Conditioning, Courage and Waking Up

“Rising Out of Hatred” by Eli Saslow is  book about waking up.

Derek Black, an intelligent, sensitive, even compassionate kid, was brought up as a white nationalist in the belly of the beast. He was articulate in his defense of white nationalism, and had a powerful and compelling (to some) voice even as a child and teenager.  His ability to “whitewash” the rhetoric of hate, making it more palatable to a larger audience, was part of the recent trend in that movement to gain legitimacy for their delusions and power.

Derek wasn’t himself hateful. He treated people who were different with respect. But he couldn’t see, his narrative didn’t allow him to grasp, how much he was hurting others. So it was easy enough for him to hold in his head the idea that white nationalism was not about hate. And this played into the hands of those who both loved and exploited him.

This strategy of downplaying hate and selling white nationalism as a viewpoint, a logical analysis of history and biology (which takes a lot of ignoring actual history and biology), is one that the racists have been using to gain followers. They aren’t merely frightened and hate ridden and evil, they are realistically facing the truth, they would maintain. It allows for a lot of wiggle room rationalizing bigotry and causing pain. It helps racists feel better about acting (including voting) out of fear and anger and greed and ignorance.

It is one of the ways Trump got elected, appealing to hate, greed and fear but making it palatable, leading to the horror show of the Trump administration and the white power movement Trump empowers.

After all , there are good people on both sides, Trump famously said about American Nazis. So reasonable! So inclusive! How generous (please read that as sarcastic…)

Derek managed to work his way out of white nationalism while in college. He opened his heart, and his intellect, holding to the compassion he felt and the truth he could understand when he allowed himself to explore and research his received beliefs deeply, eventually transforming himself, and, by going public, hoping to ameliorate some of the grave harm he has done.

Redemption doesn’t come easily.

This is my first post in a while. I have not had much more to say about science and Zen. Not that there’s not a lot to say, just that I have already said a lot and I haven’t felt inspired to pursue it in writing of late. I hope to self-publish my second novel soon and that says more about how I see things than blogging about science and Zen at this point for me.

So why am I back, bringing a book about a reformed white nationalist to your attention?

Because it is about conditioning, how we can be distorted by the views we imbibe, and how much harm we can do to ourselves and to others if we don’t wake up form the slumber of our delusions and see clearly.

Derek’s story shows that we can wake up. Derek did.

Even if imperfectly, even if it seems too little too late.

I bet in some way, big or small, you have woken up to Truth, even if just a bit.

This is what Zen practice is about for me at this stage of my life: not being trapped by conditioning, by the stories I have absorbed as my own. Or for that matter, the stories I have made up to assuage myself.

To not be trapped by my dreams, good or bad.

Nothing necessarily wrong with stories and dreams, if you know them for what they are. They can be useful, inspiring, a way to access truths otherwise difficult to articulate. Just like the intellect: a good servant, bad master.

I do not have the Zen chops to be a Zen teacher. I can’t tell you about enlightenment. Still, we can all understand how subtle and yet overpowering our assumptions, our conditioning, can be. How, being wrapped up in our hopes and fears and desires we tell ourselves stories to justify it all and ease the pain of a challenging existence that doesn’t obey our commands, doesn’t evolve in the ways we would like it to.

How authentic am I? How much of what I think is true, whether interpreting science, Zen/spirituality, politics, relationships, career choices and goals, are stories I have absorbed, roles I have taken on?

What does it take to wake up, to live authentically?

Most of us don’t have to do the 180 degree turn around Derek Black did, or have done the damage he had, but many have had to disappoint and disturb family, friends, ourselves, when we see how distorted our lives have become trying to make our minds, our lives, fit expectations and the desires.

I hope I have the courage to look at what is True, tough as it is.

After all, Derek Black seems to have had. And he was brought up by world renowned, hard core racists!

And politically, maybe, just maybe, others will also see the errors of their ways. The midterms suggested some will. I can dream, can’t I?

Merry Christmas

 

Distortions, Blind Spots and Practice

It is the task of our brain to make models. For humans, and some other mammals, this likely evolved because of complex social interactions.

Or brains/bodies also have emotional states that serve a purpose (to alert us that things are amiss). I few are emotionally uncomfortable we might think: wow, things are amiss. How did that happen? Can I fix this?

An unfortunate tendency is to be attached to these models and try and fit the world to our models and then think that is what the world is, how reality is, Truth with a capital T.

We create models out of our experiences to organize them, to have something we can grasp. It gives us the illusion of being able to know what is up, to predict what will happen, because that make us feel safe, in a world isn’t safe for embodied beings. Bodies are things that get hurt and don’t last.

But if the model is wrong, maybe we’re not as safe as we thought we were, and that kind of sucks.

All models are made with limited data and are subject to our hopes and fears. Some models are pretty good, they work most of the time, but all models are in some way wrong.

These models, our projections of our needs, fears, hopes and desires, gets very subtle, layer upon layer. At some point we forget they are models. We mistake them for Truth. We are conditioned. It’s the foundation of delusion, and it results in distorted views that cause pain and suffering.

These are part of us, our nature as embodied complex apes on a specific planet at a specific time and place, contingent, not of essence (or in the jargon, karma). I am not suggesting we try to ignore them or get away from them. Running and hiding is another delusion, another trick of the ego.

I have heard it said that the intellect is a good servant but poor master. So it is with ego, with our perspective. You can’t escape having a perspective when you are using perceptions and thinking thoughts. That’s what the words perceptions and perspective mean! But that doesn’t mean they are anything more than a temporary expedient to help you organize your reactions, your energy, to the energies you interact with.

Look straight at the O below with your left eye. Go back and forth slowly. If you are careful you will find a distance where the X disappears. Or if you don’t see well with your left eye, or seem to be right eye dominant, look at the X with your right eye and the O disappears. (To people middle aged and older: it may be hard with some progressive/bifocals!)

 

 

X                                                                                   O

 

 

 

It is your blind spot. You have one in each eye. Every human does. It’s where the optic nerve leaves your eye to go to the brain. There’s no light receptors (photoreceptors), no rods or cones, there to see anything.

Everywhere you look that blind spot is there, but your brain fills it in and projects a complete scene “out there” based on what it thinks it should see. You don’t have to think about it. It isn’t an intellectual choice. It evolved as a practical solution so we aren’t bothered by missing parts of our vision. But it’s a trick, a gimmick. That’s also ego, and it works. A fine servant.

But some blind spots are a bit more hurtful than this, deeper and more impactful on our lives, yet we also don’t even know that they are there, that we still fill them in with our stories. We are upset when the world doesn’t cooperate by not sharing our blind spots or by sneaking up on us in our blind spots!

Early Mahayana/Zen sutras discuss perception and projection and consciousness, in particular in the Lankavatara sutra, probably written about 2,000 years ago. It was the main text of early Chinese Chan (Zen) masters as long as 1,500 years ago, who were sometimes called the masters of the Lanka in the early Tang Dynasty.

Meditation and practice is geared toward getting a more and more subtle look at the models you project, the ways you deflect reality because it threatens your self image as an individual being that is safe and abiding in a world of blind spots, contingency, disappointed expectations, entropy, sickness, birth and death.

Suffering, in the Buddhist jargon.

I wrote years ago the difference between how I see the world and other scientists who are committed materialists see the world is  whether consciousness is primary.

 

I have a proposition that brings me to meditation practice: Brain processes do not create consciousness. Consciousness at its core is not this model making, projecting, and responding to friction between our models, our projections, and Truth. It’s not the words in our brain. Rather, consciousness is manifest through all of this. It is the water taking the color and shape of the container.

Yes that is dualistic, but it is only a metaphor, not meant to be literal. It expresses what can’t be expressed in limited words since words are based on our scale as four dimensional contingent beings, the scale that perceptions and emotions and intellect exist at.

We chant something at the Zen Center: reading words you should grasp the great reality. Don’t make war on your tools. That’s just more ego, another story.

In Zen there is a mistrust of having goals as they tend to be just more distortions, unreal expectations, distractions. Yet in Zen we do speak of aspirations. This is my aspiration, something I consider a valid quest worthy of my time and attention:

Is there a foundational consciousness, not limited by the idiosyncratic perceptions generated by our particular set of sense organs and brains? Can we experience this directly? Is there some way of being that is not contingent on our programming and conditioning?

Does Truth make us free, and is this indeed safe and abiding?

Does it walk us out of suffering?

This is my practice.

And I am very grateful for it.

 

 

Some Thoughts/Fun Facts on Light

 

In one, all; in all, one.

From a Buddhist Sutra (and a tee-shirt from Nara temple in Japan)

 

In white, all colors. In all colors, white.

All it takes is some heated sand and water (that is, a glass prism) to show that!

 

You have no receptor in your eye for yellow.

 

Rainbows aren’t things. They are contingent processes of light, water, quantum electrodynamics and an eye and brain

 

Having no mass and traveling through a vacuum at light speed a photons’ universe is one of time dilation such that the next tick of the clock never happens, so no time, and space contraction so there is here, so no space. So, see that star thousands of light years away here and now?

The Pleiades in the night sky

 

Photons pop in and out of electrons. That’s what a “quantum jump” is: an electron absorbs a photon (only some energies are allowed for a given orbit in a given atom. That’s quantum electrodynamics) and gets the right amount of energy to be in (jump to) a different (higher energy) orbit around the nucleus of the atom (or spits out a photon and goes to a lower energy orbit).  So atoms are constantly creating and absorbing light. 

Not atomic orbitals, but a cool picture that reminds me of atomic orbitals

 

You can pile up photons in the same place, but not electrons and protons and neutrons. That’s why you experience things as solid, but not light. Light has energy though, and so it can cut through things and burn you up and give you cancer. However, it helps if you want to read a book at night.

Neither Exists Or Doesn’t Exist

in all things the one, in the one all things

 

Neutrinos!

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have just a hint of mass yet can move at light speed. They are created by radioactive decay in the sun, supernovae and some other radioactive processes like human made reactors.

Here’s the question that interests me: Do we exist in the same universe?

Neutrinos were first suggested by Wolfgang Pauli (whose exclusion principle is primarily why we can’t have two atoms in the same time and place i.e. why things seem solid when we know atoms are empty for the most part). It was known that in a kind of radioactive decay (beta decay) the momentum and spin of particles did not appear to be conserved, even though momentum and spin were known to be conserved in every other process. Hmmm. Conservation of something (like momentum and spin) in physics means that the total is unchanged before and after something happens, even if distributed differently (say one object looses momentum, but another gains it). As I wrote in earlier blogs, if you can’t tell if something changed after you messed with it, it is a symmetry. For example, if I close my eyes and you rotate a circle, it looks the same to me when I open my eyes. That’s rotational symmetry. If I close my eyes and you move it, the circle itself looks the same when I open my eyes. It is symmetric to translation.

Now, the symmetry of momentum and spin in beta decay seemed like something that better not be violated. Pauli did the math and suggested a new particle. People were a bit shook up by that, and it took 20 years to find the neutrino experimentally, but they did and it worked! This is the kind of thing that excites physicists who suggest we should trust the math: sometimes it works!

Anyway, this was part of the discovery of one of the main forces, the weak nuclear force, which has been unified with the electromagnetic force (the electroweak force) and so is a big deal.

Neutrinos have no charge, but like the electrons they are related to (which have charge) they have spin. Spin is weird. Point particles can’t literally spin around (there is no axis or lateral extent to spin around the axis; they’re points!), but the term spin is used because the particles behave like spinning particles would (like how they move in magnetic fields). Well, something is weird with neutrinos; they have a preference and they shouldn’t! Neutrinos are “left handed” and anti-neutrinos “right handed” (the direction of spin) and that is weird. Unlike the other situations mentioned above, we can’t just flip the terms and it is just how we say it, it doesn’t matter which you call which. It isn’t symmetric. It may not seem it, but that is really unique!

Yikes!

There’s more.

When they measured how many neutrinos/second came from the sun, it was less than expected. It turns out there are 3 flavors of neutrino that can change into each other. They “oscillate.” Other particles don’t do this, at least not in the same way. It was once thought that maybe all three types (flavors) of neutrinos don’t have mass. That was wrong. They have mass. But we don’t know the masses of the three neutrino flavors; we only know the differences in the mass between them. Anyway, neutrinos interact differently with the Higgs field (which gives mass) compared to other particles. So it seems all three have some really tiny mass, way below other particles with mass, but tiny as the mass is, they are not massless like photos and gluons.

I have seen various estimates for how many neutrinos pass through you, but it is something like 100 trillion per second, every second you are alive.

Why don’t we have any effect from them? You don’t hear about putting neutrino sun block on. In fact, if you could see neutrinos, it is said the sun would be as bright as the full moon. That is neutrinos from the sun wouldn’t be as “bright” as photons (regular light), but it would be plenty.

It’s because they interact very weakly with matter. We are invisible to them and they are invisible to us.

How weak is this neutrino interaction with stuff? According to one estimate, neutrinos interact with atoms so weakly that it would take about four lifetimes for one to interact with an atom in your body despite the trillion going through every second. Askel Hallin in Scientific America wrote that in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, a 1000 ton heavy water solar-neutrino detector picks up about 1012 (1 with 12 zeros after it i.e. a trillion) neutrinos each second. About 30 neutrinos per day are detected, say about one per hour). There are 3600 seconds in an hour, so about it seems that almost 3,600 trillion are “picked up” in the detector (his word, I believe that means passes through) for every one neutrino detected (that is, that interacted sufficiently with their apparatus to be detected).

The universe of the neutrinos is: be created, have a tiny bit of mass, and exist in a vast empty universe. Most will go light years without interacting with anything, cruising through planets, dust clouds, people, whatever.

If neutrinos could somehow put together all the vast neutrino “data” of the rare and random neutrino/matter (subatomic) interactions throughout space and time, some objects would have enduring patterns and become “visible”, or perceived in the sense of registering interaction/o interaction, yes/no, 0/1 information. That is, an interaction event happened that changed the information content of the universe that could be considered a “perception.” If enough events/perceptions were gathered over time, there would be entities that would be denser to neutrons than their surroundings and persist long enough to be present in the neutrino universe. Perhaps stars and planets and nebulae would be large and persistent enough to exist in the neutrino universe.

But neutrinos wont ever “perceive” you or me. The neutrino world of can’t resolve us as anything but a single data point that would be lost in the noise of other random and rare interactions, if we as individuals have such an interaction at all. Remember that most of us (3 of 4) wont ever interact with neutrino world; we are truly invisible. If there are four of us, yeah one of us was “seen” but at such low resolution (a single 0/1 for all space and time, just one data point, one interaction with one neutrino and one atom) that in neutrino universe he or she would be no different from a falling leaf, the air or water in a mountain stream or a wandering cosmic particle in empty space. Just a bit of noise, if even that.

As a small practical issue, if some genius advanced aliens did have neutrino vision, the neutrino data, the “perceived” patterns that persist through a sufficient time at neutrino interaction scale (many, many, many human lifetimes) on a planetary level that could resolve say our planet, would require supercomputers to even approach giving any real image. After all, our planet is a moving target; around the sun, then around the galaxy with the sun, then the galaxy rotates and moves and space expands. Just looking at an area in space would be useless. Any object would be gone.

We are invisible to neutrinos; we simply do not exist.

Are neutrinos invisible to us? Well, they were until a few decades ago. Certainly they are without huge and expensive detectors. They pass through us (and our planet) with impunity, the rare interactions too weak and isolated to have any abiding effect on any macroscopic entity. They are without direct effect and certainly in that sense non-existent.

Now, here is a neutrino universe we have discovered and added to (with nuclear reactors), the neutrino universe of radioactive processes, the sun, supernovae, our reactors on earth, that through science we can “perceive”, but barely, that interacts so rarely that we as individuals can never exist in that neutrino universe.

And despite having mass a neutrino travels at the speed of light (some scientists thought they saw evidence of faster than the speed of light neutrinos, but so far doesn’t seem true. Information in entangled particles can transcend time and space, for example, but it doesn’t seem neutrinos can). As I have written elsewhere, travelling at the speed of light means the ultimate n space contraction (there is no here to there, only start then place of interaction, no here to there) and time dilation (the next tick of the clock never comes, just start and time of interaction, no then to now.)

A neutrino universe is our universe, but then again, it isn’t.

All of this about neutrino world as written sounds a bit like pantheism or maybe just bad “anthropormorphizing” if you take it that I mean literally that the neutrinos are self aware and communicate these interactions. But in math and science you can talk about a space of states. Here what I mean is the space of neutrino states as encoded in 0-1, neutrino yes/no, interaction/interaction with a subatomic particle, exists independent of our experienced universe.

And here is my point:

In that neutrino space of states I do not exist. Literally. I do not, I cannot, exist. I am in a space of states  (e.g. momentum and energy) that interacts too rarely with neutrinos to register as more than noise, if it registered at all. The sum of neutrino universe interactions would not be sensitive or specific enough to detect that I exist.

Neutrinos do not exist for you and me, even if we look them up on Wikipedia. You may trust me as I trust the physicists, but there is no consequence to you of the vast number of neutrinos that pass through you undetected that they truly do not exist for you except as a rumor that you have. If you aren’t a physicist or part of a team researching neutrinos, they don’t exist but as a story.

Really, they just don’t exist.

But…they do exist, these children of the stars.

And whatever space of states neutrino world evolves through, you don’t exist.

But…you do exist, a set of various spaces of states, whether or not it “matters” to neutrino world.

In Buddhist sutras there is a category of what neither exists nor does not exist. Not Aristotelian, trying for non-dual logic.

Neutrinos: You bet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now Again?

Here’s a fun fact:

Closer to an object with mass time moves more slowly compared to further away from the mass. That’s relativity. That’s why things fall (huh?). That is gravity. Which is cause and effect? Gravity slowing time, time slowing being gravity! Scientists also talk about bending space. Time dilates, space contracts. Same issues.

More details later.

But for now, let this sink in. so assuming you are on earth, if you are standing or sitting up, even slouching, your feet are in a different time zone (or if your prefer, space-time zone) from your gut, which is in a different zone from your head. Your chin from your brain.

That time difference, that space difference, that space-time difference, can actually be measured using modern technology.

So, where is now? When is here?

You can’t hold it.

Quantum Big Time

Entanglement is certainly one of the most out there and interesting observations in quantum mechanics.

I have written here about it in more detail before, but just briefly: In the basic experiment, if two particles are born together, say a particle goes through a crystal and is “broken” into two each with half the energy of the first, they are entangled. Not because they share inherent properties, which to some degree they do (like the amount of energy that must be conserved), but because they are entangled. When you measure one of the quantum properties that measurement result can vary within those results that are allowed according to quantum laws (say magnetic spin or polarization) in that one particle, and the corresponding property the in the other, sister particle is immediately determined. Anywhere in space, instantaneously, not obeying the speed of light limit (and some experiments, called delayed choice, even suggest a time component i.e. it is determined before you did the measurement, which is even more mind boggling!!)

Many think this suggests Mind plays a role, or is evidence we are all one, non-duality. It certainly does suggest that, but it is all so inconceivable, so beyond what I can grasp with my brain (and I am not alone; the great physicist Feynman famously said, and I paraphrase, you can’t understand this),  I shy away from interpretations because it is so beyond intellectual thought for me it is like a deep koan and I keep my conclusions to:

Whatever you think, based on your 4-d (space and time) experience and scale of sense perceptions is true is wrong in some basic and ultimate way. The universe, Truth, is deeper and more omnipresent than your brain functions.

I do think the deepest view, to the degree views can approach Truth, is Mind and non-duality as the core of Truth, and sure entanglement is about non-locality in space and time and so is consistent with that (as we say in medicine and science), but I admit after all these years still I balk a bit where others I respect, those I have suggested you look into in these blogs, do not fear to tread. I just know we don’t really understand quantum mechanics so I wont bet my Mind on it, as we measure it  it in our experiments.

And it certainly doesn’t mean whatever fantasy you have about non-locality and its implications is right, of course. Good luck on jumping off a roof and trying to manifest a soft landing by thinking quantum states of the ground. As Bob Lanza said, there is cause and effect. You have karma. Don’t get arrogant and indulgent. Is your little brain in that itty-bitty boney box really that pure and powerful? Be careful about confusing your brain with Mind, non-Duality as meaning your ego, your perspective and delusions, your hopes and fears, is the universe. After all, that’s wisdom, that’s spiritual practice, not aggrandizing the ego with uber-spirituality and just adding more delusion by interpreting the truth through what you’d like to believe. (It’s also science. Ha did the science spirituality thing again!)

One scientific criticism has been that this is limited to single of a few particles or atoms. Well, now it has been none at the level you can see with a magnifying glass or certainly a $50 toy microscope, the level of small cells (i.e. life). Look up:

Einstein’s ‘spooky action’ goes massive: The elusive … – ScienceDaily

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180425131858.htm

The criticism to extrapolating to your day to day life is that is was done near –273 degrees centigrade, absolute zero where all but the most basic quantum effects determined by Heisenberg’s uncertainly principle stop (cant stop completely; that is very deep and Buddhist also; can’t stop change), about 3 degrees colder than the universe in deep space.

Well, quantum effects have been seen in warm wet living beings, they may just be harder to demonstrate.

Remember, the ancients, our spiritual and philosophical ancestors, came to this without quantum mechanics! And practice (and science!) is about authenticity I think, not proving some a priori claim however cool and whether I agree with it.

But even if it doesn’t mean you are likely to (or should feel a delusional need to) try to quantum change the ground if you challenge time and space by jumping off a roof, or that it PROOVES we are all one, Mind and non-duality and all that, at least, at a minimum, we can revel in the deep mystery, the underlying unity it suggests beyond our concepts and experience.

You Are Multitudes Unfolding

When I started writing this Zengut blog I thought I would share more of the “gee whiz” of science. I also thought I would join the ranks of popularizers of math and science and the intersection of science with Zen, spirituality, Mind and meditation. One of the blogs I enjoyed writing the most was my meditation on Circle, Triangle and Square, a Zen painting. It’s really good and deep and if you haven’t read it, check it out, especially the revised version (also on Hazymoon.com). But over the years since I have started writing and have pursued my practice and my life (same thing), I find for the most part I have less and less interest in doing so in a methodical fashion.

There are plenty of sources for science that aren’t geared to scientists: magazines such as Scientific American and Discover, websites such as sciencedaily.com, and I am sure many others.  There are great writers and thinkers who really want to make clear the implications of quantum mechanics for a Mind Only view of how it is (e.g. Lanza and Berman Biocentrism and Beyond Biocentrism) and the philosophical underpinnings of non-duality and  idealism (e.g. Bernardo Kastrup).

Robert Lanza talking at Hazy Moon Zen center; me listening for a change.

I am not a Zen teacher. I share as a student, a practitioner. Certainly there are qualified Zen teachers (e.g. many books of ancient masters, Hazymoon.com has selections of Nyogen Roshi’s dharma talks, Maezen sensei’s books and blogs and websites are also good to check out, and of course other sources of Zen and spiritual teachings by those who are spiritual leaders and teachers).

I have finished my second novel for older kids, and I think it is a more unique contribution, more reflective of my mandala. More on that later ( I will post some chapters soon; maybe even the whole thing if people want. I will also self publish for those like me who like hard copy or who don’t read this blog).

I haven’t pursued the Zengut blog as planned. Well, that’s how it goes. I still see life as the universe unfolding as I wrote in the first blog I posted. Evolution is at its core. Life is change, all is continuous change, a basic tenant of Buddhism and science (there, mission accomplished! Political irony intended). So maybe I will unfold back into so pursuing a theme of science and Zen, or more of the inspiration of math, or whatever. I have continued to write when something catches my attention, whether something I can share of my Zen practice and life (again, same thing) or, like now, in the scientific world.

I do want to share what blew me away this week. It is definitely a “gee whiz” thing. It isn’t any new information. I have seen images of that are a bit like this for 45 years, that is cells interacting with cells, and there have been movies of cells in motion for maybe 10 years, but this image just hit home like a thunderclap. It may not hit you the same way, but give it a try:

Cutting-edge microscope spies on living cells inside the body – Nature

https://www.nature.com › nature › news

You have the same types of cells, and many other similar cells. Watch this and think about how in your bone marrow you give birth thousands and thousands of times a day to these cells, these organisms, that are you yet not you. Independent, with lives you have no idea of and don’t consciously control. Can you watch this and not see sense intention? Intention, you may ask? Absolutely. They have purpose. They are sentinels, guardians, noble and selfless. They do a job, a very complex and important job.  Watch how they seek. How they feel their environment. How they have no sense of you or your world outside of their impulses and needs, their immediate mandalas, their lives unfolding. Given the right environment, they can be removed from the living body that gave rise to them and still be who they are.

Clearly mind.

I am not suggesting conscious thought. Not brain stuff.  These are not beings with concepts as we have, of course. Still, a kind of sentience independent of you and your concepts, your desires, your hopes and fears and intellect. Mind, life, at work and play.

Life in life. You are multitudes.

 

 

 

All Now, No Now

Is “now” really only an illusion?

Certainly a universal now that you can perceive as a universal now is impossible. As I mentioned in a recent blog, whatever we are responding to as occurring “right now” is a conglomeration of recent energy states that we integrated into a story based on our conditioning (physical, biological, intellectual, psychological). As the Lankavatara sutra says, we project our delusions and illusions and then we take them as out there in reality.

Quantum mechanics demands that there can’t be a zero time, there is Planck time, which is exceedingly short, way shorter than anything anyone can comprehend or any technology can even get hope to get anywhere near. This is in part related to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: if something could be stopped in time and space, a frozen now that we could capture and measure,  we would know both its momentum and position at that time, and that isn’t allowed.

Also, a time called “now” where all things that are simultaneous to one person’s experience are simultaneous in the experience of all observers, regardless of movement and orientation, is an illusion. Relativity theory quantifies that!

A photon travelling at the speed of light is not in time. The photon’s clock slows to infinitely slow (time dilation; or if time were smooth it would, that is, but as in quantum mechanics maybe it just “approaches” infinitely slow…). The photon also gets infinitely thin, flattened out (space contraction; or it would if space were infinitely smooth, so again, it approaches infinitely flat…). That is, until it hits your eye. Then it is a point particle interacting with your photoreceptor after having travelled perhaps millions of years and trillions upon trillions of miles from a distant star, maybe even a distant galaxy far, far away).

So is there no now? Just the illusion?

Or is it ALL now? As Nyogen Roshi said in his talk today, the infinite now, no beginning no end.

 

How long is now?

A building I saw in what was formerly East Berlin a few years back

Now as no time and all time may be much the same, I think. So short it can’t be measured and so vast and universal it can’t be measured. Bigger than big, shorter than short.

 

Related is the identity of relative and absolute, as a poem we chant is called. This is on a tee shirt I got from Nara, a Buddhist Temple in Japan a bit outside Kyoto. It says, in essence, in the many, One, in One the many. They translated it as in a drop of blood the whole universe. I have also heard it as in a drop of water (or in an atom or particle, or string) the whole universe, but that’s not the pattern you see there on the tee shirt. It is in pattern and spirit I think more like the Heart Sutra (we also chant): form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. Or the identity of the relative  and absolute.

Here and Now? You Think So?

I just finished my Christmas blog and opened up Lawrence Krauss’s book “The Greatest Story Ever Told-So Far.” (Yes, I still like reading these books, seeing what scientists are selling. I enjoy it almost as much as interpreting ancient Egyptian ideas about the cosmos, as I do in my next Aidan Dream Detective novel, “Aidan and The Mummy Girl Save the Universe,” which I am finishing up).

Dr. Krauss is one of the more militant skeptic-atheist-materialists. I find him a bit arrogant, but he seems otherwise a pretty nice guy. He’s certainly very smart. Anyway, I came across this sentence, where I was, on page 56:

“So too, Einstein explicitly argued, for the first time as far as I know in the history of physics , that “here” and “now” are observer dependent concepts and not universal ones.”

Bravo! Of course Buddhists knew that for at least two millennia. Check out the Lankavatara sutra, among others.

Live in the here and now? Sounds good. The future is a guess, the past is irretrievable far as we can tell, and science assures us we are prone to false memories, dressing up our reality to make it more comprehensible, more palatable. We edit everything to fit our concepts of who we are and what is meaningful, even as we go along, and more so as we keep memories alive by telling and terelling ourselves our stories.

And that’s at best.

Or as the great mathematician and scientist, Laplace, the man who told Napoleon Bonaparte that he had no need for the hypothesis of god in his book on cosmology, said two hundred years ago on his deathbed, when someone tried to make him feel good by lauding his great accomplishments:

“Ah, but we do chase phantoms.”

The word translated into English as ‘phantoms’ was chimera in French. Chimera are mythic beasts hobbled together from different animals. We hobble together phantoms and spend our lives chasing them. Good things, bad things.

Here and now is such a chimera.

If there is any here and now it is Planck time and space, trillions of trillionths of a second or a millimeter. So  so fast a time and so tiny a distance that they are truly inconceivable, nothing our technology can even hope to come in the ballpark of approaching to measure, let alone our senses or our monkey minds. We can write these numbers down mathematically and drool slack jawed in amazement at how clever we are to have come up with such a brazen idea that might even be true, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can grasp such a space and time.

Even on a mundane level, when you experience a sensory change, a difference in your universe of sight and sound (and smell, taste, touch, phenomena, including mental phenomena, as the sutras say), it is the past. It has been modified. It went from here to there, from an object to your sense organ then to your brain then other parts of your brain where you interpret the changes and tell yourself a story about them.

I used to think a lot about this in surgery, certain one of my more “here and now” experiences. Things move so fast in cataract microsurgery you cant be here and now in a literal way. By time the image of something zigging rather than zagging reaches your brain then you react to it, you’d be too late! You have to be prepared for zig and zag.

By time you react to it, it is gone.

Gone, gone beyond, way beyond.

Gate gate paragate, parasamgate, as the heart sutra says.

So, living in the here and now? Sure. What else do you have? But then, do you even have that? And if not, what do you have?

Merry Christmas from a Non-Materialist Atheist (really, no irony intended! )

 

Being into Zen doesn’t mean I couldn’t be a materialist in the metaphysical sense. Zen does suggest being a materialist in the sense of being greedy and wanting things, with the hope that having stuff (including just the right ideas and rituals) will assuage anxieties and delusions and make up for ignorance and fear, is a bad idea, though with enough rationalization anybody can be a materialist, even a Zen practitioner. It is modern science that makes it difficult to be a metaphysical materialist. After all, what is “material”? What is matter? What makes things “thingy”? All that seems solid dissolves into a state of energy differences that follow rules and constraints (quantum mechanics and relativity, for example). Material, matter, exists only as those energy states are put together into being “something” by our senses and colored our hopes and fears, our conditioning and our scale of biological existence, themselves just energy states determined by energy states:

turtles all the way down.

Peel the onion until there is nothing.

In this cartoon each circle defines a square, which defines a circle. It is an iteration much like how magnetic fields change, defining a changing electric field, creating a propagating magnetic field, etc. This is electromagnetism, the first unified theory, developed in the mid-19th century by Maxwell based on work by an autodidact, Faraday. But where does that first circle come from?

 

Science confirms that these energy states are not the same as the stories our senses project to create our world. Sure, those senses evolved in the context of the rules of energy transformations, and so must relate to them in some way. In Zen there is the foundational poem called (in the translation I know) “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute “(the Sandokai). Zen accepts the challenge.

 

 

Science has a hard time with this. How does my life, my mind, relate to phenomena like quantum entanglement and quantum fields? Very indirectly, it seems, and only with big leaps of faith going from one level of scientific inquiry to another.

 

We may be energy fields, but we are also information, information of a certain contingent form, congealed on one level as DNA, as other levels as chemical  metabolism, interacting, communicating cells and organs and bodies, honed by energy states (our environment), in an iterative way similar to the circle and squares.

 

Scientists tells us science won’t be able to answer some basic questions in our lifetimes, and other questions not likely ever, (is the universe infinite or only 90 billion light years across? Is there one universe or “multiverses”? What is time? Can we verify strings or supersymmetric particles or quantum loop gravity experimentally?), but scientists do tell us that the universe is not what our limited senses describe.

 

 

That is fine with me, because while I can appreciate great beauty and love I have so often in my life, my senses also reveal a pretty dim picture of lies, delusion, death and suffering a lot of the time, not a world where some omniscient creator god just adores its creation…

Cue in Buddhism.

 

One guy came up to Buddha and said I will follow you if you’ll answer my big questions, like is the universe eternal?

Buddha told him he was wasting his time. It’s like being shot by a poison arrow and asking what wood the shaft of the arrow is made of, and similar irrelevant questions, rather than taking out the arrow. In some places Buddha said he came to end suffering. Others he said hey, your heads on fire, man, stop asking dumb questions.

So peel back the stories, and, as the Tang dynasty Zen master Huang Po suggested, watch out for concepts you project on to your life. What are you left with?

 

 

Now, since this is Christmas and I am not going to leave it there. I am not going to allow the arrogance of some scientists and professional atheists make it difficult to hear and appreciate the marvelous absurdity of manifest reality at its deepest scientific description. On the other hand, I am not going to be the atheist who just dishes on a dualistic creator god outside his creation of adoring puppets, that so loves the sparrow in the field, you know, the sparrow that is going to be eaten by the hawk leaving its chicks squawking in desperation, if they are lucky attracting a predator (the same hawk?) to end their misery quickly, rather than dying slowly by dehydration and starvation, without a clue as to what happened.

I am going to get into the Christmas spirit instead! Yay!

My Christmas present is sharing that my favorite book right now is “Barking to the Choir” by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who walks the walk Jesus had in mind.

Father Boyle is the founder of Homeboys industries, a job program for ex-gangbangers, but so much more.

“Barking to the Choir” is a spiritual tome abput the here and now reality of suffering and redemption. As an aside, it is respectful of Buddhism, but more to the point it is real, it is spiritual in the deepest sense, in a way I can respect and admire, and brought me to tears several times. The book is challenging in its radial compassion, vision of no separation, and belief in redemption. I am glad that this priest found in his religion something of value. And there are others, intelligent, thinking, caring people I know who have found deep meaning in religion as well. But I equally love that the values in this book do not need religion to inform them. Atheists I know (and I include myself in the technical sense of not believing in a dualistic creator god with separate mind and intention from its creation) share the core values that Father Boyle expresses in his life and work as a vision of natural ethics, an expression of who we are at our best, not as a command from on high.

The Dali Lama, who Father Doyle has met and quotes in his book (among other Buddhists), said that we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists. I agree. I don’t care if anybody goes to a Zen center or not. Father Boyle also is not trying to convert people to his religion. He does want to share his vision, and I love that vision; it is deep and sincere.

Father Gregory’s religion isn’t exactly Zen, but in buddhism all teachings are a raft to be let go of when true understanding is experienced. And Father Boyle offers one magnificent raft for so many.

So, as I sit here on call on Christmas (I volunteer to let the goyim have their day with their families; I have for a quarter of a century) I am not looking to science for ultimate truth or religion for redemption. I do not appreciate my arrogant co-scientists who belittle those who find their materialistic metaphysics and philosophic stances (some deny they indulge in metaphysics and philosophy, itself a metaphysical, philosophical stance) to be limited and caustic, unable to answer deep questions, any more than I appreciate my spiritual brethren who use their religion to shore up their delusions and create more distance and suffering.

Too bad about all the haters.

 

 

I appreciate both science and Zen for the depth of seeing and peace, however shallow and tentative, however diminished by my own limitations, that they have brought me. My dreams come true!

And to the extent that science and religion brings their practitioners, and those they reach out to, into a state of wonder and inspires them to compassion and to make the world a better place, I am thrilled.

There is, after all, Father Boyle, walking the walk. And dedicated scientists and physicians and atheists and agnostics and artists and religious people and others I know trying to heal the world and make us all a bit smarter as well.

Mazel tov. A mitzvah.

Have a merry Christmas and happy whatever.

And don’t forget to keep dancing.