Straw Men and Gaps

In my last post about evolution I may have not been quite on target on a couple of things.

First, I don’t want to set up natural selection as a straw man. If you look at a modern textbook on evolution you will find many much more subtle mechanisms for evolution in which natural selection may play a small or even no role at all (genetic drift, for example). Selection is still generally thought to be a final arbiter in most scenarios, but that is a given. If some change, no matter the mechanism, doesn’t allow for successful multigenerational reproduction at higher rate than what is already in play, of course it won’t result in change, and change, movement, transmuting energy into new form and function, is what evolution, is what life in the realm of the six senses, is all about. It’s such a given, so inherent in its formulation, that I referred to it as a tautology, out of respect, not as a criticism.

Second, I may have opened up a sense of awe and wonder of the “Gaps.” Like a God of the gaps, it is weak to the point of meaninglessness. Wonder and awe, deep inspiration, spiritual insight, samadhi, are not made more or less authentic and part of your life by gaps in some other view or metaphysical stance, including current scientific data or dogma. It is not a matter of using the gaps in science to create openings for anything else or to justify your practice or beliefs. Of course you can fit whatever fantasy or delusion you care for in those gaps, and fundamentalists do, but hopefully your world view is more coherent and doesn’t rely on gaps.

Science will never have no gaps. A gap is important in directing where scientists need to look to learn more. However, our approach to measuring the universe through extensions of our six senses is finite, internal to what we are measuring, and so has limits.  The limits of science will likely include our finite monkey brain with a certain number of synapses that evolved to survive in a given time and space or our technology which doesn’t have the oomph to explore the realms we dream up with our math and the implications of current scientific understanding of basic, fundamental physics. Many gaps, of course, will be filled IF our species survives and thrives. Science has a really good track record of surprising gap filling!

I watched a wonderful lecture series on particle physics from the Great Courses called “The Theory of Everything” given by Don Lincoln. If you want to know what is current thinking in physics, including where the gaps are, this is the series for you. But that isn’t its real strength. If you want to see how a working experimental physicist approaches the matter of matter and energy, this is the best out there. Now, it doesn’t go as much as you might like into the gee whiz stuff of quantum (a bit of course; has to!) and makes no real effort at “deeper meaning,” but that’s what I loved about it. Just what scientists think they know and what they think they don’t know about particles and forces.

One thing he points out: we can already describe the transformations of energy in all the realm of the six senses by a series of equations that would fit on a tee shirt. Problem is they are disconnected and don’t fit well together and require constants, numbers empirically derived, that we have no theoretical basis for. Lanza and Berman also discuss this in “Biocentrism”. A real gap in physics that these are experimentally derived, often approximated, and not derived from some single number and first principles. A very recent book that goes into that in detail about this is Lewis and Barnes “A Fortunate Universe Life in a Finely Tuned universe.” While I liked their detailed exposition of the situation, I wasn’t as enthralled by the philosophical discussion at the end; too dualistic.

There are gaps that I think will remain in science. One is any ultimate “explanation,” mostly because explanation past a mechanistic story or mathematical description will always be an attempt to take observations and fit them into a more sophisticated story that works on our human scale and perspective. Why should that work? We are primates! Why should the Universe, Truth, be primate friendly, understandable and graspable in its entirety by primate intellectual constructions?

Buddha famously warned against speculative metaphysics. He seems to have said something like: yeah I know a bunch of stuff, and so can you, but don’t get distracted. Take care of your world on fire. There will be understanding, but don’t get greedy, first things first.

Another gap I believe will be a scientific theory of consciousness. Lets say scientists can show exactly the neurologic correlates of consciousness to an exquisite and intellectually satisfying level of detail, way beyond what is known now. That will happen to one degree or another and is happening now in neuroscience. I am not as enthralled with neuroscience as an adjunct to my practice as some seem to be in the Buddhist community. I am currently enjoying “Behave” by a primatologist Robert Sapolsky. But, while I’m not through yet, this is not a metaphysical book, it explores how we function as human primates, as the subtitle says “the biology of humans at our best and worst.” Interesting stuff, so far a great read, but not about consciousness per se, but about our contingent biologic programming. Anyway, even if our scientific understanding of consciousness goes deep, deep, deep into quantum effects on the mind and in neurology  and  complex brain level activity, and grasps the role in our consciousness of inputs from the endocrine system, the immune system and the gut etc., and shows how it all fits together, will that be any different from describing the science of light (energy, electromagnetic waves, photons and quantum field theory) and perception (eyes, optic nerve, brain pathways) to a blind person and expect them to experience the color yellow? Heck, we sighted people with the usual kinds of photoreceptors (i.e. not color blind) don’t have yellow receptors in our eyes, yet we see yellow, as a story, a projection.

The universe is energy transformations. That changes in, and perhaps defines, our experience of time and space. That is what evolution is and it is of the nature of movement. The question is: what is the basis of these transformations, and whether consciousness, Mind, is fundamental, foundational? The most given of givens. The irreducible.

So, let there be no straw men or spirituality, awe or consciousness of the gaps. We don’t need no stinkin’ gaps or straw men to bolster our practice, to be compassionate, for samadhi, to be.

Nature Shows, Mind, Non-Dualsim and Intelligent Design

Straight up:

I do not, as I have written before, believe in intelligent design.

It is a dualistic concept, and so misses the deep Truth of how things are.

And in our culture intelligent design is theistic and literal religious scriptural dogma in disguise in order to try and pass off superstition as science and Truth to corrupt the minds of the young in school and the old in life.

We project our stories, our, intellect, including our understanding of randomness and creation based on our four dimensional perceptions, our scale of time and space, on life as we see it, so there is the appearance of design.

I have written about Huxley and Darwin and my respect for them and evolution. I have a collection of contemporary (to them i.e. late 19th century) Huxley and Darwin books. If you have read about plant communication (like the recent books “What a Plant Knows” or “Brilliant Green”), you have Darwin to thank. I was watching a TV special on Carnivorous plants that quotes Darwin’s studies. I have his book on insectivorous plants, the American edition of 1875, that  someone picked up and bought over 140 years ago to read! I love having the artifact that is contemporary with these original ideas and great efforts to clarify the matter of what nature is up to.

Having set that out in black and white, in bold italics, let me say that it doesn’t mean I am not sympathetic to intelligent design believers who are sincere! I mean, life is so abundant and resilient: think how fast life rebounded after multiple huge extinction events. Cant keep it down. It would take a total destruction of earth to wipe it out, like a comet blowing earth apart, and even then some might survive on the remains of the planet.

And the manifestations of life, the “solutions” (forgive the anthropomorphizing) to problems of survival, are so robust, so varied, complex and elegant that if you don’t pause to marvel and question whatever you may believe, no matter how scientific, you need to watch more nature shows and read more nature books and regain a sense of wonder and awe with a bit of humility!

While random variation and the obvious continuation of what works, that is, natural selection, are true and clear mechanisms for evolution (a recent Scientific American article and new book “How to Tame a Fox” illustrates a human/fox model of how selection works to create species; a model because it is manipulated with intent that natural selection does not have),  I find, despite my loyalty to evolution, that I wonder if there isn’t, in some sense, more to it than blind random chance filtered through the editing function of reproductive success. It almost pains me to type those words, but I can’t deny the sense I have that the syllogism, strong as it is, of natural selection is true and necessary, but not sufficient.

Maybe it is a matter of something like the thought patterns in Bernardo Kastrup’s top down idealism, the nature of That Which Experiences (TWE) or Mind. Maybe it is something deep about the laws of nature that we don’t write understand. I know the standard answer is deep time, randomness rules when vast numbers are involved, but I am not so convinced. Yes, I know that sounds like intelligent design. But I don’t see it as occurring “outside” of Mind, as intelligent or designed by a higher power, deity or otherwise. Rather it seems to me that Nature and Mind are one, and that matters in how the Universe unfolds.

Maybe I am wrong and apostate in this, but I am so overwhelmed by the exuberance and range of life, the incredible lack of chance implied by the way it ranges into the extremes of the world and will not be denied, that I am willing to entertain the possibility that while random chance and selection clearly are important, they just may not be the whole story on what life is as a manifestation of Mind.

In fact, the problem with defining life, and it is tough to do, as I have written before, may imply that life is not all that special, except in the way that all is special. Or nothing is special. You know, like in “ordinary mind is the way.” Or that life is a projection of Mind, perhaps in a way that Biocentrism and the Lankavatara sutra seem to me to imply, or for that matter any non-dualistic Mind-only approach seems to me to imply.

Yes, we can all agree we are made of star stuff, not separate from the workings of the cosmos. But what underlies all of that?

The mind of God (if you like that theistic approach)?

Life is, I believe, as Stephen Gaskin titled one of his books, Mind at Play.

Does matter make mind or is matter a manifestation of Mind? A foundational question. Same goes for life as for all matter, for that matter, does mind make life or life make mind.

Life is Mind. Mind is life.

That’s what I think Biocentrism is about. That’s what I think “Mind is Buddha” is about.

I am a medical scientist; this is not something I would want to confuse people about. I am only saying keep an open mind as to what life is and the role of randomness in the Universe we experience.

One show on PBS that inspired this post just now was an episode of Nature called Forest of The Lynx. Watch it. Especially note at 27-29 minutes about the trees and rain. Trees bioengineering their environment. Trees are too cool. Consciousness without brains in the animal sense of brains. Some trees, like some insects, function as super-organisms. And fungi and trees… OK I digress. Hard not to as this stuff is so wonderful! Of course now “the Hidden Life of Trees” is deservedly a best seller. Good book to read so you can really marvel at trees. But back to the PBS Nature show the forest of the lynx; at 27-29 minutes (watch the whole thing of course), they mention that trees release a molecule when they are stressed by drought, but don’t name the molecule. I am not sure what molecule they were referring to that trees release is (why don’t they just say? Frustrating when even PBS dumbs down; we can handle a word with two or more syllables), but here’s something similar: cosmic rays and trees and pine and marijuana resin and quantum effects might make clouds/rain. And have medicinal properties (Bold italics below are mine):

Ion-induced nucleation of pure biogenic particles

  • Jasper Kirkby, Jonathan Duplissy, Kamalika Sengupta, Carla Frege, Hamish Gordon, Christina Williamson, Martin Heinritzi, Mario Simon, Chao Yan, João Almeida, Jasmin Tröstl, Tuomo Nieminen, Ismael K. Ortega, Robert Wagner, Alexey Adamov, Antonio Amorim, Anne-Kathrin Bernhammer, Federico Bianchi, Martin Breitenlechner, Sophia Brilke, Xuemeng Chen, Jill Craven, Antonio Dias, Sebastian Ehrhart, Richard C. Flagan et al.

Nature 533, 521–526 (26 May 2016) doi:10.1038/nature17953

Received 06 July 2015 Accepted 16 March 2016 Published online 25 May 2016

Atmospheric aerosols and their effect on clouds are thought to be important for anthropogenic radiative forcing of the climate, yet remain poorly understood1. Globally, around half of cloud condensation nuclei originate from nucleation of atmospheric vapours2. It is thought that sulfuric acid is essential to initiate most particle formation in the atmosphere3, 4, and that ions have a relatively minor role5. Some laboratory studies, however, have reported organic particle formation without the intentional addition of sulfuric acid, although contamination could not be excluded6, 7. Here we present evidence for the formation of aerosol particles from highly oxidized biogenic vapours in the absence of sulfuric acid in a large chamber under atmospheric conditions. The highly oxygenated molecules (HOMs) are produced by ozonolysis of α-pinene. We find that ions from Galactic cosmic rays increase the nucleation rate by one to two orders of magnitude compared with neutral nucleation. Our experimental findings are supported by quantum chemical calculations of the cluster binding energies of representative HOMs. Ion-induced nucleation of pure organic particles constitutes a potentially widespread source of aerosol particles in terrestrial environments with low sulfuric acid pollution.

Regarding Pinene:

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Pinene (C10H16) is a bicyclic monoterpene chemical compound.[1] There are two structural isomers of pinene found in nature: α-pinene and β-pinene. As the name suggests, both forms are important constituents of pine resin; they are also found in the resins of many other conifers, as well as in non-coniferous plants such as camphorweed (Heterotheca)[3] and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Both isomers are used by many insects in their chemical communication system. The two isomers of pinene constitute the major component of turpentine.

Biosynthesis[edit]

α-Pinene and β-pinene are both produced from geranyl pyrophosphate, via cyclisation of linaloyl pyrophosphate followed by loss of a proton from the carbocation equivalent.

Plants[edit]

Alpha-pinene is the most widely encountered terpenoid in nature[4] and is highly repellant to insects.[5]

Alpha-pinene appears in conifers and numerous other plants.[6] Pinene is a major component of the essential oils of Sideritis spp. (ironwort)[7] and Salvia spp. (sage).[8] Cannabis also contains alpha-pinene.[6] Resin from Pistacia terebinthus (commonly known as terebinth or turpentine tree) is rich in pinene. Pine nuts produced by pine trees contain pinene.[6]

Makrut lime fruit peel contains an essential oil comparable to lime fruit peel oil; its main components are limonene and β-pinene.[9]

Usage[edit]

In chemical industry, selective oxidation of pinene with some catalysts gives many compounds for perfumery, such as artificial odorants. An important oxidation product is verbenone, along with pinene oxide, verbenol and verbenyl hydroperoxide. [10]

Pinenes are the primary constituents of turpentine.

Pinene has also been used as anti-cancer agent in Traditional Chinese medicine, also for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant and bronchodilator properties.[11]

 

Where and When

Where and when does anything come from? Each quantum moment, each quantum space, each state of being or non being or neither, or both.

Where does it go?

Don’t gloss it over.

A thought comes from chemicals that change the electric fields of bundles of fat and protein we call nerves? How? A gift? A pattern? An emergent phenomenon? Handwaving, black box stuff.

If you use the model of a computer generating an image, that’s has a wee bit of truth I suppose from a scientific point of view or even Buddhist point of view; both have space and time quantized as a space of states, and the monitor image is quantized states of energy in each pixel. There is no continuity outside the running of a program, and each pixel is updated  individually in space and time. Movement on the screen is an illusion. Three dimensions is an illusion.

But you do know the computer has no idea there is a monitor screen let alone what is on the screen? You can program it to seem to care… but is that the same thing?

It is obvious we are in a world of illusion. No one believes there is solid stuff, right? Science talks about fields of energy. Or strings. Or forces. Or whatever. But go small enough, or for that matter large enough, and there is no thing.

So it’s all energy? What is that possibly mean? What IS it? Where does that come from, where does it go, and is it infinite or limited?

Where does the perfect, symmetric circle come from? Or the breaking of symmetry to form waves. You can’t show it to me. You can show me a cartoon of it, a sketch, an approximation, an idea of it, as I have done in previous blogs (which seems to be at times very popular, and I don’t know who or why that is), but that’s all. Doesn’t exist as a “thing” out there. But this symmetry, this perfect circle, is the basis of all scientists have to describe the world. Waves adding and subtracting, all from the perfect circle we can imagine. It is embedded in the enso and it is the Yin and Yang.

Clearly all the day-today stuff that means so very much to us, our experience of the world, all time and space, is ultimately without substance as it all arises from and merges into…. into what?

So, it’s all Mind? Sure. Easy for you to say.. do you know it or think it or believe it? Really believe it? Some say any belief is delusional. That’s Mahadyamika, emptiness, the Middle Way of Nagarjuna, Pyrrho, the early Tang Chan/Zen master’s  “ceasing of notions.”

I say that because, I don’t know.

But not knowing doesn’t stop me from trying to struggle against greed anger and ignorance. That’s practice.

Maybe sometimes not knowing even helps.

I love having a practice. Keeps me from being lazy.

But if that’s not your style, if you are reading this, please don’t forget to resist evil. I’ll be going to the march for science next week here in LA; practice isn’t really about lighting incense in robes, is it?

 

Circle Triangle Square and Symmetry redux

 

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This is a combination of two earlier posts that seem to have been popular. I combined them and tweaked them a bit and posted it on the Hazy Moon website some months ago. This is a further tweaking, with only some minimal changes. But since those earlier posts still get a fair number of views, I thought I would make this improved version more available.

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            It is said that “Let no one who is ignorant of geometry enter” was inscribed over the entrance to Plato’s Academy (which lasted for centuries after his death). The Pythagoreans (of Pythagorean theorem fame) made a religion of mathematics; it is rumored that they killed someone who pointed out that the square root of two was what we now call an irrational number (that is, after the decimal point the numbers never end) because the idea didn’t fit in with their model of an ordered, clean, rational mathematical universe!

Now, while the Greeks had some philosophical tendencies that overlapped with Buddhism (the skeptic founder Pyrrho went to India with Alexander the Great and studied Buddhism and the Stoics were into non-dualism and had many teachings and attitudes compatible with Buddhism), that is not why I bring up how far back the Western appreciation of mathematics reaches. I do so because it is so foundational to modern scientific thinking. Scientists consider mathematics the language of science. In fact, there are modern scientific “Platonists” like Hawking, Tegmark, and Penrose, who have written popular books and are top theoreticians in physics, who believe that we don’t need experimental evidence for their claims about reality. Rather, they believe that mathematics IS reality in its purist form! Mathematics is itself scientific evidence.

So where are they coming from and why do I think you might find it interesting if you are a Buddhist with little or no interest in Math or science? Because scientists and mathematicians argue about whether mathematics is something we invented or discovered. Because scientists are blown away by what has been called the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in predicting and describing scientific discoveries. Often the math was developed just for the sake of the intellectual challenge of it with no immediate practical application in mind, but then later turned out to be just the thing to use for modern science. But mostly because I see a lot of interesting overlap between what blew the minds of the Ancients both East and West and modern math and science.

Lets look at a Chinese Chan poem and then a Japanese Zen painting to see what I mean. Don’t worry if you hate math. Math is not about numbers. It is about relationships and ideals. I’ll draw you pictures.

Anything that we can experience as existing in time and space (that is, the realm of the senses) is in the realm of the “relative,” and whatever is true regardless of time and space is in the realm of the “absolute.” There is a tension between the relative, the relational, the contingent, the deep and abiding interconnectedness and interaction of what is in time and space, and the absolute. Zen practitioners know I didn’t come up with this terminology. There is an ancient Chinese Chan poem that we chant in some of our services. In Mandarin it is called Cantongqi, in Japanese Sandokai. The poem was written by Shitou Xiqian (Japanese: Sekito Kisen). Shitou lived in 8th century China. The title of the poem is apparently very difficult to translate: “The Identity of Relative and Absolute” is the version we use at the Hazy Moon Zen Center, and I like the kind of mathematical sound and unapologetic nature of  “identity.”

Books have been written and series of talks given about this poem. This poem, this relationship between the finite and infinite, the relative and absolute, change and the symmetry of changelessness, a unified force and all the various pushes and pulls that we experience in the contingencies of our lives, is one of those places where both science and Zen converge in wonder and profundity. Sages, philosophers and scientists have grappled with this throughout the ages. How do we get something from the ultimate oneness to the many things, how is there the illusion of duality if at the heart of the matter non-duality must be how it is. For certainly even scientists have some idea of non-duality. Think of the quest to unify the forces of nature. How can there be nature and something else?

The identity, or some say the harmony, of the world of the relative and the realm of the absolute is not very amenable to the intellect, to concepts and language, which evolved in the dualistic world of the senses, or even to mathematics, which gets lost in infinities. We can use some ideas from mathematics, at least as metaphors, even if just to get us started. We’ll do this by looking at the universe embodied in the circle, and to do that, lets look at symmetry and the breaking of symmetry.

There are many types of symmetry.  You can see mirror symmetry in the fluke of a whale. The right half of the fluke is the mirror image of the left, and visa versa. That is why the water is so evenly dispersed in the photograph of the fluke. Such symmetry is very functional for the diving whale. An asymmetric fluke would not work as well to stabilize the whale when she dives.

 

ry=400ry=400-2

 

 

One definition of symmetry is that you have a symmetry when something is done to a system but you can’t detect a change.

 

images (3)

If you moved this “wallpaper” over a bit to the right or left by the distance of one of the partly hidden circles, it would still look the same as long as you don’t see a tell tale edge. Pretend the square is a window with a much larger wall with the wall paper pattern on it behind the window. Move the wall, or the window, the distance of one circle to the left or right and your view through this square window is unchanged; you see the same pattern. That is a kind of translational symmetry; you translated its position without a directly detectable change; you might see other changes if you measured them, like the heat in the room from the movement and your muscles burning fuel when you shifted the pattern, or the flow of electrons in the computer if you used one and did this as a “virtual” experiment.

 The conservation laws of physics are also defined by symmetry. When we say the total energy of a system is constant, that is, that energy is “conserved,” we are saying the total energy is the same before and after you do something to the system (an experiment, say).

Look at the energy of the system before the experiment, and then close your eyes while somebody else does the experiment. When you look at the total energy of the system (including any added or subtracted, say by heating or cooling during the experiment) when you open your eyes after the experiment is done, you can’t tell there was any change in the total energy (even if the form of energy has changed, say form electrical energy to heat or the potential energy of the position of some object relative to another); it passes the “can’t tell” test that defines symmetry.

Actually we can’t measure total energy directly (the slippery nature of energy is another discussion, but even defining, let alone measuring, the total energy is clearly beyond our grasp). We can measure changes in energy. And that will be zero. If you added energy here, some was lost somewhere there. If not, you have some explaining to do. From a scientific viewpoint that can be where the real action is! A discrepancy in energy accounting could be evidence of a new particle that carried away some of the energy you couldn’t account for (this has happened), or even a new law of physics, although it is more likely you just missed something or didn’t take accurate measurements. So you try again, and if the difference remains, and it isn’t carelessness or the lack of sufficiently sensitive instruments, then you really may be on to something new! Why is energy conserved? That’s a bit far afield from this discussion, but I think it has to do with being beginningless, bottomless, endless, and uncreated.

The point is, energy is conserved and any discrepancies need to be addressed. The conservation of energy is a form of symmetry, and it is very useful.

Let’s look more closely at just what symmetry is by looking at rotational symmetry as an example. If you close your eyes and I rotate an unmarked circle, when you open your eyes and look at the circle you can’t tell that I did anything; you still see a circle, just like before. Nothing about the circle looks different. This “can’t tell” test is a hallmark of symmetry.

The entity we call a circle is an idea. It is empty of “thingness.” A circle is defined as that object that is equally distant at every point from a central point. This distance is the radius of the circle (think about it; it works!). So all it takes is a distance from a point to define a circle. We call that distance the radius. Yet in fact, no ideal circle actually exists. Even the most close to perfect circle you can create in the world of the relative is marred minimally by quantum fluctuations even of you were to design a circle to the precision of the atomic or subatomic scale.

In Japanese Zen calligraphy there are circles called enso. Of course enso are not perfect circles. They are the product of a brain, a hand, paper, ink and a brush. They are in time and space. This is the identity of relative and absolute at play, the absolutely ideal circle without beginning or end and the relative circle existing in time and space.

A perfect circle doesn’t lend itself to creating the universe of the senses, the realm of the relative. The symmetry is too good. But inherent in that circle is everything that ever was and ever could be. We just need to break the symmetry. When the rotational symmetry is broken, we can produce waves, and these waves define particles, the basis of form.

Open up a circle and you break that rotational symmetry and get a different symmetry that is limited as to rotation, but can be repeated as infinite cycles in all directions in space and time. You get the wave. We can derive that mathematically, but let me just show you a picture:

           Circle and Wave

We take a perfect circle and divide it in half. Now there is direction, duality, up and down. Now move the left tip of that lower half meets the right tip of the upper half of the circle and  we get a wave!

            You can repeat that wave (essentially rotating the circle or in this example by adding other circles in a line) without ever needing to stop (mathematically). The circle and the wave both have no beginning and no end.

The wave does have symmetry. You can flip it around the point where the two halves of the circle touch and you get the same wave (passes the can’t tell test). But it isn’t the rotational symmetry of the circle it was derived from, the unbroken circle. We broke the never ending, “absolute” rotational symmetry and found a new, more limited symmetry, the wave, which now brings us to the “relative.”

          images-4

           Mathematically we can sculpt waves. Just like additive sculpting (say in clay) or subtractive sculpting  (say in marble), we add and subtract waves to get new waves, even crafting a sharp localized spike. That spike is the particle. The really, really relative, the really, really NOT symmetric!

And hidden in a spike, that particle, there can be countless waves adding and subtracting, creating the spike mathematically.

This is Fourier mathematics, looking at the different waves that make up a given wave, and it is the basis of quantum field theory.

In the circle there is the wave, in the wave the particle, in the particle the wave, in the wave the circle.

We have the identity of the relative and absolute, asymmetry and symmetry, and the particle and wave.

SONY DSC

[The Tingari by Nanuma Napangardi, of Kintore, language Pintubi.]

 

The ancients knew about symmetry and symmetry breaking, circle and waves, the identity relative and absolute. Just look at the Yin Yang symbol! You see circle, and broken circle, wave and particle.

 

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 They experienced it in their beings, in their lives. That is what it is really all about.

Now lets expand our look at circles and waves by looking at a Japanese Zen painting.

 

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             Sengai Gibon (1750-1838) was a Japanese Zen master who was an artist. There are many stories about Sengai. One I particularly like shows his courage and compassion. The Daimyo, the high-ranking Samurai who was the local ruler, loved chrysanthemums. The gardener’s dog destroyed some of his prized blooms and so naturally the gardener needed to die. Sengai leveled the rest of the flowers with is trusty scythe, presenting himself to the Daimyo the next day. Sengai asked to be killed. After all, farmers, who were dying of hunger, were ignored by the Daimyo while pretty plants were valued above a human life.

           The Daimyo got the message.

One of Sengai’s most famous works is “Circle Triangle Square.”

 

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There are many interpretations of what this painting is about.

The inscription at the left of the painting alludes to Sengai’s temple, an ancient temple already at that time about 700 years old. It was the first Zen temple in Japan. So maybe the shapes refer to the temple and the pagoda at the temple and some nearby mountain.

Or maybe the inscription is not about the subject of the painting and it is just in effect his signature. Zen masters in Japan and before that China were often identified with and named after their monasteries or the mountains they lived on.

Or maybe the circle is the cushion (zafu) the meditator sits on, the triangle is the mediator with the top point as the head, the solid base of the triangle being the butt and crossed legs. The triangle could be meditator as mountain. The square might be the zabuton, the square pad the zafu sits on (the triangle/meditator/mountain idea was suggested in conversations with sensei Maezen at Hazy Moon).

Lets get Platonic. I would like to interpret the painting geometrically. I have no idea how much geometry Sengai knew. Clearly basic geometric shapes interested him enough to paint them.

So circles are amazing but where do squares and triangles come in? Lets start with how a square and triangle relate. A square is two triangles.

Slide2

            Next, how do circles and squares relate? Well, they could be symmetric as to area. That is, they can both have the same area despite having different shapes. That is a very useful equivalence in math and physics. Using the tools of integral calculus, which helps us deal with the areas of complex shapes, we can find “hidden” symmetries and so hidden relationships. Here is another way squares and circles can relate to each other that I like: every circle precisely defines two squares, each of which intersects with the circle at four points. One square is inside, the other outside the circle. Every square likewise defines exactly two circles, each circle intersecting with the square at four points:

Slide2

 Those then define two larger and smaller squares and circles ad infinitum.

Slide3

          Now, how do circles and triangles relate and how do they make waves?

We can think of the circle as a clock face. This time we will think of the radius that defined the circle (that distance that all points were from the center point) as a minute hand, here pictured as arrows. For this illustration the minute hand will go counter-clockwise, starting at the 3 o’clock position (hey, why not?). As we rotate this minute hand radius counterclockwise we will note how high the tip of the arrow is above or below the horizontal line bisecting the circle.

Slide2

 Next lets put each vertical line (the distance of the radius above or below the horizontal bisecting line) along a new horizontal line, with each clock hour marked, starting at 3 o’clock and going counterclockwise (3 o’clock, 2 o’clock, etc.) around the circle/clock. Even with just a few straight lines we see a wave emerging if we connect the tips of the arrows:

 

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            In this figure we placed the vertical lines derived from the tip of the radius above and below the horizontal line at their clock positions in the circle, as marked on the horizontal line, and connected the tips of the arrows with lines and got a rough wave. More lines would get a smoother curve, a smoother wave.

 If we were to add so many arrows (each a radius of the clock/circle, that is, the distance from the center point that defined the circle) and the resulting vertical lines from the tip of the arrow to the horizontal bisecting line so that the circle is filled with lines and arrows we would get a perfectly smooth wave. In the ideal, mathematically pure case, a perfect wave, unlike the complicated messy waves of contingency we see at the beach.

What is this wave?

Each arrow is a radius of that circle. It also is the hypotenuse (the longest side) of a right triangle (and why not? Any line can be turned into a hypotenuse by adding two other lines!).

Here is one radius arrow and the horizontal line isolated (with a line connecting the tip of the arrow to the horizontal) to show that each arrow indeed defines a specific right triangle:

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This figure shows one of the triangles defined by the arrow (radius) and the line from the tip of the arrow to the horizontal bisecting line and the segment of the horizontal line that goes form the center of the circle to the line dropped form the tip of the arrow, making a unique right triangle. The circle can have as many of these triangles as you wish as the radius, the arrow, now the hypotenuse of a triangle, points to different parts of the circle.

            Now, lets say the arrow/radius/hypotenuse is one unit long. It doesn’t matter one unit of what. A unit could be one inch, one mile, one light year, one unit of 6.753 millimeters or 5.071 kilometers, or even one diameter of an oxygen molecule (although that may be subject to quantum fluctuations). It doesn’t matter a single unit of what; are all kosher as long as all other measurements that relate to that unit length, say of the other sides of the triangle, are measured in a way that is related to that basic unit (in multiples of inches, of miles, of light years, of 6.753 mm, 5.071kilometers, of diameters of oxygen molecules, etc.).

Then we can define a specific relationship between the lines of the triangle and give it a name: the sine of a right triangle is defined as the length of the side opposite an angle (other than the right angle) over (that is, divided by) the hypotenuse. It is a ratio, so there no need to worry about units of measurement as any units are on the top and bottom of the ratio, so they just cancel. This ratio is just a relationship that always holds because we defined it that way. Since the arrow/hypotenuse/radius here is 1, the denominator of the ratio of the ”line across from the angle”/”arrow” relationship (the sine), so the line across from the angle IS the sine for that triangle. After all anything divided by 1 is just that thing.

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Here we see a right triangle. The thick line is the side across from the angle indicated by the curved line at the lower left. The diagonal line is the hypotenuse (the arrow, or radius, in our circle), the longest line in our triangle. To the right of the triangle we have the thick line divided by the diagonal hypotenuse (which we defined as being 1 unit long). So in this ratio, this division, the thick line divided by 1 = the thick line. The length of that thick line then is the sine of that angle (defined as the side opposite of an angle over the hypotenuse which is 1 unit)

 

We collected these sides of the triangles, which were the length of the tip of the arrow above or below the horizontal bisecting line, and we created a sine wave! So the triangle sine and the sine wave of the circle are one thing.

Circle, square.  Every square defines two circles; every circle defines two squares, without beginning or end.

Square triangle. Two triangles make a square.

Circle triangle. Every circle is made up of the hypotenuse of triangle after triangle, and these have relationships that define waves (we just looked at one such wave, the sine wave).

Waves have no beginning or end. We arbitrarily started and stopped at 3 o’clock on the circle. We could have kept going around and around the circle without end, and we could have started anywhere on the circle. We can go around fast, so we would have a high frequency and that would require more energy per time period. We can go around slow and that would take less energy per time period. Of course fast and slow are relative here unless you define a standard i.e. fast or slow relative to the speed of a massless particle in a vacuum, which would be the speed of light.

We could have gone in the opposite direction as well. These changes would have defined waves, just not sine waves (it would be cosine waves which are since waves out of phase, that is, shifted).

And waves, as we have seen, can add and subtract to form localized concentrations, that is, particles. Particles in this formulation are localized concentrations of the quantum field, which is the collection, or set, of potential waves based on the energy and state of a system. Wave and particle, the quantum conundrum, is then found in Sengai’s art, in the yin yang symbol.

So do you think Sengai had any of this in mind? Did he know trigonometry? Did he intuit that these basic forms could describe all form, even potential form that hasn’t formed? That these objects that have no physical existence but are abstractions, the product of mind, empty of substance, are the basis of all we consider substance in our quotidian lives embedded in the senses, the basis of all math and science, all time and space, the absolute inherent in the relative, the relative emerging from the absolute? Emerging in Mind?

Is this the dreams stuff is made of? Are these the parameters of the phantoms we chase?

Dogen:

“Nevertheless this great ocean is neither a circle nor has directions. The wondrous features of this ocean that remain beyond our vision are inexhaustible…. It is just that as far as my vision reaches for the time being, it appears to be a circle.”

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Photos courtesy of Susan Levinson

 

 

 

 

 

Intelligence and Death

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In my last post I wrote about why I don’t agree with the use of the word intelligence in the term “intelligent design,” and why I don’t believe intelligent design is relevant when discussing the nature of the ground of Being, of Mind. The word intelligence as it is normally used it is too anthropomorphic, too based on our idea of functioning based on what we recognize as our brain’s unique activity; it implies a relative ranking based on some parameter you can measure when attempting some brain centered task.

Buddhists tend to talk about awareness rather than intelligence as the quality of Mind or Consciousness (and some may add compassion as the foundation of its expression). Awareness is less content driven than intelligence. Less a skill than a state. Less brain-centric. Tibetan Dzogchen masters use “Pure” or “naked” awareness. Nyogen Roshi defines samadhi as non distracted awareness.

This difference is not trivial. Intelligence is much more personal, more consistent with an “intelligent design” deity that has a personality and is in linear space and time, hence dualistic. Some Buddhists traditionally have recognized such deities in the context of their cultural surroundings, like Shiva in India. These deities are beings that are like us, contingent and limited, an embodiment of karma and conditions, even if vastly less limited than we are. You too can become a deity in your next life! But it won’t last forever.

Interestingly, the Ancient Egyptians also had their deities age, though there was the hidden, the Amun, and the idea of renewal in Osiris, and the formless Nun (random chaos fluid/watery substrate from which all arises). Also note that in the last post I referred to mental masturbation when discussing my problem with the idea of Cosmic design; well, the Ancient Egyptians had one creation myth where the universe was created in a divine act of Divine masturbation. Go figure!

Some people come to Zen or Buddhism because of their fear of death. It is this awareness, this ground of compassion, that doesn’t know death, the Buddhist teachers tell us. Bob Lanza believes Biocentrism is a prescription for the fear of death because this consciousness is not lost with death; it is not limited by our brains any more than the ocean is limited by its contingent function manifest by the wave. Energy, consciousness, is conserved. It is a symmetry! [see next post]  We lose nothing, he says, as death is just a reboot. Momentum (karma) is conserved with respect to time.

And time itself, Lanza and others tell us is an illusion, only a relative sampling of a timeless fluidity. Of  Nun or Nu, the primeval undifferentiated ocean prior to creation of this and that, you might say (Ancient Egyptian ideas of time(s), cyclic time and eternal time, are another post, but I thought I would throw it in).

Time is a conceit of mass, and mass is a conceit of specific energy interactions. A photon, or any massless particle in space, as I pointed out in a recent post, will experience an infinitely long time between a tick and a tock that doesn’t ever come, at least not until the photon interacts with another energy. And the photon exists in an infinitely compressed space, zero space, that we mass-y entities experience as vast interstellar distances.

For that matter some physicists believe it is accurate to say that all particles, even with mass, are one particle, one in the set of excitations of the quantum field, and there is no difference in time and space between particles, no individual identity between what appear to be different electrons, say, whether here or there, now or then. It is just a matter of the state of the energy locally that gives the image of separate particles. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and they are all connected at the root like a stand of beech tress. So where does space and time come in for this one uber-particle, which is really a field of energy, a field of potential, without beginning our end.

In Zen it is said we frolic in a field of samadhi, of bliss, forever. That is, beyond life and death, beyond time and space.

On the other hand, a friend at the Zen Center told me a Tibetan teacher told him that, the good news is that reincarnation is real, the bad news is you won’t be you. That does make some sense to me. After all, you aren’t you now, at least not the you of before and the you of after now. For that matter,  which “you” would be the “real you” that is reincarnated? The you of this life? Sure, but also infinite lives as the ocean “you”, the wave, returns to is without beginning or end. You are contingent, you are momentum, the wave, the whirlpool.

What do you think?

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Intelligent Design, Mind, and Liberation

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A friend asked me about a criticism his friend had about the book “Beyond Biocentrism” by Robert Lanza and Robert Berman. Isn’t it just intelligent design? The same questioned could be asked of the metaphors Bernardo Kastrup uses in his books on idealism and in the Mahayana Buddhist formulation of Mind Only, the Lankavatara and similar Sutras, the Zen Master saying: “Mind is Buddha”: is it just intelligent design, a way of sneaking religious dogma past science and reason?

Fair question. The answer is simple: no.

How so?

  1. First, intelligent design is inherently dualistic. Something is designing the Universe from the outside. That isn’t Biocentrism (or Zen).
  1. Second, it isn’t a question of whether in our scale of living, in our experience of time and space, in the relative (that we chant in Zen is identical with the absolute, and is not to be denied), Darwinian evolution occurs.

The evidence for evolution is as clear as any observation you use to navigate your world. There is descent with modification. Things that are better fit to their environment, whether crystals or other chemical reactions in a solution, genetic programming, ideas, tend to thrive and persist and multiply and so tend to be found in that environment. It is really obvious. The evidence we share a common ancestor with other primates, then before that other mammals then before that, then reptiles, then fish, then sponges, then bacteria…etc. back to the first replicating organic forms is just as clear as anything can be. To deny the evidence of evolution is to deny geology, paleontology, physics, biology and chemistry.

Lanza and Berman say that explicitly; from “Beyond Biocentrism” page 93:

“Randomness is also a central key of evolution, where it works splendidly. Darwin wasn’t just whistling in the wind with his natural selection… Evolution works, and it’s based on random mutations coupled with natural selection.”

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There are other quotes, but lets just leave it there. Microphone dropped, we’re done. You can read “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism” for more. The question comes up, I believe, in the mind of my friend’s friend and others because Biocentrism, and others, including me, question whether that mechanism and view, marvelous and true as it is, sums up, is foundational, and contains all that can be known of the nature of life and consciousness and of everything, or is it secondary, an observation of local function.

Is mechanism foundational or is consciousness? Is it energy interactions that create mind or the other way around?

Which is upside down thinking?

  1. Third, be careful with words and how they are used. Is intelligent design so bad? Does it fit? Be open-minded about it.

Breaking down intelligent and design:

Is “Mind” intelligent? Is Nature, the Universe, the Cosmos, the Mind of God, if you lean that way, “intelligent”? Well, as opposed to what? That is setting up a false dichotomy. Can the Universe, can Mind, be stupid? Intelligent vs. dumb by what standard? Smart as opposed to what other level of intellectual function for the Cosmos? What test do you apply to the Totality to see if it is intelligent? Whether or not what evolves, what is there, works for you? Does that make things smart or good as opposed to dumb or bad? Is life on earth, is humankind, are you, really the measure of all things? Now that’s arrogance.

And the concept of design implies a set preconceived outcome, like an engineering project; one designs a plane that flies and a dam that holds water. This is not how I would see the functioning of non-dualistic Mind. That would seem like Cosmic Mental Masturbation and a real waste of time and energy.

  1. Fourth and finally, what I think is the real issue when the question of intelligent design comes up, is that historically intelligent design is a term chosen by those who wish to sneak religion, particularly deistic or theistic religion, particularly scripture based or dogmatic faiths, into the classroom past the US Constitution. That isn’t the goal of Mind Only non-dualistic teachings, at least not as far as I can tell. It certainly isn’t what I have in mind!

But it is a critically important issue, especially now in the world of fake news, real news being accused of being fake news by the insane man in the White House and his horrid minions, the elevation of alternative facts, and the horrible situation of willfully ignorant, biased science and education deniers in control of the very institutions that are supposed to use science, education and other knowledge, to protect us!

I get it. Scary stuff.

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Religion and spirituality have been weaponized. Greed and ignorance has been institutionalized. Insanity encouraged as long as it makes you feel strong and in some weird kind of control despite all evidence to the contrary. Sad and bad; bigly bad!

While we will always evaluate what we see as facts through our perspective and world-view, the level of ad absurdum that this has been brought to and used and abused by those in power, by the theocrats and right wing, the racists and corporate stooges, is truly dangerous and far from any value system I can abide by.

From my perspective nothing about Zen, Biocentrism, Kastrup’s metaphors and myths of non-dual Mind Only idealism, does away with science and facts. Lanza and Berman are scientists. Kastrup deals with computers. I am a medical scientist and physician. Speaking for myself, I deal with scientific facts, including the implications of evolution, every day. I would deny them no more than I would deny that we can describe mathematically why a plane flies, or that I better hit the brakes if a car swerves in front of me, or that a rock is different from a potato of the same basic size, shape and color.

Evolution, climate change, pollution, germ theory, the understanding that weather doesn’t go bad to punish us for not following biblical injunctions about sexual orientation? No denial! I’m with you!

The value of economic justice and dignity over religious dogma? Sure.

The importance of social justice and art in a sane society? You bet.

The risk of fear, greed and superstition and the need to be concerned about religious institutions forcing themselves on the community as tools of control and the horrid judging of non-believers? Yep, a YUGE concern.

What about willful ignorance of “worldly matters”? That is a very common attitude in monotheistic traditions. And it is clearly ascendant in some quarters right now, including some very powerful quarters, and has long been exploited by theocrats and the greedy and the fearful. A friend sent me a bible quote he was brought up with decrying worldly knowledge. After all, dogmatic traditions can’t abide by any questioning of the truth of their teachings, their sacred texts; they fall apart too easily.

A kind thought is in the past many teachings about the world and dogmatic philosophies were indeed bogus. Science wasn’t really invented, at least not as we understand it, and not in any reliably functioning way, until way after these traditions were founded and those texts written.

But I doubt they didn’t think the technology of chariots was real in ancient times, that is was a matter of religious dogma whether the chariot wheel should be round or square. Or whether Roman aqueducts were based on the observations of the way water flows rather than opinions and religious dogma at the time of the writing of the Christian texts. The question wasn’t whether facts count, I suspect (or am I being too kind?) but the implications of facts and “worldly” philosophies, what we would now call the metaphysics, and just how deep some observations and ideas and ideals should go in determining our over-arching world-view.

I believe that in Biocentrism and perhaps Bernardo Kastrup’s formulations, among others, there is a recognition of what in Zen we call the identity of the relative and absolute, or as the wisdom tradition of the Heart Sutra and the Nalanda sages of the Mahadyamika “emptiness” tradition say, the identity of form and emptiness. It is similarly embedded in Nagarguna’s two truths.

Buddhist teaching, as I understand it, is not to deny what is in front of you. You occupy the ground you stand on, you don’t indulge in denial and wishful thinking, and you most certainly don’t try and get the Universe to become small enough to be bite sized, easily digestible, and to fit your idea of how it should be.

That’s kind of why in Zen we keep eyes open just a bit when we meditate: we do not shut out the world entirely and abide in our delusional distorted thinking in the darkness behind our eyelids. That’s why Zen talks about the cessation of notions, as the title of some early texts has been translated. Not that you cease observing and using your mind, but you aren’t ruled by your ideas and concepts. Intellect as tool, not master.

The intellect certainly is a tool we must use; it that warns us against demagoguery, against tyrants, against geed and superstition, and allows us to understand the real nature of hate and fear and climate change and pollution, so we can try to find ways to “intelligently” live our compassionate practices. Compassion needs intellect; without understanding compassion is not possible.

Is science inherently dualistic?

No.

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A magnetic dipole has a north and a south pole, a kind magnetic charge. Opposite poles, opposite charges, attract, same poles repel, just like + and – charges in electricity. But no matter how small you cut it, even if to the size of a subatomic particle, you can’t separate the two poles of a magnet. There isn’t a north only magnet like there is a + or – only electrically charged particle. It is one system. A kind of non-duality with dual characteristics, a wee bit like the identity of the relative and absolute.

 If you aren’t stuck on the existence of an outside entity, an all powerful Deity who is separate, designing and running the show, it isn’t even an issue. How can there be a Cosmos and something outside it? Scientific materialists believe in a kind of non-dualism; after all, the scientific Holy Grail is one unified force, a single Theory of Everything (TOE) or Grand Unified Theory (hence my use of GUT in Zengut, a play of words on grand unified theory and that we need to move from our center, our guts, the hara in zen, tandien in Chinese).

The real difference between scientific materialism and Biocentrism or Zen and others like Bernardo Kastrup is whether the mind or consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of neurons or other information systems in living beings or is the quality of the Cosmos, the foundation, the true nature of everything, Mind?

Clearly there is mind as brain function. In Buddhism that mind, the one in your brain, is a form of perception like seeing, hearing etc. The brain is another sense organ, like your retina. The metaphors are that we, as individuals, including our brains, are as a wave of mind in the ocean of Mind, a current of consciousness in the sea of Consciousness, an eddy of individual life in the stream Life, or as Kastrup describes in great detail, whirlpools interacting in the substance of Mind. Not separate from the Whole, yet somehow individuated by momentum and local conditions, as a wave is not the ocean but the functioning of the ocean. The wave isn’t not the ocean, either. It is not separate from the ocean. But it doesn’t encompass the ocean. So too for the eddies in the ground of the stream and Bernardo Kastrup’s whirlpools in liquid mercury.

Remember, these are just metaphors, myths in a sense, as Bernardo reminds us, as he spends hundreds of pages spinning elegant and complex metaphors and myths!

Do our myths serve to illuminate, or are we again just chasing Laplace’s phantoms, the chimera of our projections?

The question is only whether those metaphors, limited and constrained as all metaphors are by our parochial conditioned day-to-day experience, our embodied brains, our  language, the momentum of karma, of contingencies of the relative in the absolute, are touching a truth that scientific materialists don’t buy, that science is not equipped perhaps to evaluate given the limited tools of the intellect, but may be true nonetheless, that Mind is all there is.

I would suggest that the point of these metaphors is that contingent events, energies that evolve, the momentum that creates waves, whirlpools, eddies in consciousness, are not different than or separate from the substrate of Mind, but are an expression of its functioning.

Can I explain where the momentum comes from? Is there a beginning or end?

Can I prove Mind Only, non-dualism?

Proof? No. You have to do that for yourself. It’s your mind.

As Lanza and Berman suggest in Biocentrism, don’t over think it. That is why in their books they spend a lot of ink on the paradoxes of logic the Ancient Greeks enjoyed. It is the limits of language and our small perspective and parochial brains that lead us to metaphor and myth. Sometimes art and poetry are more insightful than math.

As Buddha is supposed to have said, some questions have different answers depending who is asking and why they are asking. And some questions just don’t tend to clarify are not worth asking.

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I agree with my friends who think that quantum mechanics and other scientific observations are consistent with Mind Only non-dualism, and modern science certainly implies that the Universe, that time and space, are not what they seem to be based on our limited perceptions and logic and experience. But given that we are trying to grasp the Vastness with the Tiny Trumpian Hands of the tools of the intellect and perception, I am not convinced that modern science and logic rises, or can rise, to the level of proof.

And we will probably die, as billions have, before we get to a scientific GUT. And if and when we do formulate a GUT, we will still not be satisfied because it won’t change who we are. Despite any announcement of a lovely formula or proof of string theory or whatever, we still will crave attention and fear death if we are stuck in dualistic thinking.

So for me, Mind Only non-dualism works. It as deep and clear as I, so far, can get. It doesn’t’ obviate scientific observations and a clear intellect.

It essentially goes to the Buddha was supposed to have said: it’s a matter of upside down thinking:

Are you the functioning of One Mind, or the accident of energy fields and emergent phenomena?

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Have fun with it. Try on a different perspective for size. It won’t require you stop believing in Darwinian evolution, gun control, the value of data, justice, art, germ theory or climate change.

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Case 30 in the Zen Koan collection the “Gateless Gate”:

Taibai asked Baso [Mazu Daoyi, 709-788] in all earnestness, “What is Buddha?” Baso answered, “This very Mind is Buddha.”

Wave and ocean, whirlpool and mercury sea.

Case 33 in the Zen Koan collection the “Gateless Gate”:

A monk asked Baso in all earnestness “What is Buddha”? Baso replied “no mind, no Buddha.”

Don’t get hung up on concepts; the ceasing of notions.

In the Taisho for case 30 it says that someone told Taibai that Baso said this about no mind, no Buddha. Taibai replied: “He may say, ‘no mind no Buddha’, but for me it is ‘the very mind is Buddha’ until the end of the world.”

You might ask: The end of which world?

A friend asked me why I meditate. To get quiet and see whazzup, I told him.

For all of this, whatever modern science implies, whether you like Mind only, or not, care about ideas concerning why to meditate, or not, we owe no undying allegiance to any concept if we are to be honest without self-deception (a goal in science and Zen).

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We may seek Truth, but above that, we seek liberation. Don’t get seduced or distracted by spiritual or scientific stories, unless they inspire and help. I started blogging when Bob Lanza asked me about a TOE of Zen. In response I wrote several years ago:

You are the Universe unfolding [evolving, if you will]

Mind evolving

No separation

No beginning, no end

My understanding hasn’t changed much, though it has deepened. But understanding, deepening or not, isn’t everything.

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That’s why I meditate. That’s why I have a practice. That’s why wrote a myth, a small novel for older kids (and of course anybody who likes myths) I have mentioned before called “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World.”

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After going on quests in modern day LA to free a girl, to liberate her spirit, and in his dreams in China of 1300 years ago, Aidan meets with Wise-and-Able (the Zen master Hui Neng, the guy who, when monks were debating whether flags or wind moves, or both, said: Mind moves):

“This whole dream thing is totally crazy!” Aidan blurted out. “These aren’t like normal dreams at all. I guess I’m asking, what’s a dream and what’s real? I don’t think I know anymore!”

“In our tradition of the Way of Wisdom we say that all things you can touch, or see, or hear, all things that happen in space and time, are like a dream. They are from your mind. That is something like the story of the butterfly and the old sage, of course. The sage dreamed he was a butterfly, but when he woke up he wondered: Was he a butterfly dreaming he was a sage? You might say there is no need to wonder! No need at all! After all, sleeping, not sleeping, what difference does it make?”

Aidan was upset. “Then nothing is real? It’s all a dream? Everything? Even when I think I’m awake?”

“Butterfly, your mind is real. In the Chinese language heart and mind are the same word. Caring and kindness are real. You can care and love and be kind in a dream. Ask yourself: Don’t you always seem to be awake and aware in what you call your ‘normal’ dreams? Aren’t you aware right now?”

“Sure,” Aidan agreed. “I’m aware, but am I dreaming? Am I awake? Is it real?”

“What does it really mean to be awake? You are truly awake when you are not distracted. Sleeping, not sleeping, either way, wherever and whenever and whoever you are, just pay attention. Be aware. Don’t be ruled by greed, fear, or anger. See your mind, your heart in everything. That, my good friend, is our teaching of the Way of Wisdom.”

Wise-and-Able rang a little bell and bowed from the waist, his palms pressed together. Aidan stood up and then bowed to the ground like he did before Emperor Wu.

Wise-and-Able laughed. “Ah, my good friend, you are learning our ways. I accept that bow.”

Aidan was proud that he was learning their ways. He was proud that Wise-and-Able said so. As he stood up to leave the room, Wise-and-Able called out to him, “Did you like meeting my friends on the mountain path and at the beach? How about that puking trick? Works every time.”

Aidan had to laugh out loud. This crafty old Wise-and-Able knew more than he was letting on.

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Myths

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The Seven Sisters by an Australian Aboriginal artist based on her people’s  mythology

 

Yesterday I visited a friend of 40 years. I hadn’t seen him in years, but my GPS, depending on satellites and the math of relativity theory (that same set of equations that tell us a photon in a vacuum is in a universe of no time or space, well, forgetting about gravitational fields perhaps) got me right to his front door.

My friend, who is my age, has a kind of cancer that should have killed him and indeed was killing him. Chemotherapy failed, although it likely extended his life a bit. That was important because it enabled him to survive to try a new medication, one of the molecules scientists designed to fight cancer through sophisticated cellular targets. So far it is working; his tumors dissolved rapidly and as far as they can tell dramatically.

Science works. It is important not to subscribe to myths that will not allow for that. That is just crazy talk.

So my friend and I were talking about science and spirituality. He is very insightful, but he seemed to be stuck just a tiny bit on whether dark energy or dark matter was what one “sees” with the third eye in meditation.

Well, that’s why in Zen we tend to keep our eyes partly open when we meditate, so we don’t wade in the darkness and try to imbue it was some meaning that isn’t there!

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Certainly to a scientist that third eye and dark energy/matter connection doesn’t sound right. “Dark” in dark matter and energy just means they don’t give off any light to show us what and where this matter and energy is. We don’t have instruments that can measure them directly. So they are dark to our senses. We “see” dark matter and energy by their effects on the cosmos, like the apparent expansion of space and the ways galaxies turn. Specific, measurable effects, that is.

As I wrote before, for example in the recent post about not being seduced by the cool in quantum, using science this way can just add noise and be distracting.

On the other hand, someone recently suggested a book to me “More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth Truth and Belief” by Bernardo Kastrup. I am only about a third into it. I don’t agree with all I have read, but there is some insight there, and it helped me in talking to my friend.

After all, what is a myth but how the intellect deals with ineffable, what is beyond words? Are myths literally true? Of course they are not. But do they express Truth? Many times, yes, myths can reflect our conditioning, desires and delusions and show us an intuitive view of a road out of our grasping, fearful, limited brains. Not all myths do that, perhaps most, simply codify cultural norms or personal biases. The best myths are how we talk about what we can’t talk about. Myths aren’t only what we tell ourselves in the absence of fact, they are a place we go recognizing that language and intellect are limited by the scale they evolved at.

As written in the foundational Song Dynasty Zen poem “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute” in the translation we chant at Hazy Moon Zen Center (I believe by Maezumi Roshi via ZCLA) “reading words you should grasp the great reality.”

When I started writing non-fiction about science and Buddhism I called my work “Chasing Phantoms.” The title was based on the story of Laplace’s last words. Laplace was one of the top, if not the top, mathematician and scientist at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century; the “Enlightenment” in Europe. He was sometimes a theist, sometimes an atheist, always brilliant. On his deathbed somebody said to Laplace, “wow you must feel good about having been such a smart guy, accomplishing so much in math and science.”

Laplace replied, “Well, we do chase phantoms, don’t we.” Then he died.

The word he used for phantoms in French was “chimeras.” Stuff we cobble together. Stories we put together from different things in our experience, things we perceive, to make a new thing, a story. A myth.

So while I started suggested to my friend that he might not want to waste his time meditating by looking for dark energy in his third eye, I backed off a bit. Why not go there? Not a bad myth, though I am leery about mixing myth and specific scientific observations and terminology. Like a mixed metaphor, it doesn’t sound quite right to me. Also as a scientist, the situation is not symmetrical. Maybe I can mix science into myth, but it is not acceptable to mix myth into science, if you want your GPS to work, and if you don’t want to do stupid stuff like deny climate change, over population, pollution, thereby threatening civilization. Be careful you don’t lay your delusional myths born of greed anger and ignorance on science.

Yet I relish myth and I love science. Many of the sutras contain myths, stories that are not necessarily literally true but aren’t merely or solely allegories. The Avatamsaka sutra (and others, but I happen to be looking at that one) is full of elaborate images. There is’t a literal Mount Sumeru on earth.  I love referring to Guan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, and stories of her going down to hell hearing the cries of the suffering. I dig the story of Buddha putting up with his murderous cousin and trying to stop a war and failing. I act as if true, though I understand they are not “verified” by archaeology or written contemporaneous sources. They aren’t academic history or scientific experiments or even mathematical models. As Nyogen Roshi says, they are about you. Like myths.

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Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? I think so, but then again, really, who cares? Whatever myth you believe about who wrote the plays isn’t critical to me. If some new facts come to life, I’ll change the myth in my head. Until then Shakespeare is a myth that works for me. It doesn’t for others. Above all, the play’s the thing… (paraphrasing Shakespeare), and all these are just such as dreams are made of (oops did it again).

At its furthest reaches science is myth. That is, we take observations and cobble together a story that supplies a deeper understanding beyond the limits of data retrieval. That is just what myth does.

While I do not always realize I am myth making in my head, being a scientist and all, I very consciously wrote a myth when I wrote my novel for kids with the express purpose of creating chimeras full of heart and meaning (“Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World”). The novel I chose to write isn’t a work of science fiction (the obvious choice one might think given my background in medicine and science), it is a fantasy, a dream; it is a myth. And like myth, the story works best, as does all fiction, if you take it as true when you are reading it.

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Hakuin Zenji understood the value of myth

The tetralemma, basic to Buddhist logic says of such Truths, the chimeras, all belief systems the human mind cobbles together, including dogmatic Buddhism, not true, not not true, not both true and not true, not neither true nor not true.

That is Myth.

Now, in Zen, in the original, earliest Chan writings that we have, we are to cease notions. I get that. We are easily misled, easily seduced by stories and usually they are there to serve our egos. Dualistic distractions. So fine, maybe I am a bit off base here. On the other hand, as Nyogen says, much of practice consists of gimmicks designed  to shake up our parochial views, our day-to-day delusions, to push us beyond our conditioning. Maybe used right myth is upaya, skillful teaching. A piece of the raft we cling to to get to the other shore, in Buddhist jargon.

So if my friend likes shutting his eyes and picturing dark matter in the depth and silence of his third eye, maybe it’s not so bad. I mean, it could be worse, he could have decided string theory is the multidimensional Buddha.

 

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Information and Entropy: Be Careful What You Ask!

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Some say that the universe itself IS information. That way beyond our dependency on information as individuals and as a civilization, information is essential, is fundamental.

Certainly no information is very boring, very static. A basic yes/no 0/1 opens up all of computer language, but no variation of 0’s and 1’s, just a universe of all 1s or all 0s, doesn’t get a computer program very far. No information, no this and that. Certainly information is the realm of the relative.

Some say entropy is the heart of any first this then next that, that entropy defines time itself. Though I, and many philosophers and scientists and other deep thinkers like Lanza and Dogen don’t think that is true, that time is essentially just entropy, it is just as true that entropy certainly plays a role in our quotidian experience of time.

While Humpty Dumpty falling off a wall and breaking is an easy and quick thing, it is hard to put back Humpty Dumpty together again. Broken Humpty doesn’t just scrunch back together and fly up that wall, sitting pretty and smiling widely again, after the fall. It is possible for that to happen, but it is really, really, really very unlikely.

If you drop an egg and film it, you can tell pretty much if the film is then played forward or backward. Very rarely you may be wrong. Simply, broken eggs are more disordered, breaking them took little energy to make happen, just open your fingers and gravity does the rest, but an intact egg is very ordered, and took a lot of energy (ask mother chicken) to get there.

Entropy captures that difference qualitatively and quantitatively. It evolved in thermodynamics (for steam engines, trying to understand what all that inefficiency and wasted heat was about)  as the statistical likelihood of a state evolving due to there being more “disordered” than “ordered” states in a system.

As a rule of thumb in physics and chemistry, entropy is really good and implies this then that! No engineer can ignore entropy and keep a job.

Information theory also uses entropy as a quality and a quantity to be reckoned with. So how are information and entropy connected? Is it in some sense related to heat wasted, energy spent. Yes, computers heat up and energy is spent, and organization, efficiency  and predictability are all part of it. Information Theory was first interested in the efficient transmissions of signals in communications. What was important was whether the message, the information, the data, the signal that was sent was the one received.

To start, you could say  high entropy is a measure of little information, great disorder, hence ignorance, at least of the details. You can see how such ignorance may impact a message and the information sent. To get an intuitive grasp of this is pretty easy, as is seeing why our perception of time is influenced by entropy, order and disorder, at least relative order and disorder, going back to Humpty Dumpty. When the egg breaks the yoke is all mixed up with other stuff, shells and albumin, sticky and hard to tease apart, hard to say just where all the yoke is.There are, of course, many more ways for the molecules in a smashed egg to be mixed and splattered than in an intact egg where yoke is here, albumin there, all neatly wrapped in a shell. That’s a measure of higher entropy of Humpty Dumpty having fallen. And it helps predict which chemical reactions will go which way and how much energy will be wasted in heating up the atmosphere by your engine (or your computer, or your brain, for that matter).

Information theory is at the heart of computer and communication science and needs a more quantitative understanding of ignorance and entropy. We need to know the probability of surprise, and so the extent of ignorance of what happens next.

Information theory, a great intellectual and technical insight by Shannon decades ago, says that the amount of surprise in a message relates to entropy. And in this, entropy relates to ignorance, because you are only surprised if you don’t know what’s coming. You don’t want surprises popping up in your message if you are in charge of communications! You want what is received to be the same as what was sent, no issues of garbled text.

All of this also suggests that it matters, to some extent, exactly how you ask the question of the system about how much entropy there is.

I am not surprised if a fair, six-sided die with a different number on each face and those numbers are the sequence 1 through 6, comes up with a number 1 through 6 when I role the die. So if that’s the question I ask is, will I get any number 1, or 2, or 3 or 4, or 5 or 6 on the next role of the die, the answer is clearly yes, of course, and simply reflects that I asked a trivial question of a simple system I understood. Probability (p) = 1.0, 100% sure. No ignorance, no high entropy, and not very interesting, either. If I ask whether I will get an even number on the next roll of the die, there is a bit more uncertainty. I have a 50:50 chance of an even or odd number. That is less ignorance and lower entropy than if I ask if I will get a 5 on the next roll, which is only 1 of 6. In this situation the outcome is random. I am not surprised whatever number I get here either, as any number can come up. But my surprise with this question is different from when I asked if I will get any number, but not very different. Same basic conclusion, just asked a different way.

Now if I ask if will I get a number other than 5, then the answer is on average I will 5 of 6 times I roll the fair, unbiased die, I will get a number other than 5 with the probability of 5/6 for each roll. Good odds, so little (but some) surprise when I get a 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 6.  Lower entropy, less surprise, and less ignorance. If I don’t get a 5 I am not so surprised, if I get a 5 I am surprised and delighted if money was riding on the outcome. Same system each time, a six-sided die with each face having a different number 1 through 6, but different questions, and so different ignorance/surprise/entropy.

But notice the 1/6 is of a 5 on the roll just 1, the probability I will get a number 1 through 6, minus the probability of getting a number a number other than 5. And vice versa! SO these are related. We have constraints based on our question, our delusions don’t come into play, we don’t set the odds however we like them. We can set the system up with an unfair die of course.

An important idea scientifically is that we have to explain any deviation from random in a system. There is random, then everything else on a continuum of probabilities, of more or less ignorance of the outcome before we roll the die, before we send the message.

So, low entropy is good, right? Entropy is disorder, entropy is ignorance, and we don’t want that. While what we want does matter to engineers and programmers, and to us if we are pure of heart and mind, seeking a way out of suffering for ourselves and others, does it define good and bad to the universe, in terms of the unfolding of creation?

Not necessarily.

As in the entropy as an answer to a question about our ignorance and about randomness versus certainty and all between changing depending on the question you ask of the system, as in the results of a quantum experiment revealing a particle or a wave depending on how you ask the question, so does the answer to whether entropy is “good” or “bad.” What you are asking and how the answer comes back matters. And the universe may not be asking the same question as your monkey brain at any given moment! Maybe that’s our practice, aligning our questions with those of the unfolding universe!

Maybe you create entropy and ignorance with your expectations!

Anyway, I suppose low entropy is good if you don’t like surprises, but it is a kind of boring universe that universe of all 5s.

We think we want certainty. Perhaps that is an illusion.

Now, say we go back to that fair six-sided die with a different number on each face. Large entropy if I ask whether a specific number will come up next. I have no idea which number from 1 to 6 will come up next, so large ignorance, room for surprise! I get more information each roll than with the all 5s die: I get information the die was rolled (because there is a new number 5 of 6 rolls) and I discover the resulting number. If I play a game where a 5 wins, every game is life anew. Not so in the universe of all 5s. No games, no surprises, little information.

As for the symmetry test, the one that says an object is symmetrical if you can’t detect a change when the state of the system is changed (say a circle rotated when you aren’t looking), I will know 5 of 6 times whether you rolled the die (in 1 of 6 rolls on average you will get the same number), so again more information obtained there and less symmetry as well with the die with different numbers on each face than the one with all 5’s. Symmetry is associated beauty and the absolute, the unending. But it is in the breaking of symmetry that we end a certain kind of ignorance, where things happen, where circles become waves and waves become all things..

Is symmetry beautiful and useful? Kind of depends on what we are looking for, what questions we ask; our state of mind, as it were.

Not so straightforward, this ignorance, symmetry and entropy thing. Those who study chaos theory and complexity theory say the best stuff happens at the edge of chaos. Too random, can’t sustain anything even close to life. Too static, no change, just same old, same old.

After all, a single tone has little entropy, is very organized with no surprises, we know what comes next exactly, but it isn’t the most fun music. Similarly static that is randomly generated has endless variation, is not organized, but it also can be pretty annoying (but some people thrive on “white noise.” Go figure) and wont hit the top 40 on the charts.

So entropy can be computed, and ignorance and surprise can be quantified Computer science and communication science (where this came form) depend on it. But what does that really mean?

We seem to need variation without total randomness in our music and our stories. And what are we without our stories? Maybe liberated? Maybe awake? Maybe it is our state of mind that counts? There is the story about where at UCLA when the studied his samadhi they were shocked that Yasutani Roshi found each tick of a metronome to be unique, he didn’t adapt to the repetitions, didn’t experience them that way. He seems to have experienced each tick as existing in a universe that is never the same, always changing. No expectations, perhaps. Being truly awake, perhaps.

 “What does it really mean?” is a trick question. There is no really mean. The problem is that when we think in terms of values as determined by our evolved monkey brains, we are constrained by our perspective and scale of living, the way we like our stories. Something happens and we ask ourselves, gee, what will happen next? What does it imply for me, my sense of well-being? A reasonable question of course, and that’s why we evolved brains to ask and answer it. Does that noise I hear in the bushes mean a lion will jump out and eat me, does that rhythmic sound coming from my husband encode words that I should interpret to mean that he doesn’t love me anymore? Or is it just atmospheric conditions generated by sunlight heating the air above earth and sea unevenly creating wind shaking the leaves that I hear, my husband clearing his throat, expelling bursts or air, nothing more? The meaning of information in that sense is what we project on the universe with our monkey brains. It can be very useful, it can be critical for our health, happiness and survival as smart primates, but is again, like the entropy of infomration  depending on the question we ask of a system, the meaning of information is also dependent on our expectations, hopes and fears.

And on top of that, we are kind of lazy sometimes. Well, all things (composite things, Buddhist might say, deep impermanence) tend toward lower energy (oh, and higher entropy as energy is released as unused heat and composite things come apart). Both the word ”random” and the word “unchanging” take about the same time and effort for us to say and both things will be boring to us. So in that sense what we might think of as information when we address it with our usual language is about the same whether it is randomly generated white noise or a single sustained note; since both would be annoying over time and would have very little other import to us, we may think they are about the same. Since a random weather report and one that never changes regardless of the state of the local atmosphere would be equally useless (though both would be occasionally right, like the broken clock twice a day) we think they have a similar lack of information.

But both have a history, both contain information we may not perceive. How is the random noise generated? What is keeping that note going?

That’s how it often is. We project our day-to day experience on the universe. We decide on what is true and useful based on our brain and body needs, our need for a weather report that tells us whether to wear a coat or plow our fields, or our need to be entertained, our need to feel certain ways (loved, special, comfortable).

Information, the universe, is not sentimental or goal directed in the same way we are. Our self-perceived needs, our ego’s delights, are not primary, but rather a subset of the functioning of the universe. Our minds may be totally entangled with the universe of Mind, but the universe need not respect our biases.

The universe of Mind or consciousness, of Zen or Biocentrism, need not be designed in some dualistic fashion by a separate designing entity to live on the cusp or chaos and order. It doesn’t necessarily use information and entropy as we would ask it to, our questions born of our karma and desires, our craving and our fear.

Mind is not defined by some human definition of “intelligence,” consciousness need not be “smart” in human terms (intelligence is a dicey concept at best), though Mind contains and embraces human intelligence.

Equally, information is not inherently goal directed, it is simply question directed. Our egos have goals, our perceived needs, and these determine the questions we ask. That’s our problem, our need for interesting stories that make our lives “better” in some imagined way, that make sense to us in terms we dictate, often based on total delusion, though it is true that information does have value in our goal to be compassionate and live our lives with grace when compared to ignorance.

Of course, that idea of information is important. If we want to live with “no self deception as Maezumi Roshi exhorted us to, and I think central to Zen practice as I understand it and as taught by Nyogen Roshi and others, we want good information with minimal static. Ignorance is one of the poisons in Buddhism. This is also why scientists and others worry about intelligent design (religious dogma in scientific garb, a Trojan horse of the religious fanatics) and superstitions that lead to grave errors and great pain. I do not mean to say these things don’t count. This has not reached the level of functioning of some of the most powerful people in the world, and to many voters around the world, to our great peril. Hence we get climate change deniers, a president that eschews reality, racism run rampant, overpopulation, talk of a renewed arms race just as we got Iran to back down from nukes and hope Korea some day just might, and you can fill in the rest, there are so many examples of willful ignorance to serve greed and enacted out of fear.

After all, Buddhism does concern itself with pain, suffering and compassion and being awake, an end to ignorance!

I’m just saying the universe isn’t sentimental about it. The earth would be fine without us. A supernova destroys worlds on end but creates many of the atoms we are made of. Information is found in random noise.

None of this excuses us from taking responsibility for knowing what it takes to decrease suffering and wake up.

In the realm of the relative is entropy a “bad” thing? It inherent in change, it is the manifestation of form; it is the world of the relative. It is where things happen. Bad vs. good isn’t too helpful a concept in this context. Like the Tao, it has no difficulty, no obstruction, just avoid picking and choosing, the poem the “Xin Xin Ming” of the second patriarch says.

So take care with what questions you ask, your assumptions about good and bad, symmetry and beauty. Watch how you ask your questions, and what you do with the answers.

 

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No Time, No Space, No Problem

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A riddle:

What is so small that you cannot measure any dimensions, and has no mass; you can fit any endless number of them in one place, yet it can extends across the entire universe with no time elapsing and with no intervening space; that exists in a real sense without space or time, yet it is real and you can experience it directly and your very life, your very existence, is dependent on it?

Maybe a thought fits that description? Or God, if you lean that way? Or Buddha Mind, or the 8th Riki, Alaya consciousness, the Akashic record?

Sure, seems to fit.

Or a photon. That fits, too. Light.

A photon, the force carrier of electromagnetic energy, that also carries energy from fusion reactions between atomic nuclei that occur, say in the sun, fueling photosynthesis at the base of the food chain (well, at least our food chain; other forms of life can depend, for example on thermal energy, for deep sea vents, but one can argue that is indirectly form nuclear reactions in the earths core). The infrared photon that you feel as warmth on your skin, and the higher energy  photons of visible and ultraviolet light that make vitamin D in your skin and gives some unlucky people a melanoma. The particle that powers the photoreceptors of your eye so that you see your loved ones  (well this is more complicated; as Buddhist philosophy makes clear there is sensation but then conception, discrimination, awareness. The photon is how you see your loved one but that is not just a matter of photons and photoreceptors. As cognitive psychology, neuroscience, quantum physics, the Lankavatara sutra and Biocentrism suggest, you project, of course, you are creating your world of loved ones. Well, we also chant in the Heart Sutra: except in emptiness where there is no sensation, conception discrimination, awareness. But I digress).

The photon can detected  in the detector of a double slit or interferometer experiment (though so can objects with mass, protons or electrons, atoms, Bucky balls, etc.) in physics that reveals to us the mysteries of non-locality and entanglement. A particle that is so focused and localized that it can knock an electron out of an atom (the photoelectric effect that Einstein won a Nobel Prize for), but that is just as much a wave without defined boundaries, until it interacts and is measured. A wave that can interact with endless numbers of other waves in the exact same place and time. A particle that can also be stacked in infinite numbers in the same time and place (a “lepton” with no dimensions, no mass).

A photon, the “particle” or basic unit (quanta) of light, does not exist in time or space.

The basic algebra of special relativity is clear and experimentally validated.

In the denominator of the Lorenz equation of special relativity for the effects on time and space for objects in motion (and vice versa; see, for example, the appendix in Biocentrism by Lanza and Berman) there is a mathematical term: the square root of 1, representing the speed of light (c) minus the relative speed of an object of interest (well, velocity (v) relative to the velocity of light, but no difference between velocity and speed here for us; velocity is speed with direction, and here that just says both the speed of light and the velocity of what we are interested in are moving in the same direction)  So, if we take the speed of light to be 1, the speed limit, and the speed of the object is some fraction of 1 (how fast it is moving relative to the speed of light), and that object is also moving at the speed of light (as it would be for a photon), the result is the square root of 1-1 = 0 in the denominator.

Well, you can’t divide by 0, it is not allowed they tell us, so right there we get a mathematical absurdity, as the photon does of course travel at the speed of light, it is light. In any case, any mathematical absurdity notwithstanding, as the denominator approaches 0, that is, the speed of the object approaches the speed of light, the time dilation approaches infinity as one expects when one gets some number over 0. 1 over a very small number is a very large number (1 over 1/2 is 2, that is, 2 halves make 1, and 1 over 1/10 is 10, as ten tenths go into one, etc., ad infinitum, as they say).

At the speed of light a tick to tock for that object, that photon, takes forever. The tick to tock can be any measure of “time,” which means in our experience any regular, repeating event we can observe (a tick-tock of the second hand on your antique pocket watch as the spring uncoils, the swing of a pendulum, the time of orbit of the moon around the earth, the half life of a cesium atom, the days of our lives, etc.). The tock never comes as long as the photon is free to do its speed of light thing.

That is the reason for the “twin paradox” you have probably read about that says that if a twin that goes on a journey in a fast moving spaceship, she is younger than her sibling left behind on earth upon her return. Equally there is a proportional length contraction; the faster moving object is squished. As pointed out in “Biocentrism” page 115, if you were to run across your living room at 99.999999% of light-speed, “your living room would be 1/22,361th its original size…barely larger than the period at the end of this sentence.” Yet to the inhabitants of that living room time and space would not respectively seem dilated and squished. “It’s all good,” they would say, “nothing different here in our friendly little living room.” Same for the twin in the rocket who didn’t age as much as her sister because the tick to tock took longer relative to her sister’s so less ticks became tocks, and who was similarly squished relative to the space experienced by her sister. “All good,” she would say. “Ticks become tocks, and I am not squished. Just as it ever was.”

Well, it’s not that simple; the twin on earth is essentially moving away from the twin in the spaceship just as fast as the twin in the spaceship is moving away form earth, just in the other direction; that’s relativity! The living room is moving just the same as you are, but in the opposite direction. Seems perfectly symmetric, so why don’t both twins or you and the living room have time dilation and length constriction relative to each other? How would that work?

The answer is that it isn’t perfectly symmetric for all entities involved. It is a question of how the system of two twins or the system of you and the living room got where they are: the twin in the spaceship accelerated relative to the twin on earth and you accelerated relative to the living room. The two twins both started in the same place and time but only one blasted off, accelerating into space, and you started at rest at one end of the living pumping your legs as you left off the starting block running. In both cases, the space-travelling twin and running you, used a different amount of energy from the other objects in the system to get things started, to get things moving. So it isn’t a perfectly symmetric situation in either case. [This energy portion can get us to that E=MC squared thing of general relativity and how a massless photon can effect space and gravity, but I digress]

Karma!

Back to the photon! Some small percent of the static on your car radio comes from photons that are almost 14 billion years old, as old as the visible universe we can measure. Yet for an object moving at the speed of light time dilates so much that a tick or tock takes forever. Tick, but no tock, not ever, until it slows down, say hitting your cornea then your lens then your photoreceptor if it is of certain wavelengths, or becomes static on your radio of photons with the energy of about 3 degrees above absolute zero). Almost 14 billion years? No tock, no worries, no passage of time, effectively no time. And space? The photon’s space is squished to nothing. No space. No time no space.

Only objects with mass can experience time and space. An object with mass cannot accelerate to the speed of light because the faster it travels the more the mass, as if it picked up mass with increasing speed like snowball effect in a cartoon as a rough analogy; as the snowball rolls down hill picking up more and more snow and getting larger and larger (ignore momentum and gravitational potential energy decreasing and kinetic energy increasing for the snowball speeding the snowball up for this analogy, maybe better think of you rolling a snowball along level ground, though that image isn’t as much fun or dramatic as a cartoon snowball rolling downhill picking up trees in the process, chasing our cartoon hero). So as an object with mass approaches the speed of light the mass of the object would approach infinite mass and so become harder to accelerate and eventually impossible, making the speed of light an unattainable goal (think of mass as a measure of inertia, i.e. how hard it is to get things going.).

That’s where the Higgs field comes in. That is mass. The moving object picks up mass in the form of Higgs bosons like the snowball above. So maybe Higgs is really the Un-God particle, the particle that gives us gravity, space and time. It gives us the experience of life and death.

No mass, no time, no space. The entire universe is here and now, quite literally for the ubiquitous photon and other massless entities (the photon is not alone, just the one we depend on in our lives on earth), there is no there or then.

So how big is photon, a wave, a quantum field, a particle that is without mass, the smallest thing, if thing it is (it isn’t, of course)? Smaller than can be, as it has no mass or dimension as a particle, yet as a wave it is larger than all that is, as a wave it has no bounds. At the same time, it is neither big nor small, since it does not exist in time or space. This is Indra’s net where all interstices are jewels that infinitely reflect all light instantly. Until it registers in your eye or as static you hear. Then it is in your massive world of the relative, of quotidian experience. Your eye that brings the photon released from a star light years away into temporal and spatial existence, mind creating a world of light! Until then, as far as you and that photon are concerned, the star had no existence in time and space.

Crazy world, huh?

 

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See You In Hell

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I have flirted with despair and anger, feelings of betrayal and even hopelessness, over this election, as have many people I know.

But time to “cut it.”

Time to get real.

Along those lines, the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu, a couple of old friends, have a new book I picked up as an “impulse buy” last week called “The Book  of Joy.” I find it timely and helpful. Not because it is chock full of deep or subtle dharma and cosmic vision, or that I even agree or resonate with all aspects of their conversations, but these old guys have been through hell and have some credibility, or at least experience, when it comes to dealing with hard core, vicious and violent racism and oppression.

And we are going to need those skills!

As the ground of our Buddhist practice is compassion, it isn’t just a matter of being compassionate when it is easy and the lines are clear.

As the grounds of being a liberal, progressive, or a sane person without political agendas, is fairness and justice, not idealism for its own sake, we have to be clear and real about what that means.

Yes, we need to care about the refugees, many of whom were displaced, directly or indirectly, by our interventionism. And we need to care for minorities and marginalized people.

But to have any meaning our compassion has to also be for the blue collar worker or woman or hispanic who, in fear and loathing, voted for Trump!


Our tradition says the Bodhisattva Guan Yin goes to hell because she hears the cries of the suffering. Not just the suffering of people she approves of. Didn’t see that in the fine print.

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The memorial to victims of war and oppression, Berlin. You see a statue of  a woman cradling a dead young man. The red on either side are two wreaths of flowers. It is Guan Yin in hell.

Did we (progressives, democrats, reasonably sane and caring people of all stripes) really do that? Michael Moore warned us that we were tone deaf or worse.

Where were the Democrats when big pharma and my fellow docs were pushing oxycontin? Too busy raising money to buy votes they couldn’t earn? I heard 20 million opiate addicts now and each has, or had, a family…

Our tradition says anger just gets more anger. Natural to feel anger and shock that our neighbors are so driven by fear and despair (and yes, in too many cases, outright racism and hate for the “other”), but how long do we indulge our anger and despair?

If we are all one, no separation, or if we say we are for the “people,” we have Trump and over 50 million actual people who voted for him to be “one” with! It isn’t a matter of having to like or agree with them, but we can’t just dismiss them or hate them. Despair and rage is counter-productive. 

Our tradition says buddha stopped a war caused by his family being arrogant and deceitful. Until he didn’t the second time and his clan was wiped out.

Our tradition says buddha’s cousin tried to kill him.

Yet he kept buddha-ing!

He didn’t give up even though (or maybe because) it looks so hopeless, because desires and suffering beings are inexhaustible, numberless.

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I love that about our tradition!

And remember: we DID get the majority of votes, despite a flawed candidate who to many represented the very  unsatisfactory status quo.

You and me, we are not alone. We can do this dance together.

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We were in a bubble, but it was a pretty big bubble; together lets pop it and get to the hard work of opposing fascism, fear and racism, not out of anger and hate or because of some progressive agenda, or some concept of a left wing paradise, but because it is right effort, because it is what is right, period!

Whatever system we find ourselves under (as did our spiritual ancestors), whether we are ruled by an emperor, shogun, republic, democracy, socialism, feudalism, whatever, we stand for justice and compassion if we have a Mahayana  practice, or if we have no formal practice but simply have two synapses that work and we care at all and aren’t just as selfish and short sighted as the people we decry.

This blog Zengut  is in large part about the visions of science and zen. Well, in both science and zen we deal with what is in front of us, we don’t waste time and energy wishing it were different, imagining and hoping for a better past or different universe so we could have a more comfortable future that matches how we think it should be. We don’t indulge in fantasy and dogma. We see what the data says in science and we don’t fake it or fudge it, and we own the ground we stand on in zen; no difference there.

I’m not saying be passive. Stand up for what is right. Racism and misogyny and homophobia and climate denial and the fox guarding the hen house are NOT OK. It’s not “all good” and we are not going to be alright. When someone says “oh, we’ll survive this”, I get chills down my spine. Like we survived WWII? The Cultural Revolution in China? The monks and nuns in Tibet? Like kids in Syria? Like our own devastating civil war? Like so many throughout history under colonization and oppressive regimes throughout the world of all colors and beliefs?  No, I am not saying it is all good, we will be fine. We may be a failed evolutionary experiment, and if so, it will be painful. This may be how this chapter of the greater story ends.

Neither Buddhism or science is sentimental about suffering or survival.

So:

Be strong. Be loud. Effect change. Fight the good fight for truth and justice. Out of human decency. But not out of anger, not out of hate, and not out of fear or despair.

That is our tradition(s) at its(their) best.

And it is our only hope.

Love, and see you in hell.

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