectives on where the real key to unlocking any of our problems/sufferings that we might be presently experiencing lies.
Saying that, I’m well aware that faith is a highly personalised ideal which many, once they’ve settled on a particular Religious path, do not want to give up, despite the fact that one’s religious preference is predominantly dictated by nothing more than “memetic” exposure within familiar/cultural settings… Besides, I might even have “it” all completely wrong and be barking up the wrong tree totally. So don’t listen to me… Make up your own mind about what you think is right and do what you feel is good for yourself and others.
Unquestionably there are parallels between what science – mainly maths, psychology and physics – and Buddhism have understood about the universe and the human condition… And while I was a only just a little dismayed at the monks’ own lack of real understanding about the world of “mainstream” science fact i.e. if science did arise in a teaching or discussion then it was usually centred around ‘hear-say’ rather than current up to scratch notions and/or hard facts, I non-the-less began to understand why this was.
Buddhism is not about understanding how the world works or how to make technology from basic facts or discoveries. It not even concerned with why these scientific anomalies occur in the material world. What Buddhism is predominantly concerned with is how the human mind – something so intangible and vague in essence – perceives and relates to everyday phenomena. In fact, it is concerned with a “Wisdom” derived directly from experience. This “Wisdom” is not to be confused with the intellectual understanding of facts nor about measuring things and discovering why something happens i.e. like empirical observations about biological systems or atomic measurements for timing purposes, etc… Nor is it to be confused with the ability to make money or amass personal possessions AND/OR even accumulating a wealth of ideas and understandings, etc… The “Wisdom” derived from Buddhism is centred on understanding the “mind” and all the delusions that it presents to us, so that we may grasp the real nature of our reality and posit a happy repose from which to free ourselves from the sufferings that we natural propagate for ourselves… And in doing this, we can then develop a true compassion and understanding about suffering so that we might help others to attain this state of liberation too. What splendid ideal, eh?
In coming from this point of view many Buddhists have seen through a lot of the experiential illusions of self-grasping, religious dogma, herd mentalities, etc… and, thus, have reached a state of enlightenment. With these hindrances of self-driven tendencies out of the way, they began to see the world clearly and freely, placing all negativities out of mind and sight… And, from a deep sense of compassion drawn from this understanding, these enlightened beings have decided to charge for the heart of the human problem, and have taken it upon themselves to liberate all living beings in this way from Saṃsāra i.e. the general state of overt or subtle sufferings that we all experience in our day to day life. They believe that once enlightenment is obtained, then – and only then – can we begin to honestly and sincerely help one another to achieve this state of non-suffering… I feel that, once there, we will be able to live our lives with compassion for all living beings, balancing ourselves with nature and with each other naturally, mindfully and holistically. Ultimately the desire of these enlightened beings to free ALL living beings from Saṃsāra is so strong that they can only perceive the distractions of science and mainstream consumerism as hindrances to the path of enlightenment. And I must say that on many levels I agree with them on this.
I’d like to quote a piece that Robert Persig wrote in his book entitled “Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” which I feel pertinently addresses why Buddhism has no current need for the systematic understandings that science has to offer…
“To speak of certain government and establishment institution as ‘the system’ is to speak correctly, since these organizations are founded upon the same structural conceptual relationships as a motorcycle. They are sustained by structural relationships even when they have lost all other meaning and purpose. People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to five without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There’s no villain, no ‘mean guy’ who wants them to live meaningless lives, it’s just the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless.
“But to tear down a factory or revolt against government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves (as all patterns do in a fractal universe) in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system… And so little understanding.”
So, bearing all this in mind, why would a Buddhist monk/nun need to understand what science is all about? Simple answer is that he/she wouldn’t. They’re here to help others achieve a liberation from modes of mind that give rise to suffering… And this liberation comes in the form of enlightenment. Many monks will do whatever it takes to help others achieve this liberation, even before they dream of helping themselves to achieve it. How “selfless” and “meritorious” is that? They’ve seen the issues that modern man has, and they’re not interested in being distracted, nor are they interested in taking pointless action that will not really remedy the situation we are all in… They’re aware that there is only one way… Which is to liberate us all from our own self-grasping… Our own self-cherishing.
But still… All that aside… I just can’t stop thinking about how similar realisations concerning the universe have been reached through wildly different disciplines… Surely we’re both looking at similar phenomena somewhere down the line, but perhaps just from different perspectives… Like we’re on alternate sides of the same coin? Maybe it’s much more simple than even that… Maybe it’s because we are all using the same biomechanical mechanisms with which to perceive our general experiences with i.e. our bodies? As Anaïs Nin once said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
As science and Buddhism are positing a similar cognisance about the universal order of things… Well… Certainly it would seem that a compromise between what we perceive externally and what we understand internally is the key to unlocking our suffering here in Saṃsāra. No doubt if we are honest about what we observe, we will see with a clarity of understanding that becomes “enlightenment.” Strangely enough, the famous Taoist Chuang Tzu once wrote, “Only the true man can avoid both external and internal punishments.” Both paths – science and Buddhism – seem to be pointing towards very similar things i.e. that the observer and the external world are equally as important as each other to understand before we can realise any “reality.” But enlightenment obviously takes time and diligence to posit… And, until that awakening, the universe might seem like a pretty strange place… Even for those of us who are really, really, really clever… For our own misguided understandings will only, at best, vaguely fit the hand of reality like a misshapen glove might do upon the synaptic clefts of our brain’s experiential neural net.
To illustrate this point better, I would like to present a talk given by Jnanavaca, which pertinently addresses aspects of Buddhism and Quantum Physics to demonstrate how we, as observers, have the ability to “boggle” at the wonders of what science and Buddhism know, and how we can even inadvertently shape the universe around us in ways that we are not even aware of…
Jnanavaca’s fabulous take on Einstein, Schroedinger, double slits, and all that stuff you wished you understood about quantum physics but despaired of ever knowing so as to impress at parties… Well, now you can learn all about it — as well as how it relates to Dharma practice and the Buddha’s view of a truly luminous Reality. Very classy stuff from a great speaker with the most infectious laugh on the planet! We won’t give any more away here — settle back and enjoy a brain-expanding, soul questioning talk.
Talk given at the Western Buddhist Order Convention, 2005
To find out where I sourced this talk from, please click here…
And if you enjoyed the talk, please feel free to make a donation to the Free Buddhist Audio site by clicking here.
OR to find a transcription of Jnanavaca’s talk, please click here.
March 2, 2010
I like it when people leave comments and offer their own perceptive stance on their world view. It usually results in my learning something really important about the world… Something that I’m sure I knew on some level (having learnt most of statistics at university) but just never really had the foresight to translate it into real world analogies. Well… I’m glad to say it’s happened again!
Relating to current escalating global population levels and, thus, the resulting increase in consumption of resources, we’d be all well advised to watch this lecture entitled “Arithmetic, Population And Energy,” given by Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus in Nuclear Physics at Colorado University at Boulder. Here Professor Bartlett felicitously explains what it means to see an annual 7% increase in growth, asking questions like “What’s the doubling time for 7% growth?” and “Should we be promoting disease?” so as to bring these ideas into a crystal clear perspective… With a touch of humour here and there.
So where do we start? Well, let’s start in Boulder, Colorado. Here’s my home town. There’s the 1950 census figure, 1960, 1970—in that period of twenty years, the average growth rate of Boulder’s population was 6% per year. With big efforts, we’ve been able to slow the growth somewhat. There’s the 2000 census figure. I’d like to ask people: let’s start with that 2000 figure, go another 70 years—one human life time—and ask: what rate of growth would we need in Boulder’s population in the next 70 years so that at the end of 70 years, the population of Boulder would equal today’s population of your choice of major American cities?
Boulder in 70 years could be as big as Boston is today if we just grew 2.58% per year. Now, if we thought Detroit was a better model, we’ll have to shoot for 31?4% per year. Remember the historic figure on the preceding slide, 6% per year? If that could continue for one lifetime, the population of Boulder would be larger than the population of Los Angeles. Well, I’ll just tell you, you couldn’t put the population of Los Angles in the Boulder valley. Therefore it’s obvious, Boulder’s population growth is going to stop and the only question is, will we be able to stop it while there is still some open space, or will we wait until it’s wall-to-wall people and we’re all choking to death?
Now, every once in a while somebody says to me, “But you know, a bigger city might be a better city,” and I have to say, “Wait a minute, we’ve done that experiment!” We don’t need to wonder what will be the effect of growth on Boulder because Boulder tomorrow can be seen in Los Angeles today. And for the price of an airplane ticket, we can step 70 years into the future and see exactly what it’s like. What is it like? There’s an interesting headline from Los Angeles. (“…carcinogens in air…”) Maybe that has something to do with this headline from Los Angeles. (“Smog kills 1,600 annually…”)
So how are we doing in Colorado? Well, we’re the growth capital of the USA and proud of it. The Rocky Mountain News tells us to expect another million people in the Front Range in the next 20 years, and what are the consequences of all this? (“Denver’s traffic…3rd worst in US…”) These are totally predictable, there are no surprises here, we know exactly what happens when you crowd more people into an area.
Well, as you can imagine, growth control is very controversial, and I treasure the letter from which these quotations are taken. Now, this letter was written to me by a leading citizen of our community. He’s a leading proponent of “controlled growth.” “Controlled growth” just means “growth.” This man writes, “I take no exception to your arguments regarding exponential growth.” “I don’t believe the exponential argument is valid at the local level.”
So you see, arithmetic doesn’t hold in Boulder. I have to admit, that man has a degree from the University of Colorado. It’s not a degree in mathematics, in science, or in engineering. All right, let’s look now at what happens when we have this kind of steady growth in a finite environment…
Thus I ask if this could be a new slogan for the “Optimum Population Trust“? And perhaps when we tie this idea up with consumption, it might be a reason to change our habits, like finding the goods we need off “FreeCycle” rather than ‘buying’ them brand new in the shops OR throwing away what we think we don’t need or can’t use?
A BIG thank you to Andrew Soon for bringing this to my attention!
To find the transcript for this video, please click here.
Or to find out more about Professor Albert A. Bartlett, please click here.
February 27, 2010
Here I would like to provide a wonderful documentary complied by the BBC on the story of light, and how it came to change the way we perceive the universe around us. As is the case with these stories about understanding, things are not always as they first seem… Thus I feel it is a good starting point to grasp the idea of how easily we can sometimes be deluded about things we think we know about i.e. how the physical world, human psychology and the physics of light were not as well understood – nor as easy to understand – as we first thought they were… And how the quest for understanding is about the constant revision of knowledge, rather than set dogmatic modes of understanding.
Once again… I take my hat off to the BBC. Many thanks guys and gals!
Light Fantastic explores the phenomenon that surrounds and affects nearly every aspect of our lives but one which we take for granted – light.
Light is why the sea is blue and the grass is green. Without light, there would be no life, no art – there would be nothing. Light is a necessity for human life but we are still trying to understand it…
The greatest names in science – Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Leonardo, and Einstein – have struggled to unravel its mysteries. This is the story of man’s attempt to understand the most elusive phenomenon; told through the dramatic reconstruction of events and experiments that have advanced our knowledge and broadened our understanding. From rainbows to photosynthesis, from brown skin to quantum theory, light affects everything.
1. Let There be Light
Greek and Arab scholars, and later Europeans such as Descartes and Newton all tried to understand light to gain a better understanding of God. Episode one shows how much of modern science’s origins came from the desire to penetrate the divine nature of light.
2. The Light of Reason
The second programme explores the link between the development of practical tools that manipulate light and the emergence of new ideas. For example, Galileo’s observation that the sun did not go around the earth, was made with a telescope that had been invented for Venetian soldiers and traders.
3. The Stuff of Light
Episode three charts the discovery of the true nature of light and its impact on the modern world. All of today’s technologies – electricity, mobile communications and our ability to illuminate the world 24 hours a day – stem from unravelling the mystery of light.
4. Light, The Universe and Everything
In the final programme Simon Schaffer finds that as more people were able to manipulate light, the more puzzling and tricky it became. This led to investigations into the strange relationship between light, the eye and the mind, and the development of new technology such as photography and cinema.
To find out more about the BBC, please click here.
OR to find out more about the Light Fantastic documentaries, please click here.
January 26, 2010
As Aristotle once said, “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” As we have been discussing in previous blogs ideas about “illusion,” “percpetion,” “memetics,” “psychology of the masses” and read Edward R. Murrow’s infamous speech about the downfall of television… I think it’s high time we began looking at some of the uncomfortable truths behind our own “grass root” socio-political stances and world views.
Thus, I would like to introduce to you a novel idea concerning the never ending violence that seems to be ever escalating between Israeli forces and Gaza. After all we’ve heard through the media, and bearing in mind how soft our minds can be to external influences i.e. television and general consensus, it might well prove for many to be a hard pill to initially swallow. However, we would be well advised to look at the world through as many perspectives as humanily possible, so that we might see all the aspects and angles on this multi-faceted dispute. For if we cannot put ourselves in “the other’s shoes,” then what hope do we ever have of truly understanding the world and developing a compassionate stance towards other fellow human beings?
Thus I would like to intorduce Avram Noam Chomsky, who is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is well known in the academic and scientific community as one of the fathers of modern linguistics. Since the 1960s, he has become known more widely as a political dissident, an anarchist, and a libertarian socialist intellectual. Chomsky is often viewed as a notable figure in contemporary philosophy who, in the 1950s, began developing his theory of generative grammar, which has undergone numerous revisions and has had a profound influence on linguistics. His approach to the study of language emphasizes “an innate set of linguistic principles shared by all humans” known as universal grammar, “the initial state of the language learner,” and discovering an “account for linguistic variation via the most general possible mechanisms.” He also established the Chomsky hierarchy, a classification of formal languages in terms of their generative power. In 1959, Chomsky published a widely influential review of B. F. Skinner’s theoretical book Verbal Behavior, which was the first attempt by a behaviorist to provide a functional, operant analysis of language. Chomsky used this review to broadly and aggressively challenge the behaviorist approaches to studies of behavior dominant at the time, and contributed to the cognitive revolution in psychology. His naturalistic approach to the study of language has influenced the philosophy of language and mind.
Beginning with his opposition to the Vietnam War, Chomsky established himself as a prominent critic of US foreign and domestic policy. He is a self-declared adherent of libertarian socialism which he regards as “the proper and natural extension of classical liberalism into the era of advanced industrial society.”
According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar during the 1980–92 period, and was the eighth most-cited source. He is also considered a prominent cultural figure. At the same time, his status as a leading critic of US foreign policy has made him controversial. And it is within a lecture of his, entitle “Chomsky on Gaza” that we will see his well researched critical flare come to light.
But before we embark on Chomsky’s two hour lecture and question time, perhaps we should prime ourselves with some knowledge of the Israeli vs. Palestinian conflict.
The Gaza Strip (Arabic: قطاع غزة Qiṭāʿ Ġazza/Qita’ Ghazzah, Arabic pronunciation: /qitˤaːʕ ɣazza/) lies on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the south, east and north. It is about 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 360 square kilometers (139 sq mi). This small piece of land is home to about 1.5 million Palestinians. Many of these people lived in other parts of Palestine prior to the 1947 – 49 Israeli War of Independence, when they had to flee. These Palestinians have not been allowed to return to their former villages. The area is recognized internationally as part of the Palestinian territories. Actual control of the area is in the hands of Hamas, an organization that won civil parliamentary Palestinian Authority elections in 2006 and took over de facto government in the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority by way of its own armed militia in July 2007, while violently removing the Palestinian Authority’s security forces and civil servants from the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip, having previously been a part of the Ottoman Empire and then the British Mandate of Palestine, was occupied by Egypt from 1948–67, and then by Israel following the 1967 war. Pursuant to the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1993, the Palestinian Authority was set up as an interim administrative body to govern populated Palestinian centers – with Israel maintaining military control of the Gaza Strip’s airspace, some of its land borders and its territorial waters – until a final agreement could be reached. As agreement remained elusive, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, saying it was no longer the Occupying Power there. The international community, citing Israel’s continued effective control over the area, continues to regard it as an Occupying Power.
With that out of the way… I present to you an alternative, but equally as valid, view point on the Israeli Palestinian conflict… One that many of us here in the West might never have seen/heard before. I hope, rather than arousing fear and disbelief, it will simply show one how their own world view about other country’s conflicts might not be as “final” as many of us would like to think. Once this is grasped, perhaps we can then begin to see past the egocentric bias of our own country’s medial spin… And in doing that, we might then become aware of the slant that our own government and corporate “powerhouses” place on reported conflicts that have their “monetary” interests at heart, thus justifying to “us” (the dumbed down masses) their continued economic exploitation of other countries via modes of war and civil unrest.
M.I.T. Lecture – International Affairs – Chomsky On Gaza
Bearing in mind Chomsky’s lecture above, I would now like to urge anyone who’s got this far to read and consider the following article, which was written by George Monbiot for The Guardian newspaper, published today, on the 26th January, 2010…
I provide this blog so that you can make up your own mind as to whether or not the war in Iraq was a just war… No doubt, to the many German nationals during the Second World War, the Nazi invasion of Europe would have seemed a just cause. Heavy thought, eh? If you can now begin to see an alternative perspective, then perhaps you might like to visit Monbiot’s Arrest Blair website and remind others that justice still hasn’t been done!
To find out where I sourced this lecture from, please click here.
OR to find out more about Noam Chomsky himself, and all the good work he’s doing here on Earth currently, please click here.
December 27, 2009
Recently a friend bought me a rarity of book that was written by the late Dr Albert Hofmann. It is a detailed exposition of a journey into Knowing and Understanding that occurred through direct experience with his prodigal child, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, otherwise known to many as LSD.
The following excerpt, which is taken from the final chapter of this unique and insightful book, is presented here. The reason why I have chosen this part of the book above all the others is that it eloquently describes the deep impact that Hofmann’s experiences had upon his understanding of reality and, thus, they show a thread through to the other sides of reality… A multifaceted reality that must be seized in order for man to live wholly in the light of balance with Nature.
LSD Experience and Reality
What more can a person gain in Life
Than that God-Nature reveals Himself to him?
I am often asked what has made the deepest impression upon me in my LSD experiments, and whether I have arrived at new understanding through these experiences.
Of greatest significance to me has been the insight that I attained as a fundamental understanding from all my LSD experiments: what one commonly takes as “reality,” including the reality of one’s own individual person, by no means signifies something fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous – that there is not only one, but that there are many realities, each comprising also a different consciousness of the ego.
One can also arrive at this insight through scientific reflections. The problem of reality is and has been from time immemorial a central concern of philosophy. It is, however, a fundamental distinction, whether one approaches the problem of reality rationally, with the logical methods of philosophy, or if one obtrudes upon this problem emotionally, through an existential experience. The first planned LSD experiment was therefore so deeply moving and alarming, because everyday reality and the ego experiencing it, which I had until then considered to be the only reality, dissolved, and an unfamiliar ego experienced another, unfamiliar reality. The problem concerning the innermost self also appeared, which, itself unmoved, was able to record these external and internal transformations.
Reality is inconceivable without an experiencing subject, without an ego. It is the product of the exterior world, of the sender and of the receiver, an ego in whose deepest self the emanations of the exterior world, registered by the antennae of the sense organs, become conscious. If one of the two is lacking, no reality happens, no radio music plays, the picture screen remains blank.
If one continues with the conception of reality as a product of sender and receiver, then the entry of another reality under the influence of LSD may be explained by the fact that the brain, the seat of the receiver, becomes biochemically altered. The receiver is thereby tuned into another wavelength than that corresponding to normal, everyday reality. Since the endless variety and diversity of the universe correspond to infinitely many different wavelengths, depending on the adjustment of the receiver, many different realities, including the respective ego, can become conscious. These different aspects of the reality, are not mutually exclusive but are complementary, and form together a portion of the all-encompassing, timeless, transcendental reality, in which even the unimpeachable core of self-consciousness, which has the power to record the different egos, is located.
The true importance of LSD and related hallucinogens lies in their capability to shift the wavelength setting of the receiving “self,” and thereby to evoke alterations in reality consciousness. This ability to allow different, new pictures of reality to arise, this truly cosmogonic power, makes the cultish worship of hallucinogenic plants as sacred drugs understandable.
What constitutes the essential, characteristic difference between everyday reality and the world picture experienced in LSD inebriation? Ego and the outer world are separated in the normal condition of consciousness, in everyday reality; one stands face-to-face with the outer world; it has become and object. In the LSD state the boundaries between the experiencing self and the outer world more or less disappear, depending on the depth of inebriation. Feedback between receiver and sender takes place. A portion of the self overflows into the outer world, into objects, which begin to live, to have another, a deeper meaning. This can be perceived as a blessed, or as a demonic transformation imbued with with terror, proceeding to a loss of the trusted ego. In an auspicious case, the new ego feels blissfully united with the objects of the outer world and consequently also with its fellow beings. This experience of deep oneness with the exterior world can even intensify to a feeling of the self being one with the universe. This condition of cosmic consciousness, which under favorable conditions can be evoked by LSD or by another hallucinogen from the group of Mexican sacred drugs, is analogous to spontaneous religious enlightenment, with the unio mystica. In both conditions, which often last only for a timeless moment, a reality is experienced that exposes a gleam of the transcendental reality, in which universe and self, sender and receiver, are one. [The relationship of spontaneous to drug-induced enlightenment has been most extensively investigated by R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism: Sacred and Profane (The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1957).]
Gottfried Benn, in his essay “Provoziertes Leben” [Provoked life] (in Ausdnckswelt, Limes Verlag, Wiesdaden, 1949), characterizes the reality in which self and world are separated as “the schizoid catastrohe, the Western entelechy neurosis.” He further writes:
…In the southern part of our continent this concept of reality began to be formed. The Hellenistic-European agonistic principle of victory through effort, cunning, malice, talent, and later, European Darwinism and “superman,” was instrumental in its formation. The ego emerged, dominated, fought; for this it needed instruments, material, power. It had a different relationship to matter, more removed sensually, but closer formally. It analyzed matter, tested, sorted: weapons, object of exchange, ransom money. It clarified matter through isolation, reduced it to formulas, took pieces out of it, divided it up. [Matter became] a concept which hung like a disaster over the West, with which the West fought, without grasping it, to which it sacrificed enormous quantities of blood and happiness; a concept whose inner tension and fragmentations it was impossible to dissolve through a natural viewings or methodical insight into the inherent unity and peace of prelogical forms of being… instead the cataclysmic character of this idea became clearer and clearer… a state, a social organization, a public morality, for which life is economically usable life and which does not recognize the world of provoked life, cannot stop its destructive force. A society, whose hygiene and race cultivation as a modern ritual is founded solely on hollow biological statistics, can only represent the external viewpoint of the mass; for reality is simply raw material, but its metaphysical background remains forever obscured. [This excerpt from Benn's essay was taken from Ralph Metzner's translation "Provoked Life: An Essay on the Anthropology of the Ego," which was published in the PSYCHEDELIC REVIEW I (1): 47-54, 1963. Minor corrections in Metzner's text have been made by A. H.]
As Gottfried Benn formulates it in these sentences, a concept of reality that separates self and the world has decisively determined the evolutionary course of European intellectual history (see Cartesian philosophical ideas). Experience of the world as matter, as object, to which man stands opposed, has produced modern natural science and technology – creations of the Western mind that have changed the world. With their help human beings have subdued the world. Its wealth has been exploited in a manner that may be characterized as plundering, and the sublime accomplishment of technological civilization, the comfort of the Western industrial society, stands face-to-face with a catastrophic destruction of the environment. Even to the heart of matter, to the nucleus of the atom and its splitting, this objective intellect has progressed and has unleased energies that threaten all life on our planet.
A misuse of knowledge and understanding, the products of searching intelligence, could not have emerged from a consciousness of reality in which human beings are not separated from the environment but rather exist as part of living nature and all the universe. All attempts today to make amends for the damage through environmentally protective measures must remain only hopeless, superficial patchwork, if no curing of the “Western entelechy neurosis” ensues, as Benn has characterized the objective reality conception. Healing would mean existential experience of a deeper, self-encompassing reality.
The experience of such a comprehensive reality is impeded in an environment rendered dead by human hands, such as is present in our great cities and industrial districts. Here the contrast between self and outer world becomes especially evident. Sensations of alienation, of loneliness, and of menace arise. It is these sensations that impress themselves on everyday consciousness in Western industrial society; they also take the upper hand everywhere that technological civilization extends itself, and they largely determine the production of modern art and literature.
There is less danger of a cleft reality experience arising in a natural environment. In field and forest, and in the animal world sheltered therein, indeed in every garden, a reality is perceptible that is infinitely more real, older, deeper, and more wondrous that everything made by people, and that will yet endure, when the inanimate, mechanical, and concrete world again vanishes, becomes rusted and fallen into ruin. In the sprouting, growth, blooming, fruiting, death, and regermination of plants, in their relationship with the sun, whose light they are able to convert into chemically bound energy in the form of organic compounds, out of which all that lives on our Earth is built; in the being of plants the same mysterious, inexhaustible, eternal life energy is evident that has also brought us forth and takes us back again into its womb, and in which we are sheltered and united with all living things.
We are not leading up to a sentimental enthusiasm for nature, to “back to nature” in Rousseau’s sense. That romantic movement, which sought the idyll in nature, can also be explained by a feeling of humankind’s separation from nature. What is needed today is a fundamental re-experience of the oneness of all living things, a comprehensive reality consciousness that ever more infrequently develops spontaneously, the more the primordial flora and fauna of our mother earth must yield to a dead technological environment.
Mystery and Myth
The notion of reality as the self juxtaposed to the real world, in confrontation with the outer world, began to form itself, as reported in the citation from Benn, in the southern portion of the European continent in Greek antiquity. No doubt people at that time knew the suffering that was connected with such a cleft of reality consciousness. The Greek genius tried the cure, by supplementing the multiformed and richly colored, sensual as well as deeply sorrowful Apollonian worldview created by the subject/object cleavage, with the Dionysian world of experience, in which this cleavage is abolished in ecstatic inebriation. Nietzche writes in The Birth of Tragedy:
It is either through the influence of narcotic potions, of which all primitive peoples and races speak in hymns, or through the powerful approach of spring, penetrating with joy all of nature, that those Dionysian stirrings arise, which in their intensification lead the individual to forget himself completely… Not only does the bond between man man come to be forged once again by the magic of the Dionysian rite, but alienated, hostile, or subjugated nature again celebrates her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.
The mysteries of Eleusis, which were celebrated annually in the fall, over an interval of approximately 2,000 years, from about 1,500 B.C. until the forth century A.D., were intimately connected with ceremonies and festivals in honor of the god Dionysus. These mysteries were established by the goddess of agriculture, Demeter, as thanks for the recovery of her daughter Persephone, whom Hades, the god of the underworld, had abducted. A further thank offering was the ear of grain, which was presented by the two goddess to Triptolemus, the first high priest of Eleusis. They taught him the cultivation of grain, which Triptolemus then disseminated over the whole globe. Persephone, however, was not always allowed to remain with her mother, because she had taken nourishment from Hades, contrary to the order of the highest gods. As punishment she had to return to the underworld for a part of the year. During this time, it was winter on the earth, the plants died and were withdrawn into the ground, to awaken to new life early in the year with Persephone’s journey to earth.
The myth of Demeter, Persephone, Hades, and the other gods, which was enacted as a drama, formed, however, only the external framework of events. The climax of the yearly ceremonies, which began with a procession from Athens to Eleusis lasting several days, was the concluding ceremony with the initiation, which took place at night. The initiates were forbidden by penalty of death to divulge what they had learned, beheld, in the innermost, holiest chamber of the temple, the tetesterion (goal). Not one of the multitude that were initiated into the secret of Eleusis has knowledge of the universe through the spirit of truth, and thereby to understanding of our being one with the deepest, most comprehensive reality, God.
Ecclesiastical Christianity, determined by the duality of creator and creation, has, however, with its nature-alienated religiosity largely obliterated the Eleusinian-Dionysian legacy of antiquity. In the Christian sphere of belief, only special blessed men have attested to a timeless, comforting reality, experienced in a spontaneous vision, an experience to which in antiquity the elite of innumerable generations had access through the initiation at Eleusis. The unio mystica of Catholic saints and the visions that the representatives of Christian mysticism – Jakob Boehme, Meister Eckhart, Angelus Silesius, Thomas Traherne, William Blake, and others – describe in their writings are obviously essentially related to the enlightenment that the initiates to the Eleusinian Mysteries experienced.
The fundamental importance of a mystical experience, for the recovery of people in Western industrial societies who are sickened by a one-sided, rational, materialistic worldview, is today given primary emphasis, not only by adherents to Eastern religious movements like Zen Buddhism, but also by leading representatives of academic psychiatry. Of the appropriate literature, we will here refer only to the books of Balthasar Staehelin, the Basel psychiatrist working in Zurich. [Haben ind Sein (1965), Die Welt als Du (1970); all published by Theologischer Verlag, Zurich.] They make reference to numerous other authors who deal with the same problem. Todday a type of “metamedicine,” “metapsychology,” and “metapsychiatry” is beginning to call upon the metaphysical element in people, which manifests itself as an experience of a deeper, duality-surmounting reality, and to make this element a basic healing principle in therapeutic practice.
In addition, it is most significant that not only medicine but also wider circles of our society consider the overcoming of the dualistic, cleft worldview to be a prerequisite and basis for the recovery and spiritual renewal of occidental civilization and culture. This renewal could lead to the renunciation of the materialistic philosophy of life and the development of a new reality consciousness.
As a path to the perception of a deeper, comprehensive reality, in which the experiencing individual is also sheltered, meditation in its different forms, occupies a prominent place today. The essential difference between meditation and prayer in the usual sense, which is based upon the duality of creator-creation, is that mediation aspires to the abolishment of the I-you-barrier by fusing of object and subject, of objective reality and self.
Objective reality, the worldview produced by the spirit of scientific inquiry, is the myth of our time. It has replaced the ecclesiastical-Christian and mysthical-Apollonian worldview.
But this ever broadening factual knowledge, which constitutes objective reality, need not be a desecration. On the contrary, if it only advances deep enough, it inevitably leads to the inexplicable, primal ground of the universe: the wonder, the mystery of the divine – in the microcosm of the atom, in the macrocosm of the spiral nebula, in the seeds of plants, the body and soul of people.
Meditation begins at the limits of objective reality, at the farthest point yet reached by rational knowledge and perception. Meditation thus does not mean rejection of objective reality; on the contrary, it consists of a penetration to deeper dimensions of reality. It is not escape into an imaginary dream world; rather it seeks after the comprehensive truth of objective reality, by simultaneous, stereoscopic contemplation of its surfaces and depths.
It could become of fundamental importance, and be not merely a transient fashion of the present, if more and more people today would make a daily habit of devoting an hour, or at least a few minutes, to meditation. As a result of the meditative penetration deepened reality consciousness would have to evolve, which would increasingly become the property of all humankind. This could become the basis of a new religiosity, which would not be based on belief in the dogma of various religions, but rather on the perception through the “spirit of truth.” What is meant here is a perception, a reading and understanding of the text at first hand, “out of the book that God’s finger has written” (Paracelsus), out of the creation.
The transformation of the objective worldview into a deepened and thereby religious reality consciousness can be accomplished gradually, by continuing practice of meditation. It can also come about, however, as a sudden enlightenment, a visionary experience. It is then particularly profound, blessed, and meaningful. Such a mystical experience may nevertheless “not be induced even by decade long meditation,” as Balthasar Staehelin writes. Also, it does not happen to everyone, although the capacity for mystical experience belongs to the essence of human spirituality.
Nevertheless, at Eleusis, the mystical vision, the healing comforting experience, could be arranged in the prescribed place at the appropriate time, for all of the multitudes who were initiated into the holy Mysteries. This could be accounted for by the fact that a hallucinogenic drug came into use; this, already mentioned, is something that religious scholars believe.
The characteristic property of hallucinogens, to suspend the boundaries between the experiencing self and the outer world in an ecstatic, emotional experience, makes it possible with their help, and after suitable internal and external preparation, as it was accomplished in a perfect way at Eleusis, to evoke a mystical experience according to plan, so to speak.
Meditation is a preparation for the same goal that was aspired to and was attained in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Accordingly it seams feasable that in the future, with the help of LSD, the mystical vision, crowning meditation, could only be made accessible to an increasing number of practitioners of meditation.
I SEE THE TRUE IMPORTANCE OF LSD in the possiblity of providing material aid to meditation aimed at the mystical experience of a deeper, comprehensive reality. Such a use accords entirely with the essence and working character of LSD as a sacred drug.
Not doubt these are bold words… However, for any of you who have been exposed to the effects of hallucinogenic inebriation… OR even those avid, regular meditators who have come across moments of enlightenment… One can certainly see how what Hofmann so vividly describes as a “healthier worldview of Life and its patterns of being” might actually help mankind emerge from our current state of existent awareness, into new bounds of global consciousness. If we are seriously to embrace a kinder heart, and kindle a better attitude towards understanding our current modes of over consumption, in order to become less blasé to the impact We are having, as a growing population of Earth, then we must ultimately make our psyches softer and more open to the surrounding world of Nature and its chaotic flows, thus so We can see through the veil of our herd, apathetic mentality, into a deep and penetrating understanding of the interconnection of everything… Much as described in the Buddhist Theory of Interdependent Origination.
As I have no doubt stipulated on several occasions already within the pages of these blogs, the key to beginning an understanding of the processes that created us are contained herewith. All they need is some time in reading and consideration…
To learn more about Dr Albert Hofmann and all the work he did while he was with us here on Earth, please click here.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Dr Hofmann’s book, why not do so direct from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies… Or MAPS for short… And help Dr Hofmann’s dream become a reality. Just click on the MAPS logo below!
December 20, 2009
Gudo was the emperor’s teacher of his time. Nevertheless, he used to travel alone as a wandering mendicant. Once when he was on his way to Edo, the cultural and political center of the shogunate, he approached a little village named Takenaka. It was evening and a heavy rain was falling. Gudo was thoroughly wet. His straw sandals were in pieces. At a farmhouse near the village he noticed four or five pairs of sandals in the window and decided to buy some dry ones.
The woman who offered him the sandals, seeing how wet he was, invited him in to remain for the night at her home. Gudo accepted, thanking her. He entered and recited a sutra before the family shrine. He then was introduced to the woman’s mother, and to her children. Observing that the entire family was depressed, Gudo asked what was wrong.
“My husband is a gambler and a drunkard,” the housewife told him. “When he happens to win he drinks and becomes abusive. When he loses he borrows money from others. Sometimes when he becomes thoroughly drunk he does not come home at all. What can I do?”
I will help him,” said Gudo. “Here is some money. Get me a gallon of fine wine and something good to eat. Then you may retire. I will meditate before the shrine.”
When the man of the house returned about midnight, quite drunk, he bellowed: “Hey, wife, I am home. Have you something for me to eat?”
“I have something for you,” said Gudo. “I happened to get caught in the rain and your wife kindly asked me to remain here for the night. In return I have bought some wine and fish, so you might as well have them.”
The man was delighted. He drank the wine at once and laid himself down on the floor. Gudo sat in meditation beside him.
In the morning when the husband awoke he had forgotten about the previous night. “Who are you? Where do you come from?” he asked Gudo, who still was meditating.
“I am Gudo of Kyoto and I am going on to Edo,” replied the Zen master.
The man was utterly ashamed. He apologized profusely to the teacher of his emperor.
Gudo smiled. “Everything in this life is impermanent,” he explained. “Life is very brief. If you keep on gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything else, and you will cause your family to suffer too.”
The perception of the husband awoke as if from a dream. “You are right,” he declared. “How can I ever repay you for this wonderful teaching! Let me see you off and carry your things a little way.”
“If you wish,” assented Gudo.
The two started out. After they had gone three miles Gudo told him to return. “Just another five miles,” he begged Gudo. They continued on.
“You may return now,” suggested Gudo.
“After another ten miles,” the man replied.
“Return now,” said Gudo, when the ten miles had been passed.
“I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” declared the man.
Modern Zen teachers in Japan spring from the lineage of a famous master who was the successor of Gudo. His name was Mu-nan, the man who never turned back.
December 16, 2009
Whenever I see a sunset, dawn, or perhaps even just a bright blue sky with that gorgeous yellow Sun of ours overhanging all of creation here on Earth… Or maybe even when I’m starring up at the starry night sky with those billions of tiny little “pin-pricks” that denote other suns far, far away, and their own potential for Life… In fact, anything that invokes a sense of awe and love for Being here on our home planet, Earth… It comes back to me what an AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL and WONDROUS world it is that we have had the fortunate chance to live upon!
I’m currently in my thirties… And the more I see of the “wonder of creation” around me, the more I feel privileged and honored to be standing here on this third rock from the Sun, experiencing this golden moment of Now with you all. It truly is a blinding feat of chance that we have come into being… And I write this post with a view to understanding this fortunate chance that we have all been bestowed with.
While attaining a good understanding about the probability of Life coming into being is no easy act (mainly because of all the variables involved in providing a place with a predilection for chemical evolution), it does provide one with a healthy and balanced view of the world in which they live i.e. that it is a finite space that contains finite resources in a vast desert of space and time. I know that might sound a desolate and somewhat bleak view of reality to some… But that’s simply because they are not thinking straight. Just because something seems bleak and desolate doesn’t mean it has to affect us in a negative manner and pull our daily lives down into a never ending depression. Quite the opposite in fact. We should see this truth, and thus revise our mindset into a more measured and mature view of the world and universe which we inhabit, thereby allowing us to treasure this rarity that we know as Life on Earth.
I am glad to say, there is no right or wrong way of going about this. Ultimately it’s up to you to figure out what, where and how you came to be here… You’ve got to do it under your own steam in order for it to have full affect. The one thing that you need to know though, is that you should test your beliefs, as well as the facts that forged these beliefs, in order to see what fits and what doesn’t. Make sure you understand the process. And make sure it’s based on workable/empirical evidence i.e. evidence that you can test rather than speculate on… Because if you don’t understand it, or it isn’t based on something tangible, then you’re likely to simply become a parrot speaking words without gleaning any knowing or understanding about their function or meaning.
Meaning is what is important here. Really important… Because without meaning, we are blindly thrashing through permutations of Being without considering the effects that they might have on others, or on ourselves. Meaning comes from understanding. When we develop a better understanding about how we are affecting the world around us, we can begin to see the true effect that we are having on our planet’s ecosystem… And thereby we can see the direct affect that our action (or lack of action) is having on those of us that we profess to love i.e. children, family, relatives, friends, and perhaps even all Life on Earth, that live in this ecosystem. Then, when we understand the consequences of our actions, we can guide them in a meaningfully way, with honest sincerity.
“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
I’m doing my best with my own efforts to understand what, where and when I am living. And these changes that I am making to myself, my perceptive view, and my actions are subtly influencing those around me. And in my honest opinion, it’s for the better too. People are seeing my efforts to go “green” i.e. growing my own vegetables, becoming a vegetarian, placing solar panels on this dwelling for my hot water needs, etc… and some are thinking about what it all means, and some are even doing the same now. So by changing myself, I’m indirectly affecting the way others think and how they act. Some are even thinking about it for themselves, going about it all in their own novel ways, realizing that we do in fact live on a small rock with limited resources, and thus they are changing themselves slowly into more concerned and aware human beings… Which is great, because when they share their realizations with me, I invariably learn something new each time! I see another angle on it all… Which is priceless! No doubt some people are simply copying i.e. “If it’s good enough for the Jones’, then it’s good enough for us!” But it’s all good… At least we’re slowly moving towards and understanding of sustainability!
But… And there is always a but somewhere… If you’re not sure about all this climate change business, etc… And think it’s probably a new consumerist fad or something… One that you can’t be bothered to buy into. Then I’d like to offer up an idea that might allow you to develop a better understanding about where we live i.e. that it is only a planet that we live on, with limited resources, which should be conserved for your future children’s children… We exist within a delicate ecosystem… With an atmosphere that is only 20 miles thick… And any of actions that the 7 billion of us currently do i.e. burning of fossil fuels, using water beyond true need, etc… can easily affect this little gas chamber in which we live. Yes… You better believe… The Earth is only a little self contained gas chamber. What I’m hoping for is that perhaps this simple idea might be the first few stones of that avalanche of change that helps posit a better understanding about how we should act now. Because key to future survival IS change now.
This change might take many years… I know it did for me. And it won’t simply arise from immersing oneself in the everyday distractions of life i.e. the rat race, the job, the car, the need for security or monetary gain for one’s own family, nor down the pub with a pint of fine Belgium beer in your hand cheering on the footie. It’ll only come from deep “need” within one’s being… Something akin to a never wavering intent to question where you came from, what you are, how you are, all regardless of what you might find or who you might upset in the process. This is your chance to understand where you came from, without blindly listening to all that other trite that people daily impinge into the general consensus of the world’s population and its collective understanding. With this jilted need to understand, to ponder deeply on whether a “God” made everything OR ask if it is all simply just chance in an universal dynamic… This need should be as strong as your need for air when drowning.
For me, this painstaking process of combing over much science fact and much science fiction for the better part of my life, using an equal measure of logical/philosophical reasoning/deductioning, along with lashings of social interaction with other professionals in their fields, has allowed me to adequately begin to untangle this mat of knowledge that man has woven into the fabric of his own understanding. For me, this is important. I’ve needed to do this to act clearly and with intention… Because when I found out that much of what man believes was actually centered on egocentric perceptions, delusions from biased view points, biological miscalculations resulting from the way the body is structured, I realized that what I could have been taught when at school and university might also be nothing more than a type of delusion too. Thus I’ve since quested for my own understanding of things and, in the process, I feel very rewarded simply doing.
And I’ve discovered something too… I’ve discovered a certain disparity between the way We are and the knowledge of processes that we are becoming aware of. There’s a certain error somewhere… I can definitely say that the data I’ve learned from my scientific study is NOT at fault. In fact it works perfectly well in nearly all experimental situations, allowing me to grasp and intuit how other aspects of the puzzle fit into the bigger picture. So what is it? Well… It was the attitudes of the people i.e. the attitudes of us, that didn’t marry up to the empirical flow/workings of things. Let me explain…
A lot of the knowledge we still use now came from those times when we lived in world that had instigated in man, in us, an “unenlightened” mind i.e. devoid of any empirical/scientific explanation or understanding of how everything interlinks into a vast sea of causes and effects. Thus we made up stories that gave rise to cultural and ritual rites; rites which fashioned the nations and countries of the Earth as we know them today. These rites explained the world to their founding fathers in terms of cultural ritual, and created reasons for things that we did not fully understand back then. Those were times when the predominant concern of our ancestors was survival… Done in terms of hunting and gathering and/or crop yields. Most of their traveling was done by foot. And thus man could only glimpse at the vast unending surface of the Earth, as he travelled into areas of more abundance, taking his fair share, before moving on again. I can only imagine what type of a world he must have seen: one of vast forests, plains, deserts, and watery flatlands, that stretch out as far as the eye could see… No wonder he did not grasp that he was standing on a sphere initially. No doubt this example of a flat earth is but one of the long outdated modes of human understanding that we have managed to shed from our wooly coat of knowledge. But trust me… There are many more obsolete view that we haven’t removed.
What gets to me is… These outmoded types of human understanding still cloud the potential that we, as human beings, could bring into our current state of being. Modes that could shape our everyday life for the better! These understandings could allow us to become shepherds of the Earth, rather than squanderers of it’s resources. No doubt we pay our taxes, and many of us encourage scientific research for new discoveries… But how many of those new discoveries will we allow to shape the way we think about the world around us… ? So that we develop a more healthy way of understanding ourselves and our environment? And how many of the ideas will we solely expect to be used simply for providing us with new technologies for an “easier” way of life? Many of us still don’t realize that all this science, philosophy and mindfulness has afforded mankind a truly unique vantage point… We now have a chance to see beyond the material pursuits of the consumerist world, and begin to glimpse at the true splendor of what we are, where we are, and when we are… To see the amazing complexity of Life and grasp its improbable appearance here in this garden of Eden. With this new world view (and with a bit of science, philosophy and mindfulness, as well as some “good-old” history), we can begin to shape our habits into a more eco-friendly and sustainable way of being and living. One that will allow us all to see everyone else, and everything else for that matter, interwoven into a long chain of cause and effect. Once we do this for ourselves, we’ll no longer be able to ignore the fact that our actions are having a BIG affect on the Earth and it’s delicate ecosystem… And we’ll have to address our blatant over consumption of resources… And do so quickly!!! Change won’t be easy. But this is good! Because we need new challenges to unit and come together to fight this war against our own selfish needs… We need to be challenged to balanced ourselves and our ways of Life within the environment in which WE ALL (every Life form on Earth) live. When we see that WE are our own worst enemies, then WE can truly say that WE are the problem here… And that’s when WE know WE care about one another and Life on Earth! But if we don’t… Then we’re only ignoring the problem.
This mental change into a unified world view will take time… And no doubt there will be many modes of old understanding i.e. certain religious decrees, out-dated habits, selfish desires, etc… that simply won’t fit into current empirical observations. People will have a hard time letting go… Or not taking things so literally. But this is the way of change (see William Sargant’s “Battle For The Mind”). The more research we do into the patterns of Universal happening, the more WE all will know what a fortunate occurrence Life is. While being here in the present moment, with the sun splashing warmly upon my face on this cold, clear winter’s morn, I feel the cascade of events that gave rise to a long line of interlinking causes and effects. It is this chain of events that firstly created the matter that we are made from from i.e. the fine atomic dust that stars forge deep within their cycles of life and death… And which ultimately gave Life, as we know it today, a chance to arise from the “clanky” mechanisms of biological atomic machinery and their resulting cyclic reactions. No doubt, when life got out of this cyclic molecular rut, and the first highly successful single celled organisms began to colonize the Earth nearly four billion years ago, that was truly a momentous day for all Life here on Earth… AND to balance that view… I also see the various paths of the future that lay before us… Futures that we are affecting with our current actions. No doubt many of you reading this will have found a similar mode of understanding. But some of you might not feel that deeper connection with creation. But that’s okay… I know how easy it is to forget this “magic” of existence, especially in all the man-made misery of the world around us. None the less, it’s always here… Waiting to be discovered… Just within an arm’s throw of anyone who would but care to reach out and grasp it.
But you’ve got to want to grasp it… It’s now your birth right! You’ve made it here against all odds. Out of all those sperm swimming to the egg in your mother’s womb, YOU made it. That’s just the tip of the atom of the iceberg in an ocean of probability. But if you’re not sure about reaching out… Then perhaps I might offer some encouragement by providing you with the very catalyst that profoundly changed my view of the world around me when I was only but a child of 8 years of age. For that catalyst is only a story… And stories are good places to start… Especially on journeys of rediscovery.
It’s a true story too… A story that united mankind for day… A day when we all looked to the heavens above and, despite the efforts of the few, all of us said, “WE made it!” And how right WE all were! It’s a story full of adventure, discovery, challenge, risk, and even loss. But none the less, the story unfolded and the rewards were big enough to inspire and pursue at any cost. For this story expresses the insatiable need for mankind to understand itself and its place within the heavens. Simply put… This is the true story of Life. Life that left the Earth on a long voyage… A voyage that travelled further than any known expedition has ever been before… And having seen what “it” saw on the deserts of the moon, then came back home with a new and invigorated view of just how amazing all of THIS around is really is… That WE live on this wondrous paradise of a planet… And WE have everything that WE could ever need right here. When WE all see this, even if it’s only just a hint of the bigger picture, for only just a moment… Much in the same way that our narrator, James May, did… Then WE might realize that this truly is a garden of Eden in the heavens above… And perhaps we might then understand that it demands as much tender loving care and attention as do our own children.
But just before we embark on this journey, I’ll leave you simply with this single quote that came from the presenter of “our” story…
“If only everyone could do that just once… It would radically change the face of global politics, religion, education, everything…”
The following links will take you to the BBC documentary entitled, “James May on the Moon.” This was aired earlier in 2009 on BBC 2.
To find out only just a little bit more about James May, please click here.