December 23, 2012
In lieu of the recent winter Solstice celebration, I’d like to offer everyone who passes by this website a short film that holds a special message for us all. It was made by a couple of friends of a friend, and has been leading up to their first general release, entitled “Continuum“, which is a feature length film looking at the root of the environmental crisis we are now all facing here on planet Earth. Perhaps, what with the recent end of the Mayan Long Count calendar (which some said was meant to spell the end of the world), we would all be advised to usher in a new way of perceiving the world on which we live, listening to those fortunate and wise enough to have seen something different to daily life that resides on the planet’s surface. Why? Because, bearing in mind all the recent indisputable evidence for man’s part in climate change, we might do well to begin to cultivate and cherish this finite planetary perspective that Guy and Steve have re-considered here, so as to avoid more sentient being casualties further down the line.
Fear not… It will not even take 20 minutes of your time… And will hopefully leave you with a thought that will change the way you understand our world and our roll in it.
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If you’d like to learn more about Guy and Steve, the creators of this amazing film, please check out their website by clicking here.
Or if you’d like to see more of their work, please check out their Vimeo channel, entitled the Planetary Collective, by clicking here.
August 25, 2012
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Just over a month ago, around my birthday, I saw this rather interesting film that was airing on the BBC’s iPlayer… The main reason it caught my eye was because I was looking to buy a DVD copy an old blues documentary that Martin Scorsese had directed that traced the origins of blues music from the birth of the Delta-blues to the slave-experience and finally to Africa, which was entitled “The Blues“. However, as so often seems to be the case when on-line recently, I got slightly side tracked when I noticed a somewhat odd search result place near the top of the Google list… It read something like, “Scorsese – Executive Producer – Surviving Progress”.
Obviously I’m quite a big fan of Scorsese’s past works, especially his recent foray into the world of 3D animation that was highlighted with his loveable film “Hugo”, a heart felt story of a young orphaned lad who looks after the Gare Montparnasse’s clocks in Paris, ensuring they’re all well maintained and running on time. Anything that he decides/chooses to get involved in, for me, is a curiosity I rarely fail to miss… Mainly because they’re usually so well crafted and brilliantly realised. However, this one particular listing about “Survivng Progess” I had not heard anything about: neither in the tabloids nor on-line. Why that should be, I have no idea, especially as it is something I’ve broached the subject of here within this website before. So, as it was airing on the BBC’s iPlayer, I just couldn’t turn down a ‘free’ viewing of something Scorsese had chosen to get involved in when the chance arose.
To be fair, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Partly because I didn’t read the introduction to it on the BBC’s website… But predominantly because I had clocked the 1 hour and 22 minute run time and, so, automatically expected it to be a feature length fictional movie/film of some kind or another (oh, damnable presumptions)… However, from the very outset, I have to say, with it’s dulcet musical score and languid, ponderous content, it left me feeling somewhat engrossed and uneasy all at the same time, almost as though I was witnessing my own death and, yet, was still fully aware of all that going on around me.
During the course of the film, it touchingly brought an obvious – and yet, of late, once again much overlooked question – to the forefront of my thoughts… As a race of living beings, would WE actually make it through the coming hard times, most of which are predominantly and presently of our own making… ? Could we make sufficient changes right now to allow a decent bit of progress to be made on the path to cultivating a more balanced way of life within nature’s cradle of a planetary ecosystem… ?
Alfred Montapert, the Amercian author who wrote the “The Supreme Philosophy of Man: The Laws of Life”, is quoted as once saying “Don’t confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but doesn’t make any progress.” Certainly I see a lot of motion going on all around me in daily life… And whenever I’ve asked whether it’s really a holistic, healthy type of progress, most people I meet say that it will do for the time being… But, my instinct keeps nudging me, and I can’t help asking “Really? Is it really good enough for the time being?” Certainly I’m still not convinced by most people’s appraisal of the situation… And it seems, as this film suggests, the answer is a lot more astounding that most could (or would) dare to imagine…
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Documentary telling the double-edged story of the grave risks we pose to our own survival in the name of progress. With rich imagery the film connects financial collapse, growing inequality and global oligarchy with the sustainability of mankind itself. The film explores how we are repeatedly destroyed by ‘progress traps’ – alluring technologies which serve immediate need but rob us of our long term future. Featuring contributions from those at the forefront of evolutionary thinking such as Stephen Hawking and economic historian Michael Hudson. With Martin Scorsese as executive producer, the film leaves us with a challenge – to prove that civilisation and survival is not the biggest progress trap of them all.
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To find out where I originally saw this movie, please visit the BBC’s website by clicking here.
OR to visit the official website for the film, which should be released on DVD sometime this October, please click here.
August 25, 2011
I’ve recently been researching a particular topic… One that concerns aspects about what ‘I’ am… Or, rather, what my ‘self’ is… And while on this hunt for my ‘self,’ I’ve noticed that quite a few scientific publications have also decided to write about this anomaly. Here’s one that I’d like to share with you… One that I read in the New Scientist a couple of months ago about how Buddhism and science are beginning to see eye to eye… Good news, I think!
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What Is The Self
IT’S THERE when we wake up and slips away when we fall asleep, maybe to reappear in our dreams. It’s that feeling we have of being anchored in a body we own and control and perceive the world from within. It’s the feeling of personal identity that stretches across time, from our first memories, via the here and now, to some imagined future. It’s all of these tied into a coherent whole. It’s our sense of self.
Humans have pondered the nature of the self for millennia. Is it real or an illusion? And if real, what is it, and where do we find it?
Different philosophical traditions have reached radically different conclusions. At one extreme is the Buddhist concept of “no self”, in which you are merely a fleeting collection of thoughts and sensations. At the other are dualist ideas, most recently associated with the philosopher Karl Popper and Nobel laureate and neuroscientist John Eccles. They argued that the self exists as a separate “field” which interacts with and controls the brain.
Modern science, if anything, is leaning towards Buddhism. Our sense of self is not an entity in its own right, but emerges from general purpose processes in the brain.
Seth Gillihan and Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have proposed a view of the self that has three strands: the physical self (which arises from our sense of embodiment); the psychological self (which comprises our subjective point-of-view, our autobiographical memories and the ability to differentiate between self and others); and a higher level sense of agency, which attributes the actions of the physical self to the psychological self (Psychological Bulletin, vol 131, p 76).
We are now uncovering some of the brain processes underlying these strands. For instance, Olaf Blanke of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and colleagues have shown that the physical sense of self is centred on the temporo-parietal cortex. It integrates information from your senses to create a sense of embodiment, a feeling of being located in a particular body in a particular place. That feeling can be spectacularly disrupted if the temporo-parietal cortex receives contradictory inputs, causing it to generate out-of-body experiences (New Scientist, 10 October 2009, p 34).
Being in charge
It is proving harder to find the site of our sense of agency – that feeling of being in charge of our actions. In one functional MRI study volunteers with joysticks moved images around on a computer screen. When the volunteer felt he had initiated the action, the brain’s anterior insula was activated but the right inferior parietal cortex lit up when the volunteer attributed the action to the experimenter (Neuroimage, vol 15, p 596).
But other researchers, using different experiments, have identified many more brain regions that seem to be responsible for the sense of agency.
Within the brain, it seems, the self is both everywhere and nowhere. “If you make a list [for what's needed for a sense of self], there is hardly a brain region untouched,” says cognitive philosopher Thomas Metzinger of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Metzinger interprets this as meaning the self is an illusion. We are, he says, fooled by our brains into believing that we are substantial and unchanging. Mental disorders also make it abundantly clear that this entity that we regard as inviolate is not so. For example, those suffering from schizophrenia harbour delusions that experiences and thoughts are being implanted in their brain by someone or something else. “In some sense, it’s a disorder of the self, because these people are doing things, but they are not feeling as if they themselves are doing them,” says Anil Seth of the University of Sussex in the UK. “That’s a disorder of agency.”
Another striking condition is depersonalisation disorder, in which people feel a persistent sense of detachment from their body and thoughts. Even the narrative we have of ourselves as children growing up, becoming adults and growing old, which is carefully constructed from our bank of autobiographical memories, is error prone. Studies have shown that each time we recall an episode from our past, we remember the details differently, thus altering ourselves (Physics of Life Reviews, vol 7, p 88).
So the self, despite its seeming constancy and solidity, is constantly changing. We are not the same person we were a year ago and we will be different tomorrow or a year from now. And the only reason we believe otherwise is because the brain does such a stellar job of pulling the wool over our eyes.
by Anil Ananthaswamy
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To find out where I originally sourced this New Scientist article from, please click here.
And to find out more about the author, Anil Ananthaswamy, please click here.
OR visit the author’s website… Please click here.
Just the other day I remembered something that I had done recently, which was to make a vegetable stew for a friend… A friend who is not very well presently. And, as far as I can remember, it was a hearty vegetarian dish… A speciality of mine that I learnt how to make after I came out of university, when I found myself with a bit more money than I had usually been used to… What better way to spend it, I thought, than on fresh vegetables and good wine. In fact, it was this good old vegetarian combination of a leek and potato soup, sprinkled liberally with organic pearl barley and fresh herbs, that frequently put me straight on the path again after many a long, winding, fun-filled a weekend down in Glastonbury town. But then… That’s just what I recall.
Because, when I spoke to my partner about the food I had made after she went to deliver it over to our ill friend a few days back, she had told me how our ill chum had mentioned that the soup was ‘really good.’ In fact, she mentioned that she couldn’t believe that a vegetarian soup could have tasted so good! However, just after hearing that, my partner mentioned that she told our unwell friend that it wasn’t a vegetarian dish at all… In fact, she had said that it contained some lamb in it too. So I suddenly began to think that perhaps I had put some lamb in the soup, just especially for our ill friend, who certainly wasn’t a vegetarian… !?
However, when I began to piece together the parts in my mind of what I remembered about making the soup i.e. we had had lots of organic leeks and potatoes which needed to be used at the time, along with the fact that I knew a vegetarian brew would be better for our unwell friend than a meaty dish, as well as we were out of mutton for the moment… I found myself remembering something totally different to what I had been told.
Certainly this wasn’t the first time that a minor discrepancy such this had presented itself to me in a social context… In fact, with almost everyone I know (including several people I do not know), I have – at sometime or another – come across some type of incongruity in how we all remember certain things. Whether ‘why’ we remember something differently to someone else is because of the inherent difference in the way we each understand things i.e. because we have had different experiences to each other, and therefore different views about things; OR whether it is because someone might we have loaded a question that begs us to remember something that didn’t necessarily occur (something about which we will hear more about in a minute)… The fact remains that these inconsistencies pop-up more frequently than many of us usually care to notice.
In fact, I sometimes wonder whether there is ever any particular ‘point’ that two people – each standing in a slightly different position to the other and, thus, viewing the ‘point’ from another slightly different perspective – could ever completely agree upon? No doubt I’d like to once again to draw your attention to the opening chapter in Bertrand Russell’s book, entitled “The Problems Of Philosophy…”
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IS there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it? This question, which at first sight might not seem difficult, is really one of the most difficult that can be asked. When we have realized the obstacles in the way of a straightforward and confident answer, we shall be well launched on the study of philosophy — for philosophy is merely the attempt to answer such ultimate questions, not carelessly and dogmatically, as we do in ordinary life and even in the sciences, but critically after exploring all that makes such questions puzzling, and after realizing all the vagueness and confusion that underlie our ordinary ideas.
In daily life, we assume as certain many things which, on a closer scrutiny, are found to be so full of apparent contradictions that only a great amount of thought enables us to know what it is that we really may believe. In the search for certainty, it is natural to begin with our present experiences, and in some sense, no doubt, knowledge is to be derived from them. But any statement as to what it is that our immediate experiences make us know is very likely to be wrong. It seems to me that I am now sitting in a chair, at a table of a certain shape, on which I see sheets of paper with writing or print. By turning my head I see out of the window buildings and clouds and the sun. I believe that the sun is about ninety-three million miles from the earth; that it is a hot globe many times bigger than the earth; that, owing to the earth’s rotation, it rises every morning, and will continue to do so for an indefinite time in the future. I believe that, if any other normal person comes into my room, he will see the same chairs and tables and books and papers as I see, and that the table which I see is the same as the table which I feel pressing against my arm. All this seems to be so evident as to be hardly worth stating, except in answer to a man who doubts whether I know anything. Yet all this may be reasonably doubted, and all of it requires much careful discussion before we can be sure that we have stated it in a form that is wholly true.
To make our difficulties plain, let us concentrate attention on the table. To the eye it is oblong, brown and shiny, to the touch it is smooth and cool and hard; when I tap it, it gives out a wooden sound. Any one else who sees and feels and hears the table will agree with this description, so that it might seem as if no difficulty would arise; but as soon as we try to be more precise our troubles begin. Although I believe that the table is ‘really’ of the same colour all over, the parts that reflect the light look much brighter than the other parts, and some parts look white because of reflected light. I know that, if I move, the parts that reflect the light will be different, so that the apparent distribution of colours on the table will change. It follows that if several people are looking at the table at the same moment, no two of them will see exactly the same distribution of colours, because no two can see it from exactly the same point of view, and any change in the point of view makes some change in the way the light is reflected.
For most practical purposes these differences are unimportant, but to the painter they are all-important: the painter has to unlearn the habit of thinking that things seem to have the colour which common sense says they ‘really’ have, and to learn the habit of seeing things as they appear. Here we have already the beginning of one of the distinctions that cause most trouble in philosophy — the distinction between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’, between what things seem to be and what they are. The painter wants to know what things seem to be, the practical man and the philosopher want to know what they are; but the philosopher’s wish to know this is stronger than the practical man’s, and is more troubled by knowledge as to the difficulties of answering the question.
To return to the table. It is evident from what we have found, that there is no colour which preeminently appears to be the colour of the table, or even of any one particular part of the table — it appears to be of different colours from different points of view, and there is no reason for regarding some of these as more really its colour than others. And we know that even from a given point of view the colour will seem different by artificial light, or to a colour-blind man, or to a man wearing blue spectacles, while in the dark there will be no colour at all, though to touch and hearing the table will be unchanged. This colour is not something which is inherent in the table, but something depending upon the table and the spectator and the way the light falls on the table. When, in ordinary life, we speak of the colour of the table, we only mean the sort of colour which it will seem to have to a normal spectator from an ordinary point of view under usual conditions of light. But the other colours which appear under other conditions have just as good a right to be considered real; and therefore, to avoid favouritism, we are compelled to deny that, in itself, the table has any one particular colour.
The same thing applies to the texture. With the naked eye one can see the gram, but otherwise the table looks smooth and even. If we looked at it through a microscope, we should see roughnesses and hills and valleys, and all sorts of differences that are imperceptible to the naked eye. Which of these is the ‘real’ table? We are naturally tempted to say that what we see through the microscope is more real, but that in turn would be changed by a still more powerful microscope. If, then, we cannot trust what we see with the naked eye, why should we trust what we see through a microscope? Thus, again, the confidence in our senses with which we began deserts us.
The shape of the table is no better. We are all in the habit of judging as to the ‘real’ shapes of things, and we do this so unreflectingly that we come to think we actually see the real shapes. But, in fact, as we all have to learn if we try to draw, a given thing looks different in shape from every different point of view. If our table is ‘really’ rectangular, it will look, from almost all points of view, as if it had two acute angles and two obtuse angles. If opposite sides are parallel, they will look as if they converged to a point away from the spectator; if they are of equal length, they will look as if the nearer side were longer. All these things are not commonly noticed in looking at a table, because experience has taught us to construct the ‘real’ shape from the apparent shape, and the ‘real’ shape is what interests us as practical men. But the ‘real’ shape is not what we see; it is something inferred from what we see. And what we see is constantly changing in shape as we, move about the room; so that here again the senses seem not to give us the truth about the table itself, but only about the appearance of the table.
Similar difficulties arise when we consider the sense of touch. It is true that the table always gives us a sensation of hardness, and we feel that it resists pressure. But the sensation we obtain depends upon how hard we press the table and also upon what part of the body we press with; thus the various sensations due to various pressures or various parts of the body cannot be supposed to reveal directly any definite property of the table, but at most to be signs of some property which perhaps causes all the sensations, but is not actually apparent in any of them. And the same applies still more obviously to the sounds which can be elicited by rapping the table.
Thus it becomes evident that the real table, if there is one, is not the same as what we immediately experience by sight or touch or hearing. The real table, if there is one, is not immediately known to us at all, but must be an inference from what is immediately known. Hence, two very difficult questions at once arise; namely, (1) Is there a real table at all? (2) If so, what sort of object can it be?
It will help us in considering these questions to have a few simple terms of which the meaning is definite and clear. Let us give the name of ‘sense-data’ to the things that are immediately known in sensation: such things as colours, sounds, smells, hardnesses, roughnesses, and so on. We shall give the name ‘sensation’ to the experience of being immediately aware of these things. Thus, whenever we see a colour, we have a sensation of the colour, but the colour itself is a sense-datum, not a sensation. The colour is that of which we are immediately aware, and the awareness itself is the sensation. It is plain that if we are to know anything about the table, it must be by means of the sense-data — brown colour, oblong shape, smoothness, etc. — which we associate with the table; but, for the reasons which have been given, we cannot say that the table is the sense-data, or even that the sense-data are directly properties of the table. Thus a problem arises as to the relation of the sense-data to the real table, supposing there is such a thing.
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But beside all the differences in perception (which are part of the game of ‘delusion’ that we all so regularly take part in), along with the minor distortions in memory that we all – myself included – incorporate into our minds’ cycles… I still get a bit concerned when I notice someone remembering something in such a way that really disfigures what actually happened… AND I especially abhor it when I notice this type of disfiguration occurring in relation to questioning someone else’s integrity, such as in court of law, or with a police investigation, etc… Or worse still, when it scared face surfaces in the relation to international conflicts where thousands of people are dying and/or being made to suffer over some dispute about who was there first, or who owns what, or who wants what… !?!?
In fact, so as to avoid making any such blunders myself, I have gotten into a habit of continually checking my own memories with what I hear going on around me, cross referencing them with other memories I have had and/or even with memories that other people voice, so as to assimilate them together into a census that allows the facts to flow in a honest continuity – of sorts – with the facts, situations and temperaments of all those involved. And, if I ever find myself unable to deduce whether some type of accusation is within natural accord with a particular setting and with the people involved, I will usually refrain from commenting either way, as I believe it is better to be quite than unduly partake in another’s impeachment. I – for one – know that I am far from perfect.
And that especially goes for all types of propaganda perpetrated by any type of media dissemination i.e. radio, television, newspaper, internet, etc… Modern psychology has shown those, who care to listen to it, that our minds are so open to suggestion… And in order to guard against being misled into actions that give rise to disputes or civil unrest, even wars, we need to know everything we can about how our own mind/brain/body/environmental continuum works, so as to avoid slipping into dangerous habits of being/living… Because if we slip into these habits, habit’s that can never be justified with any certitude or credulity other than their own belief systems and egocentric views about why something might be right OR even wrong… Then we’re prone to persecuting the people who are innocent… And not addressing those who are, in fact, guilty… Even if it is all of us.
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Mind Changers – Elizabeth Loftus & Eye Witness Testimony
Elizabeth Loftus is the highest-ranking female in the list of top 100 psychologists. She’s gained world-wide renown for her experiments showing that memory, far from being an accurate record, is influenced by subsequent exposure to information and events and is re-constituted according to the biases these create.
Claudia Hammond meets the creator of several classic experiments, who broke new ground with the filmed simulations of road accidents she showed to subjects in the 1970s. These studies revealed that witness reports of the same incident varied according to the wording used by the questioner, giving rise to the development of the ‘cognitive interview’ – witness-led it avoids questioner-bias. Loftus’ work has changed the way witnesses are dealt with throughout the legal system.
Having shown that existing memories can be altered, Loftus was inspired to try to implant a whole false memory by the rise in cases of ‘recovered’ memories of violence and abuse in childhood. Her ‘Lost in the Mall’ and ‘Bugs Bunny’ studies proved that she could – in 30% of subjects – make them believe something that had never happened was part of their childhood history.
Loftus has inspired much work in the field of memory, including that of Barbara Tversky, on how memory reflects the spin put on a story.
Lorraine Hope, of Portsmouth University, has used the Cognitive Interview to develop the Self-Administered Interview (SAI), trialled by Greater Manchester Police. Steve Retford of their Major Incident Team is convinced of its benefits.
Loftus’ former friends and teachers at Stanford – Gordon Bower, Lee Ross and Brian Wandell – remember a fun-loving and forceful young woman, while Gillian Cohen reviews her influence in the UK.
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To find out where I sourced this BBC documentary from, please click here.
Or to find out more about Bertrand Russell, please click here.
February 23, 2011
September 21, 2010
All I can ask is… How would We i.e. human beings, like to be treated in this way?
These are sentient beings, just like ourselves. For those of you who might not understand what sentience is, please read the following (lifted from Wikipedia, due to time constraints today) to see how other groups of human beings, who reside here on Earth with us, presently view our neighbouring and fellow life forms…
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Sentience… What Is It?
Western Philosophy And Sentience
Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive. The term is used in science and philosophy, and in the study of artificial intelligence. Sentience is used in the study of consciousness to describe the ability to have sensations or experiences, known to Western philosophers as “qualia“. In the philosophy of consciousness, “sentience” can refer to the ability of any entity to have subjective perceptual experiences, or “qualia”. This is distinct from other aspects of the mind and consciousness, such as creativity, intelligence, sapience, self-awareness, and intentionality (the ability to have thoughts that mean something or are “about” something). Sentience is a minimalistic way of defining “consciousness”, which is otherwise commonly used to collectively describe sentience plus other characteristics of the mind.
Eastern Philosophy/Religion And Sentience
In Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that requires respect and care… While most of Eastern philosophy is strongly connected to religious aspects of understanding i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, they nearly all recognize nonhumans as sentient beings. In Jainism and Hinduism, this is closely related to the concept of ahimsa, or nonviolence, toward other beings. In Jainism, all matter is endowed with sentience; there are five degrees of sentience, from one to five. Water, for example, is a sentient being of the first order, as it is considered to possess only one sense, that of touch. Man is considered to be a sentient being of the fifth order. According to Buddhism, sentient beings made of pure consciousness are also possible. In Mahayana Buddhism, which includes Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, the concept is related to the Bodhisattva, an enlightened being devoted to the liberation of others. The first vow of a Bodhisattva states: “Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to free them.”
Sentience is, from a Buddhist perspective, the state of having senses (sat + ta in Pali, or sat + tva in Sanskrit). In Buddhism, the senses are six in number, the sixth being the subjective experience of the mind. Sentience is simply awareness prior to the arising of Skandha. Thus, an animal qualifies as a sentient being.
Animal Rights And Sentience
In the philosophy of animal rights, sentience implies the ability to experience pleasure and pain. Animal-rights advocates typically argue that any sentient being is entitled at a minimum to the right not to be subjected to unnecessary suffering, though they may differ on what other rights (e.g., the right to life) may be entailed by simple sentience.
In the 17th century Thomas Tryon, a self-proclaimed Pythagorean, raised the issue of non-human suffering. Soon thereafter, many philosophers used the anatomical discoveries of the Enlightenment as a reason to include animals in what philosophers call “sympatheia” – sympathy, affinity of parts to the organic whole, mutual interdependence (the organic whole is similar to what Spinoza referred to as the notion of “God, or Nature”) – the principle of who or what deserves sympathy. Benjamin Franklin‘s autobiography identifies Tryon’s writings as an influence in his decision to try vegetarianism; later in the book, he reverts to eating meat while still following Tryon’s basic philosophy. Joseph Ritson coupled Tryon’s work with Rousseau‘s for “Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food” as many Rousseauists became vegetarian. Voltaire compared the Hindu treatment of animals to how Europe’s emperors and popes treated even their fellow men, praising the former and heaping shame upon the latter; in the 17th century Pierre Gassendi, and Francis Bacon also advocated vegetarianism.
The 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham compiled Enlightenment beliefs in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (second edition, 1823, chapter 17, footnote), and he included his own reasoning in a comparison between slavery and sadism toward animals:
The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor [see Louis XIV's Code Noir]… What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
In the 20th century, Princeton University professor Peter Singer argued that Bentham’s conclusion is often dismissed by an appeal to a distinction that condemns human suffering but allows non-human suffering, typically “appeals” that are logical fallacies. Because many of the suggested distinguishing features of humanity — extreme intelligence, highly complex language, etc… — are not present in marginal cases such as young or mentally disabled humans, it appears that the only distinction is a prejudice based on species alone, which animal-rights supporters call speciesism — that is, differentiating humans from other animals purely on the grounds that they are human. In my eyes, this is akin to any type of bigoted racism.
Gary Francione also bases his abolitionist theory of animal rights, which differs significantly from Singer’s, on sentience. He asserts that “all sentient beings, humans or nonhuman, have one right: the basic right not to be treated as the property of others.”
Andrew Linzey, founder of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics in England, is known as a foremost international advocate for recognizing animals as sentient beings in Biblically-based faith traditions. The Interfaith Association of Animal Chaplains encourages animal ministry groups to adopt a policy of recognizing and valuing sentient beings.
In 1997 the concept of animal sentience was written into the basic law of the European Union. The legally-binding Protocol annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam recognizes that animals are “sentient beings”, and requires the EU and its Member States to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.
The laws of several global states include certain invertebrates such as cephalopods (octopuses, squids) and decapod crustaceans (lobsters, crabs) in the scope of animal protection laws, implying that these animals are also judged to be capable of experiencing pain and suffering.
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I hope this at least causes one to think about the big long line of cause and effect in their actions… Whether the innocuously packaged meat on the shelves of our supermarkets not only hides the blood and gore behind the murder of these animals, but whether it also blinds us to the honest truth that all animals are really sentient in the same way that we are… And thus, if we treat any one Being with the slightest amount of disrespect, similar to that which is being shown to those animals in the so-called Bangkok “zoo” above the department store, then we are condoning malicious behaviour to sentient Beings… And, as we i.e. human beings, ourselves are sentient Beings, we are also propagating seeds for violence that might be towards ourselves.
It’s time to wake up… And realise that we can be Shepherds of the Earth. We have an ability to care for and tend to all Life that resides here in this intricate web of wondrous unfolding… We can use this long chain of interdependent memetic origination to make people aware of another’s plight… And so help change the causes that creates suffering. Perhaps then… Maybe… We can ensure that ‘nearly’ every living creature i.e. every “sentient” being, can have the chance to enjoy this garden of Eden that hangs in the inky black deserts of space and time, to live and do as “God, or Nature” allowed for it… Life is precious. It’s rare. And we are standing on one dot that has afforded many a chance to experience this lottery of existence. Everyone – all sentient beings – have a right… Maybe then we might well have a chance at being something more than blatant advocators of exploitation and usurpation… And so learn that Nature, too, in all its wonder and majestic splendour, is just as delicate and sensitive as the lover who lies by our side.
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If you’re having a hard time understanding that animals, like humans, have feelings too, and thus might not dig the kind of treatment that they’re being subjected to in that Bangkok ‘zoo…’ Then please check out Dr Jonathan Balcombe’s important work regarding animal rights by visiting his website here.
PLUS… If you’d like to read about how science is “grading” the facial expressions of mice while they are experiencing pain, in order to see if there is a common/universal language for mammalian expression, then please click here.
To find out how you can help prevent animal cruelty here in the UK, please visit the “RSPCA” by clicking here.
OR to visit the “World Society For The Protection Of Animals” website, please click here.
August 10, 2010
Just the other day, I was sitting down with a friend during a cool summer’s eve… All this stifling heat that we have been having here in the UK recently has left me slightly frazzled in mind… So this cool spell has been warmly welcomed, allowing me to enjoy cups of tea and other warming drinks without over heating during passionate debates/conversations.
One recent cool eve, a friend was imbibing some fine Arabic coffee that he had just brought back over with him from Morocco. Having only just ground the beans moments earlier in my Uncle‘s old coffee grinder, I could smell the rich aroma that had begun to diffuse through the kitchen, as a bubbling sound spewed up into the air, overflowing, once again, from the dulled Bialetti…
“Damn this is strong…” he muttered on several occasions, all the while his hands trembling as he brought the cup to his pursed lips for another eager sip. Personally I’m not really a coffee drinker… And unless I’m in Morocco, seated in a café with a Shisha that is kindling some fine Arabian or Persian apple and honey tobacco, inhaling the compliment of the dry arid heat of their desert air along with the fresh vibrant fragrance their coffee, I’ll usually be sipping tea. Non the less, that really didn’t stop me from enjoying the scent of Jim’s fine coffee blend… Just remembering those velvety roasted overtones, I find myself desiring an espresso.
As usual Jim was indulging his appetite heartily… And any seasoned coffee drinker could see from his demeanour that it was strong coffee. He was babbling away with Bialetti about philosophy, Zen and this new film by Jim Jarmusch, called “The Limits Of Control.” In his over stimulated muddle he mangled on about the cinematic flow of this percolating “masterpiece,” how it brewed notions of profound insight over sagacious, minimalist moments of Zen… And that I would love it more than any of Federico Fellini‘s films… All of which, I must say, I still enjoy immensely… Especially “8 and a half.” After hearing this, I was simply at a loss to find a retort… So I suggested that we find a copy that very evening and watch it… Which we did.
All I can say is that this film is a meditation on life… One that certainly reminded me about aspects of T’ai Chi Ch’uan and meditative understandings about what We – as human beings – are, somewhat resembling the essence of that which I’m trying to convey and/or capture here in the writings littered throughout this website. Despite it’s fictitious nature, it is drenched in metaphor, and pressed smartly with “eye candy” that somehow spoke to my own deeply ingrained sensibilities… It demonstrates, sometimes obviously, and sometimes not so obviously, Jarmusch’s own personal musings about the nature of reality… Or at least, his own understanding about what it means. Magritte seems to come to my mind, as characters speak about what they like and dislike. Precision surrounded by suspicion encapsulates the smooth rolling, cosmopolitan imagery… No character needs any lengthy introduction. They are simply there doing what needs to be done.
Certainly there are clever moments… Like when Bill Murry’s character asks the protagonist how he got into the room, which leaves me finding all sorts of analogies as to how one might think about and do anything in Life. After all, imagination is where one’s memes… OR rather, one’s ideas… All have sex with one another, bearing their creative progeny into a world of limitless and wondrously unexplained potential.
But still… Besides the curvaceous Paz de la Huerta as a romantic, revealing nude temptress… ! One essence seemed to stand out from the rest during this languid dream sequence of a flick…
“He who thinks he is bigger than the rest must go to the cemetery. There he will see what life really is… A handful of dirt.”
Here the humbling reminder of what we are i.e. nothing more than a mixture of star dust and chaos, comes to mind. In an arbitrary world, no one is ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ than the rest. Everything is imagined. We live and then we die. Life is mysteriously precious… It flows with equal mystery… Following the Tao. And with this we should never forget how to live humbly… Helping those that need help along our way, and yielding to the help and advice offered when it is presented to us. To do all of these things while remaining in control of our “monkey mind” is the key our silent warrior uses to unlock the encounters within his rights of passage. “For every way in… There is another way out.”
To find out more about Jim Jarmusch, please click here.
December 13, 2009
Once again I would simply like to bring to the reader’s attention a quote that I found almost three years ago while sifting through the vast archive of film footage amassed by “The Meridian Trust.” While I myself am not a ‘religious’ biological entity, even in the slightest sense, I do feel a strong kinship with the Buddhist doctrines of awareness and mindfulness, as their conclusions seem to bear striking resemblances with what Spinoza spoke about in his own philosophical speculations, and are very much inline with what the intellectual pursuits of physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology (all in their broader sense) has recently demonstrated.
With a healthy fear for creating myth, I will once again adduce Bertrand Russell’s astute observation to my readers. Namely that, “If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.” However, I will still say this… In many ways the Dalai Lama’s quote below fits very perceptively into what I’ve been talking about already within the numerous pages of this blog. And while I do not expect any man or woman to take anything that I have written or said here literally, I do beg anyone to observe the flow of patterns within nature (as well as within their own consciousness) and come to a conclusion that is radically different to the notion of emptiness.
Perhaps in performing this exercise of questioning one’s own inner and outer experience of reality, one might also procure Russell’s other keen insight… Namely that, “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”
“One of the most important philosophical insights in Buddhism comes from what is known as the theory of emptiness. At its heart is the deep recognition that there is a fundamental disparity between the way we perceive the world, including our own experience in it, and the way things actually are. In our day-to-day experience, we tend to relate to the world and to ourselves as if these entities possessed self-enclosed, definable, discrete and enduring reality. For instance, if we examine our own conception of selfhood, we will find that we tend to believe in the presence of an essential core to our being, which characterises our individuality and identity as a discrete ego, independent of the physical and mental elements that constitute our existence. The philosophy of emptiness reveals that this is not only a fundamental error but also the basis for attachment, clinging and the development of our numerous prejudices. According to the theory of emptiness, any belief in an objective reality grounded in the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence is simply untenable. All things and events, whether ‘material’, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence. To intrinsically possess such independent existence would imply that all things and events are somehow complete unto themselves and are therefore entirely self-contained. This would mean that nothing has the capacity to interact with or exert influence on any other phenomena. But we know that there is cause and effect – turn a key in a car, the starter motor turns the engine over, spark plugs ignite and fuel begins to burn… Yet in a universe of self-contained, inherently existing things, these events could never occur! So effectively, the notion of intrinsic existence is incompatible with causation; this is because causation implies contingency and dependence, while anything that inherently existed would be immutable and self-enclosed. In the theory of emptiness, everything is argued as merely being composed of dependently related events; of continuously interacting phenomena with no fixed, immutable essence, which are themselves in dynamic and constantly changing relations. Thus, things and events are ‘empty’ in that they can never possess any immutable essence, intrinsic reality or absolute ‘being’ that affords independence.”
by the Dalai Lama
To find out more about the Dalai Lama, please click here.
November 26, 2009
While I was watching a film the other day, I happened to come across a quote at the end among the credits… And having read it, I found that it touched a deep resonant chord within me about the nature of our reality and Being… And from this “chord” posited a beautifully simple, yet wondrously elegant, understanding about why We came into being…
For… When given the chance to do something… Surely it is in our nature to do, rather than not? Probability is everything… And as chance sometimes provides that possibility, so atoms take a chance on complexity, coming together in a gradually evolving divine countenance of planetary habituation… A habituation that many of us still see as “every-day” Life.
Perhaps as and when we choose to depart from this mundane acceptance of existence, and clearly stride towards a better realization of self, we might begin to See and understand what it is that Sri Aurobindo talks of here…
Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghosh) (August 15, 1872 December 5, 1950) was an Indian nationalist and freedom fighter, poet, philosopher, and yogi. He joined the movement for India’s freedom from British rule and for a duration (1905 10), became one of its most important leaders, before turning to developing his own vision and philosophy of human progress and spiritual evolution.
The central theme of Sri Aurobindo’s vision is the evolution of life into a “life divine”. In his own words: “Man is a transitional being. He is not final. The step from man to superman is the next approaching achievement in the earth’s evolution. It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of Nature’s process”.
The principal writings of Sri Aurobindo include, in prose, The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, Secrets of the Vedas, Essays on the Gita, The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, Renaissance in India and other essays, Supramental Manifestation upon Earth, The Future Poetry, Thoughts and Aphorisms and several volumes of letters. In poetry, his principal work is “Savitri – a Legend and a Symbol” in blank verse.
To find out more about Sri Aurobindo, please click here.