Monday, 24 April 2017

Nazi Scrapbooks from Hell


"Most people live lives of quiet desperation" -- Thoreau
A sad, sad thing has happened in this Foord household in recent weeks. We've purchased a TV license and adverts have become a thing in our lives. I detest their lies, but I'll admit that some adverts can be mildly entertaining.

For many years we subsisted on Netflix, Amazon video and a mountainous collection of DVDs that inexorably grows beyond any human capacity to ever watch them all but not beyond my unbounded desire to own all the things and know all the things. As with all areas of human endeavour, films (like books and music) present an to-all-intents-and-purposes infinite field of fun, informative and edidying, even seemingly essential, stuff that I could-and-possibly-even-should-but-never-actually-would watch.

Our lives are full enough. As I'm oh so fond of saying, the only thing worse than a busy life is all the alternatives. Years ago I decided that I had consumed enough of other people's creativity and I wanted to create myself. So we don't actually watch much television. Delia and I usually have one TV series that we watch together, on the rare evenings when we have dispatched the children to bed early enough that exhaustion has not fully overcome one or both of us. It took us a few *years* to watch enough of Gilmore Girls before it became clear they'd run out of actual things to say and we got bored enough to turn to something else, promising each other we'd come back and finish the final series soon whilst secretly acknowledging to ourselves that would never happen. 

Despite this Irina, our now six year old daughter, wanted to watch CBeebies and Delia wanted to be able to flick through channels idly relieved from the burden of choice. So I capitulated, and we now have broadcast television.

The world hasn't ended and I'll even begrudgingly admit to enjoying endless David Attenborough on Eden and discovering "Forged in Fire" on The History Channel - a gameshow type program pitting sword makers against one another and judging their work on strength, beauty and capacity to cut and maim.

Last night I even watched three TV programs in a row. I'd probably have to go back decades to the last time that happened Even counting nights of lonely horror in hotel rooms for programming conferences in far off lands I have rarely stooped to such an orgy of entertainment.

All three shows I would recommend, which I guess is the real reason for this post. "Genius" is a docu-drama (even using the word is nearly as much a horror as admitting to enjoying one) on the life of Albert Einstein. Fascinating, I just hope it's mostly true to life and they aren't lieing to me in the name of entertainment. The first episode was plausible and fits what little I already knew.

This was followed by "The Story of God", as told by Morgan Freeman. A man with gorgeously sonorous voice, but somewhat sullied reputation, now largely reinstated in my eyes by the sensitivity of his exploration and how genuine and human he comes across.

And finally "Nazi Scrapbooks from Hell", a look at the history of Auschwitz through two different scrapbooks of photos. The first a collection of photos from one of the commanders, which commits the almost unforgivable sin of humanizing the Nazis. Realising the horrors of that place, the pit of the worst of human capacity, was a merely human creation is such a hard thing to face. The second scrapbook catalogued the arrival and fate of the Jews, accompanied and explained by the narration of a survivor.

When the show came on I nearly switched it off. I know enough of the holocaust, and it has touched and shaped my own family. (See "A Jewish Love Story".)

But, perhaps mostly out of stubbornness, I won't turn away from the horror. I won't pretend it doesn't exist, or claim that it's dealt with and I have no part in it. So I watched.

Hannah Arendt, in her examination of the rise of totalitarianism, said that the way the Nazis could commit such horrors whilst still holding on (at least outwardly) to the appearance of their own humanity (as evidenced in the laughing photos) was the dehumanization of their victims. If the Jews and homosexuals and gypsies weren't really people then they could switch off empathy and laugh and smile and kill.

The very worst thing, personally, is that I can understand.  If you can totally switch off your view of "the other" as a real person, then how fascinating to see how the human body responds to pain and other horrors. How useful. And how then possible to let out, and enjoy, all your darkest, deepest desires - entirely contained and walled off on subjects who matter not in the slightest because they aren't real. And then you can pet your dog and enjoy blueberries with the pretty, laughing Nazi girls, a mere ten miles from the death camp.

So something of that horror is in me, because it is in all humanity. We did it. And I won't run from it, shut it out, stay blind and mute to the worst of what I am. I repudiate it utterly, I want nothing of it. But I will face it, I will find it in myself, not push it away and wall it off. I will touch the darkness in me, and cry over it. God help me.


"My driving desire is the powerful psychological release I find in the active adoration of love. I long to worship, I love to worship."

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mysticism, Freedom and the Human Will


Chaos is creative potential.
The full key to self-actualisaton (personal growth or whatever you want to call it) is will. This is the freedom that Christianity talks of, a free will capable of making choices and effecting change. Freeing up our capacity to love.

Throughout the ages philosophers have recognised the importance of the human will. For example:
Epictetus: You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower.
Schopenhauer: the world as will and representation
Alphonse Constance: magic is the product of will and imagination
Nietzsche: will to power
Crowley: Love is the law, love under will
Schweitzer: I am life which wills to live
Fankl: will to meaning
Both Buddhism and Jungian psychology see the human psyche (soul) as being extraordinarily deep, but mostly unconscious. Most of who we are, most of our capacity to effect change, is not present in our conscious mind. So our actions are driven by forces and desires that we don't understand, whilst our conscious mind rationalises our decisions so that the ego can maintain its illusion of control. (For what it's worth, the rationalisation of decisions after they have been made has been verified by modern empirical psychology.) Compulsive behaviour and neuroses are the clearest examples of "unconscious drives". In "Doors of Perception" Aldous Huxley argues that our limited awareness, our filtered perception of reality, is an evolutionary mechanism for survival. Complete awareness of all our sensory input (including self-awareness) would debilitate our ability to function in a competitive world.

Our worldview, how we choose to see the world, is one of the ways we filter reality. We reject information that doesn't fit our worldview and seek out information that reinforces it (confirmation bias), allowing us to only have to deal with a small (and safer) proportion of reality.

So in Buddhism, the goal of meditation (and for Jung the goal of psychoanalysis) is to permit our awareness (mindfulness) into the totality of who we are - to become fully conscious of the unconscious self. To really see and accept ourselves. In the process Buddhism says that we will come to understand that what we view as "self" is largely (or even totally) the product of ego, and that who we are is in fact not so separate from the rest of the world we find ourselves in. We are merely a small part of everything.

In becoming aware we become free to choose. In becoming conscious our will is freed from the self-repression (self-rejection a pushing away and deliberate - but through habit unconscious - blindness to what goes on inside us). This is why being willing to face who we are, to take responsibility for ourselves and to stop blaming others, is so essential to finding true freedom. This is full self-acceptance.

As we become more aware of ourselves, as our capacity for action increases and we become more free, we become "bigger people". There is more of us around than there was.

This understanding that awareness brings freedom is why to the Buddhist right living, right understanding and right teaching are all the same thing.

But remember, the only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise. What does it mean about how we live to understand that freedom means a free will?

It means to take control of who we are and responsibility for what we do, and to put ourselves into what we do rather than being dragged around by habit and routine. We can still do the same things (but we can also be free to stop), but choose to do them. Don't let them be someone else's choice about how you live.

It is through habit that things become unconscious. Look at how a child learns to walk, every nuance of every step is a wobbly and conscious action. So deliberate, and so hard! Yet through practise we barely think about it at all, the thought processes involved in balance and avoiding obstacles have become completely unconscious. It's the same with, for example, learning to drive. At first turning a corner (check your mirrors, change gear, slow down, indicate) is a bewildering plethora of actions to perform simultaneously. After a while you develop an "autopilot", and do it with barely a (conscious) thought. In fact the thought processes and decision making are still there, we're just not consciously aware of them. It's still us. There's no-one else to blame for the actions of the parts of ourselves that we don't see or feel.

So it is our habits that bind us. Our habits of destructive thought patterns and destructive behaviour for example. Step off the vicious cycle and onto the virtuous cycle.

Through deliberate action you can train your subconscious, train your "autopilot" into good habits. Choose to love all the time, and what initially takes deliberate effort becomes habit. Make decisions, do things you're afraid of, step out of routine, do unfamiliar things, choose to live. Face yourself, accepting yourself with compassion (by understanding your motives and reasons) but not turning away from the reality of who you are and what you've done. Choose to love, love under will.

By facing yourself you can master yourself.

One silly example (and I'm full of silly examples) of how I've been doing this in practise is that over the last few years I've been trying to make myself ambidextrous. I saw that my children, early on in life, used both hands almost equally with a very slight preference for one hand. Gradually that slight preference meant that they became more skillful with that hand, so the preference was reinforced - it was easier to do something with the hand they had used more often. I realised that my left hand was almost entirely useless for many common actions, and not as strong, simply because I didn't use it through habit. I started to deliberately choose to use my left hand for everything I could. Actions that had previously been completely unconscious, like stirring a cup of tea, suddenly became difficult and I was very aware of them. As an interesting side-effect I was forced to live more in the moment, putting more conscious effort and will into things I used to do completely passively. A very interesting experiment. Over time the conscious effort required to choose my left hand and arm is fading and it is becoming more natural. I haven't switched for hand-writing yet though, my writing is barely legible with my right hand!

So we can choose to change, by changing our habits. At this point Christians may protest and argue that it is God who changes us. Well yes, but the freedom God wants us to have is a freed will. So God doesn't make our choices for us. God (and I will shortly provide an understanding of God that the atheist may not object to) brings us an awareness of our weaknesses and habits, that awareness is the capacity to change. We must still choose to change.

For me the defining heart of Christian mysticism is Moses meeting God in the wilderness. The burning bush, the fire that burns but does not consume. Moses asks God his name, and in mysticism a true name reveals true nature (c.f. "he has given us a new name"). God's answer is YHVH, Yahweh, Jehovah. I Am. God is consciousness, pure being, pure existence.

So the eye of consciousness is the eye of God.
1 Search me, O God, my actions try,
And let my life appear
As seen by Thine all-searching eye—
To mine my ways make clear.

2 Search all my sense, and know my heart
Who only canst make known,
And let the deep, the hidden part
To me be fully shown.

3 Throw light into the darkened cells,
Where passion reigns within;
Quicken my conscience till it feels
The loathsomeness of sin.

4 Search all my thoughts, the secret springs,
The motives that control;
The chambers where polluted things
Hold empire o’er the soul.

5 Search, till Thy fiery glance has cast
Its holy light through all,
And I by grace am brought at last
Before Thy face to fall.

6 Thus prostrate I shall learn of Thee,
What now I feebly prove,
That God alone in Christ can be
Unutterable love.


Francise Bottome (approx 1872)
Suspend your disbelief for a moment, if you can, and imagine singing that song with genuine passion. And further imagine that the the God you've found and believe in is in fact pure consciousness and the essence of life itself. That you love and adore it with all your heart and open up the core of who you are to it with reverence and respect, even some fear. That you invite it in, to reach into and search out the depths of your being, determined to face who you are and believing you can find purity of life in it. Now wouldn't that be a fine and honest thing. 

I take a different look at what will is in: Soul, spirit and will.

Christians wondering how I see Jesus fitting into all this may be interested in my article "Theodicy and the Problem of Evil".

"Strive not to know but to be. Turn your intelligence not into understanding but into being."

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Are we living in a computer simulation?

Evolution is the key to understanding our nature.
Are we living in a computer simulation and not the "real world"?

So the argument goes, once computers become sophisticated enough to simulate entire worlds, then lots of worlds will exist. Therefore, if there are many, many worlds, the chances of you happening to exist in "the real one" and not a simulation are very small.

I actually think the best answer to the idea that we might be living in a simulation comes from Wolfram. He was talking about weather predicting but it holds just as true for world creation. He points out that to fully simulate any system (e.g. a weather system) you need to simulate the quantum level, and that requires a simulation model exactly as complex as the system being simulated, and therefore at least as physically big as the system being simulated. This is because you can't simulate quantum systems with a smaller quantum system. If you could you would be relying on more subtle interactions, that also happen in the real system (and affect it) and therefore you would also need these in the simulation and can't use them to create the simulation.

So to simulate a universe requires something at least as big as a universe. The way round this is to cheat and not simulate all of the universe, but then you must have a universe with inconsistent physical laws (since some of the observable effects are not genuinely calculated but "fudged"). As far as we can tell our universe runs on consistent (but chaotic) laws, and is therefore probably not simulated.

The conclusion is that you can only fully simulate a closed system, because a simulation is a closed system. This is also, coincidentally, why weather forecasting will always suck.

However, David Cassandra Mertz asks:
"What if the real universe ribs much faster than the simulations, and we live in a timeshare slice of the simulator?"
This does seem possible and quantized time might be an indication that this is the case. Potentially in "the real world" the speed of light is much higher, so the real quanta of time is smaller. A slower speed of light also makes the observable universe smaller - allowing a smaller universe to be simulated within the real one. However, it seems unlikely you'd have the physical space and energy to create "many worlds" this way.

As an interesting aside, computing speed doesn't matter. Time is only experienced by reality in frames (quanta) of the time it takes light to travel the shortest quantum distance, determined by Planck's constant. The unit of Planck Time is approximately 5.39 × 10−44 s. So even if it takes an hour, or a hundred years, for your computer to evaluate each frame the simulated world will still experience each frame sequentially and it will feel like "real time". The problem is physical space for state storage. Storing the state of a quantum system takes at least as much space as the "real" quantum system, you can't store the state (electronically, digitally or otherwise) in a smaller space. So to simulate a universe it requires a universe.

In the sense that reality is the product of collapsed probability waveforms, not resolved until observed (lazily evaluated), it could be said that the universe is already a simulation of itself. Every universe created (within the probably-not-real multiverse) is a new simulation.


"Imagine the best of all possible worlds. Now apply your will to making it happen. Magic is the product of will and imagination."

Sexuality

"Uncertainty means the future is not yet written. Anything is possible."
It's stating the obvious, but a big part of personal development is coming to terms with (and enjoying) sexuality. This has very little to do with how often you have sex. As a general rule, if you're uncomfortable with someone else's sexuality it's a sign that you haven't fully come to terms with your own. You should be able to admire and appreciate someone else's sexuality (of whatever gender or orientation) without discomfort or a compulsion to take or to control. This is the difference between desire and lust. Desire enjoys without needing to possess (emotionally and physically), lust wants to consume.

Desire everyone, lust after no-one...

(However, as an adjunct, never go - emotionally - where you're not invited. Don't make people feel uncomfortable. However you have a right to exist and be you. If your mere existence makes people uncomfortable that's their problem.)

Lust, infatuation and sexual compulsion are actually symptoms of unmet emotional need. They *can* be resolved in a relationship, but are not a good basis for a relationship (mutual respect and determination to love is the best basis). Sex is best as the culmination and celebration of shared lives rather than the quenching of need. Sex can be a literally, and figuratively, creative act when it is giving and loving.

Sexuality, like aggression, is dangerous and capable of causing great harm both to ourselves and to others. Because they're dangerous culture teaches us to repress them (not true of everyone obviously, but often true). Because we repress them we never learn to deal with them, and so when they do come out it can be in an uncontrolled way. This further reinforces the danger and the need for repression.

Male dominated culture is particularly afraid of female sexuality. Because men can't control themselves female sexuality gives women power over men, which is obviously unacceptable. This is why female sexuality is particularly oppressed, except in very male controlled ways. The threat and fear of sexual violence is one way that society systemically represses female sexuality ("don't wear that short skirt, you put yourself at risk" for example). Shame and disapproval are another.

The trouble is that repression doesn't work, it just makes things worse. Sexuality and aggression are both core parts of who you are, your creative life and your strength. If you won't express them consciously they will find unconscious expression. Uncontrolled anger, spite, neuroses, inappropriate relationships and emotional attachments (etc) are all symptoms of repressed character aspects.

The solution is to learn to deal with these aspects of who you are without being afraid of yourself and your feelings. Learn to control yourself without repressing yourself. The journey of a lifetime. Express your sexuality, express your anger, but under your control and without harming others.

One of my favourite scriptures is Ephesians 4:26 which, depending on your translation, says something like "be angry but do not sin". It doesn't say don't be angry, often anger is the right and appropriate reaction to a situation - but let it be something productive rather than destructive. Let anger be a motivator for change. And if you're looking for an expression of sexuality, including strong female sexuality, in the bible then I suggest you read "Song of Songs".

As an interesting aside, another symptom of sexual repression is over-sexualisation. The un-met need for a freed sexuality can be expressed in an over obsession with sex and the sexual. This is how our culture can be both sexually repressed and sexually obsessed simultaneously. Porn addiction and sex addiction are clear examples of how a genuinely released sexuality, free of fear and shame, is very different from an uncontrolled sexuality.

Inside every person resides a great beast. Repress it and forever live in fear of yourself, or tame it and rule yourself.

This article is a follow on to my other articles on sexuality: Sexual Purity in Marriage and Tainted Love?.


"A huge part of personal growth is stopping blaming other people for how you feel and who you are. No matter how hard that is."

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Evolutionary Spirituality V: A Philosophical Quest


"And the spirit of God hovered over the deeps"
My personal philosophical quest is a union of science, psychology and my spiritual experiences, with a sound philosophical basis. Uncertainty is the philosophical basis, and coincidentally the basis of the scientific method plus according to the findings of science also a fundamental part of reality. Evolutionary Spirituality is how I describe my pursuit.

Psychology and science are unified (at least in theory - but a theoretical solution is sufficient) by the work of Daniel Kahneman. Jung unified religion and psychology.

Buddhism and Hinduism (etc) provide a theoretical union of religion and science (consciousness contiguous with physical reality - as espoused, for example, by Deepak Chopra), but no-one has proven it in practise.

Chaos is creative potential. If the boundary between consciousness and physical reality exists at all it is to be found in chaos.

"Imagine the best of all possible worlds. Now apply your will to making it happen. Magic is the product of will and imagination."

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Evolutionary Spirituality IV: Death, Heaven & Hell


"in the joy of others lies our own" -- Guru Swamishri

Everything you are is expressed in everything you do. We are merely the product of history and a series of unfortunate decisions.

As much as it may feel like it, we are not isolated and walled off from the universe and people around us. In fact we exist in a continuum with the rest of the world, everything we are - all of our unconscious mind - is continually shaped and formed by our experiences and interactions. Similarly everything we do shapes and influences the world and people around us.

Even our physical being, down to our genetics, is the product of external reality - ultimately the earth and then the wider universe is the source of who we are. Our genetic makeup and our psyche is shaped completely (at least initially) by everyone who has come before. We are not self made.

Individually we are created from each other and in relation to one another. We were created out of, and in relation to, the land and society around us. We are merely a small part of everything. 

See my article on empathy for a bit of a look at how we form each other psychologically (and how this can be damaging or healing): Soul Healing and Empathy.

Psychological and physical reality are therefore contiguous, since psychological reality was formed out of the earth. Humanity was shaped incrementally, and chaotically, via the process of evolution. (Ultimately my argument will be that this implies - or at least permits - that psychological reality pre-existed humanity. Or to say it another way, psychological reality (including our shared consensual reality) emerged alongside humanity out of the chaotic potential that already existed. But this must remain an aside for now.)

So everything we are is a product of everything else. It therefore doesn't seem so strange to suggest that who we are persists beyond the end of our physical being. Everything we are has come from, and continually existed in continuum with, everything else. The remaining question being: does personal agency persist beyond death? I'm sure many of you have very strong opinions as to the answer to that question. Interestingly Buddhism teaches reincarnation, but *also* teaches that the sense of individual self is actually an illusion - an artefact of ego trying to understand itself. I've never managed to reconcile those teachings.

Everything, and everyone, that has come before exists in part in us - having made us - and we in turn, through what we do, exist in everything else.

As cheesy as it may be I really enjoy the way that the movie Avatar portrays our connection to those who came before us and the communal unconscious. Both Iain Banks and Terry Pratchett explore this theme in interesting ways: Iain Banks in "Feersum Endjinn" (with a Jungian influence) and Terry Pratchett, If I Recall Correctly, in "Thief of Time" (more Taoist).

My own personal musing reconciles Christian teachings with my own instinct that we ultimately judge ourselves, that God does not condemn us. When illusion is stripped away and we are confronted with the reality of who we are, and what we've done, we have two choices. We can either run, until we are completely alone. This is hell. Or we can face who we are, accept what we've done, but recognise love. If we know love (and if love knows us), if we are able to love despite who we are, then we can face ourselves. This is a truth as applicable to life as it may be to death, and I know the reality of hell because I've lived there.

Coming face to face with perfect love is what strips away all illusion, seeing reality as it really is. This is how God can be judge of all things, yet not condemn us, we condemn ourselves.

As for heaven, the teaching of The Christ on the kingdom of heaven, teachings which are so potent, is that we can do it now.



"A huge part of personal growth is to stop blaming other people for how you feel and who you are. No matter how hard that is."

Monday, 10 April 2017

Analytical Philosophy and Meaning


"First define your terms" that beguiling product of Western analytical philosophy, that would dissect the frog in search of its life. It discards the very thing it seeks.

Language is a game. It hides meaning and reveals meaning, but as you systematically unpeel the layers the meaning dances and taunts- snubbing her nose at you in the sheer delight of the game you don't want to play but cannot escape.

Instead woo her, sidle up to her and catch a glimpse of her soulful eyes. Probably she'll laugh at you and flit away, or maybe she'll tarry just a while, just long enough.

Meaning skips and dances along the words, neither contained nor constrained by them.

Meaning won't be pinned down, its as messy as your dreams and as fleeting as the moment. But it's real, like a rock, as fierce as the electron dance of the sun that would flay you alive if you got close enough. Join the dance, snub your nose at her, and if she likes the way you play maybe she will play too.

Communication is the substance of spirit. But what do I mean by that? To commune is to communicate.

"Inside every person resides a great beast. Repress it and forever fear yourself. Tame it and rule yourself."