Mind, Non-Duality and What’s Up

 

The identity of the relative and absolute; from infinite circle to infinite waves

 

If you want to pursue and intellectual philosophical understanding of non-duality, consider reading Bernardo Kastrup. He posits One Mind, though his terminology is more technical. He asks tough questions of himself and all who consider Mind as foundational. This is Zen, Buddhism in general, Biocentrism, ancient Mahadyamika and other more recent non-dualistic philosophies.

Mind, consciousness, as foundational, brain as secondary, as a mode of Mind function, an expression of mind, how consciousness translates in our world, rather than the other way around.

If that is so, how come I can’t wiggle your toes? Why is there apparent self and other? What is death? If it is all Mind, what is all that stuff out there, galaxies, black holes, and so on, and how come we didn’t know about it all before if we have minds?

 

You can find out about this with a science/quantum bent reading Bob Lanza’s books on biocentrism

Robert Lanza speaking at Hazy Moon Zen Center a few years ago. Can find it on Hazy moon website.

Bernardo Kastrup also has very good, sophisticated answers. He just got his PhD in philosophy to go with his PhD in computer science. His philosophy PhD defense is on YouTube. I suggest if the intellectual philosophical, metaphysical aspects interest you in detail, look up his books, blog, or YouTube offerings.

Kastrup has used the metaphor of individuals with consciousness as eddies in a stream of One Mind (not exactly his term), especially a stream of a reflective material so we see our projections from within and think that’s how it is. Such metaphors are not new: eddies in a stream, waves in an ocean, currents in an ocean, broken flows in a waterfall, all have a fine and ancient pedigree. We are localized energy and momentum that is not separate from the medium, in fact totally one with it, interdependent, yet endowing it with contingent temporary local form and function.

Kastrup refers to us as “alters.” Those are different identities in people with multiple personalities. Alters may or may not be aware of the other alters, but in any case, alters are clearly in the minds of the afflicted, products of mind, yet have an apparent independent existence, a “life of their own.”

Mind and existence as psychopathology. Not bad, I think. After all, in Buddhism there is samsara, Maya, and it is a kind of projected mental illness! Or just, without what could be construed as implied value judgement, the great dance of illusion.

So, how do you know consciousness? Well, meditation accesses it directly, but in any case, you do know. After all, consciousness is the awareness of some way, an experience, it is to be something (some call that meta-consciousness, but I don’t care much about that debate. Bernardo Kastrup does, I’ll let him do the heavy lifting). You know at any moment, if you care to access it (that’s the meta-consciousness part), what it is like to be you. You are influenced by it even without meta-awareness of it. You react based on what it is like to be you, colored by conditioning (karma),to the degree you are not awake. Pretty obvious, there is nothing fancy there.

So, we go to the metaphors above to get to non-duality. They are weak, but of course they are just metaphors! As an alter, as a current, wave, broken up waterfall, or eddy in a stream, in the relative, in time and space, in the six senses, in samsara, I have my own sphere, my energy is finite, I can touch you indirectly, influence you, but not wiggle your toes. And death comes to all things in time and space. The wave crashes, current abates, the water falls, the alter loses juice.

Now, then what about all that stuff I never imagined?

Well, they become manifest to us out of the ocean, river, waterfall, when they enter our sphere of experience.

How about quantum? Sure, that’s how it works. Entanglement, non-locality

[Above is a schematic Interferometer, where a photon from lower left interferes with itself when out of phase in the two paths when it engages by half silvered mirrors as long we we don’t look at it in progress and “know” what path it takes. An indivisible photon on two paths here, but really many, or maybe infinite paths? Yep. And we have to be ignorant of the path? Yep. non-locality. Subatomic particles aren’t little pebbles flying around! Waves, energy, fields. It is deeper and way beyond what we ever imagined. See old posts or read up on it if you are interested.]

Another way to look at that: Maybe, to the degree I am aware, I know my experience, have access to my consciousness, but how do I know what Mind is up to? How do I see how that works? I experience my thoughts, but how does that work for Buddha Mind? For all that I can’t wiggle? What is all that?

Open your eyes. Engage. What you can’t wiggle is Mind outside of your “alter,” your self-reflective eddy in the stream, your current, your wave, your part of the waterfall. Same stuff as inside your eddy, your wave, your current, your waterfall, just a different pattern of energy. From beetles to black holes, from quarks to quasars, from so very way teeny to so awesomely way immense, that is Mind functioning. That is what Mind is up to. That is what the ultimate thought, Mind, Cosmic Consciousness, if you like, looks like, what it is, how it functions in time and space. It is time and space.

Why is it that way? Wrong question. That tries to bring it down to human terms. Too self-centered and self-important. A deflection, an infinite regress that will lead nowhere. In Zen we talk about the identity of relative and absolute; this is not a newly recognized conundrum. For most of us most of the time, those are just words and concepts. Distractions. Maybe that’s got to be okay. Maybe it’s how we function, not worth worrying about. That just makes for more noise, more distractions.

Better, perhaps, to be aware, awake, intimate with what is True, with Mind.

Shut up and see what’s up.

 

 

Ego and Interconnectedness

One in everything, everything in one. Tee shirt from Nara temple.

 

I haven’t been fond of the term “ego,” as popularly used, from way back. Always seemed what someone spat that out when they were justifying their own behavior, which was almost invariably self-serving, and meant to stop the conversation. Ego was bad. End of story. I called it on you first, and with more aggressive belief I am right, so I win.

I have come around a bit. Not about using it in that way, as a word to bludgeon others into seeing things one’s way. Ego is useful to consider as a process of reifying ourselves as a solid entity that can be protected and preserved. Not very Buddhist, and often quite uncompassionate and even frankly toxic.

Well, it is easy to see ego write large in our president, isn’t it? Self interest uber alles. No lie, no harm to truth, justice and the American way, that isn’t on the table if it furthers his personal agenda.

In Buddhism we have the 3 poisons, anger, greed and ignorance (usually taken to be ignorance writ large, about the nature of Truth, not say, lacking knowledge of calculus. Of course, ignorance of things you need to know to function compassionately could be included, see my previous post/rant).

These poisons usually arise because you are trying to protect yourself, your projected image of who you are, in order to “feel” that the stories you tell yourself are true. Because the alternative is that you have to face impermanence and death, or at least the fact that you aren’t all you hoped you would be, life isn’t what you want and expected. You lose control, the bottom can fall out (is that all bad? Well, it can be scary to our propped-up model of who we are that we carry in our heads, our egos).

Nyogen Roshi suggested reading books Anthony De Mello this last Summer. There are two in particular, with Awareness and Awakening in the titles. A clue to where he is at. Like Zen, like all mindfulness and spiritual practice, wake up, pay attention, see what is there past your conditioning. Your ego, a term he favors, so I reassessed for myself.

De Mello was born in India, a Catholic, became a therapist and Jesuit, got kicked out of the church for his teachings. He taught that religion as practiced is usually at best a waste of time, a diversion (I paraphrase). He believed most of his patients as a psychologist didn’t really want to get better. I am agnostic about the latter point, as I never did such a practice, but he has a point. I certainly see myself skirt issues and the hard work of facing my bullshit from time to time.

And I have found his advice very helpful in my practice, that is, in my daily life. If you are disappointed, hurt and angry, fearful, jealous or whining, ask how your ego is involved. What is your conditioning? What are you protecting? What are you afraid of? What is your anger and hurt masking?

Sure, people will do you wrong. How do you experience it? After all, De Mello points out, are you surprised if you are hurt by people? Didn’t you know what assholes we all are much of the time?  Did you think it was only you and your parents? If people are very toxic and you can’t handle them, then disengage, he suggests. Move on. Don’t get dragged into their delusions any more than you have to or than is helpful. Don’t let them gaslight you, condition you.

Okay, some people do criminal or very deeply egregious things, and you may need help dealing with that. Your emotions and intellect can be guides, that’s why they evolved, just understand that they will outlive their usefulness fairly quickly, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hang around.

But Post-traumatic stress is real, and there are treatments. If it is that bad, and meditation and practice and chanting or yoga or relaxation exercises or talking to friends, whatever positive activities that you normally do when things go south, isn’t enough, get help. Cognitive therapy, ketamine, neurolinguistic programming (is that still a thing? I knew a therapist who swore by it being effective for PTSD), whatever you need. I am not expert on that, so I am just throwing out things I have heard might help. Get help if you need it. Right away.

Some people are dangerous and if you are unlucky enough to be victimized you may need help from the authorities. They will likely hurt others, so it is compassionate to stop them. Maybe you will be doing them a favor, as in the gangbangers I meet who are trying to live without crime and deal with their anger, their horrible past history of being victims of abuse that led them to where they are, in constructive ways.

I would add, again referring to my last post, if it is a matter of protecting others, you are one victim among many, or it barely touches you but touches others painfully, as in social, political or environmental big picture issues, disengage from taking it personally, see how much of your attitude is your ego, but engage on a principled level of defending others, especially those who may not be able to defend themselves.

(oh, and by the way, if you are fortunate have money, be generous and help those who are doing the hard, frontline work. If nothing else motivates you, it is a good selfish investment. Let it prop up your ego, heck, I don’t care. Maybe you deserve it. I won’t be Zen purist for you. Just, do the right thing.).

Anyway, as I wrote above, I have found De Mello’s advice very helpful. If I am brooding, hurt, angry, what is the issue? Not only the facts of the matter as I see them. Certainly, I may have to point out what is up, that someone was careless or had an agenda that was serving their ego and I was collateral damage, but what about my attitude? Is it just self-image protection? Is my “ego” bruised? My comfortable lifestyle threatened? To the degree that is the case, my efforts will often make matters worse, my life will suck just a bit more, if I don’t recognize that and let it “self-liberate.” And that has been useful, it can work, at least for the usual daily personal life slings and arrows.

I mean, it won’t help pass the deepest koan, but it helps me get through somewhat tough personal barriers. And in fact, that is not separate, I suspect, from the deepest koan. Not only because almost all separations are imagined or flimsy, as it is all One, interconnected, but also it seems it would be hard to see into the heart of the matter, life and death and Being, touch Mind directly, to see the true nature of Oneness and “interbeing” ( as Thich Nat Han likes to say) if you are in your head, licking your ego wounds. Heck, it is hard to even really pay attention to what is in front of you, to wake up on any level, if you are so distracted. Again, I’m not an expert, just my suspicion.

Now, regarding science, I may put up some suggested readings later, but for now since I just  brought up the interconnectedness and last post implied it by talking about ecology, let me suggest a popular science book that came out several years ago that I just got around to reading (yay retirement): “I Contain Multitudes” by Ed Yong. Fantastic book. It is deep biology, story after story of interconnectedness. It makes no promise to reveal deep mysteries of Cosmic Truth, but it kind of does, as all honest things do, if you follow the threads and read between the lines. It is about the microbiome, sure, a current and recent buzzword, our internal (well, counting skin, also external) body’s ecology, and there are other books and articles about the microbiome and human health. But this goes into much more than that. It isn’t just human centric, and I love that. We are so full of ourselves, even though we are looking to be such a failed evolutionary experiment! Anyway, you needn’t have any science background to read it even though it blew my mind and I know a lot about biology.

New Aidan Novel, Stories and Life

 

I have published my second novel, “Aidan and The Mummy Girl Save the Universe.”  It s, like my first book “Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the world” about Aidan Alvarado, 11 year old dream detective. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one. The books have history, mystery, mythology, Zen and adventure. If you are interested in knowing more, look at my other website ralphlevinson.com. it is available of course on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and other sites, as print or eBook, but the coolest thing is that a friend ordered it from a bookstore in Amsterdam. I love bookstores!

The theme of the new book is in the dedication: to those who try not to be trapped by their stories.

How you frame your world in your mind is how you experience it in a recursive delusional trap if you aren’t awake and present (and very careful). The narrative we run is often a product and symptom of our fears and greed and ignorance, although we dress them up to be much more palatable.

The Lankavatara and other sutras, and Nyogen Roshi, point out how we spend our lives reacting to our projected idea of the world.

I am amazed at the depth of my conditioning, the degree to which I am trapped by the past, re-telling my life to myself as some sort of talisman. I wrote about this previously; to paraphrase Lily Tomlin: to wish for a better past is crazy.

This is at the core of my practice now: Not being trapped by my idea of the world, by my conditioning, by my stories.

This practice isn’t about not remembering things, not thinking, or not loving stories. That’s what brains are for. The operant wording: not to be trapped by stories. Stories are powerful. They are “skillful means,” upaya, in Buddhist jargon. Stories can reveal truths that we can’t weigh or measure, that we don’t have a clear quantitative metric for. Myth and stories have a place in communicating how we experience the world before measurement, for exploring values and truths that rely on judgment and perspective.

 

In the one everything, in everything the one. Tee shirt I bought at Nara Temple in Japan. It’s from a sutra.

 

I haven’t written on this website for a while. I don’t have much more to say about science and Zen, All is change.  Particles are localized waves. The currency is energy, the substance is energy. Nothing solid, nothing fixed, all is contingent. The relative (all things and events, particle and wave) is embedded in and inseparable from the absolute (which science cannot name. Energy? Quantum and gravitational fields? Strings? Quantum loops? These aren’t the absolute, but the most basic expression of what arises from the absolute, as close as science can get). That’s what science tells us that might inspire a Zen practitioner in the quest to not be limited by and attached to our senses and how our brains put together the world (biologic conditioning), while at the same time not rejecting our brains, our karma.

Then there are a lot of cool details in science. I have been enjoying the science channel’s “How the Universe Works” about cosmology and astrophysics. Gets pretty trippy.

The science that most interests me most now is life science, and more of a global life perspective. That means plants, invertebrates, and microbes. Most “biomass”: plants. Most number of organisms: viruses. Vertebrate species are few compared to insects and bacteria. JBS Haldane, a scientist (genetics) in the first half of the 20thcentury, wrote, “God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.” (Wikiquote.org goes through the variations of this)

As an aside, Haldane also wrote: my suspicion is not only that the universe is queerer than we suppose but queerer than we can suppose.

The limits of concepts, well known to Zen.

We can even make it about us: Photosynthetic plankton create about half the oxygen we breathe. If we lose bees and we lose a big chunk of our food supply. But in fact, we are dwarfed as an expression of living potential.  Ecology. What we are doing to our environment (climate change. May be the topic of my next novel, Aidan and the Dragon Girl, Princess Peace, whose father is Dragon King of the East Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, are pissed about what us stupid monkeys are doing to the ocean.)

So, yes, I love studying life. It does allow a humbling and yet exhilarating perspective on our lives: the deep and abiding dance of carbon we are part of. The cycling of energy in a kaleidoscope of form and function. As Darwin wrote at the end of “Origin of Species”: endless forms most beautiful. Savor the phrase, savor life. Kind of Buddhist in a way.

 

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.

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?

A Graphic Book Conversation About Physics

If you are interested in taking a peek into what a theoretical physicist who seems to be more interested in being honest than making a splash (or name for himself as an arrogant hard core crusader) would like you to know about his views on fundamental physics and metaphysics try “The Dialogues; Conversations about the Nature of the Universe” by Clifford V. Johnson. He’s at USC  but I forgive him (UCLA joke). I use the word metaphysics in the sense of the interpretation of physics, not spiritualism or the like. It is a graphic book (novel? Kind of? In his preface Clifford seems fine with comic or any terminology). The art is good, some panels even more than needed (a lot of work went into this!), but the reason I am highlighting the book isn’t the graphic art, as much as I appreciate it. I enjoyed the frank, honest talk about the limits and joys of science, particularly math and physics.

It is hard to convey that feeling. I’m not a physicist, but I “do” medical science research, and I know the feeling of discovery and wonder. I have tried to give a taste of that in some of my earlier blogs. I may have been partially successful; my “circle triangle square” blog gets the most hits of any I have written. I spiffed it up and re-posted last year ago or so but I think it is still the original that gets looked at. The hits sometimes come in bursts so I wonder if someone uses it for a class or discussion group. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether Clifford does it for you, but I think he makes a good effort. I recognized much of what I love about basic science and math in his graphic book.

Consider spending a couple of hours with this book. That’s all it takes to read it. You’ll learn some physics and how at least one theoretical physicist thinks about what he does as a theoretical physicist.

Spoiler alert: regarding physics: it ain’t over, and for that matter the fat lady may never sing. Physics is a process with no definitive end in sight. Theories of everything are a dicey proposition and at best may be untestable conceptual frameworks with a series of equations empirically describing what we can measure regarding energy flows. It’s a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box (a metaphor he uses) and all the pieces may not be able to be grasped or measured by our finite brains and resources.

We knew that, didn’t we? Still, if you like the scientific conversation, read Clifford’s book.

If, on the other hand, you want to know more about science and implications of consciousness on the nature of reality, stick with the books on Biocentrism by Lanza and Berman for a more quantum based approach or Bernardo Kastrup’s works for a more philosophical approach. I haven’t run into anything new on that front. I suspect that’s not a coincidence. Those authors do a great job, physics is physics some new interesting stuff but so what, and Zen is Zen.

And samsara is samsara. Arrrrrgh. Keep the faith, don’t let them get you down as they hurt and destroy to feed their beast, their greed and anger and ignorance. Do whatever you can to do good and to stay strong.

My love and hopes for a better world to all.

 

Why I Have Been Posting Less Recently

I have been writing less on this blog of late for several reasons.

I am finishing up a second novel about Aidan Alvarado, dream detective. It’s an adventure about life death and redemption, compassion and courage, for 9-12 year olds (of all ages! This age range is just because that’s what they want even when you self publish. What is the target audience? People love classifications. I agree guidance is helpful in some ways; it sometimes saves time. I actually think of it as just fiction; however, fiction that is appropriate for kids if they want to read it.).

It is time and energy consuming to pay attention and try to understand how to make a difference given the destructive horror show that is occurring in our government. And no, contrary to what I seem to hear from some Buddhists, you don’t need Buddhist insights to grasp this. I am not too enamored with socially engaged religious activities, though of course they could have a place. Mostly it seems to me to be more like advertising and self-aggrandizement. I agree with the Dalai Lama: we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists (or Jews, or Christians, or Moslems, or Hindus or whatever). You want to do something with your sangha, church, synagogue, mosque, etc., fine, but don’t crow about it or stamp your beliefs on it, like that makes it special. I know fine people who are atheists, materialists, agnostics, deists, theists, religious, spiritual but non-religious etc. who care and band together to help or get involved with organizations and give to those who can make a difference without branding the help they are giving, or for that matter, themselves.

As much as I love science, I am reading less of it except for some of the fun stuff, mostly nature and biology (also there are great nature shows), or for what I do at work. I do appreciate the fact that physics can and should slap you upside the head saying no matter how you see the world, this cosmos, with your senses, the deeper you look the less “understandable” and solid it is. You can describe quantum physics and conceive some picture of what is going on, but it won’t be quite right. Can’t be. Words and concepts don’t cut it, even if they can approach it. You can come up with some idea of what might be going on: it is all energy fields (at best), ever changing with no inherently clear beginning or end, as it may be multi dimensional with multi universes. Entanglement suggests time and space is an illusion, or at least the way we experience space-time clearly is (as does relativity in a less fundamental way). The world of phenomena seems smooth and continuous and yet what seem like individual particles are described by waves, but come in discreet quanta. See my previous blogs on quantum mechanics (and now there are loads of good YouTube videos; I just watched a couple on 3Blue1Brown I liked about math and science, for example). I love that math designed and conceived abstractly as an intellectual endeavor sometimes comes to be the best way to describe the most subtle natural phenomena (like quantum mechanics).

I believe science, where it runs into the utter overwhelming fact of existence, the mind-boggling manifestations of life, of the universe itself, the nature of observation in quantum mechanics, the deep mystery of consciousness (mystery, that is, from an intellectual perspective), implies Mind is primary, is not a random epiphenomenon (though consciousness in terms of specific evolved brain functions may be so considered from a certain limited perspective. I do believe in evolution). There are great books by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman (Biocentrism and Beyond biocentrism) that explore that (see Honmei’s review of the latter book on the HazyMoon.com website) and there are several by Bernardo Kastrup. Bernardo has been writing a lot of academic articles; if you want academic arguments for what in Buddhism is called Mind Only, what he calls idealism, look him up.

So I don’t feel like writing about science and spirituality as much anymore. Others are doing just fine.

In my original post on this blog I wrote what I had heard from others that I considered the best description of what is true and that is what I still see:

 

You are the universe unfolding

No separation

No beginning no end.

 

I might add:

Mind is primary

The natural working of mind is compassion when not reacting from ignorance (ignorance: the sense of separation, thinking that ego and the words that pop into our head, our brain as it has evolved for us apes to survive, is mind, that our stories are real rather than short hand for what can’t be said)

Greed and anger are manifestations of our ignorance and cause pain, both for others and ourselves.

 

The best advice I have run into:

Don’t wish for a better past (or present or future, for that matter; it doesn’t help and is guaranteed to make you crazy; this is an abbreviation of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past)

No self-deception

Pay attention

Don’t put a head on your head

 

I do my Zen practice. I try to act in the world with responsibility and whatever compassion as I can muster. I am lucky to have some great karma, though I see pain all around me, sometimes very close, sometimes big, sometimes small. I write fiction for adults that can be read by kids that I hope will provide a fun way to pass the time while being insightful and helpful. Writing fiction is a way to tell truths that non-fiction and didactic approaches can’t. It is an expression of my Zen practice.

I may write more about math and science and spirituality in the future. I’ll let you know more about my new fiction soon. So far this is the summary I am working on for the back of the book; it’s still rough (I have information about the first book on ralphlevinson.com and will put more about this one there and maybe here in a few weeks or so):

Eleven-year-old Aidan Alvarado had enough of saving the world; all he wanted to do was play soccer. That wasn’t going to happen! Aidan embarks on his second case as a dream detective when Emperor Wu (China’s only woman emperor who lived 1300 years ago) needs his help again. There is a war going on in the realm of the water spirit dragons and the balance of the universe is upset, threatening disaster for Wu’s empire and even the universe itself. The key is a golden feather. To solve the mystery Aidan has to travel in his dreams to ancient China, India, and Egypt. Along the way Aidan meets a few monsters and ancient deities, a boy who can morph into a cobra, a girl who talks to elephants, a poet philosopher who accompanied Alexander the Great, a beekeeper in Ancient Egypt and a mummy girl’s spirit.

 

Maat with her feather. She embodies Truth, the Way, the Balance of the Cosmos, the Dharma. You heart (like in China, in Ancient Egypt heart and mind are the same) is measured against her feather in what we know as the Egyptian book of the Dead (really the Book of Coming Forth by Day)

Acorns

A Zen teacher pointed out that you don’t know what makes the acorn become an oak tree. Of course, I thought when I first heard him say that, you could describe the mechanisms, that is, the DNA/genetic programs that sequentially activate to crate a tree form an acorn. That’s developmental biology, and understanding that has lead to important insights that have fueled the attempts at using stem cells for medical purposes.

But is that what the Zen teacher meant? I can describe muscle fiber and energy interactions when a limb moves, but that doesn’t tell me in and of itself if the movement generated is that of a predator after a meal or prey trying not to be dinner, whether a slap or a caress.

And where does that all come from, that predator and prey, that caress or slap?

Going a bit deeper into that acorn, it clearly is a representation of the incredible diversity and activity of life. Where did that set of programs come from? How did it evolve? Is it really different from all else in the universe, that which we consider living and that which we don’t?

Which brings us to carbon.

Carbon is the backbone, foundational, element of what we know of as life, and once you know about carbon, it seems obvious that it should be in our particular cosmos with the laws of physics and chemistry as we experience them. Carbon atoms can bond symmetrically with four other atoms and itself making complex molecules and long chains. Carbon is the right size to combine to make pockets for other atoms we use in living processes, being the smallest of any atom that can form four bonds. Carbon can also make double and triple bonds that increase the flexibility of the atom and it’s chains in form and function. Carbon also doesn’t tend to lose electrons or gain them and so tends toward an electrochemical neutrality that can be altered when it links up with other atoms that aren’t so mellow, another way it makes for a good backbone for complex molecules with important flexibility of electrochemical energy states.

Carbon is so simple and elegant that it is likely that the first “solid” substance in our universe were microscopic diamonds, the regular crystalline form of carbon. And we too are in some ways crystalline forms of carbon (crystals being regularly repeated patterns of atoms), and certainly we can make crystalline forms of many of our essential molecules like proteins and DNA.

The first diamonds would have been small, just a few atoms

Easy to appreciate the beautiful symmetry of this diamond crystal

 

Fun fact: diamonds are super hard, but another crystalline structure of carbon, graphite, is super soft. All on how the layers link up or not.

How carbon crystals are in the world is how the carbons combine in 3 dimensions. Graphite layers slide on each other, or have cleavage areas and so aren’t as hard as diamonds where the links are in 3 dimensions

So our physical manifestation started as diamonds and we are dependent on crystalline structures of the simplest atom that can make 4 symmetric bonds as well as double bonds.

DNA is not a completely regular crystal (aperiodic). It is this lack of absolute symmetry that makes it a carrier of information. Compare to the diamond structure above. It is in the glass bubble like structures in this highly stylized image of DNA that change, asymmetry, information,occurs. Well and in the cell the associated meta structure and the added chemical groups and associated proteins…

This artistic image of DNA stresses the regularity, symmetry and elegance of the molecule.

 

How did all of that happen?

It goes back to quantum mechanics and the fundamental laws of physics. Energy transformations. That’s how all atomic and subatomic reactions are best described.

As Stephen Hawking asked (I paraphrase): what fire, what energy, do the equations (whether quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory) describe? What brings this fire, what breathes life into the equations?

Some say a god or gods. That seems to fit their experience and work for them.

The Zen answer is easy by rote: Mind.

This is similar to Lanza’s and Berman’s Biocentrism, or Kastrup’s idealism.

Not so easy to experience directly, to the core.

Some say there is no answer, it just is, and in a certain sense I agree. After all, any “answer,” in our usual sense of the word “answer”, depends on concepts in our monkey mind, derived from our monkey senses, relating to our parochial realm of limited 4-d experience, explanation and intellectual understanding. We seek answers that can be digested when there is nothing to chew on. Take a bite, it disappears, dissolves like a mouthful of cotton candy, into a haze of quantum probability of different energy levels at best.

That acorn sure does go deep. It cuts like a diamond.