May 11, 2013
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Bearing in mind the recent posts here that relate to the notion of a “self“… And thinking about our strongly ingrained consumeristic tendencies in this multimedia age of memetic supremacy… Not to mention our general herd-like behavioural patterns that we all (no matter who we are) get lost in from time to time i.e. at base: if Mr. Smith has an Audi, then so should I… I found myself walking past someone in need the other day without considering to help them.
I was in hurry to get to the bank in order to pay in some cheques I’d received for a bill that had already been paid out from my family’s business account. During the 20 minute march from my front door to the bank, I was focused on getting the cheques paid in so that we wouldn’t go over-drawn. While totally focused on my goal, I dodged families in the park next door (smiling kindly to the children who we dashing down the paths on scooters), crossed traffic laden roads (thanking the drivers who waited for me to cross the road before nuzzling up to the car in front’s bumper a couple of meters away), avoided teenagers walking four abreast on the pavement with no intention to reconfigure to give fair way to other passers by… And I also missed the old lady who was having a hard time bending down after she’d dropped her credit card by the “hole in the wall”.
“Tick-tock” my wrist watch clanged in my mind as I pictured the seconds fluttering past, which drove on the minutes towards a final cascade of closing steel shutters and possible bank charges for going overdrawn. Then, at least five paces further down the road and faced with a person burdened with shopping bags, I wondered why… ?
That’s when I realised what I had done. I had completely missed what had been (and probably still was) happening directly to my right (and back a bit now). The old lady… She had been devilishly having a hard time, clutching her handbag and walking stick in one frail, white hand while trying to defeat the stiffness of her back and legs so as to pick up her card to try to make her weekly withdrawal. I had seen it all unfolding in such obvious detail and clarity and, yet, something in my mind had found reason to overlook the simple bit of aid that I could have given to someone that wouldn’t have taken more than a minute of my time.
“BANK CHARGES!” rang through my mind… So I looked at my watch before I even turned around. I had 10 minutes left to get to the bank. Briefly I spun around to glance at the lady… Someone who had been waiting by the bus stop next to the cash point had noticed and had come to her aid. “Phew,” I thought as I marched on determined to get to where I needed to be. Still, while checking along, I suddenly remembered a few other incidents I had missed in and around Brighton recently due to “pressing” appointments I had had to keep. None of these, I reasoned, would have taken more than a minute or two of my time to offer a friendly hand to help. But even more pressing was the fact that I was totally amazed at the clarity of detail I could recall about the incidents of people to help, especially as I was “somewhere” else in mind. !?
Yes, we all have businesses to run. But, with a bit more awareness about what’s going on around us each moment and a bit better planning (so we don’t leave the proverbial bank run till last thing in the day), we might well find time to offer help where (and when) it is needed.
Bearing this in mind, I remembered a TED talk that Daniel Goleman gave on compassion back in 2007… And I’d like to share it here with anyone passing by… Hoping they have a few minutes to spare.
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To find out where I sourced the above video from, please click here.
To find out more about Daniel Goleman, please visit here his website by clicking here.
January 15, 2012
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I’ve written a little bit before on what life actually is… On how ‘we’, as human beings, are beginning to figure out how life, as we know it, arose from a sea of seemingly non-living molecules… And we’ve even seen how the fine line between everyday non-living bio-chemistry mimics and resembles – with amazing analogy – the living systems that we call ecosystems… That we call our “selves”. I’ve even shown – with the help of a lecture given by Dr Bruce Lipton – how the complex interaction of molecules (all of which are made up from the numerous atomic elements, which are really nothing more than star dust) gives rise an orchestration of consciousness that allows all of us i.e. each and every type of living organism alive here on Earth today, to perceive the world around us, in some manner or another… To interact with the ever changing environment that continually shifts around our bodies and beings, so that we can survive and slowly modify ourselves and our habits – through the process of Natural Selection – to its ever changing rhythms and challenges, thus ensuring our survival.
Well… If you got all of that, then your laughing and you’re well on your way to finding out what the notion of your ‘self‘ i.e. the mind/brain/body/environmental continuum, is really all about, as well as how these supposed ‘selves’ are all entangled into a long chainmail of causes and effects, a process that, ultimately, relates all of us to one another (no matter how far away everyone might seem at any given moment to our own self centred points of view), so that we come together as ‘One.’ As Kalu Rinpoche pointed out before in “Karma, Interdependence and Emptiness“, “When you hear the sound of a bell, ask yourself, ‘What makes the sound?’” And so, just as with the notion of your “self”, perhaps we should ask, “When I am conscious… What makes me conscious?” When we start to see all the details compiled into the totality of the whole picture (if we ever truly can do so in one lifetime, simply due to the sheer magnitude of parts), along with how interdependent they all are on one another, then the notion of “self” blurs into the surrounding environmental events that gave rise to everything around us, as well as us. As we are a part it all, reliant on every detail being exactly the way it was – and presently is – then perhaps we really are a part of “Nature” itself? Perhaps this is what Spinoza wrote about when he discussed the notion of “God, or Nature”?
Either way, I’d like to add one more TED Talk – to the many that have already found their way onto the many pages of this website – so as to enhance the scientific facts and findings that are slowly illuminating part of the essence of what we all really are – complex organic molecular environments that have become “self” aware… And, thus, I would like to present this talk given by the eminent biomedical animator (I know, what a kewl job title) Drew Berry, who’s scientifically accurate and aesthetically rich visualizations are elucidating cellular and molecular processes for a wide range of audiences, both in the scientific community and outside it.
But just before hand… I’d like you to ask your “self”… “Am I really a “living” being? One that is undeniably distinct and truly separate from all the other animals who reside here on planet Earth with us? Or am “I” just a complex orchestration of inter-reactive organic molecules/chemicals/’star dust’ that has evolved over time into ever increasingly complex manifestations, so as to eventually become “self” aware?”
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Drew Berry: Animations Of Unseeable Biology
We have no ways to directly observe molecules and what they do — Drew Berry wants to change that. At TEDxSydney he shows his scientifically accurate (and entertaining!) animations that help researchers see unseeable processes within our own cells.
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To find out where I sourced this video from, please click here.
And to find out more about Drew Berry, please click here.
OR to learn more about TED, please visit their website by clicking here.
August 6, 2010
Well… It’s come up before, in The Human Ape, just how similar we all are to our primate brothers/cousins. However, I am still always surprised at how many of my fellow human beings seem to want to remain in denial about this striking fact.
Just the other day I was speaking to a friend about how similar we are to the great apes, and possibly even some of the small monkey species, here on Earth. However, she stopped me there, pointing out that the only real similarity was the striking resemblance of our morphologies… But that was about as far as it went. So, bearing in mind this was a lady who had worked in zoos for several years at a time, and been on several safaris too, and thus having more than several monkey experiences under her belt, I quit blabbing and listened to her point of view… The main issue that set us apart was that we were obviously a lot more clever than any monkeys were i.e. our neural nets operated in very different ways to theirs… Sure we might have some very strikingly similar behavioural patterns as one another, but wouldn’t any species that shared similar bodily structures? And I couldn’t help but agree… After all, when given two legs and two hands, a torso and a head, with the potential that their bodies could stand upright… You’d expect the being endowed with these physical attributes to utilise them and grab things, maybe even trying to stand up at some point and walk while carrying these things in their hands. But all further similarities ended there.
So sat there… With furrows of concern that what I had just heard went against what I had recently seen on a TED talk… Something that had politely pointed out that we were even more similar than this simple body parity i.e. we even shared very similar behavioural traits… So I mentioned that I had to disagree with her. To which she asked me to prove my point.
So here I am, writing this entry with an eye to pick out something that can only be deemed to be as abstract and infuriatingly human as “economics” and then demonstrate that the similarity between bodily structure of our distant familiars – one which can only yield certain movements due the the constraints of joints and other bio-mechanical limitations i.e. we can’t bend our knees forward, etc… – also apply to our limbic system too… Well, I won’t… But Laurie Santos will. While the lemurs, capuchin monkeys and other primates that Santos has been studying are only shown to operate on a ‘one-on-one’ level, we need to be reminded that the only two things that really seem to set us apart – and not even that far apart – from our distant relatives, are our ‘ability’ to share resources fairly and work together as a team… As a unit… And build communities, cities and develop technologies… As well as effectively communicate and exchange detailed information with one another.
So, bearing this in mind, shouldn’t we expect to observe very similar traits to our primate brothers/sisters/cousins in the way that we operate within our own man made social constructs and communities… For example, similarities in the way we manage risk assessment in ‘economical’ terms… ? And, as Santos points out, we certainly do…
For those of us who still like to think that we’re really something special in comparison to our monkey see, monkey do relations, I beg they take 20 minutes out of their schedule and watch the some interesting facts that Laurie Santos has recently brought to light, demonstrating that all of ‘Us’ primates have very similar behavioural mechanisms at work – probably based on the neural net’s structural similarities – within the patterns our brain/mind continuum.
A Monkey Economy As Irrational As Ours
Laurie Santos looks for the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. A clever series of experiments in “monkeynomics” shows that some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.
To find out more about Laurie Santos and her interesting work, please click here.
Or to read an interview with her in Discover magazine, please click here.
And to find out where I sourced this video from, please click 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.
October 11, 2009
While the subject of “illusion” has been broached several times before within the pages of this blog – see “The Illusory Atom” and “Probably The Best Optical Illusion I’ve Seen In A While… And The Idea Of Priming!“… This is still a very important idea that I will come back to time and again… For it will allow us all to further develop a better understanding about the way in which we perceive our surrounding environment, the world current affairs and the way we perceive the actions of others i.e. family, friends, work colleagues, strangers, public figures and politicians… And it will even show us that what We sometimes “See” going on in nature is actually a result of the way in which we perceive the world around us, something that Werner Heisenberg beautifully demonstrated to us all with his “Uncertainty Principle.”
Here Lotto presents to us an idea that is not simply just about colors… It is also a powerful analogy that can be superimposed onto the multifarious ways in which we see the world around us i.e. the way in which we perceive our country, our “enemies” and our friends, all of which affects our ability to live and make changes in our daily lives, as well as changes in the vast interconnected network of Life here on planet Earth. Our perceptions drive our actions and dictate how we act in the world at large. And yet, as we have seen in some of the previous blogs here, perceptions are sometimes arbitrary and conditioned. Context is often defined by others… We continually use “memes” that have been passed down the line to us via our parents, media, hearsay and everyday social interaction, to act with and guide us through current situations… And why shouldn’t we? After all, they worked for those of whom we learnt these actions from… As they are hear today telling us of their “beneficial” use. But… What I want to ask here, is are they relevant to the present moment? Because to follow blindly, is simply to be lead into actions that serve no real purpose within the present, as we saw in the blog entitled “Evidence For Humans Being ‘Meme Machines’?”
We, being capable of probing thought, should go deeper than this… We should ask why certain memes are more infectious than others, in much the same way as being able to understand why a particular virus might be more infectious than others – see the blog entitled “‘Infectious’ People Spread Memes Across The Web“. Because when we understand this, we have the potential to become the “humble” custodians of this oasis suspended in an inky black void of space and time… Why? Well the answer is simple… As we are beginning to see, by searching the stars for other Earth like planets, Life really is a rarity in this universe. And once it gets a foot hold, it needs to be cared for and nurtured into a state healthy being… If one Life form becomes too arrogant, forgetting this interconnectedness of all things i.e. the vast array of strange attractors which interact in a dance of complexity over the surface of this planet… And in forgetting this, decides to take over most of the planet’s resources, using them blindly without a thought for the future of the planet… Then is surely like a cancerous cell that over replicates and dominates a body… And we all know how this ends.
To truly See this, we need to understand and challenge the “context” i.e. that “light”, in which we view things. We need to become completely aware of the moment in which we are in… Because once we do so, we leave by the way-side a limited preconditioned array and basis for our actions that serve no purpose other than to dredge up irrelevant past actions… And – perhaps it relates ourselves to the avarian “copy-cat” parrot… Not very hopeful thought really – to be compared to a “bird-brain”. As if we continue to live like this, we can only ever hope act within parameters of old, continuing conflicts of yore (war, prejudice, hate, etc…) that bring the pain of the past back into the present i.e. we carry these old hurts on chains of a “tit-for-tat” mentality that we learnt in the school playground. We need to understand the subtlety and sensitivity of our perceptive stance – see the blog “Another Take On Reality – Meme, Myself and I.”
When we truly understand the context in which we view things, and become humble enough to question the validity of our own perceptions… And therefore, the validity of our resulting actions that arise from these perceptions… Then perhaps we might be able to change how we act in the world… And possibly… Even hopefully… Change the world around us! And do so for the better of all Life here on Earth, preserving that delicate balance that supports us all… In a way that allows us to come from a place of Love and understanding. If you haven’t done already, I would highly recommend that you see Peter Russell’s video entitled “The Global Brain.”
Greed and need are two totally different things. And when we understand all of this, one day we will actually be able separate the two ideals, harboring a cautious mindfulness for the former, and a healthy understanding and open embracing for the latter – whereby we will start giving to people/animals/eco-systems in “need”… And not place anymore strain by simply acting on media-portrayed-memes based solely on “greed”.
Anyway… On with Lotto’s enthralling lecture… Given at TED.
Beau Lotto’s color games puzzle your vision, but they also spotlight what you can’t normally see: how your brain works. This fun, first-hand look at your own versatile sense of sight reveals how evolution tints your perception of what’s really out there.
About Beau Lotto:
Beau Lotto is founder of Lottolab (nothing to do with the lottery game of the same name, might we add), a hybrid art studio and science lab. With glowing, interactive sculpture — and good, old-fashioned peer-reviewed research — he’s illuminating the mysteries of the brain’s visual system.
“Let there be perception,” was evolution’s proclamation, and so it was that all creatures, from honeybees to humans, came to see the world not as it is, but as was most useful. This uncomfortable place — where what an organism’s brain sees diverges from what is actually out there — is what Beau Lotto and his team at Lottolab are exploring through their dazzling art-sci experiments and public illusions. Their Bee Matrix installation, for example, places a live bee in a transparent enclosure where gallerygoers may watch it seek nectar in a virtual meadow of luminous Plexiglas flowers. (Bees, Lotto will tell you, see colors much like we humans do.) The data captured isn’t just discarded, either: it’s put to good use in probing scientific papers, and sometimes in more exhibits.
Outside the studio work, the brain-like (that is, multidisciplinary) organization is also branching out to bigger public engagement works. It’s holding regular “synesthetic workshops” where kids and adults make “color scores” — abstract paintings that computers interpret into music, as with scrolls fed to a player piano. And lately they’re planning an outdoor walkway of color-lit, pressure-sensitive John Conway-esque tiles that react and evolve according to foot traffic. These and Lotto’s other conjurings are slowly, charmingly bending the science of perception — and our perceptions of what science can be.
Lotto teaches at University College London.
To find out more about Beau’s important work in these troubled times of varied perceptive stances, please visit his Lotto Lab website here.
And to find out where I originally sourced this video from, please click here.