No Time, No Space, No Problem

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A riddle:

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

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

Sure, seems to fit.

Or a photon. That fits, too. Light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karma!

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy world, huh?

 

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See You In Hell

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

But time to “cut it.”

Time to get real.

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

And we are going to need those skills!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet he kept buddha-ing!

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

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I love that about our tradition!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither Buddhism or science is sentimental about suffering or survival.

So:

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

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

And it is our only hope.

Love, and see you in hell.

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I Just Self-Published a Novel for Young Readers

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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 ralphlevinson.com, as well as on booklocker.com/books/8819.html.

“Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World” is available as an eBook for $2.99 from booklocker.com, and also for Kindle at Amazon.com, and NOOK at Barnesandnoble.com. It is also available as a print on demand softcover book for $14.95 from Booklocker.com 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:

booklocker.com/books/8819.html

 

Link for Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Aidan-Dragon-Girl-Save-World-ebook/dp/B01M2X5XVY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital text&ie=UTF8&qid=1476567264&sr=1-1&keywords=aidan+dragon

Link for Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/aidan-and-the-dragon-girl-save-the-world-ralph-levinson/1124797691?ean=9781634916332 – productInfoTabs.

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

Beware Being Seduced by the Cool in Quantum

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I have written about the fascinating and weird quantum mechanics of double slit experiments and entanglement. Gotta love it!  I will write more about quantum mechanics, time, far out speculations, and I am thinking more and more, along those line about entropy. Entropy is often thought of as a measure of randomness, disorder, and in information theory, ignorance. It seems to be on the one hand trivially statistical and on the other hand deeply embedded in our experience and how energy interacts with energy. Some think it is why we perceive time. More on that later. I have some more thinking to do about that first.

Part of what has inspired me in that direction is a book I am reading now, “Now, the physics of time” by Richard A Muller. I just came to a part where he wrote about the worst theoretical prediction in science, and it was a result of the mathematics of the most beloved and trusted theory, quantum mechanics. It concerns dark energy and the predictions as to whether quantum vacuum fluctuations, the variations in energy and virtual particles demanded by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and seen experimentally, could explain the accelerating expansion of the universe we seem to observe. This would be instead of dark energy, a kind of negative gravity that is also quite speculative but would better explain recent observations about the dynamics of space and galaxies at the scale of the visible universe. Well, the prediction of the magnitude of the effect of these quantum vacuum fluctuations on the expansion of the universe was off by 10 with 120 zeros after it. That is one big number! That isn’t just wrong, that is bizarrely, sarcastically, profoundly, embarrassingly wrong.

He points out this has been called the “worst prediction in the history of physics.”

Well, quantum mechanics does describe some things exquisitely well, but there is a reason that scientists in some cases spend their careers on speculative mathematics such as string theory. And while we can’t deny the wonderfully tantalizing hints about reality that quantum mechanics serve up to us, we have to remember it isn’t infallible. It is a reflection of the questions we ask. Ask the right ones, it gives great answers. Ask others, it gives answers that surprise and delight and tantalize. Ask yet others, total nonsense.

And that is my main point! So you don’t get quantum mechanics? Well, you can’t get it! It is at its best a great tool but as fare as understanding reality, mind, consciousness, and who you are, it is still just a peek. A peek that is important because it reminds us that the solid, this and that, this then that, the material, the existence of linear time and space  as we experience it in our daily lives, is not quite how it is, that it is an illusion of our sureness, of the scale we live in.  Now, somehow my last sentence was autocorrected but I liked it! I meant to write “illusion of our senses” and it spit out sureness. OK both work, and maybe an illusion of our sureness is even more accurate!

Anyway, that’s how I approach it. Nobody really thinks science can give us a final answer that is experimentally valid. The energies involved are technically not feasible, but beyond the technical limitations, we are limited by demanding answers that fit our brains. No experiment can get outside “reality” to measure it.

To me quantum mechanics, beyond how it helps us make better toys, is just a hint that what we perceive and measure is not how it really works.

It is kind of liberating. How do you see the universe when you know time and space and the nature of what you perceive is the tiniest slice of the pie and sometimes so wrong it is “not even wrong”? How crazy is it when science leads us to that precipice?

I am not so concerned with all of the interpretations, though I will read about them, share them, and get mind blown by them, but they won’t ever prove anything without some uncertainty because they cant ever be certain. And I don’t think that is just due to technical limitations, but limitations of what we can grasp with our senses, however expanded by technology, as being observations in time in space, defined by time and space, experiments performed in time and space, themselves dicey concepts at best.

But besides being mind-blowingly beautiful, elegant, interesting and of value in reminding us of our limitations, if nothing else, quantum mechanics reminds us how deep and profound and unanswerable by the intellect that the very fact of existence, the very fact of consciousness, at its root, is.

It isn’t permission to think every silly delusion you can come up with is therefor true or has equal probability of being true. But it does mean that it is a wild and crazy universe and allowing yourself the freedom to explore the craziness, to embrace and transcend the craziness, to not be limited by the paucity of data, the lack of imagination, the concrete materialistic linear time and space thinking, and certainly to go beyond the dictates of the metaphysics of scientists who disagree with each other (e.g. string theory anyone? Time and space a real entity? Well, certainly not every scientist agrees!) seems a “reasonable” approach. Not that “reasonable” has all that much traction when we get to the level of quantum mechanics, horrible errors, and unproven theories, whether string theories, multiple dimensions,  branes etc.

We can be liberated by the weirdness, and needn’t be limited by the limitations and definitions of what seems reasonable, which will change from one scientist to another when we are at this level of science.

Note that I am not talking about technical, cool observations like discovering exoplanets, or important matters that can be measured and assessed with the tools of science, like the effect of immune therapies for cancer on the pathogenesis of ocular inflammation, and when seemingly paradoxical effects are seen, as me and my fellow researchers have, understanding what that means therapeutically and for how the immune system works (a current research interest of mine), or for understanding and trying to deal with issues like water use, climate change and other environmental problems (bees, date pollution, health of the oceans, etc, etc.), for example. Deny this stuff at your peril and at the cost of great suffering.

I am talking about how we try to answer the big questions of our lives, and science won’t do that. It can approach it, but never reach it. It isn’t built for it.

At the core, it is about who you are that counts. And while that entails quantum mechanics, it isn’t limited by it.

What is it that  “is”? What is consciousness, your very experience of being, what it is like to be? Is that limited by our senses, by time and space, when time and space are themselves called into question by science?

What really is life itself, beyond a working definition of replication, carbon bonds, information, variation, and handwaving ideas like “emergent properties”?

Cool as the quantum world is, as much as it is our world, there is more, it isn’t the whole story.

Or maybe there is less.

You, however, are the whole story.

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Time and Brain

What do you think your experience of life would be without dressing up reality in a matrix of time and space?

How does the world appear to a creature without a brain?

How is your grasp of what is true and real limited by, or even more, actually defined by, your constraints?

Keeping in mind that most living organisms, at least on earth, have little use for brains or time, and no awareness of any assessment of their strengths and constraints, yet function perfectly well (or they wouldn’t have evolved and still be here over 4 billion years), this is not an idle line of inquiry.

What does your gut tell you?

Here’s what I think:

Don’t confuse knowledge based on measurements and thoughts and models of reality with the totality of being. Our perspective is limited as we are wrapped up in time and space, and it is all neatly tied with a bow of our delusions. Wrong tools for the job. We mind are embedded in Mind that has no beginning or end. Don’t let the painful and awkward bits throw you. Be kind to yourself and others. How hard we make it for ourselves!

Oh, and vote for Hillary. I mean really, come on! That other stuff is awesome, but lets be real in the moment here. Trump is a fucking disaster, and the fact that so many of my fellow Americans don’t see that means that we are in deep shit. Forget Biocentrism and Zen if you must, meditate if you are so disposed (I encourage it) or don’t if you’re not, but under no circumstances give in to fear, hate and ignorance, or hang out with or procreate with those that do. It’s just so UGLY and WRONG!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deathbed Wishes

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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.

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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.

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Quantum Mechanics: Not Just Kinda Cool But Essential to Life

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It has long been clear quantum mechanics (QM) effects are basic in life. This was something I have taken for granted from what I learned starting in pre-med about cellular biology, though research bears this out in many new and interesting ways.

An interesting recent book about some surprising quantum effects in biology i s”Life on the Edge” by McFadden and Al-Khalili.

As I have written here before, life is energy and energy transformations (well, everything is). Cellular life uses reduction/oxidation reactions as energy “currency”. These reactions are basically the passing along of an energetic electron. They are the same kinds of reactions that causes fire to burn (which is why you need oxygen for a fire), or iron to rust. As Nick Lane writes in his book The Vital Question energy, evolution and the origins of complex life:  “electrons [in oxidation reduction reactions the cell uses to capture energy when oxidizing fuel i..e. food] hop from one cluster to the next by quantum tunneling”

The clusters he is referring to are proteins containing iron that are critical in accepting and passing on electrons.

This electron tunneling, these reactions, are the foundation of life, as we know it anyway. It is the very basis of energy used in all cells on earth. Bacteria, plants, us.

In quantum tunneling particles kind of “cheat” an energy barrier to a chemical reaction by just going through the energy barrier or wall rather (metaphorically) than over it. That is, it pops through the wall where without QM it shouldn’t. To clarify: most chemical reactions need energy to get going. If an electron is involved, say, as is often the case, for example in the oxidation/reduction reactions critical to life (or for example when a photon stimulates a photoreceptor in the eye) the reaction only happens if there is enough energy to get it going, to kick start it. But this can be skirted a bit by the uncertainty, the indeterminacy of QM that allows the electron (or photon) to be in unusual or unexpected states of being. By classical chemistry and physics, that shouldn’t happen, making the reactions much less likely, if they would happen at all, under normal circumstances.

That is, no QM tunneling, little or no passing of electrons from protein-iron complex to another, no usable energy for living things on earth.

By the way, we do use only a light bulb’s worth of wattage of energy to power our entire body, as Bob Lanza points out in “Biocentrism”. But still,  that is 10,000 times more energy per pound than the sun puts out! That’s because the sun is mostly just a big old ball of gas molecules just bouncing around at any one moment not putting out any energy (just being pushed around by the energy released by the nuclear reactions at the center of the sun). On the other hand, all living cells are prodigiously generating and using energy just to stay intact. The way cells store energy is in bonds between phosphate groups in ATP (adenosine tri phosphate) molecules, and a single cell goes through 10 million ATP molecules per second on average.

At its core life is quantum tunneling. It’s all energy.

Very Zen.

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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.

You Think You Can Find Here and Now?

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A building in the former East Berlin

It is easy to see that our idea of the future is simply probabilities and assumptions. It is also easy to see the past is stories we tell ourselves and can’t be found except in effects in the present for which we assume causes in the past. Neither has firm, concrete, reproducible reality, even if they seem fair enough approximations for day-to-day activities and decisions. For “practical” purposes, you might say.

But we are aiming to be living in the here and now, right?

There is a now we experience of course, isn’t there?

Are you so sure?

No matter how brief, there is a finite time, a gap, between event and experience, stimulus and response, energy change and sensation and perception. One study says the brain can integrate a simple visual scene in as short a time as 13 milliseconds, though most studies have suggested it is closer to 100 milliseconds. I suppose there are many factors at play for a given scene and brain. It certainly feels instantaneous, but that’s what our brain does, of course. It fills in the gaps.

The same goes for any sense. Impulses from sense receptors release chemicals that then change the physiology of a nerve creating electoral impulses and ions race in and out of the nerve. That nerve then signals others, which end up in some brain center ,which then sends signals to multiple brains centers. Some time after that, you put words on it and tell yourself a story about what is going on. That takes longer than 13 milliseconds of course; words are slow cumbersome things even when you think them.

So by time you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, think something, it is already past and you are anticipating the future.

Can we know the now? Sure for practical purposes. We don’t want to get lost in futures that may never happen or obsess about a better past we wish we had, so paying attention to something that seems ongoing and most proximate seems a good idea.

But lets not fool ourselves. Most of what we call the present is really the past, and we are already dressing it up in words and stories and anticipating the future when we think we are in the now.

And related to perception and time, is space. We speak of space-time. The here and now. No now, does here get a bit slippery too? Of course it does. Here relative to what? We know space seems to bend, expand and contract given relative motion. That’s Einstein’s relativity and the details aren’t important for this discussion. But I think it is instructive to look at one of the most basic of all entities in science, the massless energy quanta of light, the source of all we see, the embodiment of what we think of as color, the force carrying transmitter of electromagnetic energy, the photon.

There are many ways to look at the phrase “name the color, blind the eye.” The most obvious is that when we dress up an experience in labels we loose the immediacy of the experience. We pigeon hole it for future reference, falling into a dualistic trap. It may be useful if you are trying to paint a picture and want to be efficient in choosing what tubes of paint to open, but that’s about it.

There’s another way that color is a dicey concept that I like, and I think it is very telling about how things work regarding our dream of time and space. You probably know about the Doppler effect; most up us have experienced a sound becoming high pitched as it races towards us (a siren, for example, or a car), then becoming a lower pitch as it races away from us. The waves of air that make up a sound are in effect compressed as that sound comes toward us, then stretch as it goes away form us.

So what is the sound “really”? Is the high pitch sound or the low pitch sound more real? Of course neither, they both are predictable effects of motion. But it does make it hard to talk about THE sound the car or siren makes (even not taking into account all the modifying features of the environment, the atmosphere, other sounds, your ears and most importantly, your brain that turns the energy pulses in the air into sound then tires to make snense of it and relate it to your prejudices and conditioning).

A similar thing happens with light. You may have heard of the “red shift” in the light from stars as galaxies race away from us. Well, this happens all the time. You can only speak of a photon of a given energy being a certain “color” if the object creating that photon and your eye are perfectly still relative to each other. If that object is moving toward you (or you to the object, or both to each other, doesn’t matter, the photon doesn’t care. Relativity and all that), it shifts to blue. If it is moving away from you, it shifts to red. Same photon, full spectrum. Sure, this effect is too small to percieve at most speeds, but it is real and universal. The photon is no one color, no independent color. It all depends on the relationship of the observer to the photon.

And of course we are always in motion. Breathing, heart beating, land masses moving, earth moving, solar system moving, galaxies moving all relative to each other, Indra’s net of interconnections.

No past or future, and even now is a dicey concept. No there, no here, no in between.

Are you sure about here and now? Sure we want, as the Zen saying goes, to occupy the ground we stand on. And we don’t want to miss what is in front of us worrying about the past or future. But do we really grasp the present? How many ‘presents’ make up the thought of a now? How many instants combine to make up a perception? Is ‘Be Here Now’ just another cockamamie concept we strive after using our dualistic notions? Can we hold on to the fleeting moment, trying to encompass it with our thoughts and feelings, our fears and hopes, without missing the next one? Are we impressionists, who see the ever shifting play of light but then try and nail it to a canvas to contemplate at a later time? The later time of our idea of now?

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On the other hand, outside of our dualistic concepts, our sense of self and other, is there anything except now?

Buddhist Ethics

 

 

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There are all sorts of precepts, rules of behavior, in different schools of Buddhism. Some are just for monks, others for nuns, and these are further pared down for laypersons. The basic formulation of the “four truths” that appears in early sutras include the eight fold path of “rights;” not legal rights as in the constitution, but these “rights” are about the right way to proceed, like right livelihood, right effort, right speech, etc.

But those are not the crux, the heart, of Buddhist ethics.

Nyogen Roshi says that Maezumi taught that no matter how smart and good, however benign, we will cause pain if we come from our unenlightened personal agenda. You can’t just memorize the rules. That might be ok as a guide, something to fall back on when in doubt, when you know you are in a confused state and can’t see clearly, but if it isn’t coming from you, from your very being, if you have an agenda, it won’t stick.

Zen teachings say we don’t pick and chose. No aversion or desire/grasping. That doesn’t mean we don’t discriminate. Our school teaches no self-deception, take responsibility. You know a kitten from a rattlesnake, as Nyogen Roshi says. Trust your mind to function.

We don’t ascribe to precepts and decisions about behavior as being driven from above, as is the case in many religions. It isn’t about guilt, praise and blame, standards of good and bad by fiat from the heavens. We aren’t concerned about some dictate about purity versus sin. It is about compassion, it’s about not letting our egos dictate the limits of our universe.

We can start by not indulging in the poisons: greed anger and ignorance. Buddhist ethics is about not being run by your desires and fears, your conditioning. That takes care of it. You do that, you come from that place, just pay attention without trying to fit your life, other people, the Universe, into your idea of how you want it to be, you will be ethical.

You wont justify and rationalize doing bad shit. You will do good shit.

Robert Lanza, one of the authors of the books “Biocentrism” and “Beyond Biocentrism,” gave a talk at the Hazy Moon Zen Center. He pointed out that there is no separation. No dualism. We are all one. As taught in Buddhism, no self and other. If you believe that, if you really get that, he said, why would I hit you? When I  hit you, I am hitting me.

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Without greed, without fear or anger, why would you hurt others, why would you not care about the environment, why would you cheat, what would you do that would be unethical? Why would you be a republican?

‘Pay attention’ is the ultimate Zen teaching according to some. Be awake. No self-deception, no agenda. If you do that, you will function as a Buddha. A Buddha knows how not to cause suffering.

One thing I have noticed is that we often think our own suffering is the exception. Not necessarily worse than the suffering of other sentient beings, but somehow just different enough, special enough, that we and our suffering are exceptional in the sense of being exempt. Justified.

I do not mean to blame the victim. You probably did get hurt. We all live lives mired in samsarra, the relative material world of self and other, surrounded and embedded in delusion. Sometimes a firm hand, a strong stance is in accordance with the Way, with dharma. There are people who do very bad things out there, and we need to stand up to them. We need to be strong and brave in the face of injustice.

But more often than not, if it all seemed to go wrong when you thought you were doing the right thing, if it isn’t flowing (the great Way has no difficulties we are told by the ancients) you were likely indulging your delusions, delusions that we all often have a blind spot for, which is why they are called delusions.

When we decide that we have a good reason to not to be constrained by the niceties of avoiding anger and being responsible when we are causing others to suffer, we open the gates to hell. Look carefully next time you fall down and have to lift yourself up. See whether you somehow justified it, rationalized your behavior. This one was so different…it wasn’t fair…I just had to…

Yes sometimes we do just have to. That’s the practice. Being clear enough to know the difference between doing it because of our ego needs or because it is Dharma, the Tao, the Way. Having no agenda that blinds us. We discriminate, not because we want it this way or that, not out of desire/aversion, but because that’s how a Buddha functions.

That’s who we are  without delusion.

Or at least, so I am told by those who seem to know. I’m thinking it’s true. It fits what I see, anyway.

Nyogen Roshi says the ground of Buddha Mind, that is, our minds undistorted by the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance, our minds not limited by our ego driven need to protect ourselves against our fear, by our dualistic delusion of self and other, is compassion.

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Avalokiteshvara, who became the female Guan Yin in China, hears the crying of those who suffer. That’s what the name means. She goes down into hell to comfort the suffering. She embodies compassion.

That’s old school Buddhism.

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