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.


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.


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]


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?


Intelligent Design, Mind, and Liberation


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.”


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.


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?



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.

30 Kushan Buddha

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?


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.


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).


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.


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.”


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.











See You In Hell


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.

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.

30 Kushan Buddha

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.


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.


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.


I Just Self-Published a Novel for Young Readers



I just self-published “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World,” an adventure-fantasy-mystery story for young readers.

“Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World” contains real history and culture, introducing readers to Emperor Wu (China’s only woman emperor), the Teacher Wise-and-Able (Chan/Zen master Hui Neng), the Old Sage and the butterfly dream (Chuang Tzu or Zhuang Zhou, the ancient Daoist), Chinese dragons (powerful shape-shifting water spirits, not fire-breathing reptiles), and other stories, characters and critters from history and legend.

I wanted to write a story for kids that would have positive values without being heavy-handed.  “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World” is about being centered, brave and compassionate, even when it’s tough and things get really weird. Like in life! I do allow my love of Zen, science, history and the environment to peek through, just a bit, but if I have succeeded, young (and older) readers won’t notice that I stuck all that stuff in there, they’ll just have fun reading the book!

You can try it out. I have posted almost a quarter of the book on my author’s website, as well as on

“Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World” is available as an eBook for $2.99 from, and also for Kindle at, and NOOK at It is also available as a print on demand softcover book for $14.95 from or from Barnes and Noble for those who, like me, love to hold a real book in their hands, or to give as a gift.

Link for Booklocker:


Link for Amazon Kindle: text&ie=UTF8&qid=1476567264&sr=1-1&keywords=aidan+dragon

Link for Barnes and Noble: – productInfoTabs.


KoKo an integral part of the story! And a great dog.

Deathbed Wishes


For whom the bell tolls?

I saw a posting on Facebook where someone suggested that what most people regret on their deathbeds is what they didn’t do.

Certainly Buddhism, Zen,  (and for that matter, Biocentrism) is about the big questions of your life and death, and how you face your life and death, and indeed understanding that death can come at any time.


It’s easy to think the other road, the one not taken, was the one to abiding happiness and success and joy.  I suspect it is at least possible that some people who do feel that way on their death bed, that they regretted what they didn’t do, if they were honest with themselves, felt that way before they new they were dying.

That is an important pursuit in Zen practice, being aware of your life, knowing yourself and your mind. Not waiting till it all falls apart.

Now, one point, one conclusion, that the person who wrote about that death bed reaction made was: follow your dreams. Write that book, sing that song.

But consider: is this just wishing for a better past?  If you didn’t go after something you thought you wanted, or thought would have been oh so cool, maybe you had a good reason, something more important you had to attend to. Maybe you knew or even just had an intuition that another course of action was needed, even if you aren’t so sure now. Memory is selective. It is easy to think it could have been better, that the path not taken was THE key to all sweetness and light and a great life!

Now, if you didn’t pursue some activity out of fear, or delusional feelings of guilt, or concerned about not being worthy or not being good enough, and that is how you still respond, that’s the issue, isn’t it?

Living life fully isn’t a matter of pursuing some specific great idea or activity, of doing all the awesome, rewarding and artistic and adventurous things you can get into or out of your “bucket” of cool stuff. I personally have no interest in “bucket lists” of “must do stuff” (there’s always more and more and MORE).

You don’t need to fill your life with things and activities, artistic, creative, cool, or otherwise.

Life is full if you just look at where you are, what’s in front of you; as they say in Zen, cover the ground you stand on. You don’t need more doing.  Most of us actually need LESS doing. Less going after that wonderful experience you imagine will make it better, that creative glorious life over the rainbow. Less re-writing the past. Less seeking praise and fearing blame. Less drama.

As it says in the heart sutra: no idea of gain, so no fear. No hindrance in the mind.

And as the very, very accomplished (you and I should be so accomplished!) Laplace reportedly said on his deathbed when someone commented on just how wonderful and accomplished he had been in his life (he was perhaps THE  foremost mathematician and scientist and philosopher of his age, hobnobbing with the “in” crowd, hanging with artists, authors and even Napoleon Bonaparte, the most powerful man in the world at the time):

“Ah, well, we do chase phantoms, don’t we?”

So, sure, I suggest that you don’t waste your time on dumb stuff, and certainly don’t hold back out of fear. Do what seems right, compassionate, just and good, but don’t chase phantoms. Don’t make some artistic endeavor, some idea or concept of success (however awesome), of creativity, some experience on a bucket list, a fantasy lover never loved, or a dream you think you should have or would have pursued “if only”, into something to moan about, something to regret, into just more busywork and useless striving, something more to feel bad about. Don’t set yourself up for misery and failure.

If you do, it’s just another phantom. A bad dream.

Sing the song, paint that painting, take that photo, take that trip, get a better job, write the novel, if you like and it works for you. If not, that’s ok too.

Try this: Don’t waste your time. Pay attention. Do what is right when you know it’s right. No self-deception. don’t wish for a better past, it does no good and causes great pain (you can tell I really like that; thanks Lily Tomlin!).

Compassion is a good thing, including compassion for yourself.

Creativity is the Way, is life. You don’t have to strive for it. Don’t try to fake it. You ARE creativity in form and function! You can’t be otherwise.

Creativity, living a full life, is what happens when your ego, your delusions (including your idea/conditioning/concept of creativity and a full life), don’t get in the way. Compassion and ethics are like that, too.

That’s more than enough!  What more is there? What more can there be?

Life is full just in this breath, this heartbeat. Live fully in the moment.

Simple, not easy.

Living life fully is not about some specific experience or activity or doing cool stuff. Not what society or your fantasy defines as artistic or creative or successful or glorious. The Universe, Mind, your mind, is cool enough.

I have found meditation, practice, really helps with this.

Zen, Buddhism, is about life and death. The book “Beyond Biocentrism” is a good place to start about Mind and Consciousness and Life and Death if you aren’t into Buddhism or Zen.

But I do agree with the main idea of that person who wrote about deathbed regrets: Don’t wait until you are on your deathbed. That seems kind of sad.


Self publishing a kids novel


I haven’t been posting on this site this last month or so for several reasons:

Because of Ango; the  summer training period of more intense meditation in Zen tradition. While I only participated part time, I did spend significantly more time meditating.

Because I am thinking I have said a lot of what I intend to and might organize it and add to it and self publish as a book. Even so, I will keep posting periodically when the inspiration hits me.

Because I have been finishing up a short novel aimed at kids 8-11 primarily that is a fantasy that tries to have some of the sense of the dharma without dogma or Buddhist jargon.

The title is “Aidan and The Dragon Girl Save the World.”  Since it is self published (it will be available as book or e book through amazon and nook and the people I am paying to help publish it, Booklocker) as a real paper book as well as e book it will be a bit more expensive than I like since it won’t be high volume (so more expensive per unit to produce). In any case, as long as I am doing this small run self publishing, if there are miraculously any profits they will go 100% to organizations I like such as Smile Train or Plenty or SEVA that are non-profits that benefit kids.

This is, so far ( I am still tweaking it), the back cover, to give you an idea:

Aidan Alvarado is given a mystery and a mission as his birthday present by his very odd grandparents. With his new friends from Ancient China and modern day Los Angeles and the power of his dreams, Aidan has to save the world from two men who want control the power of the Dragon King of the East Ocean.

Advanced praise for “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World”:

This wonderful story is a fun way to get people of all ages to think about what is real and what is important.

Robert Lanza M.D., author of “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism”

“Aidan and The Dragon Girl Save the World” was a pleasure to read with my 8-year-old son. The imagery, action and relatable characters kept us captivated. Universal themes … are presented in a fresh new way. This book would be a wonderful addition to an upper-elementary classroom.

Felicia Linares, National Board Certified Teacher

I LOVED it! A delightful adventure! Aidan and his friends must trust their wisdom to save the world

Julie Snider, Showrunner Assistant, Network TV Drama.


Ralph (Shikan) Levinson is a Health Sciences Professor of Ophthalmology at UCLA. He is a big fan of the Teacher Wise-and-Able (Chan master Hui Neng).  This is his first novel.

Self Liberating


800 years or so ago Dogen said something to the effect that no thought requires a second thought (I paraphrase).

In a talk recently Nyogen Roshi said something that really helped me out of a place where I was stuck thinking about things I had screwed up. I mean things going back 50 years in some cases. Quite a litany when you reach into your bag of tricks that far.

He said:

All thoughts are self liberating.

Waves Arising, Waves Falling, Crossing to the Other Shore


I have heard that there is just one photon, one photon field without beginning or end, as it were, but that this one photon expresses and manifests local conditions, the contingent flow of energy, as a given photon in time and space, that is, as all photons throughout time and space. . .


In fact perhaps the same can be said of all particles, really, of everything. Like how there is only one ocean, but waves express local conditions that rise and fall.


Last week my 7 year-old grandson asked me if I heard Prince died. Yes. How did he know? His mom told him. Did he know about Prince and his music? He knew the song Purple Rain. He liked the song, although at first he thought it was purple raisin. He was somber, reflective.

Two people I have known for many years also died last week, just two days apart. Cancer. Not close friends or family, but colleagues I have known and worked with and respected. Both lovely, intelligent, accomplished, dedicated physician scientists.

Ultimately liberation from constraints, the realm of measurement and the senses, is the next wave.


Gate gate paragate parasamgate boddhisvaha.

Riding the waves to the other shore.